Practicing a martial art can be an amazing way for a man of modest height not only to learn to defend himself, but to develop the all-important qualities of self-discipline and confidence.
But before you can really dive into choosing the best martial art for yourself and your stature, it’s important to have a brief overview of how all of these different styles developed — and what they’re best at.
Armed with knowledge of the purpose behind each particular school, you’ll be equipped to find the perfect match for your own unique strengths and weaknesses.
The Three Ranges of Fighting
Among professional martial artists, it’s well-known that there are three major areas that fighting occurs in:
- Ground Fighting
What’s not so commonly acknowledged is that each of these ranges favors a certain body type. Especially for men of modest height, this can be a make-or-break consideration in choosing which fighting style to train.
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Understanding each of these areas of self-defense in depth can help you decide which martial art is best for you, so let’s take a look at each of them individually…
Martial arts that focus on the striking range have been the darling of choreographed movies for decades: Think of Bruce Lee’s lightning fast punches, Rocky’s never-say-die stamina or Jet Li’s high-flying kicks.
But did you know that martial arts focused on the punching and kicking range may be least suitable to men of modest height? It’s true: In most striking arts, the fight favors participants with longer limbs, as well as those who are heavier.
Does that mean shorter guys should stay away from any striking art? Not quite. There are some great martial arts for short guys.
Thankfully, a handful of styles have addressed this possible weakness, even turning it into a strength; we’ll take a look at those later in this article.
It’s been said that though nearly all fights start standing, almost every one of them will end on the ground.
The grappling range specializes in how the fight gets from one place to the other — and making sure that the trainee has the upper-hand in this crucial area of the fight.
Popularized by martial arts such as Judo, wrestling, and Sambo, every art of this style favors artists with a low center of gravity, the focal point of the body’s weight (usually in the lower abdomen).
In this way, the throwing range greatly favors men of shorter stature, as their center of gravity is naturally lower than a taller man.
Ground Fighting Range
With the rise of mixed martial arts and the UFC, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become the poster child for the grappling range.
Everything that happens once either fighter hits the ground.
Even more than the striking or throwing ranges, grappling is all about angles and leverage.
Unfortunately for shorter men, longer levers create more mechanical advantage — meaning that, for most applications in grappling, being of modest stature is not an advantage.
Is this evidence that small guys shouldn’t look to train in the grappling range? Absolutely not! One need look no further than Marcelo Garcia, the 5’8” jiu-jitsu phenomenon who has been called the “best pound for pound submission grappler in the world.”
Garcia’s example goes to show that what might look like a weakness at first can not only be overcome through training, but turned into an advantage.
The 3 Best Martial Arts for Short Men
The most well-rounded, professional fighters in the world will eventually end up training in all three ranges of a fight. For the beginner to martial arts, though, choosing one area to focus on will be the fastest way to develop skill and confidence.
Let’s take a look at the best martial art for short guys in each area:
Known in Asia as the “art of the 8 limbs,” Muay Thai is a fast, powerful style of kickboxing that uses the hands, feet, elbows and knees to maximum effect.
Especially renowned for its “clinch”, the striking area just before going moving into throwing range, Muay Thai (or simply Thai boxing) has developed a reputation as being suitable for shorter or smaller practitioners because of its focus on close-range striking with the knees and elbows.
If any sort of boxing has ever caught your attention, Muay Thai is an excellent option for shorter men to even the playing field in a range of fighting that often favors longer-limbed competitors.
The historical precursor to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo has been highly lauded in Japan for centuries as a means for practitioners of all shapes and sizes to learn self-defense.
Literally translated, the “gentle way” focuses on maximum efficiency with minimal effort.
This means that, at the highest levels of training, size and weight become immaterial; the skill of the martial artists becomes such that they are able to execute throws with an absolute minimum of muscular force.
What’s more, the lower a judo trainee’s center of gravity, the easier it is to learn to execute throws in the beginning stages. For this reason, shorter men will start Judo training with a slight natural advantage.
Descended from Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become a fully-fledged martial art after taking the world by storm in the early days of the UFC.
Developed by the now-famous Gracie family, its focus on joint locks and chokes sets it apart from other fighting styles.
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OSS 🤙🏻 … Huge thank you to my coaches (Sean and Santos) and teammates at Northside BJJ!! Anyone who trains knows how hard and painful and addictive and fulfilling jiu-jitsu is. At least in my experience, there’s nothing else like it. Took a long time – and a few injuries – to get my blue belt, but I’m feeling proud and ready to hit the mats. Congrats to everyone else who got promoted today, especially Anthony (the fresh black belt on the far right)! 👊🏼
By making the best use of leverage and positioning, BJJ seeks to nullify the advantages of bigger and stronger opponents — making it an excellent choice for men with smaller frames.
Once the fight is on the ground, many of the advantages of size are no longer relevant.
Sometimes likened to a sort of “physical chess,” jiu-jitsu rewards ingenuity and strategy just as much as physical strength. With plenty of local and regional tournaments, there are many opportunities to test your skills in real (yet safe!) combat.
Is There 1 Best Martial Art for Small Guys?
So, with these styles in mind, is there a single area that men of modest height should focus on?
Short answer: Not really. While it’s tempting to only look for the martial art which can maximize your natural strengths, the best martial artists in the world all share one secret:
What you train doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you train.
See, it’s easy to try and convince yourself that being a smaller guy means that you won’t be any good at a particular martial art.
The deeper truth of it, though, is that applying yourself to any physical discipline will build a level of confidence and self-discipline that is more important to your life than having the “right” martial art.
The longer answer, then? Maybe only that the best martial art for you is one that genuinely interests you — that way, you’ll stick with it longer, and build even more knowledge and skill.
Conclusion: The Best Self Defense for Short Guys
With a better understanding of the distinct ranges of fighting — and how they relate to a person’s size — you’re well equipped to make the best decision for yourself. So what’s the next step?
It’s strongly recommended to seek out a school in your area that offers introductory classes.
Commit to at least a week or two, and take note of how the training makes you feel.
Because after all, the best martial art is the one that you want to continue training!
It should be fun, interesting and challenging all at the same time. That’s when you know you’ve found the right art for you.