If we start with prohibitions, where are they going to end?

To ban or not to ban? Which sport? Mountain climbing, judo, skiing, boxing, diving, karate, cycling, muay thai, windsurfing, MMA (UFC), horseback riding, jiu jitsu, motor races, tae kwon do- which sport will we ban? Those who wish to mountain climb should do that; those who wish to dive should dive; those who wish to windsurf should windsurf, etc. Those who are brave enough to take on martial arts should do so as well.

Most believe that, because of physical contact and its nature, martial arts are rough and dangerous and risk many injuries. However, it is important to point out that some scientific discoveries show that a higher risk of injury comes with some sports that don’t even include physical contact or where that sort of contact is strictly limited or completely prohibited. Still, we shouldn’t hide the fact that the variety of martial arts as well as the injuries that come with each individual sport is pretty big. Although injuries are not as common as one might expect, they include a wide array- from those that are banal to those that have a deadly outcome. This is why we are daily witnesses of politicians, sports journalists, doctors, sociologists, some religious communities or sports pedagogists who are asking for a prohibition of a certain martial arts sport.

Sports medicine and sports science are a fast-developing and relatively new area in science and medicine. Of course, there is a growing need of further research on sports medicine and science in the area of martial arts. The need is bigger in some sports, especially those that are physically and psychologically more demanding and show a challenge in problem solving such as the risk of blood-transferable diseases, a rapid decrease in weight, frequent head and extremity injuries, stress management, and the safety of the sport for women and children. Martial arts can be defined as contact sports where two individual fighters compete with one another thanks to martial techniques that have previously been given with a set of rules. They are practiced by people of different age groups for various reasons, e.g. to get into better shape, for the thrill and the desire to compete, health benefits or to learn self-defense techniques.

According to research conducted by Dr. L. Pieter generally about injuries in martial arts, injuries that happen to certain regions of the body show the specific techniques and rules of a given martial art discipline. For example, the upper extremities are more frequently injured in judo, the face and head in boxing and karate, whereas the lower extremities are more often injured in tae kwon do. According to Dr. Pieter, the activities that are most often the reason of injury include leg kicks or throwing in judo, fist punches in boxing or karate, and round kicks in tae kwon do. The types and frequency of injury in boxing are described in the US Olympic Training Centre (1981-1982) and include: the head and the face (20.6%), upper extremities (32.9%), back injuries (6.9%), brain injuries (6.5%), spinal cord and the brachial plexus (5.1%), check injuries (3.8%), kidney injuries (0.2%).

According to another research published by A. Zazryn, R. Cameron and P. McCroy, over 70% of injuries happen to the head, and almost half of all injuries that happen to this body area relate to concussions (47%). Other head injuries refer to the eyebrow (19%) and nose (19%). Altogether, the most common injury, according to this research, is the concussion (33%) followed by open-wound injuries/lacerations/cuts (29%) and fractures (19%). This research also shows us that boxing injuries are less frequent than with other contact and non-contact sports. Also, acute injuries that happen during training are less frequent and less serious than during competition (A. Zazryn, 2006). The frequency of death or a serious injury in boxing comes to a ratio of 1.3:10000 boxers which is less than half in comparison to American football. The frequency and severity of injuries in karate have been researched by R. Arizza and M. Leyes after some rules have been changed in 2002. Their research was conducted in 2005 and it included karate injuries on 3 major competitions (World Karate Championship) where 1785 battles took place. The injuries were classified into 3 levels: heavy, intermediate and minor injuries.

Because of its characteristics and because it includes a direct clash between two opponents, judo is marked as a harsh and dangerous sport. The reality is actually quite different and judo is classified in the category of sport where injuries are not so common (research conducted by G.Birrer and K. Halbrook, 1988). Thanks to outstanding physical preparations done by judo practitioners, the number of their injuries is lowered to a minimum. Those injuries that do happen are mostly done during training (R. Souza, 2006). This confirms the fact that it is crucial to do a thorough warm up in order to prevent injuries during the course of training or competition (C. Soligard, 2008). So, good physical preparation lowers the risk of injury as well as a good warm up before a fight. Only 1.34% of all judo trainees gets injured during competition (T. Frey, 2004). Still, according to many statistical indicators, the data shows a different fact, i.e. over 1050 boxers and 420 judo trainees died over the course of the last 50 years.

The basic protective equipment for most martial arts are gloves and hand wraps. Hand wraps are bandages with which one covers the fist in order to tighten the bones and prevent punching injuries. Gloves partially amortize the punch and prevent injuries such as scratches, etc. Also, safety pads, mouth guards, masks, body shields, shin and feet shields are used in some sports. Women also use breast shields. Sports competitions are overseen by several judges who are placed in the pit and who secure that the rules are being followed during the fight. Three or more judges are also placed around the pit (it is usually an odd number in order to prevent a split decision)- they also follow the fight and give score to the techniques. In order to secure a fair fight, the competitors fight in weight categories. Still, even when using protective garments, injuries can happen and, unfortunately, some of them can have grave consequences or even become fatal. If such an injury occurs, it shouldn’t be kept quiet or banalized, i.e. act like it didn’t happen or simply say “it happens”. Such injuries must be talked about and do everything possible to minimize them.

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