Martial arts are systems of skills and techniques that are typically used for combat and self-defence – and are frequently practised as competitive sports. There are many different types of martial arts, and they often originate in countries like Japan, China, and Korea.

Some martial arts, like Wing Chun and Karate, are ancient traditions that can be traced back thousands of years, while others, like Krav Maga and Aikido, have only been developed in recent years. All require a great amount of discipline and dedication to learn. Though, with that hard work, comes a whole host of benefits.

If you’re interested in taking up a martial art but you’re not sure which one might be right for you, then keep reading, as we’ve put together a list of six martial arts that are perfect to get started with later in life…

Why should I learn a martial art?

why should i learn a martial art

By getting involved in a martial art, you’ll not only learn how to defend yourself in real-life situations but you’ll also stand to gain a whole host of health benefits. For instance, most martial arts are an excellent cardiovascular workout and they’ll help you to build muscle as well as lose weight. Martial arts can also improve your stamina, balance, flexibility, and posture.

There are also plenty of mental health benefits associated with practising a martial art, such as an increased sense of confidence and self-control. It’s also thought to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

And finally, while many martial arts teach their students how to fight and defend themselves, they also focus on how to avoid and prevent conflict. Ideas of respect, humility, trust, loyalty, and empathy are central to many of their teachings, so you may find yourself becoming a better, more-rounded individual after getting involved in martial arts.

6 popular martial arts to learn later in life

1. Wing Chun Kuen

Although all kinds of people practise it, Wing Chun Kuen is a unique type of martial art because it was founded by women for women. Wing Chun Kuen (or simply ‘Wing Chun’, as it’s more commonly known) is a form of Southern Chinese Kung Fu that’s said to have been founded by the Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, during the Qing Dynasty.

Wing Chun literally translates to ‘everlasting springtime’ and was, according to legend, named after one of Ng Mui’s first students who successfully used the fighting style to defend herself against an assailant.

Unlike some other styles of martial art, Wing Chun places less emphasis on brute strength and focuses more on making effective use of your body and redirecting an opponent’s force – making it a popular choice among those of smaller stature. It’s a close-quarters style of martial art, with many of its core principles revolving around reacting, as opposed to acting.

Wing Chun appeals to many as a practical form of self-defence for a variety of reasons. Firstly, unlike many other more traditional styles of martial art, such as Shaolin Kung Fu, the movements of Wing Chun are not derived from or based on the movements of animals. Instead, they’ve been choreographed with the human anatomy in mind. This means that you don’t need to be super fit or incredibly flexible in order to practise it.

Additionally, many people are drawn to Wing Chun because it trains you to respond quickly in the event of a surprise. So you can use it to defend yourself at a moment’s notice.

To get a better idea of what Wing Chun is, take a look at the video below.

2. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a relatively young form of self-defence. Originally developed for the Israeli Army in the mid 20th century by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld, it combines techniques from a variety of different martial arts, including Karate, Boxing, Judo, and Aikido.

Nowadays, it’s taught all over the world to civilians and is used by a range of law enforcement organisations and militaries.

Like many forms of self-defence, Krav Maga teaches its practitioners that the best way to win a fight is to avoid one in the first place. However, Krav Maga will equip you with the necessary skills to defend yourself in the event of an unavoidable physical altercation or life-threatening situation.

One of the main reasons why so many people are attracted to Krav Maga as a form of self-defence is because it focuses on real-life scenarios that a person could encounter in day-to-day life, such as what to do if someone attacked you with a knife.

Krav Maga is also less strict than other forms of self-defence. It doesn’t focus on set routines and patterns, and instead encourages its students to act on instinct and improvise. This means that in Krav Maga, anything goes – your only goal is to neutralise threats and protect yourself. There are also no showcases or competitions in Krav Maga, as it’s not a sport; it’s efficient and utilitarian.

Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that real-life scenarios are hard to mimic in a classroom setting. And because some of the more dangerous moves – such as groin kicks – would hurt a great deal and maybe cause you or your fellow students serious harm, much of Krav Maga involves role-playing and practising fake moves.

While this makes it safer to train in than some other forms of self-defence, you can’t practise at full speed and intensity like you would be able to in forms like boxing and kickboxing.

To get a better understanding of the basics of Krav Maga, then why not have a watch of the video below?

3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

brazilian jiu jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is predominantly a ground-based form of self-defence that’s become particularly popular in recent years. This South American style of an ancient Japanese martial art was developed in the early 20th century by a group of pioneers when Jiu-Jitsu and Judo were introduced to South America.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became particularly popular after the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993. During the competition, Royce Gracie – son of Hélio Gracie, one of the original pioneers of the martial art – demonstrated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s formidable nature by winning the tournament with it.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which means ‘the gentle art’ in Japanese, takes place mostly on the ground, and it teaches students to use moves like chokes and holds. It’s specifically designed to eliminate or diminish an opponent’s physical advantage, so, like Wing Chun, it’s very popular among smaller martial artists.

