No, the Martial Arts Do Not Pose a "Serious Danger" for Kids
This article popped up in my martial arts news feed: Martial Arts Can Pose Serious Danger for Kids
Of course, being in the martial arts myself, I perked up my ears and read that bad boy. I've only been studying since 2008, but I have seen exactly zero serious injuries to children in that time (and depending on what you mean by "serious" - exactly zero in adults too, and remember, I do a weapons art).
Not a concussion, not even a broken bone. I've seen a couple of minor cuts, a couple of bruises, a black eye or two, and a strained ankle or finger joint for kids - far from "serious injury" and only one of those required medical treatment. I, myself, had a freak accident and tore a calf muscle and was on crutches for a month or so, and I think that's the most serious injury I have personally witnessed.
Turns out, the article is about the publication of a recent American Academy of Pediatricians study about the risks of martial arts injuries that will be published soon in Pediatrics. The AAP News article the CBS report comes from can be read HERE.
Note that the author of the study did not headline it as "serious risk for kids" - that was the journalist and/or editor writing the story. The study is titled "Good Moves: Martial arts can offer striking benefits but caution advised".
VERY different scenario than "Serious Danger". So what's up with that?
This report and study is aimed at doctors and nurses treating patients who are engaging in the martial arts. The report assesses the risk of various kinds of martial arts - and it's in no way comprehensive, if you read the report - and advises doctors on the kinds of injuries that may happen and offers advice for the doctors and nurses to give their patients regarding martial arts as a physical activity.
Overall, the report speaks positively of kid participation in the martial arts.
There is ONE bullet point in the article that suggests that perhaps activity should be discouraged:
The nature of mixed martial arts confers a high risk of concussion and asphyxia. Therefore, youth and adolescent participation in this martial arts form should be discouraged. Providers also can educate communities about the increased susceptibility to injury if children imitate what they see from media exposure to mixed martial arts.
Oho. Okay, so, it's really about mixed martial arts, and it's not written from actual data, because there isn't any. They had to extrapolate the risk assessment for children from adult injuries. It's a GUESS, based on mixed martial arts looking scary and dangerous.
Let me just state that one more time - no actual numbers to support that statement.
Not only is the CBS News article incredibly misleading and misrepresents the study's overall conclusions, but the study itself has some shenanigans going on, too, because it misses one critical fact:
The rules for kids in mixed martial arts styles is not the same rule set as it is for adults, and even for adults, it can vary widely.
Generally speaking, we aren't having eight year old boys get on a mat and pound each other like McGregor and Diaz. That's the main reason you don't have any pediatric data that's anywhere close to adult injury statistics. Because it doesn't exist.
The report also refers to "higher risk". You have to understand that all physical activity - even the lowest contact solo sport that exists, like running - carries risk of injury, even serious injury and death (read about one such tragic case here). Yes, martial arts styles that have contact carries more risk than activities that don't - but it doesn't therefore mean it's serious risk, or even very high, it's just more than non-contact.
An increase of 5% to 7% is an increase, but overall, it's still only a very small number. I do not have the hard numbers on the actual risk, but the report doesn't either, so it's basically guessing. It's not actual science, and my guess is as good as theirs.
The writer of the CBS News piece took a single questionable statement in the AAP report, and then made it worse with a very misleading headline.
I don't have the numbers to support this, but I am willing to bet money that the injuries kids get in the martial arts are significantly fewer and less serious than injuries they receive in other sports, including soccer, gymnastics, running, cycling, basketball, baseball, cheerleading, and of course, American football.
We martial arts instructors are, as a community, very aware of safety and do a lot to mitigate it, even in the most competitive styles we have - for adults and for kids, both.
I believe we aren't doing enough to address the risk of concussion - and I'd love to see more of us get comprehensive training there. I'd also like to see a good, grounded-in-science study done of our safety equipment to see if it actually works as intended (we don't actually know if it does, we just believe it does). But I have no numbers that suggests that concussion risk is any greater in martial arts than in any other physical activity - it's just a guess.
So I call shenanigans on the CBS News article. I also call shenanigans on the study authors for implying with nothing other than speculation that there's increased risk of serious injury in kids' mixed martial arts in what is supposed to be a relatively scientific study.
Guesses aren't facts. It's ridiculous that supposedly serious news organizations are portraying non-facts as being scientific in any way.
After the CBS report hit, the AAP news brief was also been picked up by the Courier-Journal out of Louisville, KY, with a WORSE headline, if you can believe it, than the CBS News headline above that prompted this whole post in the first place.
"Concussions up in martial arts, report says"
Not only did it NOT say that, nobody quoted in the article did either! RIDICULOUS! SHENANIGANS!!
What do you think? I'd love to know - sound off in the comments!