I practice Karate but as a 5'2" adult male I'm beginning to wonder if I'm wasting my time with martial arts.

Years and years ago I did well in tournaments when I was fighting kids my own sort of size but in my mid to late teens I stopped growing and started getting pounded into the ground by people twice my size.

Is Martial Arts ability inherently bounded by the anatomy we are born with?

Are there any short but exceptionally good martial artists I can draw inspiration from? (Bruce Lee was a basketball player compared to me).

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    Are you only looking at empty handed arts? Size and power matter less when you're talking weapon arts.
    – Bankuei
    May 26, 2016 at 2:41
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    This is gonna attract some attention from the Hot Network Questions, I can assure you
    – MKII
    May 26, 2016 at 8:35
  • @MKII Yeah, I thought the context would be immediately obvious on this site. I forgot about the Hot Network Questions thing. I apologize to all the mislead souls.
    – user8023
    May 26, 2016 at 18:32
  • @Bankuei Yes that's a fair point. Since it's not clear one way or another by the question, if you do have something valuable to say about weapons I would encourage you to share. I'm only really aware of the Naginata used extensively in Japan by women to even the odds when fighting against men.
    – user8023
    May 26, 2016 at 18:35
  • Keep in mind that while bigger people may be more powerful, smaller people have speed that bigger people can't have. So they both have advantages and disadvantages.
    – LemmyX
    Jan 13, 2020 at 4:03

9 Answers 9


Many small grapplers have found success fighting bigger opponents. Lightweight Leandro Lo won the Brazilian open-weight nationals. Marcelo Garcia went on a tear in ADCC and Worlds for several years in the aughts against bigger, stronger opponents. Caio Terra is another tiny fighter who fights in absolute divisions.

Massive skill advantage can overcome size. But regardless of success, training is good for you no matter your size. Be the best you you can be.

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    Hey Dave, what about Helio Gracie (139 lbs) x Kimura (210 lbs) graciemag.com/2011/10/39169 This is a huge size difference.
    – AFetter
    May 25, 2016 at 22:29
  • Yup. I think Rener and Rorion Gracie once had a good quote on this subject. They said that for every 20 pounds of weight someone has on you, you need to be one rank level higher than they are. Of course, it's just a gross generalization, but it's the principle that's important. Someone who weighs 100 pounds more than you, has a ton of muscle and is athletic, etc. is going to be hard to beat even for a multi-degree black belt. But it's not pointless to keep training. At some point your skill level will be high enough to deal with even that guy. May 25, 2016 at 22:57
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    @AFetter Your link doesn't work for me (subscription?), but A) Helio lost that match, and B) while Helio did give up some size, I view with great skepticism any specific weight reports from the Gracie camp. May 26, 2016 at 7:38
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    Brazilian newspapers declared Helio "victorious" since Kimura took more than some Gracie-announced amount of time to win by repeatedly smashing Helio to the mat and breaking his arm—nearly ripping it off, in fact. That it is viewed as anything but a terrible drubbing for BJJ is testament to the power of propaganda. May 26, 2016 at 7:43
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    Toshihiko Koga (-71 kg at that time!) startet at the All Japan open weight Championships (Judo) in 1990, fighting 100kg+ people and successfully advancing not to be stopped until the final, to add one additional example. May 26, 2016 at 11:26

Yes, obviously size matters for martial arts. Success in martial arts is a combination of speed, strength, skill, technique, bravery, etc. If you are smaller, you have to make up for being smaller with other factors. Part of this is that small people need to adopt fighting strategies that may be different from big people. Your martial art studies should be preparing you for that; if your techniques do not work against people who are bigger and stronger, then you need to figure out how to use them better or find others that work for you.

In judo, Kyuzo Mifune is an excellent example of a small person who was successful at the highest level. But keep in mind he is exceptional and not the norm.


Size does matter, but only if you play to their strengths and not yours. A 6'+ will have reach on you, yes, but will be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to a low center of gravity and when you are well inside their reach. You can throw them much easier than they can throw you. Also, knowing that they have the reach may make them overconfident and make mistakes. It's your job to capitalize on those mistakes and show them it's not always about reach or brute force. With martial arts, it's all about using your strengths against their weaknesses. Maybe looking into a grapple-based martial art?


Yes. Size does matter. It matters a great deal. Fighting techniques are essentially 'tricks' developed by people to try and stack the odds in their own favor, but they can only compensate for so much disparity. Realistically, no amount of martial arts training is going to make a 5'2" man the equal of an NFL lineman (average size 6'5" and 312 lbs.) in unarmed combat. Greater reach and mass can be an overwhelming advantage. A high degree of skill and experience can achieve a lot, but they can't defy the laws of physics.

  • ^_^ Gun-fu is an amazing equalizer... really, most weapons are. But yeah, unarmed combat is a different beast. May 26, 2016 at 17:35
  • @ Sean Duggan Guns are an amazing reversal of fortunes for the little guy. I'm 6'5" and while hand-to-hand combat has always come pretty easy for me, my size suddenly becomes a disadvantage when guns come into play. This was really brought home for me when I regularly struggled to find effective cover during Army maneuvers.
    – Zen_Hydra
    May 26, 2016 at 18:16

Is Martial Arts ability inherently bounded by the anatomy we are born with?

