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Martial Arts and Body Types

Barry is a former US Marine who has studied martial arts for almost 40 years. He has belt rankings in numerous arts.

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David and Goliath.

In the Bible, there is the story of young David and his battle with the giant Goliath. Without getting bogged down in the details of the story, there is an important lesson for us.

Goliath has a spear, helmet and a shield. King Saul, ruler of Israel, offers David his armor, shield and sword. David recognized that given that he was a youth, not a grown, seasoned soldier, that these normal means and techniques would not be suited to him. He would not be able to move with the armor and unlikely to be able to sewing the sword with effectiveness.

Rather, he has a weapon that is suited to his size and that he is familiar with: the sling. He chooses smooth stones and approaches the giant. No doubt, both armies roared with laughter when the supposedly unarmed and unarmored boy approached the giant. But David let loose a single stone. The rock stuck fast in the forehead of the giant who fell forward – dead.

One lesson that we should take from the story and illustrates the point we are discussing, is that not every method of attack and defense is best suited for every person. One’s physic will be better suited to some techniques than others.

I was familiar with ground fighting but thought I would study jujitsu One of the tenets of Brazilian Jujitsu is that it supposedly allows the smaller man to take the larger man off his feet and thus negate his advantages. Like an alligator that pull its prey from the land to the deep water, the skilled jujitsu man could defeat a larger, stronger opponent. There may be some truth to this but only up to a point.


While doing take-down drills, I was partnered with a very large man of Samoan descent. He was gentle of spirit and a good student. However, I quickly realized that his sheer mass could not always be overcome with superior physics. In fact, he could fall on me I would be injured. If he lay flat on his back and offered no resistance, I did not have the strength, despite the techniques, to move him. He was over 300 pounds and I was 128 pounds. This is not to say I could not defeat him but it became obvious that the confines of BJJ would not be the wise way to do so. I was pitting my weakness against his natural strength- namely mass. I was small and light while he was large and very heavy. Perhaps, that is why even in judo and jujitsu competitions there are weight classes.

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Body Types

1) Endomorphs

We use terms such as "husky" or "stocky." Think thick. They tend to have good bone structure and carry weight well. They are often characterized as being difficult to lose weight or having a slow metabolism. While they might lack natural speed, they have a low center of gravity, a dense bone structure, meaty flesh that serves as armor, and often natural strength. Consider the dwarf or the offensive lineman on a football team. Think of the shape of a circle.

2) Mesomorphic

They have a natural muscular structure, a long skeleton structure, symmetry, and athleticism. Think of an Olympic swimmer. Physically, he is a superior specimen. He seems to have the balance between skeletal structure and muscular build. This soma-type has broad shoulders and a narrow waist, giving them a V-shape.

3) Ectomorph

Tall and thin characterize the ectomorph. Long, lean muscles and a thin skeletal frame lend themselves to natural speed. Narrow shoulders, hips, and waist give this type a rectangular shape.

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Martial Considerations

Endomorphs have short limbs, so any art that requires range, such as boxing or kickboxing, might not be their best choice. On the other hand, grappling, wrestling, and joint manipulation would suit them very well.

The Mesomorph with its long bone structure, smooth muscles, and athletic build, would lend itself well to punching and kicking arts such as karate.

The Ectomorph does not seem to have much going for him. He lacks the weight to be naturally inclined to the grappling arts. He lacks the muscles for natural strength. But he might have speed. Lightning punches and kicks, as well as the ability to evade, could give him a fighting chance. Kung Fu might work given its emphasis on speed.

Knowing body type can help us find out natural strengths to capitalize on the our weakness and recognize that we might need to improve.

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