Training kickboxing while maintaining low injury rate

    Image courtesy and copyright Duncan Grisby

Image courtesy and copyright Duncan Grisby

Martial arts are mostly designed and conceived as fighting systems. Fighting is about hurting other people so it is about delivering intense blows to another person; anybody training realistically risks hurting or getting hurt during sessions. Some styles like Judo were in fact conceived to reduce the risk of injuries by removing the most dangerous techniques from its ancestor: Ju Jitsu. Other styles limit the teaching and practicing of dangerous techniques to advanced students or simply avoid full contact training or sparring. Realistically speaking training with a certain level of contact and impact is necessary for anyone competing at full but also light contact level.

Training “full on” and maintaining a safe training environment creates a dilemma that troubles many martial arts clubs and some of them take one position in the spectrum of the impact vs. safety curve: some on the safe and sometimes unrealistic, particularly for those who want to use martial arts for self defence while others take it to an extreme and have a very high number of injuries some times serious ones. Kickboxing and many other styles that are practiced wearing pads offer the advantage of covering some of the “weapons” like fists and feet so that they ensure a safer training practice. In my experience of over 3 decades of training Kickboxing I definitely seen many incidents but, considering that we spend several hours per week kicking and punching each other, often at full power, the number of serious damages is negligible. In the over 13 years I have been running CARISMA, I can remember very few (3-4) broken noses, a few broken or cracked ribs (less then 10), a couple of swollen feet and very recently a broken foot. We obviously have the occasional, once per month or less, black eye and regular bruises, mostly on the arms when people receive attacks and block with their guard. All in all I am sure we are safer than most football or rugby club.

Some Kickboxing clubs spend most of their times hitting focusing mitts and Thai pads; that a great way of practicing power while minimising the risk of injuries. Personally I am a strong believer in one-2-one training combining attack and defence techniques and combinations that emulate the sparring environment. I find that pad work is mostly conditioning body and mind to simply face a passive opponent that invites you to hit a target. The pair training also helps improving defence reflexes together with blocking and parrying skills.

In my experience a proven formula to ensure a safe full contact training environment is to teach people to actively block the attacks they are subject to by using active blocks and parries rather than passively accepting blows on their guard. This last strategy is taught as the last resource that people should use when in extreme difficulty. When teaching blocks to beginners we always start from the technique with bare hands to show the exact mechanical movement involved and how to minimize the impact on one’s body while deflecting as much and possible the forces rather than absorbing them onto his/her own body. Then, when gloves are worn, they add extra safety to the whole situation and further minimise the risk of bruises and scratches. Many thousand repetitions later all movements become instinctive and automatic and they can work even at full speed and power. Sparring obviously increases the risk of incidents and injuries but, once more, if students have very clear ideas about precise blocking the whole process becomes as safe as it can be although never 100% incident free.

Training when injured

Alex training with a broken footThere is quite common saying, in traditional martial arts schools, when you hurt one of your hands or feet: “you have another hand and two feet, you can still fight!”

In today’s world of health & safety regulations and “better safe than sorry” attitude many people in position of responsibility, like doctors, instructors, teachers or lawyers tend to default toward a safe behaviour when unsure: stop training and rest until healed.

If I followed this rule I would have probably trained about a third of the total time I actually did.  When training martial arts (but also other contact sports) injuries do happen, however careful and safe you play.  Injuries sometimes occur even during simple drills or exercises, not necessarily during the toughest part of training such as sparring.

Pain exists to remind us that what we are doing is not right for our body and we should really listen to our body; training while ignoring pain could be dangerous and deteriorate the injured part with the risk of causing permanent damages.  At the same time there are safe ways of training when injured by using the body parts that don’t hurt so that you keep training them and avoid contact with the injured part.

An extreme case of this behaviour is Alex who recently broke a bone in hit foot by slipping while sparring; although with the foot in a hard cast he kept attending our classes doing stretching, press ups and abdominal exercises so to keep up with fitness and flexibility.  At some point as you can see in this video below he was even punching the bag while seated.

In over 30 years of training I was lucky enough to avoid any seriously broken bones (apart from a little toe a couple of years ago) but every time I bruised, mildly dislocated joints or strained muscles on one side of my body I kept training with the other side improving the total symmetry of my techniques.

Great opportunity from Core Cambridge

Core Cambridge is an organization specialized in sport performance that has recently helped our instructors to refresh our toolkit of warm up excercises.  They are in the process of setting up a new injury clinic.  They need some volunteers to help them to fine tune it for launch.   Anybody interested in receiving a free one hour injury treatment/advice (or sports massage session) at their centre in exchange for critical feedback should Email Dan Coley (dan <at>

Dan Coley’s comments about this opportunity are:

Our initial trial of the techniques generated outstanding results –  and we now have a number of specialist doctors who are referring to us as a result – and client’s family members who drive from as far away as Basingstoke and Bristol(!) for treatment.

There is one main reason why we think we can offer something better than the alternatives : unless your pain/injury is the result of a collision or accident, then it usually down to a combination of:

  • poor postural alignment
  • muscle imbalances around a joint
  • poor movement patterns
  • lack of specific strength

Whilst hands-on therapy techniques help you to become pain free, they often only address the symptom of the problem – the pain itself. The bit that’s missing in most people’s treatment is that what you actually need once the initial pain is gone is carefully prescribed corrective exercise to help you to address the root cause of the problem. When you receive that, your pain goes away – and stays away.  If you only receive the first part (if you need it at all!) then you only have half of the solution.

Consequently, we’ve recruited some awesome therapists who can carry the hands on treatment, and have been training our expert coaching staff in corrective exercise techniques to handle the rehabilitation stages and have put a methodology in place to seamlessly transition between them. Our treatment rooms are all up and running too (it’s true – there’s photos on the website and everything…)

On the sports massage front – I’ve been asking some of our most-hard-to-please clients to try it out, and every single one has been impressed (albeit grudgingly in at least one case =) – but that’s because there’s a genuine difference between our degree qualified staff and their full arsenal of techniques, mobilisations etc. versus the usual sports massage therapist qualifications etc“.

Just the first 100 applicant will benefit from this amazing apportunity so if interested please hurry up!