Not so much by height alone in absolute terms (i.e. real unarmed life-and-death fights), but within your own style - with their rules, techniques and training methods, conventional tactics etc. - it might be more or less important.

If you feel more comfortable with the challenge of fighting other people of similar overall build, you could look for styles where the tournaments are split into weight divisions: if someone's still taller at least it probably means you heave a strength advantage. You could still enter the next weight division up if you want greater challenge, without it being totally overwhelming. As you get used to that you may be able to work your way back to open weight tournaments, if you think that helps you prepare for actual fights against much larger opponents and that's your priority.

Key skills include closing the gap suddenly, "trapping" - where you block the opponent's limbs across their own body restricting their further movement, getting blind side advantage (behind the line of their shoulders - though in an artificial rule set their may be limitations on the strikes you can perform from there), and "centre line" concepts such as wing chun's where you block the taller opponent's efforts to bring their limbs in from the sides and press forward owning the centre.

I personally find watching video of fights in slow motion useful to clearly see why/how the fight unraveled as they do, and I suggest you patiently study video of your own fights or sparring sessions, and other fights where there's a height discrepancy, particularly if the shorter fighter dominates. If there's someone you have trouble defeating in the dojo - watch how someone else picks them apart and try to apply some of the same tactics, or other tactics to exploit the same weaknesses.

Are there any short but exceptionally good martial artists I can draw inspiration from?

Kenji Midori, Kancho (President) of Shin Kyokushin karate, is 165cm tall and won the 5th World Tournament for Kyokushin, back before the founder Mas Oyama died and the organisations split. In that final he fought Akira Masuda, 177cm tall, though he fought taller opponents at other times. You'll find plenty of online video of his fights, as well as demonstrations of kata and breaking. That said, fighting without punching to the head could be considered somewhat of an artificial equaliser between heights, as having your head in arms reach isn't so dangerous, but then kyokushin allows downward elbows to the collarbone/shoulder, and knees and kicks to the head, with no protective gear.


If you're only looking at empty handed arts, typically competition favors size. Size allows people to hold greater range, to dish out and receive more punishment in striking, and to power-through to get out of some submission locks in grappling.

However, most martial arts trace their roots back to combative origins, where people used weapons whenever they were an option. Size matters less with weapons, because no amount of muscle stops a spear from going in your gut, or mace from shattering the side of your knee. If people can hunt boars or tigers with weapons... certainly size or bulk isn't enough to protect you.

With weapons, skill matters most. Can you get the hit in, in the right places, first?

If you're looking for competition options, there's plenty to choose from. You'll want to take a close look at how they measure scoring, such as what counts as a legit target vs. what scores good points. I don't see much point in scoring where only 2 targets count, or in scoring where hitting a pinky counts as much as a hit to the head or neck... but find what works for you.

If you're just looking for mastery and skill... well, in any weapon art where you get to do even a little bit of sparring, you'll quickly find out where you stand. However, when you see people much older than you, or who aren't very "fit" by most standards, yet can cut through your defenses and consistently dominate you, you can at least realize that with practice, anyone absent physical disability could also become just as good - including you.

In the big picture of "martial arts" as a trained skill, throughout history, around the world, in battle, for survival - size turns out to be a smaller factor than you think.


Massive training of Speed and precision. Practice your hands with shadow boxing with weights in your arms and legs. And also for precision you need to aim the target with HIGH AIMING ABILITY, so you need a much smaller target practice like hanging a rope instead of a punching bag then hit it. Also with this training you can also gain more stamina.


Wow! My take is not from the usual experience but it is from experience -- move my grandmasters were considerably smaller stature yet exceedingly well trained and had great abilities, however there was one student who was near seven feet tall who could do most everything that a third degree or fourth degree black belt should be competent in and he did with all the rapacious grace of any -- he died of cancer years ago but he stands out as a testament to "no size is inconsequential" though not as the fashions of today consider. These were lifetime practitioners however and not MMA or the like.

  • I am not your brother, but be that apparent -- I suppose that you have posed a question to which you'll only find the answer to by immediate means hence blocks and bricks are amply available. Jun 10, 2016 at 8:36
  • Apologies, got my meme wrong: Cool story bro. Still, this does not answer the question. Jun 10, 2016 at 8:45
  • Please do not create new answer that add nothing. Edit your answer. I would suggest you take the tour to learn how this site works. Jun 10, 2016 at 9:17

No, size doesn't matter heart and by that I mean the desire to do a thing -- I've seen 6'8" and 220 lbs fly up nimbly and 5'4" 220 lbs men do the same (I've only met a few (5-10) women/lady masters and grandmasters (2,3). I've seen (nearly) chubby, and old men do that what they envisioned and others hesitate to believe possible at all -- seen kids who aspired greatly outperform their hopes (these are or become State, National & Inter-Nation representatives as athletes).

Size of ones appetite to excel matters, yes.

  • Please do not create new answer that add nothing. Edit your answer. I would suggest you take the tour to learn how this site works. Jun 10, 2016 at 9:17

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