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Do You Need to be Flexible to Do Martial Arts?

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Flexibility is an important aspect of physical fitness that is often overlooked or downplayed in comparison to more “flashy” physical abilities like strength or speed. However, in the world of martial arts, flexibility can be an aspect as important as any other physical attribute.

Flexibility is important in varying degrees in different martial art styles. Some martial arts require high levels of flexibility to properly execute certain techniques. All martial arts require some flexibility, but it is a part of your physical makeup that you can work on to improve.

Watching accomplished martial artists can be an eye-opener for these experts’ flexibility in performing their combat style. This flexibility has taken years of training to achieve, so does limited flexibility exclude you from learning martial arts?

How Flexible Must You Be To Do Martial Arts?

Flexibility is a very useful attribute to have for any martial art, but the different styles have different flexibility requirements to execute techniques correctly.

This means that the importance of flexibility in martial arts differs between disciplines, giving options to less flexible people.

Flexibility is also a physical attribute that can be worked on and improved by specific exercises to gain the necessary range of motion to execute martial arts techniques correctly. 

So, if you currently do not have the flexibility required for a particular martial art, you can actively work on this aspect to improve your flexibility

Training in a martial art will also improve your flexibility to some degree as your training level progresses, but some martial arts may require additional exercise routines that focus on improving flexibility.

What role does flexibility play in martial arts?

The first and perhaps the most obvious way that flexibility is important in martial arts is in terms of technique. 

Many martial arts techniques, especially those found in styles like Karate or Taekwondo, rely on high, sharp kicks or fast, fluid movements. 

These techniques can be difficult to execute properly without a good range of motion in the joints, especially in the hips and legs.

In addition, flexibility can also play a role in defense. Being able to move and bend your body in a variety of ways can make it more difficult for an opponent to land a solid hit or grab hold of you. 

This is especially true in styles that rely on evasion and redirecting an opponent’s attacks, like Judo or Aikido.

It’s important to note that flexibility is not the be-all and end-all in martial arts. While it can certainly be helpful, it is just one aspect of physical ability, and many other factors can contribute to martial arts success.

For example, strength and power are also important in many martial arts styles, particularly those that involve striking or grappling. 

In addition, cardiovascular endurance and overall conditioning are crucial for sustaining the demands of training and competition.

Working on improving flexibility can still be a valuable pursuit for martial artists, as it can help with technique execution, defense, and overall physical conditioning

There are many ways to improve flexibility, including stretching and the practice of specific martial arts techniques.

Can non-flexible people learn martial arts that require flexibility?

Is it possible for people with less flexibility to learn martial arts requiring greater flexibility? 

Flexibility is a valuable attribute to have in martial arts, and there are many ways that practitioners can work on improving it. This means that a lack of flexibility does not exclude you from learning a martial art that requires more range of movement.

What it does mean is that you may have to put in some additional training in exercises designed to increase your level of flexibility. 

Flexibility can vary widely from person to person, and some individuals may naturally have a greater range of motion in their joints than others. This is due to varying factors, including genetics, age, and overall physical condition.

Flexibility can be improved in the following ways.

  • Range of motion exercises. These exercises are created to improve suppleness in joints and ligaments.
  • Stretching exercises. These routines lengthen muscle fibers, making them more flexible.
  • Practicing martial arts techniques that require flexibility. Actively focusing on practicing techniques that require flexibility will progressively improve your flexibility.

Martial Arts That Require Less Flexibility

As mentioned, some martial arts styles require less flexibility than others. You can train in one of these martial arts with only a moderate amount of flexibility and still become accomplished in these styles.

Working on your flexibility will make you more proficient in these styles and allow for more fluid movements, which are important for some disciplines. 

As a general rule, most grappling-based martial arts require less flexibility than other forms of martial arts.

  • Boxing. Boxing does not require much flexibility but requires a good range of motion in shoulders and hips, which generate much of the power in this sport.
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) BJJ requires a good range of motion in all major joints but does not include kicks, high kicks, and jumps like Taekwondo.
  • Judo. Judo is a grappling-style martial art using locks and throws and, as such, requires less flexibility than many other martial arts.
  • Sambo. This Russian martial art focuses on ground fighting and judo-style grappling. 
  • Aikido. This martial art is a fluid, flowing style which requires some level of flexibility but does not include kicks and jumps that require a higher level of flexibility.Fluid motion is needed to redirect your opponent’s energy and use it to your advantage.
  • Krav Maga. Developed for self-defense and close hand-to-hand combat for soldiers. This martial art requires less flexibility. 
  • Kenjitsu. A Japanese martial art focusing on swordsmanship
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Martial Arts That Require More Flexibility

Martial arts that require a higher level of flexibility may be more challenging for someone with a low degree of flexibility.

Anyone with low flexibility attempting to learn these martial arts must be aware that they will need to put in extra effort to improve their flexibility level.

As a general rule, any martial art that includes kicks, especially high kicks and jumps, requires a greater degree of flexibility to master.

  • Taekwondo. This martial art relies heavily on kicks, requiring high levels of suppleness and flexibility. In-flexible people can easily sustain an injury in this martial art and struggle to master the techniques.
  • Kung Fu. All the Kung Fu style martial arts, such as Wing Chun, require more flexibility to be effective in the techniques.
  • Capoeira. This martial art requires extreme flexibility due to the far-reaching, fluid, dynamic, and high-energy techniques. This martial art is often called the dancing martial art and should not be undertaken by people with limited flexibility.
  • Karate. Karate employs the use of forward and back kicks that require a high degree of stability and flexibility.
  • Muay Thai. A form of kickboxing from Thailand that uses a variety of kicks, including high kicks, as part of the important techniques in this combat style. 

How to Become More Flexible for Martial Arts

One way to improve flexibility is through stretching. Static stretches, involving holding a position for a set amount of time, can be a good way to increase flexibility in specific muscles or muscle groups. 

Dynamic stretches, which involve continuous movement and are often used as part of a warm-up, can also help improve flexibility.

Another way to improve flexibility is by practicing specific martial arts techniques. Many martial arts techniques, such as high kicks or deep lunges, can help to increase flexibility in the muscles and joints used in those movements.

Range of motion exercises that work major joints of the body and create suppleness and strength in the muscles around these joints will improve overall flexibility.

Tai Chi is another way to build on balance and flexibility in a controlled way that will benefit almost any martial art training.

Final Thoughts

Flexibility is important in most martial arts, but the level of flexibility required to master these fighting styles differ. Certain martial arts can only be mastered with a high level of flexibility.

Flexibility can be improved by practicing certain exercise routines that focus on stretching muscles, joints, and ligaments to improve range of motion and flexibility.