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The risks and dangers of martial arts practice

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The risks and dangers of martial arts practice
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No matter how safe school owners tell you his school is, no matter how low the incidence of injury, martial arts practice will always come with its dangers. Data showing martial arts practice is statistically as safe as or safer than other contact sports usually refer to mortality and serious injury rates.  Very seldom do we hear about the full spectrum of the risks that practitioners expose themselves while practicing martial arts.


Keep in mind that the dangers listed in this article are risks exposed to martial arts practitioners that may or may not be encountered. Practicing martial arts will not automatically victimize the practitioner, additionally, the listed risks are not exclusive to martial arts and may be encountered in other sports or activity.


Also note that the scope of this article is to point out existing dangers. For more details, please consult the reference list or a health professional (when applicable).


1- Physical traumas (injuries)

Although statistics tend to prove that martial arts practice is as safe (or even safer) then the practice of other contact sports, we need to be reminded that the ethos of martial arts is primarily combat. Even with all the goodwill in the world, accidents will happen and sooner or later, practitioners are bound to get injured.

Injury overview:

Mild: The most common category, this includes contusion (bruises), laceration (cuts and scratches) and sprain to all joints. Mild injuries usually do not necessitate any special treatment.

Getting kicked may result in similar bruise
Photograph is taken from wikipedia

Moderate: This includes fractures, dislocation, tendon rupture and neuropraxias (disruption to nerves). Fractures occurs on the striking tools (the hands, foot, ankles etc.) as well as on struck areas (pelvic bone, forearm bones, etc.)  Dislocation happen most often on shoulders, fingers and toes

Severe: This category includes all potentially life threatening injuries. This includes rib fractures, bleeding or air escape into the chest.

Similarly, all internal organs in the abdominal cavity are susceptible of trauma. Injuries to the head, ranging from bruises and mild concussions to intracranial bleeds, leading to loss of speech and/or loss of visions have been reported in the literature of the past ten years.

Mechanics of a concussion
Image from Patrick J. Lynch for wikipedia

Impacts to the head may also affect the cervical spine, leading, in the worse case, to quadriplegia.


2- Long term joint injuries

These types of injuries are seldom mentioned in part because they take a long time to manifest themselves and because the link to martial arts practice is not always clear. Nevertheless, there are evidences that misused or overused joints may cause the following illness.

Arthrosis is caused by the degeneration, thinning and total destruction of cartilage between the joints, resulting bones to rub one on another. The action of rubbing wears out the bones in an extremely slow and painful way. Arthrosis may be caused by ethnicity, hormones and bone density, nutritional factors, genetics, overweight issues, work and sports.

Casual training does not usually cause arthrosis, but for the professionals who spend their lives training, the repetitiveness of certain movements, the repeated micro trauma caused by striking targets and joint injuries may contribute to the development of arthrosis.


3- Body deformation

Bruise and broken bones don’t usually leave any permanent mark once the body took its time to heal itself, but there some injuries the body cannot restore completely. Here are two examples.

Cauliflower ears

Cauliflower ear happens when the ear is struck and a blood clot develops under the skin or when the connection between the skin and the cartilage is disrupted.

The result is a swollen ear that resembles a cauliflower.

photograph is courtesy of Sogospelman 
for wikipedia

Although some fighter and wrestlers consider cauliflower ear as a badge of courage, most people are simply repulsed at the sight of the deformed ear.


Trauma from repeated striking

Many martial art systems include joints and bones toughening, whose goal is to prepare the body to the violent impact of hitting a real target. Conditioning, when done properly and progressively causes very little damage, apart from the wanted deadened nerves, thickened skin and calluses on striking areas of the arms and legs.

When improperly done, body conditioning may cause irreversible injuries and deformations. This happens when an over-eager practitioner strikes a hard target too hard for his level of conditioning or from over training. There are historical accounts of practitioners who trained their hands so much, that their hands were as hard as rock, but as a result, not longer had the agility to hold a pen.



4- Skin diseases

Skin disease, transmitted through skin to skin contact, are most common amongst grapplers. Some forms of infection can also spread through the contact of contaminated mats, equipment and towels.

Skin disease transmitted through the practice of martial arts could be the subject of an entire book but for the purpose of this article, we shall limit ourselves to enumerating the most common diseases as listed by Brian Jones PhD in an article published in the journal of Asian martial arts.

Fungal infections

Tinea Corpolis
(Ring Worm)
photograph courtesy of


Tinea pedis
(Athlete's foot)
photograph taken from

Tinea Cruris

(Jock itch)


Jock itch manifests itself on the groin area.



Bacterial infections

Staph Infection (Impetigo)240px-Staphylococcus_aureus_01

SEM micrograph of S. aureus colonies;
photograph courtesy of
Cellulitis and Erysipelas 
Infected left shin
photograph courtesy of
RafaelLopez for wikipedia 

Infectious folliculitis


No image available

Methicillin-resistant staphyloccucus aureus
 SEM micrograph of MRSA.
photograph courtesy of



Viral infections

Herpes gladiatorum


No image available

Warts (verruca)


multiple warts on big toe
photograph courtesy of Raimar for wikipedia 

Molluscum contagiosum


photograph courtesy of E van Herk for wikipedia 

Herpes Zoster (Chicken Pox)


photograph courtesy of John Pozniak for wikipedia


Parasitic infections


Scabies Acarodermatitis_Hand

Scabies on hand
photograph is courtesy of Sven Teschke for wikipedia

Pediculosis (Lice)


photograph courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for wikipedia

As a general rule of thumb, good personal hygiene and frequent washing of training clothes, mats and equipment may greatly decrease the incidence of skin infections. For detailed information on prevention, symptoms and treatment of skin infections, please consult a competent health professional.



