Best martial arts for small guys

Just because you might be of a smaller than average stature there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to defend yourself against a larger opponent.

My recommendation for the best martial arts for smaller guys, would be:

  • Muay Thai
  • Boxing

One of the first questions you should ask yourself is ‘why you want to learn a martial art’ in the first place.  Is it because you actually feel physically threatened in your neighborhood or is it because you feel somehow insecure and feel that knowing how to fight might improve your confidence?

If the latter, then I suggest the real issue is to do with self-esteem..  Perhaps you feel others insult or slight you in some way. Even if this were the case, and not just in your imagination, reacting with physical violence is unlikely to be the answer.  

If it’s simply your ego that being dented then you may be better off learning to calmly walk away from the situation.  If it’s a particular group of people who you feel are offending you then it might be better to find another group to hang out with or get better at verbally retaliating: develop your sense of humor to develop witty retorts.

In the above scenario, engaging in actual physical violence is really the nuclear option.  There’s no going back once you initiate a physical response. At best, you look like you’ve completely overreacted to the situation and at worst, you could end up hurt and/or in trouble with the law.

If, however, you genuinely feel under threat of attack where you live, then you may have a genuine need to learn a martial art.  Perhaps you live in a dangerous neighborhood or have been attacked in the past.

If this is the case, one of the first things you can do is start to develop your awareness of your surroundings.

If you walk down any street, the chances are that the people you see will be walking along looking at their mobile phone.  Mentally, they’re completely detached from their environment.

Very few physical attacks come completely out of the blue.  Muggers will often walk passed a potential victim several times before deciding whether to initiate an attack.  

Too many people don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around them.  They’re unable to see any potential danger until it’s too late. They don’t notice the group of thugs lurking in a doorway up ahead or the individual crossing the road towards them.

The other issue to consider is why you think you’re being targeted.  Rather like in the animal world, predators will typically go after the weakest member of a herd.  Are you projecting an image of weakness? Do you walk along with your shoulders hunched over, looking down, hoping no one will notice you and trying to make yourself as big as possible.  If so, your body language is telling others that you lack confidence and self-esteem. Anyone with malicious intentions will see you as a victim.

The posture you’ve adopted may be subconscious but you’ve now got to take conscious control of your stature and break the habit of bad posture.  This in fact may be of more use than any martial art.

Get into the habit of standing up straight when you walk.  Rather like they teach cadets in the military, your chest should be the foremost point of your body when you walk, your shoulders should be pulled back and your chin should be raised slightly.  In essence, you are trying to expand your body to fill your surroundings in the same way animals do in the wild.

In short, you walk to project an image of confidence.  Don’t worry if inside you don’t feel confident inside. There’s a saying:  fake it until you make it.  Make adopting a confident posture a habit. Whenever you’re standing or walking, periodically ask yourself if your body language is communicating the image you want to project to the world.

As well as a confident posture, another key tip to help ward off potential attackers is to bulk up..  I’m not talking about piling on the pounds but try to gain lean muscle mass. Despite being of a shorter stature, a powerful looking physique can be enough to put off any would be attacker.

The easiest way of doing this is to start weight training.  Personally I’m an avid follower of Scooby on YouTube and have gained a reasonable amount of muscle following his advice.

Being aware of potential danger, adopting a confident posture and developing some muscle mass can be easiest way of helping to discourage physical confrontation.  However, if you’re still keen to learn a martial art, I’ll outline those martial arts that are particularly effective for those of smaller stature.

BJJ is an excellent martial art and is enjoying a huge upward surge of popularity.  Despite this I wouldn’t recommend it as a suitable form of defense in this context.

It’s primarily a ground based, grappling style of fighting.  As a smaller fighter the last place you want to find yourself is on the floor with a larger stronger opponent.  Their longer limbs will mean they have move of a mechanical leverage advantage over you meaning their locks and holds will be devastatingly effective.

