Skip to content

The 5 Very Best Martial Arts For Smaller Guys With Video

People wearing gi sit with back to us in gym.

Table of Contents

The desire to be able to defend yourself and your loved ones against harm is the same for everyone, no matter what their size. But what are the best martial arts for you if you are a smaller guy?

If you are smaller in stature then you have to use what works best for you. Think of your advantages and disadvantages against a bigger person then go from there. After extensive analysis, it is believed that MMA is the best martial art for smaller guys.

Now I am not at all saying that other martial arts cannot be effective. But what we are really looking at here is what is the best all-around style to suit small men or women for that matter.

What we can do is look at some of the very best fighting styles and how you can apply them to your own personal situation. And what we really need to do is take it from the gym to the street where martial art can truly be tested.

While some techniques can look awesome in the gym or dojo when they are taken out of that controlled environment, the whole thing can just fall apart. When you have an opponent who is unpredictable and does not play by the rules, it can completely throw you off and leave you vulnerable.

So let’s take a walk through some of the very best martial arts for the smaller guy. I decided to keep the list pretty short as there are so many great martial arts out there for self-defence. So it’s important that we keep it tight and on message. Let’s do this!

Muay Thai Is Great

What is Muay Thai? The simple answer to this is that Muay Thai is a standup striking martial art that uses eight points of attack on the body. Although there was a time many moons ago that headbutts were also used, today that has been removed from the rules.

This fighting style consists of kicks, knees, elbows and punches, as well as what is called the clinch. Clinching involves using your arms to grip the opponent’s head, then land knees or other strikes.

Muay Thai offers the use of elbows as strikes when working in close again your opponent with what can be one of the most devastating strikes in the business.

For a good example of how these elbows can be used in a confrontation, I have to go back to one of my previous coaches. Being an Englishman of Irish heritage, he always gave the example of being attacked in a bar, go figure. But he repeatedly spoke about using elbows in close when someone gets in your face.

With elbows, you don’t need a big wind-up, like say a punch or kick. So learning to use elbows effectively can be extremely useful against a bigger opponent.

Two fighters exchanging during their fight with Burmese landing a kick.
Two Muay Thai fighters competing in the ring.

Another great thing about Muay Thai is the kicks. The low kicks can be very useful for chopping down someone, no matter what size! While teep kicks are great for pushing the aggressor away and creating space.

What is the learning curve like? In a sport like Muay Thai, you can begin to make progress pretty rapidly. From the moment you step into the gym, the first thing that will be working on is improving your strikes.

So we are talking punches and kicks. Depending on your level of fitness and commitment, it won’t take too long before you are throwing some good combinations.

One of the most difficult aspects of a martial art like Muay Thai is the conditioning aspect. Thai fighters train almost every day, so unless you are a full-time athlete, you probably won’t be training that much.

So it’s important to work on your overall fitness and conditioning even when away from the gym. Little improvements in your daily routine will pay dividends in the longer term.

Is Muay Thai right for you? So to recap, Muay Thai is a striking art that utilises clinching. So you will be using a combination of kicking and boxing when faced with an opponent. Would you feel comfortable in this situation, would this suit your personal size and style?

If you feel like this sounds like the right type of fighting style for you, then Muay Thai may be just what you are looking for. once you master some of the techniques, I have little doubt that you won’t be able to defend yourself and others from would-be attackers.

So my advice would be to check out some Muay Thai videos, see what martial arts are near to you and then go from there. There is a good reason as to it is regarded as perhaps the best standup martial art on the planet. So my advice would be to give it a go and see if it is right for you.

Judo Is Awesome

What is Judo? Judo is a grappling art that incorporates sweeps and throws, along wide joint locks to defeat an opponent. It does not involve any strikes and relies on your ability to throw people using leverage, their own body weight and momentum against them.

One of the strongest aspects of Judo is that a smaller person is capable of getting in on a taller opponent and using their hips to throw them to the ground. Once on the ground, there are then a number of submissions and non-lethal options available.

Once on the ground if you are able to control someone who while standing was significantly bigger than you. Now that you are on the ground much of the height advantage has been lost.

Through the use of chokes and joint locks, you can either subdue or choke out your attacker, so that you can then get away and live to fight another day.

What is the learning curve in Judo like? Like many grappling martial arts, Judo does take many years of training to get proficient. Grappling and submissions are in my opinion harder to master than striking.

Two Judoka's working a throw in training.
Two Judoka’s working their throws in the dojo.

As there will be many hours of drilling the techniques, they often need tiny adjustments to get right.

If you are willing to put in those many hours to move up the ranks, then, by all means, go for it. But this will not be a quick-fix solution. You will need to apply yourself over several years to get good. But there can be little doubting the effectiveness of Judo when it comes to handling bigger people.

Is Judo right for me? All training in Judo is done using a Gi. So as we do not walk around in our daily lives wearing a Gi, there are certain techniques in the martial art that only be used in the dojo. This can be a little bit restrictive in the sense that you are only familiar with the Gi and not no Gi, so just something to think about.

Would you be comfortable in this type of situation where the style is designed to take things to the ground? You may be thinking, I don’t want to go anywhere near the ground, I’d much rather stand. It’s all really up to what best suits you and what you would feel best prepared for.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Is Outstanding

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? BJJ, as it is widely known, is a grappling and submission martial art that comes from, yes you guessed it, Brazil! Its creator Helio Gracie took what his brothers had learned from training in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and gave it his own twist to create Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The art of a smaller person being able to overcome a bigger opponent through leverage and timing. Helio Gracie was quite a small and frail man and so needed to adapt the martial art to his own needs. The result of this was BJJ which quickly caught on, both in Brazil, and then the US in the 1990s.

