Can A Fat Person Learn Martial Arts? [Spoiler: Of Course!]

Turn on the TV and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that every martial artist is perfectly toned and built like a Mercedes truck, either that or they’re four foot tall and answer to Miyagi-san. One thing you don’t see much of, except possibly in sumo, is larger people involved in martial arts.

This leads people to ask the question, can a fat person learn martial arts?

Yes, a fat person can learn martial arts. Not only can a fat person learn martial arts, but there are many good reasons to do so. Martial arts boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety and depression, and they reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of a fat person learning martial arts in more detail.

Can a fat person learn martial arts?

What Do We Mean By Fat?

Before we start looking at the reasons to take up martial arts, we’d better take a few seconds to talk about what we mean by fat. 

For the purposes of this discussion we’re going to assume that fat means someone with a Body Mass Index of greater than 25. 

You calculate your Body Mass Index by taking your weight, in kilograms (not pounds), and dividing by your height, in meters, squared. If you don’t want to do the math you can find a handy online calculator at Diabetes Canada. 

Now, it’s fair to say that sometimes your BMI is not an accurate reflection of your weight profile. While it is a useful guide for both men and women it throws out errors in two specific cases:

  • It may lead people who are very athletic to believe they have greater body fat than they do
  • It may lead older people whose fat is turning to muscle to believe they have less body fat than they do

That means for our purposes, the only people with a BMI greater than 25 who may not be fat are those who are already highly athletic

In this instance when we say “fat”, we simply mean someone who has more body fat than is healthy for them. 

Being fat can lead to increased risk of diabetes, heart diseases, strokes and even cancer. 

Why Should A Fat Person Learn Martial Arts?

There are two good reasons to learn martial arts if you are fat:

  • Martial arts are, usually, backed by a philosophy which enables you to develop self-discipline
  • Martial arts are scientifically proven to lead to weight loss and better health

Let’s take a look at each of those in more detail.

Martial Arts Philosophy

The martial arts are mainly drawn from Asian cultures. They were used for centuries in real combat between and within nations. 

While you may have seen plenty of movies where martial arts were used by a sadistic bad guy to quell a village full of people – martial arts were designed for self-defense not for attack.

This specific purpose meant that martial arts couldn’t just be about throwing, kicking, punching, etc. because otherwise they would become the tools of bullies.

So, martial arts were built on a platform of strict philosophy. The objective was to instill a strong level of self-control, self-respect combined with respect for others and a positive outlook on life. 

Mental Help says that the “consequences of being overweight or obese can include lowered self-esteem and anxiety, and more serious disorders such as depression…”

This lack of self-esteem combined with high-levels of anxiety and possibly depression can make it difficult to tackle being overweight. After all, when you’re feeling down on yourself, why not reach for a quick energy rush in the form of sugar, right?

Martial arts’ first benefit to a fat person is not physical but mental. It helps to restore that platform of self-esteem and self-respect that erodes as someone gains substantial amounts of weight. 

Regaining self-esteem has been linked to a drive to exercise more, and that means we can now turn to the next benefit of martial arts.

Martial Arts And Weight Loss (The Science)

It is fair to say that any form of exercise that is undertaken on a regular basis ought to lead to weight loss. 

However, it’s also fair to say that many people don’t stick to an exercise program as they lose weight. This in turn, leads to regaining the weight that they lost.

Martial arts offer a supportive environment which is, first and foremost, about instilling a level of self-discipline and also loyalty towards the other people you work out with. This is more likely to lead to a good habit of exercising regularly that is maintained as you lose weight.

Is there any evidence of this?

Yes, there is. Chaabene et al reported in their paper, “The Physical and Physiological Profile of Elite Karate Athletes” that there was a significant relationship between practicing karate and having low body fat in men. 

This led Ming-Chien Chy et al to try and examine the relationship between body fat and martial arts in women and their study, “Effects of martial arts exercise on body composition, serum biomarkers and quality of life in overweight/obese premenopausal women: a pilot study” found that not only did martial arts exercise help with weight loss but it also helped with inflammation which often hinders exercising in the first place.

How Do Martial Arts Promote Fat Loss? 

Martial arts are a physical discipline which can help with weight loss through:

  • Strength training. This may not help you lose weight directly, in the first instance, as you will gain muscle weight (muscle weighs more than fat) but in the longer-term it will help you lose fat.
  • Cardiovascular training. The more you work out, the more your heart gets a workout, the higher your metabolic rate becomes, and the faster you will lose weight. 
  • Flexibility training. One of the big disadvantages of being overweight is how much flexibility you lose in your body and this impedes your ability to exercise. As you become more flexible, you will find exercise easier and be able to do more, while reducing the risks of getting hurt. 

How Many Calories Would You Burn Doing Martial Arts?

This is a challenging question because it’s fair to say that calorific burn is in proportion to your current body weight. 

This is good news if you’re overweight because it means you will get a larger benefit from martial arts than someone who is not fat. 

In an hour of martial arts, it is estimated that you will burn approximately 10 calories per kilo of body weight or 4.5 calories per pound of body weight that you have.

So, a 140 lbs. individual should burn approximately 630 calories in an hour, whereas a 250 lbs. individual would burn 1,125 calories!

They estimate that to burn off a pound of fat, you will need to burn 4,500 calories. This means that a 250 lbs. individual should burn off their first pound of fat in just 4 hours of martial arts. The 140lb individual would need approximately 8 hours to do the same thing!

This is good news because it means that the fatter you are, the faster you can reap the benefits of taking up martial arts. You will quickly see your progress and that will give you more confidence to continue your new routine. 

Which Martial Arts Should Be Best For Weight Loss?

It’s recommended that you should only take up a single martial art until such a time as you have gained a strong level of proficiency in that art. Once you’ve mastered one martial art, it can be fun to take up another.

We take a deeper dive into this topic in another article. For now, let’s take a look at the best 3 martial arts for a fat person seeking weight loss:

  1. Judo. Judo doesn’t involve much in the way of kicking and punching because it’s all about throws and holds. This can make it an easy place to get started for the larger-framed person. However, it’s also not going to burn as many calories an hour as some of the more energetic martial arts because it’s not going to have you jumping around and throwing a lot of kicks and punches.
  2. Karate. Karate is very popular and because of its focus on upper body attacks you will find that it offers a much more rounded workout than judo. It’s not the perfect choice for a cardio workout but it’s great for strength building and weight loss.
  3. Capoeira. Theoretically, capoeira, should be our top choice is it is a very energetic sport which blends dancing and martial arts for a high-intensity workout. Why isn’t it our top choice? It may be too much for someone who hasn’t done any exercise in a while – you don’t want to get discouraged when you get started in martial arts.


Yes, a fat person can learn martial arts. Not only can you take up practice if you are a larger person, but you should if you want to be healthier and happier. 

Martial arts will give you the mental discipline to feel better about yourself whilst enabling weight loss, so that you can reduce your chances of illness in the future. That’s a win-win for you.

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