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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The Real Risks of Injury in the Martial Arts (and Why It's No Big Deal)

I wrote a reaction to the claim that martial arts involves risk of serious injury (tl;dr version - NOPE!), but I want to make sure that I haven't given you the impression that I underestimate or dismiss the very real risks of what we do.

Indeed, there is very high risk of minor injury, and for many of our styles, risk for long-term joint damage in what we do.

Heck, one way I like to describe what we martial artists do is "acquiring bruises for fun".

I can't think of a more accurate way to describe our hobby.  In the reality of what we do, most of us aren't going to be getting into badass duels or even regular run-of-the-mill fights.  The most dangerous thing we face is actually on the mat, and we pay good money for the privilege of doing it.

Thanks for the bruises! Do you take credit cards?

Mr. Chick occasionally spends his weekends training in Force Necessary material, and he's usually COVERED in bruises afterwards.  Another friend in the martial arts - an Arnis player like yours truly - had a little... problem with blocking recently and got a goose egg on her noggin. That picture above is the result of me going to an Arnis camp and feeding disarms and locks and whatnot.

Painful, annoying, but ultimately minor injuries.

It's just a hazard of what we do.

Generally speaking, serious injury is rare in the martial arts.  Oh, sure, we get sprains and strains, we tear muscles on occasion, and possibly, the most serious injury we get are repetitive damage to joints. Injury requiring medical attention is rare.

I know too many tae kwon do specialists who have had or need surgery to repair hip, knee, and ankle damage, for example. But this is partly due to old-school training methods and not keeping up with the latest in sports science to keep those sorts of injuries down. There's plenty of people out there who require knee and hip and shoulder surgery who don't train (or engage in much physical activity) at all.

I described in that other post the time I tore a calf muscle while training.  While it could have happened any time - it was just bad luck that I had a muscle spasm just as I stepped off my right foot - it did happen while playing sumbrada.  I yelled a very bad word and I dropped like a rock, and ended up on crutches for four weeks and used a walking cane for two after that.

But as I said, it could have happened at any time, it was just bad luck it happened at martial arts.

Ultimately, like any physical activity, minor injuries are just part of the life of a martial artist. Heck, it's not uncommon for us to compare injuries and to tell horror stories about getting hurt.

Semi-imaginary conversation:

Grappler Guy: "Oh, you tore your calf muscle, huh?  Well I was grappling with this guy one time and I dislocated a toe and I had to pop it back in right there on the mat!"

Me: "Oh, you dislocated your toe, huh?  Well, I was soft stick sparring and I got hit on the fingertips with some ActionFlex nunchaku and it jammed both fingers so bad I couldn't wear my wedding ring for six months!"

Grappler Guy: "Oh, you jammed your fingers, huh?  WELCOME TO MY TUESDAY!"

Yes, you've had this conversation, Martial Artists, you know you have. The details are different but one-upping each other with injury horror stories is part of the fun of being in our community!

Getting hurt is something we avoid but when we do, we wear it like a badge of honor and a point of pride.  We got hurt, and we came back to training, because that's what we do.  It proves how tough we are, how committed we are, and it's one of the things that bonds us together with our training partners and our entire community.

And truly, a bruise or a strain isn't enough to keep us off the mats. Training is too fun to allow that to happen.

That was a fun camp.

Here's your invitation to share your martial arts injury stories.  Do you have any funny stories surrounding a minor injury?  What's the worst injury you've gotten training (and yet, you didn't let that stop you)? Let us know in the comments!

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