Is It Too Late to Learn Martial Arts at 20 or Older? (Analysis of Age and Combat Sports)


Many people associate getting older with physical decline and the disadvantages it can bring in terms of response time, flexibility, and the ability to recover quickly enough from physical training.

Are they right?

Well, as with most things, it depends on you as a person, your level of motivation, and your general disposition.

What we do know is that some people have the capacity to beat all the odds that would have suggested they weren’t capable of such feats; sometimes the only limiting factor is your mind or what people label you with.

How does this relate to learning martial arts though, and can we still learn it well enough to be effective after the age of 20 or older?

Let’s take a look.

What does science say about learning martial arts later in life?

One study paper from the University Hospital Maastricht and School for Mental Health and Neuroscience suggests that older adults learning “hard” martial arts i.e. Karate, Boxing, Taekwondo, etc, were likely to experience improvements in balance, reaction times, and mental clarity.

As a caveat, the paper does suggest that the risk of training injury is very real, not just for older folks, but people, in general, when practicing martial arts.

Conversely, the paper does suggest that improvements in overall health could be enough to offset this risk of training injury and could save the economy millions in healthcare costs for obesity or weight-related conditions.

Our interpretation of this is that exercise-based hobbies such as martial arts remain vital to stave off age-related disease and weight gain.

Basically, doing martial arts regardless of your age will be advantageous in almost any scenario so don’t let something as arbitrary as a number stop you.

What about younger adults?

Age-related muscle mass loss (sarcopenia) doesn’t start until your thirties and most people aren’t fully developed mentally until their mid-twenties.

For this reason, learning martial arts in your twenties is absolutely fine as you’ll have the advantage of peak muscular development and enhanced recovery, you’ll also be at the pinnacle of cognitive function meaning you can learn quicker.

In fact, most fighters enter their prime at some point in their twenties which indicates that this is a great age to be learning anything, including martial arts.

How does learning martial arts as a kid compare to learning them as an adult?

Naturally, the longer you’ve been doing something the better you’ll be.

Most martial artists who trained from being a kid are generally more well-rounded compared to their peers who started later in life.

Another advantage of learning something when you’re younger is heightened neuroplasticity i.e. the brain’s ability to adapt and form new connections is higher at a younger age.

As a youngster, you’re also able to develop flexibility much easier which can also be an advantage for things like performing head kicks or being flexible enough to escape certain locks.

For this reason, the earlier you start, the better you’ll perform in the long run, not considering things like genetics that you can’t really do much about.

Generally, people with better genetics, even if they started later in life may still be able to outperform or beat you at certain things.


It’s never too late to learn martial arts or any hobby for that matter, regardless of your age.

It all depends on your goals and what you want from your hobbies that are key to understanding whether it’s a worthy investment of your time.

There are certain advantages to learning a skill at a younger age but for the most part, you’ll still gain many positives that far outweigh any drawbacks that you may experience from learning a new skill such as martial arts.

Regardless of your age, martial arts will help you feel more confident, social, and will allow you to defend yourself should the need arise — these are benefits that transcend arbitrary constructs such as a number.

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