Best Martial Arts for Bad Knees

There is a saying in martial arts: “you don’t stop training because you get old, but you get old because you stop training”. But if you have a knee injury, martial arts can be a struggle. So, what are the best martial arts if you have bad knees?

The best martial arts for bad knees are Tai Chi and Karate. These martial arts are low-impact, and you don’t have to kick a heavy bag or do sparring. Practitioners of  Tai Chi and Karate are allowed to progress at their own pace. And Tai Chi is even a solo practice done without partners.

These martial arts often attract people who are young, old, or injured.

Let’s look at the limitations of a martial artist with bad knees. I’ll then talk about what other martial arts you can train if you have bad knees.

In the end, I’ll also tell you how you can train more difficult martial arts like BJJ and MMA with bad knees.

Should you do martial arts if you have bad knees?

If you have bad knees, you should do some physical activity if your doctor or physician has recommended you do so. Training martial arts can help you strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the knees. This can reduce pain and decrease your risk of knee injuries.

However, there are some martial arts that put too much strain on the knees. It is not a good idea to do Boxing, Wrestling, or Muay Thai if you have bad knees. This is because these martial arts require you to pivot on your feet quite a lot.

This can put you at risk of a knee injury.

If you have bad knees, you should generally avoid martial arts that involve hard punching and kicking. So Boxing, Muay Thai, and MMA are off the list. This is because, in these martial arts, you are going to have to twist and pivot too much. This can put you at risk of a ligament injury.

Ligament injuries in the knees take a very long time to heal. In fact, your knee may never be the same again after one.

Also, you should avoid martial arts where you are deliberately going to have your knees twisted. So, for example, in BJJ, MMA, and Sambo, you are going to get your leg locked. You can still train BJJ, just skip the classes where there are leg locks. Or ask your training partner not to leg lock you in sparring.

You should also avoid martial arts that have jumping in them. So stay away from Taekwondo, Capoeira, and the likes.

Can you do Jiu-Jitsu with bad knees?

As a general rule, you can do BJJ and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu with bad knees. However, you should avoid training takedowns. Or you can train takedowns, but don’t do any wrestling sparring. Also, you should try to avoid training leg locks.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu will be much easier on your knees than BJJ. This is because there is less sparring in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. There is also less Wrestling and less emphasis on leg locks.

Want to learn more about the differences between Japanese and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

If so, check out this recent article on my site. I talk about the fundamental differences in the styles and the differences in the ranking and grading systems. But I even cover the one thing that makes BJJ so much harder for most.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Leg locks and Wrestling are not the only hazards in Japanese and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, however. In these martial arts, you are also going to have to play guard. This is where you use your legs to try and sweep and submit your opponent.

There are many complex guards that you won’t be able to use if you have bad knees. For example, you will struggle to do spider guard, De la Riva guard, and maybe even half guard. You will only be able to use the closed guard if you have bad knees.

You may also struggle to pass the guard sitting down. You will only be able to pass guards standing up.

The good news is there are hundreds of techniques in BJJ, and most of them can be used by someone with a physical disadvantage. Check out this recent article on my site, where I talk about the top 49 techniques you can use in BJJ.

Are Karate and traditional martial arts bad for your knees?

Overall, Karate is not bad for your knees.

This is because the techniques in Karate are not explosive and don’t really require much rotation of the knees. You also don’t do Wrestling in Karate, so you are not going to have to carry anyone’s weight.

The hardest part about Karate if you have bad knees might be horse stance.

Horse-stance is basically a wide-legged squat. But most of the discomfort hits your thighs in that position and not the knees.

Karate and Traditional martial arts are probably the easiest to do if you are injured. In Karate schools, there is no pressure on sparring most of the time. This is great because it means you can train at your own pace.

In other martial arts, especially in BJJ, almost everyone is expected to do sparring and competitions. This is probably why so many people get injured.

There are some traditional martial arts you should stay away from though:

  1. Kyokushin Karate – This is the most brutal form of Karate. There are lots of hard sparring, competitions, and kicking to the legs. It is basically like traditional, bare-knuckle kickboxing. Kyokushin Karate is more of a combat sport designed for fighting rather than a martial art.
  2. Taekwondo – In Taekwondo, you are going to learn kicks and jumps that bad knees won’t be able to handle. Still, there are many schools that cater to less athletic individuals, but they tend to have low standards. They give out belts like candy.
  3. Kung Fu – There are many types of Kung Fu, and most of them require that you use explosive jumps and kicks. This is not suitable if you have bad knees.

Tai Chi is the best martial art if you have bad knees. This is because Tai Chi is all about movement and controlling your breathing. It is more about mindfulness and coordination as opposed to fighting. This makes Tai Chi great for people with injuries or those who want to train a low-intensity martial art.

Is Kickboxing bad for your knees?

Overall, Kickboxing and other similar martial arts like Muay Thai, and Sanshou, are bad for the knees. This is because there is a lot of pivoting on the knees when you punch and kick.

In Kickboxing, you also kick the heavy bag quite a lot. If you already have bad knees, this can make the pain worse. Also, you won’t be able to use the clinch and knee the heavy bag if you are injured.

Another danger of Kickboxing is the inevitable leg kicks. Everyone in Kickboxing gets kicked in the leg, and it hurts. What’s worse is that there are actually some kicking techniques that are supposed to triple the knee by bending it backward!

If you want to train striking but have bad knees, the best martial art you can train in is Karate. Wado Ryu Karate is quite low-impact and still teaches you the full toolkit of striking techniques.

How to train martial arts if you have bad knees

If you have bad knees, then you need to make some adjustments to your training. You won’t be able to train at full intensity or partake in hard sparring, and there are even going to be some techniques that you can’t do.

Here are some things that you should avoid if you have bad knees:

  • Wrestling and Judo – you don’t want to get thrown or have to carry the weight of your opponent. This could cause your knee to buckle. Also, be careful of people jumping guard on you in BJJ training.
  • Leg kicks – these could cause your knee to bend backward, so train lightly.
  • Kicking the heavy bag too hard – again, a risk to your knees. Especially for spinning kicks where you land with your heel. Many people have hyper-extended their knees with such techniques.
  • Leg locks – there are many leg entanglements in BJJ that are dangerous. You should avoid calf slicers and heel hooks especially.
  • Jumping – don’t do the fancy kicks of Taekwondo, as things are bound to end badly for you!
Training Karate With Bad Knees


It is possible to train martial arts if you have bad knees, however, you are going to have to avoid high-impact martial arts. You should not do Boxing, Wrestling, MMA, or Kickboxing and its variants.

Also, avoid Takedowns and Judo throws. It is best if you don’t use BJJ leg locks and entanglements either.

If you have bad knees, the best martial art you can do is Tai Chi. This is because Tai Chi has no sharp, sudden movements. In most Tai Chi schools, you are not going to have to do any sparring. You generally don’t hit the heavy bag in Tai Chi, and there is no grappling.

Overall, you need to assess your particular situation. If you are unsure, talk to a doctor or medical professional to determine what level of martial arts training you can handle and take it from there.

Image by Angelo Esslinger from Pixabay and Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay


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