Of course, YouTube is full of examples of larger opponents being choked out or submitted by smaller BJJ practitioners. However, these fighters have spent many years perfecting their craft and are at the top of their game.  Plus, how many times was the opposite the case where the smaller BJJ guy was brutally beaten up but it wasn’t recorded for YouTube.

So what fighting styles would be suitable?

As a smaller fighter, the one advantage your likely to have over a larger opponent is mobility.  Generally speaking you’ll be able to move quicker than your opponent.

It’s for this reason that I’d recommend boxing as a key skill to hone.  A major component of the training is concerned with foot work and moving towards and away from your opponent with lightening speed.

You only need to see Manny Pacquiao in action to realise this is the case.

In boxing you would also learn how to punch correctly.  

It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to properly form a fist, and coordinate their entire body to deliver a powerful punch.  With training, the smaller guy can have a significant advantage over a larger attacker if they can move quickly, and time their movements to be able to punch effectively.

The one thing they need to avoid is ending up in a protracted clinch with could result in a wrestling situation taking place.  As I’ve said before, you need to avoid the ground at all costs.

A possible alternative or supplement to boxing would be Muay Thai.  

This is the combat sport of Thailand and comprises of kicks, knees, elbows and various clinching techniques.

It originates from the mid-16th century and was popularised by Nai Khanomtom who was captured in 1767 in one of the battles between the Burmese of the Konbaung Dynasty and Siam.  The Burmese provided Nai with the opportunity to fight for his freedom. He subsequently won and returned home a hero. His fighting style was known as Siamese-Style boxing which was later known as Muay Thai.

Not only do you have the devastating punching techniques of boxing but you also have kicks,knees and elbows at your disposal.

Related Article: Why is Muay Thai so dangerous?

With this style you can easily off balance your opponent with a well timed sweep thereby giving you enough time to make your escape.

With both boxing and Muay Thai styles you will learn several important aspects:

Controlling your fear response

Being confronted by aggression is a frightening scenario to be in.  Your body will be flooded with adrenaline, your heart will race, your breathing will quicken and you’ll typically respond in one of three ways: flight (you’ll run away), fight (you’ll engage in physical conflict), and freeze (you’ll be frozen to the spot, paralyzed by fear).

The latter response is what you want to avoid at all costs.  If your reaction is to freeze to the spot, you’ll be at the mercy of your attacker.

Both boxing and Muay Thai are full contact fighting styles.  Its participants are used to facing aggressive opponents. It’s therefore more likely that if confronted by aggression on the street they are less likely to be struck by fear and end up rooted to the spot.

Use of controlled aggression

Practice of both fighting styles will enable you to best utilize your fight reaction.  

As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the possible reactions to the adrenaline dump you experience when confronted by a potential threat.

During this reaction, blood flows to your muscles making you stronger, and your breathing rate increases flooding your body with oxygen gearing it up for a rigorous response.  

Most untrained individual will experience these sensations and will feel anxious and afraid.

The fighter will recognize the body’s response as being perfectly natural and actual helpful since it will make them a stronger and faster in combat.  Instead of becoming afraid they will channel their aggression into deliberate actions: powerful strikes and offensive attacks.

The smaller fighter must be like the honey badger.  If you’ve ever seen a YouTube clip of one of these creatures will know how aggressive and determined they are if attacked.  The size of a small dog, they will often subdue animals several times larger than themselves. This is accomplished by being extremely savage and relentless when they fight.

An awareness of pain

Because both these fighting styles are full contact, the practitioner will be used to being struck.  They are therefore unlikely to be intimidated if they receive a blow if attacked on the street.

In contrast, an untrained individual unused to fighting will likely be extremely fearful if struck. This is likely to knock out any fighting spirit they may have had in them.

Punching and blocking techniques

This goes without saying really; in essence you’ll learn how to fight.

Both fighting styles are full contact and as a result only the most effective blocks and strikes are passed on down the generations.  If you’re training at a decent school, you can be assured your learning a fighting style that will be effective both in the ring and on the street.


Just because you might be of shorter than average stature, with proper training in the right fighting style, there’s no reason why you couldn’t defend against a larger opponent.


Happy training!


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