Best Martial Art for Someone with Bad Knees

The older a human being gets, the more open becomes the bad knees question. For martial artists, this question is even more common. As athletes in modern combat sports get knee injuries even at a young age. But what if despite the bad knees you still want to train? What is the best martial art for someone with bad knees?

Can you do martial arts that are easy on the knees?

Disclaimer: This best martial arts for bad knees article is not a call to action meaning you can train the mentioned fighting styles with 100% full force. Use your body wisely. Treat your both knees as if you have only one.

First of all, a very important thing to clear before we continue to discuss the ways how someone with bad knees can, should, or shouldn’t do martial arts.

Let’s determine two zones of people with bad knees before we go further:

*These zones are our own indication and are used for a better subject presentation of the article. They are not scientific terms.

Green Zone
someone with regular knee pain that appears under certain circumstances: moves, angels, load. Not caused by injury or disease. So-called “weak knees”
someone with a light form of arthritis
someone who is in the last phase of rehabilitation after a knee injury
a person with “aged week knees”
Red Zone
someone after knee injury/surgery
someone with an average or severe form of a knee disease

Can you do martial arts with bad knees if you are in the red zone?

No. Unless you work with a doctor or professional therapist, who guides you on your sports activity. We wouldn’t recommend people from the red zone start training martial arts by relying only on information on the internet.

Can you do martial arts with bad knees if you are in the green zone?

The green zone group has the chance to train in martial arts. But with one exception: it is better to find martial arts that are easy on the knees.

Knee Injuries Explained

Understanding what is going on inside the knee can help to be more conscious in the situation when an injury may happen.

You can find a lot of material on the internet with articles and images about the anatomical structure of a knee. But what if you could hear and see an explanation from a real doctor, who also knows what is martial arts, for instance, BJJ?

Sounds great, right?

This specific doctor can explain what grappling moves and jiu jitsu techniques may cause to a knee when an injury happens.

Fortunately, such doctors exist.

Here is an informative and easy-to-understand video about knee structure with a sports medicine doctor, who also trains jiu jitsu:

What are the knee injuries in martial arts?

The most common knee injuries are:
ligament tears
ligament damage and sprains
patellar or kneecap dislocations
cartilage tear (lateral and medial meniscus)

No matter what kind of martial art to do, the nature of a knee injury will be the same.

More important is to understand, what causes the injury. And the answer is on the surface: specific movements – sharp or repetitivemostly on standing when the full body weight stands on the feet.

Obviously that the main load in standing goes to the knees – when doing rotations for kicks, squatting and jumping, the passage in the legs, etc.

From here on let’s do a short conclusion before continuing to discuss the question.

What aspects should involve the best martial arts with bad knees?

The list of all existing martial arts in the world is big and we are not experts in all of them. Mainly we prefer to discuss those combat styles in which we at least have some experience or understand the basics.

For instance, I have trained in karate, tai chi, kung fu, wing chun. But my final stop I made in Brazilian jiu jitsu. I made it because BJJ is not about kicks, punches, and ground game, and still it makes me pleasantly exhausted after only 5 minutes of rolling.

In addition, I have a weak right knee, as I describe it to myself.

The main aspects that should the best martial art for someone with bad knees represent:

More Static
Fewer movements on legs – less impact on the knees
Ground positioned
Ground game based martial arts

So, the main principle when searching for the best martial art for someone with bad knees is:

The less a martial art makes an impact on your knee joints and ligaments, the more suitable this martial art is.

Best martial art for bad knees

Summarizing the given aspects above, let’s find out what combat styles fit better to train with weak knees.

Here is a list of the most popular today martial arts with given main short characteristics.

Apply each of them to your “bad knees condition” to determine which is better for you.

Popular Martial Arts
Muay Thai
Kung Fu
Tai Chi
martial art for someone with bad knees
Best martial art for someone with bad knees

Can you do jiu jitsu with bad knees?

Doing jiu jitsu with bad knees, in general, is a bad idea when you are dealing with a ligament tear, meniscus tear, etc.

Let’s give the word to someone who is in the martial arts for decades and has seen a lot of knee injuries.

As always, the BJJ black belt Stephan Kesting finds the right words to explain how it would be better to behave having a serious injury – to train or not to train jiu jitsu or any combat sports.

