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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Brain Damage Martial Arts and Other Sports


A recent study titled “Structural and Functional Brain Changes in Boxers and Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Are Correlated with Fight Exposure." Or so I was told. I myself have never seen the original article, if you have it please send it my way. Though I have never read the original article I know it is likely to cause a scare in the world of Martial Arts. Sadly this study will detour many student from ever entering the Dojo even though similar research is being done on much less aggressive looking sports such as football. Truly all this research shows us is being hit in the head is not good. This is no real surprise but being hit in the head is a reality in most every popular spectator sport, Hockey, Football, American Football, Rugby and so on. So what do we do with this research? Ban Football, no we train and play smarter.

Before getting into how we could possibly train and play smarter in the Dojo I want to address one issue with the studies I will be talking about here; that is these studies focus on professional athletes an elite few who through hard training, dedicated support and incredible will power have taken themselves to a place most only ever dream of. So to the parents before you take Jessie and Sally out of little league sit back and consider the realities of their involvement with their chosen sport. As much as you want to brag about your kids it is unlikely they will go pro, to be honest it may not be as much fun as it looks, and if they do I suggest you invest in a good health and disability insurance plan. The point I am trying to make here is that it is not so much about the sport you play but rather how you play it and to what degree.

Now moving back into the Dojo the question every one should be asking is “how can we address this research in the Dojo to create safer more effective training regimens?” I would argue utilizing different levels of competition could be one good answer. I have often thought that If I were to have a club that ranged from 6 and up I might restrict students aged 6-13 to minimal/ non-contact controlled sparring based on WKF rules and grappling based on Judo rules, 13 - 18 to knock down sparring and MMA based sparring that restricted impact to the head. 18 and up would be up to the students and their individual goals. Though I will admit I may be inclined to do some training that allowed for head contact from 16 and up to encourage the development of good head movement.

[ I have now been working with and teaching children 6+ for the last 3 years. I teach children Kyokushin style knock down Kumite and Judo style NeWaza as their first introductions to sparring. I find children below the age of 13 have a very hard time performing the controlled techniques needed to fight under WKF rules, so I simply restrict head contact and allow light to medium body contact - 2015]

These different forms of competition style can also be used to focus on different techniques and principles with in an all adult class. When teaching a Karate class at SFU we practiced WKF point sparring to focus on speed and control and Sabaki styled knock down Kumite to focus on close combat and toughening of the body. This also allowed new students who were weary of contact sparring to have a little fun while easing into things. Where as more experienced students could choose which style they wanted to focus on based on their own personal goals and shortcomings.

In the end impact is impact. There is no denying that impact sports of all kinds’ martial arts, football, and extreme sports will cause wear and tear on the body. I do hope more research like this will come out but I hope it enters the public unbiasedly, which it won’t, but I can dream. Sadly many of the articles that will be inspired by the current research on fighting sports and brain damage will scare many students away from the Dojo, before they even look into the comparisons between martial arts and other high impact sports which are often just as if not more dangerous.



Always remember science is a discussion, for every article you read there are a hundred more to be read. All you can do is research as much as time will allow and make informed decisions based on that research while leaving an open mind to the fact that there is likely something out there, that you have missed or that is simply not understood yet.

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