So BJJ was designed explicitly so that smaller guys could take on a beat bigger adversaries. Of course, this does work up to a certain point as the techniques are not the answer to everything. But there can be little doubting its effectiveness as a martial art for short guys.

A BJJ player sinks in a choke hold on his opponent.
A BJJ player looks to sink in a submission choke.

What is the learning curve like for BJJ? Like Judo in many ways, similar grading systems as well. BJJ requires many hours, days, weeks and years on the mats. With stories of top grapplers getting their belts in 3 – 4 years, how long will it take you? Realistically, are you a world-beater or an average Joe?

To be very realistic about it, it can take you 10 years or more to gain a black belt ranking in BJJ. There is just so much to learn and become good at that it takes many hours of repetition and testing before you can get it right. If you are dedicated then this is an amazing martial art for smaller guys.

Is BJJ the right martial art for me? Well, first things first. BJJ is a very tough and gruelling sport. At least with striking you have the opportunity to create space and catch your breath.

But with BJJ you are constantly pitting your strength and cardio against the other person. Constantly fighting for every centimetre, often with many minutes on the clock.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not for you if you are claustrophobic. During a session on the mats, you will often find yourself completely out of breath, out of energy and with someone trying to restrict your breathing.

It can and is a frightening experience if you are not able to handle those situations. You either learn, or you don’t try it at all, you’re choice,

Krav Maga Is Lethal

What exactly is Krav Maga? Well, what Krav Maga is not is a sport! This martial art first came into existence in the 1930s and was created in order to protect Jewish people from fascist gangs in the ghettos of Bratislava.

Combining elements of boxing, and wrestling along with Judo, Karate and Aikido. Krav Maga was designed to inflict damage quickly and efficiently.

Today it is not treated as a sport, simply because many of the moves involved are meant to incapacitate and seriously hurt the other person. And while many martial arts are about stopping the aggressor.

Much of Krav Maga is about inflicting lasting damage by targeting the eyes, throat, face, solar plexus, groin, liver, ribs, knee, foot, fingers etc.

We do see demonstrations and the world championships. However, these are very much for show as the techniques are not carried out, but rather mimicked on the opponent. So the demonstrations effectively become a choreographed dance.

A man uses Krav Maga landing an elbow to he chin.
A man lands an elbow strike using Krav Maga.

What is the learning curve for Krav Maga? One of the big pluses of Krav Maga is that the learning time is relatively short. The hand-to-hand fighting style was designed for fast learning so that it could be taught quickly to new army recruits.

With simple and repeated strikes, along with relatively easy throws. It was not designed to be over complicated and take many years to learn.

The general consensus is that if you do want to become proficient in Krav Maga it can take anywhere from 3 – 5 years. However, if you want to move up into Blackbelt territory, then you may be looking at 7 – 8 years. But to become say a 5th Dan, you are looking at the 15-year timeframe.

Is Krav Maga the right martial art for me? Do you have to ask yourself what do you want from your martial arts training? With Krav Maga, you are learning a martial art that is used to seriously hurt, even kill if used to its full capability.

Do you want to be trained in how to kill or how to stop someone, well with these skills you can do both. So it’s up to you to work out what your own needs are and decide accordingly.

MMA Is The Best All-Around

What is MMA? Mixed Martial arts is the combining of several fighting disciplines under one umbrella term. It has become without a doubt one of the fastest-growing and most popular sports on the planet in a very short space of time. Taking elements from boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and BJJ. MMA has become widely regarded as the best all-around fighting style.

Where one discipline will be lacking in a specific area, such as no groundwork in Muay Thai or no strikes in Judo. MMA seeks to bring all the best parts of those sports and chain them together into a single style.

Because MMA covers so many different aspects of fighting, it can be difficult to become proficient in any specific one. But what you do find is MMA fighters will usually excel in certain areas more so than others in the sport.

What is the learning curve like? As I mentioned there are a lot of elements to learn in MMA. From standup to getting takedowns, the grappling along with submissions, all take time. It’s not a sport you will become very good at quickly as there will usually be a part of your game weaker than the other.

Best signature moves in the UFC / MMA.

It’s going to take you several years to become truly good and have enough experience so that you are prepared for almost any situation. So again no quick fixes, but MMA is without a doubt in my mind the best all-around fighting style for self-defence.

Is MMA right for me? If you are willing to mix things up, stand as well as take it to the ground if necessary, then MMA is the sport for you. Combining the best elements from the best martial arts, all together in one system. For me makes it the standout discipline to train under.

Adding to all that it’s one of the global sports which is now regularly on tv. Allowing you to keep up to speed and even perhaps become a fanboy or fangirl.

Without a doubt, it can be very tough, from getting pummelled on the ground to exchanging blows on the feet. If you dedicate yourself to it, mixed martial arts will pay you back tenfold.

My Closing Argument

So I hope that you found something useful in the best martial arts for smaller guys examples I have given. For me, martial art has to cover many bases in order to be considered truly practical.

We have to remember that in a street environment, the other person is not going to follow any rules. They are going to try whatever is necessary to do damage to you. So you need to be prepared to take the fight anywhere.

Whether you are skinny, short, or overweight, however, you are designed and fitted, there is a martial art out there to suit you. It’s really all about you visualising what you want from your training. Where do you want to be some years down the road and how do you want to get there?

I hope that my snapshot of what I believe to be the very best martial art for smaller guys was helpful to you in your decision-making process. Now it really is just up to you to make that final decision on what is right for you. Best of luck in your decision-making process. I’m with you all the way no matter what.