 5- False security, ego boost and arrogance

Many school claim that martial arts practice will enhance self esteem and self confidence in the practitioner, which is not a bad thing with a timid person but what about the arrogant and delusional one?

Self worth and self confidence can be enhanced by being good in any discipline; the difference with martial arts is that the skills backing up the practitioner’s arrogance can easily be misused. If someone brags about their skills in a game, sport or activity and meet another braggart, the worst that can happen is that they get beaten in that discipline. Getting beaten in chess, baseball or video games may hurt the ego, but won’t leave any lasting consequences.

When someone brags about their fighting abilities or otherwise feel confident enough to go pick fights over trivial matters, the consequences may sometimes be fatal. We all heard of the anecdotal tale of the black belt that got into a street fight only to get seriously beaten up. Word around the Montreal Karate community talks about a case where a karate champion*, used to beating people in bars, once fought and severely beat another patron of the bar, only to be ambushed by the victim and his friends, all armed with baseball bats. Needless to say, the karate champion lost this fight and along it, his life.

Would naturally arrogant people have the same level of confidence needed to pick fights had they never learned how to fight? Perhaps, they would since it was already in their personality traits, but there is no denying that martial arts helped them develop their in-born arrogance and self confidence.

* In respect to the deceased champion, his family, friends and Karate associations, his name was not used in this article.


6- Greed

The commercialization of martial arts opened the door to all kind of scams and money traps. To the uninitiated, identifying honest instructors from money hungry ones is not an easy task.

All those extras may help the instructor buy a new house.
picture taken from

Most martial arts schools legitimately require students to pay a fee for instruction. Tuition is used to pay for school expenses and to provide the instructor with financial compensation for his time. Profit oriented instructors may ask extra fees for uniforms, examinations, training gears and material, seminars, competitions, etc.


7- Self proclaimed masters

Identifying a good instructor is not an easy task. The lack of standards, teaching skill requirements and the lack of information about martial arts from the general public all facilitate the work of self proclaimed masters.

Could Rael, the self proclaimed prophet, claim himself as a master and create his own style of martial arts?
photograph taken from

The fact that an instructor created their own style and organization does not necessarily make them dangerous or fraudulent. It is correct to say that most great instructors were once novices who may have had to self proclaim themselves worthy of instructing people.

The problem arises when one questions the real motive behind the instructor’s self proclamation. More often than not, analysis of their organization’s structure and tend to lead to the conclusion that the instructor does not have the proper credentials to teach and that the sole purpose of the creation of his organization is to make money.

In order to differentiate themselves from other schools, some masters may use esoteric form of training they invented themselves, even if sometimes unknowingly harming their students in the long term.


8- Sexual predators: pedophiles


Just as in any activity or sports where an adult is in the position of authority and has unsupervised access to minors, there will be risks of abuse. The risk can be compounded with some standard activities associated with martial arts, such as out of town seminars and competitions. If you have children practicing martial arts, the safeguard against pedophiles is the same as in any other sport.

Image on the left: Pedobear: popular Internet meme, he is a symbol of pedophilia

  • Do not leave children alone and unsupervised. Go to the classes and bring some reading material or any other quiet hobby that can occupy you
  • If the children have to go out of town, accompany them or have a trusted adult accompany them.
  • Run a background check with the local police department or consult database listing sexual predators.


9- Martial arts may impede on religious beliefs.

Religion is always a sensitive subject which is often best avoided. Neither the author nor wishes to endorse or discredit any religion. It is every person’s right to believe what they choose to believe. We simply want to point out this aspect that may be the reality for some people.

picture taken from

According to Mike R. Taylor, a Christian pastor, martial arts training are indeed unsuited to his religious beliefs. Here are the main incompatible points.


    • The philosophy associated with martial arts (Zen, Taoism, Buddhism etc.) all has meditation common. According to M. Taylor, meditating is not something God meant to have human beings do and relegates it to occult practice.
    • Ki/Qi/Chi which he describes as a power does not come from God, so the power is necessarily “from the only remaining available source… the devil and the demonic spirits…”
    • The “one inch punch”, the “vibrating palm”, the ability to anticipate the opponent’s movement and the ability to control opponents the way Aikido masters do, must come from Alien sources that are actually controlling the practitioner.
    • Quoted from a text Mike R. Taylor wrote about self defense: “If you are a Christian and regard the Lord as your very present help in trouble, you will obviously bring the problem of self-defence to Him. As you ask Him to renew your thinking on the subject you will find your attituides revolutionized as your thinking becomes more conformed to God's. Regarding this particular attack-situation, in the split-second following an initial threat, the Christian will cry out to his Heavenly Father for help.”


Disclaimer: Hao Wong, the author of the present article does not care to comment on Mr. Taylor’s beliefs. There are others, like Russell Tardo who shares the same opinion. It is the author’s (Hao Wong) opinion that Mr. Taylor expresses his point of view with clarity, coherence and most important of all, respect.

Please note that not all Christians share this point of view and many embrace the practice of martial arts.

The inclusion of his point of view is only used to illustrate an example of how martial arts may be perceived as contrary to religious beliefs.


In the martiallife’s spirit of respect, openness and learning, please do not judge people based on their beliefs and opinions.


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Most photographs were taken from Wikipedia under the creative commons agreement.




Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 March 2011 21:36  

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