Friday, July 11, 2008

What you are getting yourself into

To spend even a few minutes around wrestling is to understand one of its immutable laws: People get hurt. This isn’t by accident; it’s by design... [These arts] inflict immense amounts of pain and suffering ..., often by means that look outright cruel but in fact are the product of months of hard labor spent in perfecting the technical aspects ... If you should quit, be it mentally or physically, and you are still at some indeterminate midpoint ... then you stand roughly a 99% chance of getting hurt. (Mark Kreidler, Four Days to Glory)
There is, to my way of thinking, an unusual trend in American martial arts. Folks get into the arts without fully understanding that they might be setting themselves up for injury. These same kids will sign up for football knowing that it will be rough and tough and painful. Their parents understand this too. We all know folks that have been hurt playing contact sports. But then we sign up for a martial arts class (supposedly a class on how to fight) and we don't expect it to be rough.
My instructors have always made it abundantly clear that there is no chance involved - if you practice these arts you will eventually be injured. Hopefully later, but maybe sooner. I tell all of my students in writing the dangerous nature of the activity. Note also the disclaimer at the bottom of this page – it is not just for decoration…

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only. Do not mistake any of this information for advice.

Martial arts training is a physical contact activity in which there is risk to the participants. Practice is frequently very physically strenuous and mentally and emotionally challenging. Participation can result in injuries or damages of any sort, including permanent disability, deformity, or death. Sometimes the risks are not even foreseeable by trained experts.

It would be wise of you to obtain the help of a qualified instructor and have a physician examine you and clear you for strenuous physical contact activity before you try any of these very dangerous activities. Always inspect the practice area, the equipment, your partners, and yourself for risks before starting. Your participation is voluntary, so if you see something that you think is unsafe you should immediately tell the instructor and decline to participate in that activity. Always work within your own limits.

In fact, one of my instructors, when repeatedly asked about starting 3 and 4 and 5 year-olds in karate classes eventually began responding, "Would you give your child a handgun for Christmas?" And after seeing their horrified responses he would tell them, "Well, this is the same thing because in this class, I teach people to kill other people."
While I would not go that far (I do not teach people to kill other people) the violent physical contact activities we practice and experiment with in class are derived from battlefield sciences that were designed and evolved to injure and kill.
You can't go into this thing without knowing what you are getting yourself into.


  1. My teacher told me after a 12 year old broke my ankle (I'm 41) that if you get to your black belt and you haven't broken something along the way you probably did something wrong.

  2. I don't know. Obviously injury to some extent may be part of the game. But the question in my mind is how much?

    There are plenty of grappling places that are just meeting places for mat bullies. You're supposed to "man up" in order to prove you're worthy to practice there. "Practice" usually means just getting your joints wrenched out of shape by some UFC-obsessed 20 year old.

    When I visit a school and I see a high rate of injuries, I know something is wrong with the training and usually the teacher.

  3. I agree, mat bullies are not to be tolerated and the intensity of the class can be moderated to reduce the likelihood of serious injury. But that likelihood cannot be reduced to zero, as it seems some participants expect.

    That is really what I was commenting on is the strange ideas of this group of folks that either want the martial arts environment to be a soft, sterile, professionally supervised playplace or else they want the dojo to be a social gathering place.

    In about 22 years of practice, I've been injured in a handful of memorable ways (broken ankle, broken tooth, knocked out by mat impact) and in innumerable small ways (bruises, sprains, broken toes, fingers, etc...).

    If you get into martial arts then you have to expect to occasionally experience a type of violence that is unexpected, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. That's what you are getting yourself into.

  4. Yeah, I agree it can't be reduced to zero and we wouldn't want it to be anyway. But what about kids?

    I can see the potential for an injury to knock out your whole kid's class. When one child gets hurt, it seems to me that the other parents would pull their kids out.

  5. That's right. There is always the potential for one injury, whether it is the fault of the instructor or the nature of the training or not, to wreck the whole class.

    The time I broke my ankle, we were doing an ipromptu in-class demo for several observers. Everything is sailing along nicely and then I'm lying on the ground yelling, "My ankle!" Needless to say, we never saw any of those potential classmates again.

    And you know, I would rather lose my whole kids' class than hurt one of those kids. But the fact remains that it is a physical contact activity with a 100% incidence of injury.

    You have to figure out how to balance how much risk is acceptable for how much potential benefit.

  6. Pat,
    Wow. That reminds of a freak accident with a high school wrestler I saw on youtube. The kid just came down wrong on his foot and the leg broke. Freak accidents do happen.


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