Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Martial Arts?

Martial arts is a common hobby that many people look into at some point in their life. Media overwhelmingly depicts martial artists as fit individuals, but can somebody who is not in great shape start martial arts without working on their fitness beforehand?

You can start training martial arts even if you are out of shape or overweight. Most martial arts studios are welcoming to beginners regardless of their current fitness levels. Training martial arts alongside changes in diet can help you to lose weight and build up your general fitness.

Now that we know that getting into shape is not required to start martial arts, let’s take a look at some of the other factors that might come into play when you are considering getting started.

Do You Need to Be Fit for Martial Arts?

Having good fitness is always a plus when you are training in martial arts. Many traditional martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo are exceptionally beginner-friendly and have low expectations of personal fitness. Other arts like Judo have higher fitness expectations to excel.

For the most part, martial arts dojos and schools do not care about your fitness level. They usually blend martial arts with a desire to help their students achieve their goals, which results in a dual focus between skill acquisition and helping their students build fitness and discipline.

I put together the table below to illustrate what fitness requirements look like across a range of martial arts and combat disciplines at a typical school.

Martial Art / Combat Sport DisciplineFitness Difficulty for BeginnersFitness Usefulness for Overall Performance
KarateMinimalModerate
TaekwondoMinimalModerate
Kung FuMinimalModerate
JudoHighHigh
Brazilian Jiu-JitsuModerateModerate
MMAHighHigh
WrestlingHighHigh
Muay ThaiModerateHigh
KickboxingModerateHigh
BoxingMinimalHigh
Click the links for more details. This table compares fitness requirements for martial arts and combat disciplines qualitatively. It is based on personal experiences, experiences of my martial artist friends, and research.

As you can see from the table above, fitness requirements generally tend to go up when you want to progress well in most martial arts and combat disciplines.

Keep in mind that while fitness difficulty might be high, that does not mean you cannot get started taking those classes, it just gives you an idea of how hard the beginning stages of learning might be in terms of physical exertion. Don’t let fitness difficulty get in the way of all the ways that martial arts can improve your life.

Krav Maga is an honorable mention that is not an official martial art. The fitness difficulty for beginners and usefulness of fitness in a Krav Maga setting is minimal. For more check out Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Krav Maga?

Do You Need to Be Strong for Martial Arts?

Being strong is useful in martial arts. Having good core strength and overall basic strength allows you to perform techniques with greater power and quality of motion. In martial arts that include live sparring strength also gives the stronger martial artist a distinct advantage.

I put together the table below to illustrate what strength requirements look like across a range of martial arts and combat disciplines.

Martial Art / Combat Sport DisciplineStrength Needs for BeginnersStrength Usefulness for Overall Performance
KarateMinimalMinimal
TaekwondoMinimalMinimal
Kung FuMinimalMinimal
JudoModerateHigh
Brazilian Jiu-JitsuModerateModerate
MMAModerateHigh
WrestlingModerateHigh
Muay ThaiMinimalModerate
KickboxingMinimalModerate
BoxingMinimalModerate
This table compares strength requirements for martial arts and combat disciplines qualitatively. It is based on personal experiences, experiences of my martial artist friends, and research.

Taking a look at the table, it is obvious that having strength is useful for performance. Most martial arts and combat disciplines do not have a distinct strength requirement for getting started, but performance is definitely affected by being stronger.

This is especially true when you are doing martial arts that include sparring in classes.

Take a look here to see an example of a workout that you could use to build explosive strength when performed with controlled speed and power.

Do You Need to Be Flexible for Martial Arts?

Having at least moderate flexibility is useful for martial arts. Somebody with good mobility and flexibility will be able to execute a wider range of techniques and will have better power output through a bigger range of motion.

Flexibility is not a prerequisite to beginning martial arts, but in order to reach peak performance, flexibility and mobility cannot be neglected.

I put together the table below to illustrate what flexibility requirements look like across a range of martial arts and combat disciplines.

Martial Art / Combat Sport DisciplineFlexibility Needs for BeginnersFlexibility Usefulness for Overall Performance
KarateMinimalModerate
TaekwondoModerateHigh
Kung FuMinimalModerate
JudoModerateModerate
Brazilian Jiu-JitsuMinimalModerate
MMAModerateHigh
WrestlingModerateHigh
Muay ThaiModerateHigh
KickboxingModerateHigh
BoxingMinimalModerate
This table compares flexibility requirements for martial arts and combat disciplines qualitatively. It is based on personal experiences, experiences of my martial artist friends, and research.

Most martial arts benefit from flexibility and mobility because it allows better power and control through a greater range of motion. Martial arts that have a lot of level changes or aspects of kicking will require more mobility than others to reach peak performance.

This article does a great job outlining some high-value stretches and mobility training that could help build flexibility and mobility.

How Hard are Martial Arts to Learn?

Most martial arts fundamentals are easy to learn and approachable for beginners. Martial arts start to diverge more when it comes to the effort required to reach mastery. Ultimately, martial arts can be hard to learn but are all achievable with sufficient weekly martial arts training volume.

I put together the table below to illustrate the difficulty to learn a range of martial arts and combat disciplines for an average person.

Martial Art / Combat Sport DisciplineDifficulty of Learning FundamentalsDifficulty to Reach Mastery
KarateMinimalModerate
TaekwondoMinimalModerate
Kung FuMinimalModerate
JudoModerateHigh
Brazilian Jiu-JitsuModerateHigh
MMAModerateHigh
WrestlingModerateHigh
Muay ThaiModerateHigh
KickboxingMinimalHigh
BoxingMinimalModerate
This table compares the difficulty to learn various martial arts and combat disciplines qualitatively. It is based on personal experiences, experiences of my martial artist friends, and research.

Fundamentals are easier to learn across the board and anybody who wants to get started in any of these martial arts will usually be able to do so with some effort. Mastery of the different martial arts and combat disciplines varies greatly depending on factors like physical demands, the complexity of the sport, and whether or not live sparring occurs.

What to Expect in Your First Martial Arts Class

Martial arts classes vary greatly based on both the specific martial arts discipline and the instructor in charge of the class.

Most traditional martial arts classes will a format like this:

  1. Warm-ups: simple warm-ups and stretching
  2. General Fitness: basic calisthenics for strength and conditioning
  3. Fundamental Techniques: standard punches and kicks in solo-drill format
  4. Technique of the Day: instructor taught techniques and drilling of techniques
  5. Cool-Down: minor conditioning and stretching. Some martial arts will do a meditative cool-down.

What to Wear to Your First Martial Arts Class

Speak to the school in order to get an idea of what clothing and equipment to bring to your first class. Typically you will only be expected to bring yourself and wear gym clothes. If you have workout clothing that does not have pockets that is better since then nothing can get caught in pockets.

Final Thoughts

The barrier to entry for martial arts is usually pretty low in terms of fitness, so don’t let that play a big role in your personal calculations about if you should train in martial arts. Many martial arts schools will structure classes in a way that helps students get the most out of the lessons, which almost always means getting fundamentals right and helping students get fit for the martial art.

Martial arts classes are often structured so that both out-of-shape students and fit martial artists can learn something and improve their health and skills in class, so try not to let concerns about your fitness stop you from at least trying out classes in schools in your local area.

If you are more interested in starting combat sports check out Do You Need to Be Fit to Start Combat Sports?

Andre

Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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