Spoiler: No, don’t do it.

Is judo bad for knees?

The most common injuries in judo are:
back injuries
joint injuries
knee injuries
shoulder injuries

Despite the fact that judo is a full-contact sport, serious injuries are rare as there is no punch and kick techniques, as in MMA or free fights. Also, judo fights are regulated through fight rules which help to prevent injuries.

Are knee injuries common in judo?

Nevertheless, a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine “Injuries in judo”, showed that knee injuries make up to 28%. The study was focused on the incidence rate, injury risk, types, location, and causes of injuries in judo during the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012.

Severe injuries in judo are quite rare.

judo throws gif
Judo throws; Screenshot from Google Images

And even though judo is ground fighting, like Brazilian jiu jitsu, it also comprises standing fighting utilizing throws, which means dealing not only with your own weight but also with the opponent’s one.

Guess what joints and parts of your body will absorb the whole weight?

Right, knees and your back.


So, summing up the above-mentioned about judo and knowing your weak knees condition – what is your answer? Is judo bad for your knees?

Weak knees treatment in BJJ

While making deep research on the topic of the best martial art for someone with bad knees, I found this very useful YouTube channel The Jiu-Jitsu Therapist.

The whole channel is devoted specifically to Injury prevention in Brazilian jiu jitsu, MMA, and grappling. There are tons of videos with hints for training, rehab, and physical therapy for martial arts athletes.

Three easy stretches for BJJ when having knee pain

A quite common story for those, who do grappling martial arts, is when at some point you fill small discomfort in your knees. Like tension in the knees or bruise pain on the side of the knee.

Sounds familiar?

Here are three easy stretches for BJJ and grappling styles that help to reduce the pain and tightness in the knees.

The interesting thing here is that your BJJ gi belt will help you as a tool.

Squatting to strengthen your knees

Do squatting to strengthen the connecting muscles and ligaments around the knee. But pay attention to squatting correctly.

Here are some best exercises for knee pain and injuries in judo and other grappling styles explained by judo athletes:

How to test knee for meniscus tear and exercises for recovery

Best martial arts for arthritis

Depending on the form of arthritis you may need recommendations from a sports therapist that can guide you on what kind of martial arts you can train.

Arthritis can be of different kinds and difficulty levels, chronic or temporary.

Once I got gouty arthritis after a BJJ tournament which was caused by my extreme weight cutting for the competition. You can read more about the story here – Extreme weight cutting for BJJ competitions.

uric acid
pic from the Web

Luckily I have healed my arthritis case.

But the first 1-2 weeks I was even walking with pain. Anyway, I could proceed with my jiu jitsu classes, because in jiu jitsu you don’t need necessarily to walk or run for regular rolling sessions.

So, from my own arthritis experience:

#1 Best martial arts for arthritis
Brazilian jiu jitsu

When we are dealing with the combination of arthritis and martial arts, then it might stand here a question what is the best martial art for someone over 50, 60, etc. As arthritis occurs in most cases with the age.

As #2 of the best martial arts for arthritis, we put tai chi.

Tai chi is about movements and meditation and is established today as a traditional Chinese gymnastics.

We would recommend finding a good tai chi instructor, who will explain and correct the stance in your tai chi exercises so you do not harm your knees more.

#2 Best martial arts for arthritis
Tai Chi

Is martial arts good for arthritis?

According to researchers, tai chi is not only a low impact martial arts for arthritis but may also help to heal it.

It’s not the complete list of best martial arts for arthritis. When dealing with such sensitive topics as arthritis and martial arts, I prefer to speak only from my own experience.

I had arthritis, I do BJJ and I did tai chi.

Is karate bad for knees?

As you have seen in the “Martial arts for bad knees pros and cons” sheet, doing karate at full strength – with all kicks, jumping moves, and speedy rotations may harm your weak knees even more.

Is there a way to utilize the regular karate techniques in a more gentle way?


Remember, stay wisely and don’t overtrain your body. Constant pain in the knees is not the same as muscle soreness.

Don’t ignore the signs, that your body gives you.

Find the least physically demanding martial art for your knees that also fits your type of character and mood. Luckily, the variety of modern combat sports allows choosing a training program according to any needs.

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