As crime rates have expanded in Great Britain and the United States, concerns about personal safety have increased, and many people have decided to learn self-defence techniques by studying the martial arts. In the United States, for example, the number of martial arts enthusiasts has climbed past 200,000 and is still rising, even though very little information has been available concerning the actual safety of the sport itself. Some critics, sceptical of the merits of martial arts training, have suggested that you're more likely to be seriously hurt during a martial arts workout than you are to be hit on the head by a mugger.
Now, new research carried out at George Washington University in the United States indicates that the injury rate associated with martial arts participation is comparable to the risk of injury in a hard-hitting sport like rugby, and higher than other popular sports such as running, squash, and tennis. In addition, females tend to have much higher injury rates than males.
In the George Washington investigation, scientists studied 144 adult male and 30 adult female martial arts participants to calculate their frequency of injuries. The athletes engaged in a total of four different styles of martial arts - Chinese, Japanese-Okinawan, Southeast Asian, and Korean. Injuries primarily consisted of bruises, strains, sprains, and lacerations.
The damage rate was slightly over four injuries per individual per year, which worked out at about one injury per 48 in-class practice hours. However, the affliction rate for women - about seven injuries per female per year - was roughly double the rate for men. Participation in a Korean-style martial-arts programme was the most unsafe for women, with twice the injury rates associated with Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian programmes. Experience also played a role; women with less than 30 months of martial-arts training had much higher injury risks than men, while more experienced women were hurt about as often as men.
Like the martial arts, rugby also has a injury rate of about one per 50 hours of individual participation, although rugby injuries probably tend to be more catastrophic. In contrast, several other sports are significantly safer. For example, basketball has one injury per 100 hours, running involves one per 200-400 hours, squash has one per 1000 hours, tennis yields one every 1400 hours, and weight training
's wounding rate is just one per 8000 hours or less.
The fairly high injury rates - especially among women - suggest that martial arts participants should embark on a programme of overall conditioning and muscle strengthening before they actually begin intensive martial arts training. By strengthening their muscles, fortifying their joints, and improving their co-ordination, athletes should be able to make the beginning stages of martial arts training more injury-free.
'A Comparison of Male and Female Injury Incidence in Martial Arts Training, ' Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 26(5), Supplement, p. S14, 1994