Unlike many forms of self-defence, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t involve any strikes like kicking or punching. Instead, it focuses on grappling. This means that it’s particularly low-impact, making it easier on your joints than strike-heavy forms of martial art like Boxing and Muay Thai. For this reason (and the fact that it prioritises proper technique over physical traits like strength, speed, and flexibility), Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be a great martial art to get stuck into later in life.

To get a better understanding of what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu involves, why not take a look at the video below?

4. Karate

Karate, which means ‘empty hand’, is one of the world’s most popular forms of martial art and it’s been around in different forms for thousands of years. Although Karate, as we know it today, was developed in the Ryukyuan islands and brought to the Japanese mainland in the early 20th Century.

There are lots of different styles of Karate and each has its own unique teachings. However, one of the things that distinguish it as a form of self-defence is that it predominantly involves the use of strikes and blocks. For instance, punching and kicking, as well as open-hand strikes like the famous ‘knife-hand strike’, which is commonly referred to as the ‘Karate chop’. But some styles can also include moves like throws and holds.

If you’re looking to get stuck into a martial art later on in life, then you might be put off by Karate’s strike-heavy approach, as this can be tough on joints and other parts of the body. Though, Karate has a wide range of positives that might make you consider it as an option.

For instance, like many of the martial arts on this list, Karate doesn’t require its practitioners to be particularly strong or physically fit, although regularly practising it will help you to build muscle and increase stamina. Instead, it requires its students to coordinate their minds and bodies.

Not only does Karate teach its students to properly defend themselves, but it also has a heavy focus on morality and personal development – particularly with respect to the emphasis it places on respect, humility, and discipline.

Want to get more of an idea of what Karate involves? If so, check out the demonstration below.

5. Aikido


Another relatively modern form of self-defence, Aikido was created by Japanese martial artist Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s. While many martial arts teach that violence should only be used as a last resort, Aikido goes a step further and is specifically designed to minimise the harm inflicted upon the attacker.

This martial art is based on spherical motions which, in a similar way to Wing Chun, are used to channel and redirect an opponent’s energy. Aikido teaches its practitioners to harmonise with an attacker to bring about a peaceful resolution to conflict because, as Morihei Ueshiba famously said, “True victory does not come from defeating an enemy, true victory comes from giving love and changing an enemy’s heart.”

Aikido, which is often translated as ‘the Way of harmonious spirit’, is similar to Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, in that it’s mostly made up of moves like throws, holds, pins, and locks. And while Aikido is a peaceful and non-offensive form of martial art, Aikido students might find themselves also practising with wooden weapons, such as the Jo (a staff), Tanto (a dagger), and Bokken (a sword).

There are a couple of reasons why Aikido is an excellent martial art to get stuck into later in life. Firstly, like Jiu-Jitsu, it’s relatively low-impact, so, as far as martial arts go, it’s quite easy on the joints. Aikido is also a great alternative if you’re looking for a less aggressive form of self-defence.

To get an idea of what Aikido is like, why not have a watch of the video below?

6. Tai Chi

tai chi

If you’re less concerned about the self-defence side of martial arts and more interested in the physical and mental benefits, then Tai Chi could be the perfect martial art for you to get stuck into later in life.

Tai Chi (also called ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ and ‘Shadowboxing’) has been around in different forms for thousands of years. Originally developed as a form of self-defence, it’s now predominantly practised for its meditative qualities and health benefits.

Tai Chi mainly involves the combination of deep breathing and slow, controlled movements that flow smoothly into one another. The focus of Tai Chi is not necessarily on the movements themselves, but how each of them connects with others. It’s considered to be a form of meditation in motion and it focuses on integrating the mind and body.

Tai Chi differs from most other forms of martial art in the sense that it’s neither aggressive nor defensive. Instead, it’s a non-combat martial art that’s all about allowing your life energy – or ‘qi’ – to flow through your body gently and powerfully, and finding peace and serenity as you do so.

The health benefits of Tai Chi are wide-ranging. For instance, Tai Chi can help to improve mood, sleep, balance, and may even be beneficial for cognition. It’s also been proven to reduce stress and pain caused by arthritis.

To find out more about Tai Chi, including how to get involved, why not take a look at our article, A beginner’s guide to Tai Chi, or have a watch of the video below?

Final thoughts…

Once you’ve chosen which martial art you’d like to try, then the next step is to find a club so you can take part in a taster session. There are loads of martial arts clubs, centres, and dojos all over the UK. And, like anything, some are better than others, so it’s worth doing your research into each place.

It’s also worth checking that classes at clubs, centres, and dojos are accredited by a trusted organisation like The British Martial Arts and Boxing Association (BMABA). You can use their helpful directory to find a class near you.

For more sports and activities content, why not head over to the fitness and exercise section of our website? Here you’ll find plenty of inspiration for other ways to have fun and stay fit.