May 02 2016

Injuries & Martial Arts

Martial arts class. It’s fun, intense and you learn something new every day. Then you come home and ice or apply ointment on every joint in your body. Sound familiar? It was to me at one point…

It’s a common story among many martial artists. We push our minds and bodies to the limit night after night and often for we do it the wrong ways. Most of us aren’t professional fighters, and if you are, you still shouldn’t be taking on injuries. Granted, it is a physically demanding activity, but that is no excuse.

First let’s understand a few common pitfalls of training that are almost at the root of EVERY injury that happens on the mats. Once we go through a few….it’ll be evident what is going on.

Warm-Ups:
When I was younger, I could do almost any physical activity with a “cold” body. I didn’t have to stretch out or get any blood flow going. It was 0 to 100mph instantly and for extensive periods of time. After bad shoulder injuries, knee pains, lower back pains that leave me crawling thru the house on all fours…I realized that the cold start was simply a stupid idea. Now, I make sure I get to my studio earlier and stretch out my muscles, warm up all joints, get a little blood flow going. Every class, I also make sure we doing good stretches. By doing this, it should help significantly and reduce the possibility of pains.

Competition or Cooperation?:
Whether we are in our Kenpo classes, FCS classes, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes, or even doing our fitness portions we use partnered training methods often. It gives us a great energy and is never repetitive. It’s also a great way learn how to apply lessons we’ve learned. Sounds good right? Well….sometimes! The problem is that when we partner with people it becomes a competition at times. We want to tap someone out, or score that secret kick or punch or finish our reps before our partner. The question I ask is….”Why?” Not every drill is sparring! Calm down! I know it gets a bit more fun to raise the intensity….but that is typically a trait of hiding our own lack of skill. The idea is never to work hard, but work smart. Be a bit more cooperative in your training, and you’ll get much more out of it and not feel like an anvil landed on you the next morning. There are also times when one partner trains or moves at a higher level of intensity, but if that’s the case..it comes down to the next item below.

Communication:
Communication is always key. If you have an existing ailment….tell the instructor and tell you partner. That way everyone is aware and will not do anything to agitate the issue. On the flip side, if your partner is moving too hard or fast for you….speak up! Nothing wrong with asking someone to slow down a bit and it goes both ways….you can also ask someone to slow down if they are moving faster than their skillset allows.

Instructor’s Instructions:
This one is actually a huge pet peeve of mine! Martial Arts of all kind have training methods with built in safety methods. These training methods are designed to deliver a specific attribute or skill in a fun, safe manner. There has been many times when I’ve assigned a drill to my students to do, Often many students come away from the training method and do what they want to do at the moment. Follow the instructions of the instructor and the design of the drill….more often than not you will be just fine. Fall off the path and prepare to take on those injuries! This goes with techniques as well. I see students get hurt when they go into “freestyle” mode.

The Main Goal:
Often in class I remind everyone what their main goal is and always should be in training. “Your goal is to make sure your classmates walk out of here with no injuries. And if they do the same for you then everyone is all good!” Aside from learning and developing skills, a big part of martial arts training is learning to respect the human body even if it is not yours! So next time you are on the mats, look at your classmates and tell yourself that you will do your part in their safe being, and they will do the same for you.

There is NO martial art that finds it acceptable for the practitioner to get hurt — either during training or in application. During training, your goal is to develop skill in the techniques of your art — along with whatever physical attributes (flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, etc.) — might be needed to apply them fluidly and effectively. Getting hurt takes away from training time, so no school or style would ever advocate a training method that is likely to cause injury.

And of course in application, the goal of every martial art is to enable a practitioner to avoid any injury or damage when in a physical conflict. While some arts warn and teach students (correctly) that in any physical conflict, no matter how good you are, you’re likely to incur some damage, I know of no art that advocates intentionally getting hurt as a strategy or tactic.

Anyhow, most injuries in martial arts/fitness training are related to one of the above. And when you recall your class time and have in instant replay moment…you might realize that there are couple of the above mentioned reasons. It’s ok….happens to the best of us! But know that your time in class is solely about YOU, and that YOU want to walk out of there everyday without unnecessary injuries. So take your time, get your head on straight and follow a more mature approach to training.