At face value, when someone says they are going to start martial arts, the first thought is ‘you want to fight people?’ which then leads to a domino fear effect where all these images of your kid, sister, brother, best friend or significant other comes home the 3 Bs: battered, bloody and bruised.
I can feel martial artists rolling their eyes at that visual because significant studies have shown that Karate specifically has the lowest incidence of injury than many other style of martial arts due to it’s non-contact nature.
In order to assess the injury risks associated with Shotokan Karate, it needs to be compartmentalised into it’s training modalities.
More specifically, Kihon (fundamentals and technique training), Kata, which are the forms by which fundamentals are trained and Kumite, which is the sparring component of Karate. Generally speaking, students tend to spend one third of their time training in each modality depending on the type of Dojo or club they attend.
Out of the three modalities, the one that inspires the 3Bs visual, is Kumite. The idea of Kumite is not to blindly throw punches and hope for the best, but it has very strict rules that apply to limit the amount of random mistakes that can come about that may result in injury. There are almost set pieces of choreography to follow in attacking, anticipating or defending. So, no matter what move is used, the opponent can (extremely quickly!) select from a recipe list and apply the counter-move. This itself limits the capacity for acute injury.
The studies that have stated that Karate induces higher injuries are generally assessed from tournament or competition data, which is not the true reality inside a classroom.
According to the American Sports Journal, Karate sits at a 23% mean of injury, compared to other collegiate sports such as football that sits at 35.9%.
It can be argued, however, that the most important element that will influence whether a student injures themselves or not, is in fact, the Instructor. Practicing under the supervision of a qualified instructor, with experience in general exercise and physical preparation, who understands the importance of effective warm ups and cool downs tend to better manage injury in the classroom and prevent them altogether. An instructor with a background in injury prevention or strength and conditioning is an even bigger asset, as they have been trained specifically in this area.
Like any physical activity, injuries can come from Karate, but not so much the battered and bruised types, but more of the overuse injuries from muscular imbalance or RSI. As long as each person is aware of their physical limitations, and keeps their instructor informed of any issues then it is safe to say that the risks of getting severely injured form training Karate is not a likely occurrence unless you go outside the rules.
The Sport Journal. (2017). Comparison of Shotokan Karate Injuries against Injuries in other Martial Arts and Select NCAA Contact Sports. [online] Available at: http://thesportjournal.org/article/comparison-of-shotokan-karate-injuries-against-injuries-in-other-martial-arts-and-select-ncaa-contact-sports/