Is sparring dangerous?

How dangerous is sparring? What are the most common causes of injury in sparring? In this post I will try to answer these questions.

Sparring always carries risk. One wrong move by you or your opponent could cause permanent injury. Broken bones? Of course. Pulled muscles? You bet. Head injuries? Certainly possible. Even the most experienced martial artist risks injury.

Don't get me wrong, sparring is great fun and is essential if you are to defend yourself effectively. But we must recognise the common causes of injury in sparring and do what we can to prevent them.

Common Causes of Sparring Injuries

Causes of injury in sparring vary and depend on several factors. For instance, light sparring is obviously less risky than full contact and different types of sparring have different strike point rules. Here are some general causes:

  1. Inexperience. Nothing worries me more than having to spar against someone who is inexperienced. Really the problem is that inexperienced sparring partners have very little control. Their kicks and punches are sloppy and all over the place. Even worse are the ones who feel the need to prove themselves and deliberately try to hurt you.
  2. Blocking. Blocking with an open hand is bad. I did it once and my fingers bent backwards. I couldn't move my middle finger for weeks. In fact, it still doesn't feel quite right. Once you make this mistake you never make it again.
  3. Kicks. It's very easy to roundhouse kick elbows. It hurts like hell. Avoiding being elbowed on the foot is difficult, but can be done if you have sufficient control.
  4. Side kicks. A side kick is a very powerful kick and as such can cause significant injury. Ribs and the stomach are the most common targets. A side kick to the knee (which is below the belt so is not allowed) is likely to break the knee and may cause permanent damage.
  5. Punches. Punches are not as deadly as kicks, primarily because they're easier to control. If a punch is going to cause injury then it's likely that it was deflected by your block. Even a relatively weak punch to the head can be a straight knock out if placed correctly so be careful.

What safety equipment should I use in sparring?

It is recommended that you use some degree of protection whenever you spar. However, do note that what you need depends on the style of martial art and what the spar is trying to achieve. Most people at least wear sparring gloves. Here is some equipment you may consider:

  1. Head guard
  2. Gum shield
  3. Body padding
  4. Sparring gloves
  5. Shin guards
  6. Foot guards.
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