I’m 35 years old and I’d like to do a Martial Art for self-defense. Which one should I do?

Martial Arts are of various types and don’t all have the same focus points. All Martial Arts are not equal when it comes to self defence. There are literally hundreds of different styles and with Mixed Martial Arts on the scene we’ve more or less experienced which Martial Arts are best for unarmed combat. However, most Martial Artists who make it to a professional level, start training from a very young age and reach a level of mastery in their teens. That’s not you, so we have to look at what would be easy to learn, and will put the least amount of stress on your already aging body. 

Broad skills

There are Martial Arts that focus a lot on close quarter combat, like Judo, Jujitsu, Wing Chung and Western Boxing maybe (with striking that takes place at a close range). There are other arts that focus a lot on long range techniques, like most forms of Karate and Tae Kwondo, Muay Thai and most of the striking styles that are popularly known today. Of course, all these styles have both short and long range techniques but some are predominantly focused on holds and throws and others on blows. An all round fighter, as we have noted in MMA, usually trains in at least two arts. One long range (striking) style and one short range (grapping and throws) style. At 35, it’s hard to become proficient in either, but with a combination of both, you can become good enough to defend yourself in an unarmed combat situation. Remember, most street brawls aren’t taking place between professional fighters. Your average thug is not trained in how to use his weapons. 

Where to start?

Since self defence is your goal, and not learning the beauty of an art form, I suggest we cut out all traditional arts. That means, no karate or kung fu. Most people who do Karate are not very good fighters to begin with, outside of the rules that Karate has. When Karate fighters graduate to kick boxing, Muay Thai or MMA it often involves a lot of extra training. You don’t sort of throw a Karate fighter into the ring and expect him to survive. Of late, Karate has largely been adapted to fix that historic problem. Nevertheless, why go to an adaptation when you can go to the source? 


I suggest you learn to do Western Boxing first. Do it for about six months and then graduate to kick boxing or Muay Thai without getting into ring sports. You are too old to start a fighting career. Do it for self defense and enjoy the light sparring in the gym. Don’t let your ego get the better of you. 

After six months of boxing and another six months of Muay Thai, you can basically maintain your reflexes by doing some sparring once a week with respectful guys who aren’t going to kick the s*** out of you. However, you will need to move on to an arena where you can compete and where you will learn to be more proficient. Most brawls end on the floor or where people grab each other. No amount of punching and kicking will get you out of a situation where a much stronger person grabs hold of you.

Throws and grappling

I suggest you find a good Judo school and learn how to enjoy throwing and grappling. Judo is superior to Jujitsu when it comes to throws and when in a street fight, usually one throw can end it. There’s no need to go grappling with someone in the street. In fact, grappling in the street is very dangerous and inefficient because 9 out of 10 physical assaults involves a few guys attacking one guy. You need to be able to fight off several opponents. With a healthy balance between lethal strikes and throws you should be able to manage yourself well enough to take on three to five average civilians who are unarmed or are armed with blunt instruments. 

What about weapons

If you are attacked by people with knives or guns, you stand very little chance of getting out unscathed or worst still, you might very well be killed. This is true for anyone, even a trained veteran of the army. You can take a punch, you can possibly survive getting hit with a blunt object, but being sliced or shot has a very low survival rate if your assailant intends on killing you. In fact, even if your assailant doesn’t intend on killing you, there’s still a good chance you’ll die. If you want to do weapons training you need to make sure you train under military grade experts. Someone dressed in pajamas making you memorize a few fancy but impractical moves will likely get you killed. The best way to actually learn self defense against weapons is to learn how to use weapons efficiently. You might look into taking up shooting lessons and buying a handgun if you live in a place where there is a lot of gun violence. There is unfortunately nothing you can do in a gun fight except knowing how to proficiently use a gun and making sure you are carrying. If you are dedicated, by the time you are 40 you should be proficient enough in both unarmed combat and weapons training sufficient enough to survive most street level situations- with a stroke of luck. There is no certain outcome in a violent exchange, even professional fighters are sometimes unlucky against an average Joe. The best advice I can offer is to avoid confrontation and practice running real fast. 🙂 

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