Friday, January 8, 2016

FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Should We Ban Head Shots in Sparring?


Let's talk about head shots in sparring.

More and more, the effect of repeated head shots in other sports - such as American football, cheer leading, and hockey - has become a larger issue of concern in the medical community (and the communities surrounding those sports).

The condition is known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

 Read more here but also check out the major film out now about the problem in the NFL: Concussion

It has been long understood that boxing, for example, poses a huge risk - probably a near certainty - for the development of some form of CTE.  I think we also understand this in the combat sports - any of the boxing/kick boxing arts.

In fact, as of October 2016, we've seen our first diagnosis in an MMA fighter: First case of CTE diagnosed in MMA fighter

But we do not seem to really think about or discuss these risks in our point sparring at tournaments and in class, which are generally less intense than those in the combat sports (and even, say, American Football or hockey) but can still be pretty intense.

On the one hand, head shots are pretty traditional in the martial arts and in point sparring, and understanding how to deliver one (and how to defend against it) is not only important from a sporting point of view, but also from a practical self defense point of view. Nobody is perfect in defense, so it will mean that some participants will get hit in the head, sometimes repeatedly, often violently enough to lose consciousness.  Some of us will think the risk is worth it.

On the other hand, it appears that the risk is pretty high of incurring brain damage over time, damage we can't even know is there until a person has passed away and been autopsied.  We don't follow martial artists very well over time, and we don't have any idea how widespread a problem this in our community.  So some efforts to mitigate the known risks of development of CTE seems to be warranted.

Given the current understanding of the risk...