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The Best Martial Arts and Self Defense Programs for Seniors

On a blue background, an old man athlete beats a punch arm

Whether you study basic self-defense techniques or pursue advanced martial arts training, knowing that you’re capable of defending yourself can be a great confidence booster.

Learning self-defense can help you to feel safer when out in public and provide a sense of empowerment, especially for women and seniors. Additionally, many self-defense classes promote fitness and can be a fun way to socialize and meet new people.

Whatever your age or ability level, there’s no reason not to give self-defense a try. Here are a few of the most popular martial arts styles among older adults.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a good basic starting point for beginners who want to proceed cautiously. Students execute a series of slow, flowing, low-impact movements that provide a good foundation for more advanced disciplines.


The practice of aikido is favored by people with disabilities. It’s similar to judo in that it uses the strength and power of an opponent against them. By redirecting the force of an attack, you can overwhelm a stronger attacker by turning the tables and leveraging the element of surprise.

Aikido doesn’t practice punches or kicks, but it can teach you how to fall without hurting yourself.


This Brazilian martial arts discipline is dynamic yet safe. Jiu-jitsu is a soft practice that involves defending yourself from a more powerful opponent. The practice involves an intense aerobic workout coupled with abundant ground work to increase hip mobility and strengthen the entire body.

Jiu-jitsu is about manipulation and balance rather than counterforce. This discipline is a good introduction to the more intense martial arts practices that involve throwing attackers to the floor and pinning them down.

Some striking is involved. However, the focus is on throws and joint locks. Of great importance is the ability to dodge attackers and free yourself from holds. Leverage and technique are used to overcome size and strength.

Wing chun

Wing chun is a kinder and gentler cousin of kung fu. This low-impact practice focuses on speed, posture and precision. If you are prone to falls, wing chun can teach you how to roll and tumble after a fall to escape injury.

Movements are open-handed strikes and low kicks. Jumping and aerobics are not involved, so it’s easier on the knees.

Cane fu

Cane fu is a form of self-defense that cleverly disguises a lethal weapon as an innocent walking stick. Cane fu can be used effectively by just about everyone – even people in wheelchairs.

A classy wooden cane can quickly disable an assailant with one smart wrap across the knees. Wooden canes are heavier, making them especially lethal. For instance, a wooden cane topped with a metal knob can cause serious damage if the end is used to strike an opponent on the head.

Canes shaped like a shepherd’s staff, with one curved end, can be used to hook an assailant by the neck or by the foot. This technique can be used to throw them off balance and lose their footing.

If you’re serious about self defense, some combat canes come with a series of notches along the length of the cane’s shaft. The force of a blow with the notches delivers more damage than a smooth surface would.

Tips to keep predators at bay

A study published by the U.S. Department of Justice title Attracting Assault – Victims’ Nonverbal Cues reveals that assault victims are generally singled out by their assailants based on their gait and demeanor.

In interviews with prisoners, researchers found that criminals choose victims based on their body language. People who shuffle their feet, keep their eyes to the ground and have poor posture or an awkward gait are considered easy to overcome.

The study concludes that nonvictims have an organized quality about their body movements, whereas “perceived victims are nonsynchronous or antisynchronous in their movements.“

Here are some practices to discourage would-be attackers:

  • Be aware of your environment.
  • Maintain good posture and keep your head up.
  • Walk confidently, keeping pace with other pedestrians.
  • Make eye contact briefly with people around you.
  • Don’t use your phone or consult a map while walking.
  • Know your route before you venture out.
  • Stay in well-lit areas where other people are present.
  • Keep a whistle and a small flashlight in your bag.
  • Maintain a low profile.

These tips, together with a self defense program and a martial arts class, can maximize your safety on the street and significantly reduce your risk of attack. Regular practice of the martial arts can also boost stamina, increase range of motion, sharpen mental acuity, build self-discipline, and improve coordination.

Our senior living community in Lewes, DE offers a vibrant, active lifestyle supported by personal services and life-enriching amenities. Contact us to schedule a visit today.

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