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Dan Rather has written an excellent piece about the dangers of traumatic brain injury amongst primary school-aged participants of sports activities. Highlighted is the data that the NFL itself recently released about the incidence of long-term impairment amongst it’s players, with a discussion of what the information means to coaches and athletes.  The information is just as applicable to teachers and students of martial arts.

The article ends with a bit of advice that any martial arts instructors and students should follow when it comes to a possible concussion:

“When in doubt, sit it out.”

Kids, Head Injuries and the NFL

Contestant Dies After Toughman Contest

We have posted several pieces about the dangers of Traumatic Brain Injury, and the fact that participation in a fighting art or sport inherently carries an increased risk of sustaining brain injuries. As MMA events continue to grow in popularity, the fact that repeated blows to the head are almost guaranteed seems to be an afterthought to many. Pro-level MMA competition is not a good model for amateur training. As I pointed out in a post on TBI:

…for a pro competitor in the ring, brain injury is a risk that he or she is taking in exchange for payment; but this is not the same thing as an amateur student or weekend warrior who trains without monetary compensation or medical care…. a very large grey area has emerged when it comes to the long-term effects of repeatedly being elbowed, kneed and kicked in the head in a UFC style match. And when one considers that droves of people are attracted to amateur practice of MMA because it is touted as being “superior” to all other martial arts, one must also wonder how much of the accepting attitude of professionals towards the contact that causes brain injury goes along with it.

If you are interested in competing in full-contact events, do not ignore the realities of being repeatedly hit and kicked in the head- there will be consequences. These might be relatively minor, or they might take some time to show up- but they can also drastically alter your quality of life or end it in seconds.

I know I sound like a broken record on this topic, but it’s worth repeating:

Do not confuse the abuse that pro competitors elect to take with something you should accept in your training, or as being “just part of the game.” The complexity of the brain is directly proportional to it’s fragility.

BBC news article covering a new study on the long term effects of concussion.

Here’s a link to a 2007 BBC article on a (then) new study on brain injuries from kick-boxing. The study found statistically significant hormone deficiencies in kick-boxers, and concluded that this resulted from damage to the pituitary gland.

The CDC has a good pack on Concussion in Youth Sports, as part of their campaign to raise awareness about Traumatic Brain Injury. It includes check-lists of what look for and how to respond if someone gets hit in the head, as well as information on how quickly an athlete should return to the fray, and when to send them to a doctor. If you’re a coach for youth sports (or even a karate instructor with some youngish students) you can get the pack for free from this website. They can also send posters, fridge-magnets and a funky looking Concussion Clip-board.


"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


May 2020

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