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I'm into Ninjutsu. We have just started some boxing + kicking: Gloves, mouth guards. I'm speaking "friendly" here - this is in-house sparring, not MMA competition.

So, the instructor has recommended shin guards, and I'm contemplating buying these ones (I always go for quality, these seem highly appreciated, and the price difference between those and average ones is about $50) but I wonder - Don't guards defeat the purpose of getting a little tougher, learning to perform even when hurting?

Of course, had I been into MMA competition I wouldn't hesitate buying the best guards available, and the price isn't the issue - it's the principle.

So, my question is this: Do guards defeat the purpose of training?

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1  
hayabusa makes good stuff, but it's likely overkill and over rated, and is double the price b/c it's stylish. when i was training muay thai and mma alot, i used these: renegademmagear.com/Grappling_Shin_Guards.htm they are solid, and good if you are doing any grappling because they are a sleeve instead of straps. –  Patricia Mar 12 '12 at 13:57

8 Answers 8

up vote 9 down vote accepted

"It depends." Partly on your goals, partly on what you hope to achieve via sparring.

First things first: If shin guards are standard in your studio or if your instructor recommends them, then absolutely get them. You might talk to the senior students and see if they agree with the advice before springing for them, but this is one of the situations you may want to go with your instructor's recommendation, at least at first.

In "friendly" sparring people will be throwing strikes as if you had them on (since that is what they are used to, even if they cognitively know you don't have them), which can lead to unpleasant consequences until you have the conditioning in place (and even then). There will still be plenty of aches, pains, bruising, etc (depending on how hard you guys go when sparring, but especially when you begin) to learn to fight through without adding bone bruises or hairline fractures on your shin to the mix.

Which leads to the next point: If you want to condition your shins so that you don't need the guards (which may be a desirable goal for you), you can do heavy bag work (lots of shin kicks) or other forms of conditioning outside of sparring to "toughen up" your shins. Don't just dive right in to sparring without the guards if you go all out: condition yourself up to that point first and then ease yourself in.

Now, the guards will slow down your conditioning somewhat if you guys are used to blocking with your shins or throwing significant shin kicks. The guards are there to prevent injury more than anything (take, for example, that your mouth guard is preventing expensive dental work and broken teeth), which particularly while you are learning or when focusing on things other than physical conditioning (such as getting operant conditioning into place) can be very valuable. You may still want to take them off eventually, but where you end up and where you start and may be two very different places, as might be how you transition.

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If there's one thing I've learned over the years of training (Ninjutsu as well): It's better to have the equipment and not need it than to need it and not have it. If the instructor suggests them, buy them; he'll make your life hell if he thinks you're not taking his advice.

Any sort of padding will make the training less realistic, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Training inside of a dojo is nothing like real life anyhow. You're having some friendly sparring matches, so using the pads isn't going to make it any more unrealistic.

Sparring, especially randori, is an essential part of training... It's just not the most realistic way to train. Nothing will prepare you for real life better than having a teacher that will push you to the very edge or even over, but is always ready to grab your hand and lift you back up. I'm talking about the instructors that'll leave you with bruised ribs, mild concussions, and black eyes teaching you how to fight for your life. And even then, it still doesn't compare.

No one wants realistic training. They want to feel like the tough guy for a few hours a week. They don't want to be reminded just how close to dying they are every time they throw down with some idiot in a parking lot. Train to train; it can help you defend yourself, but don't worry about the level of realism; practice when to run away and when to fight and don't worry about how much difference a pair of shinguards makes. If you survive, you're doing good enough.

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If you're conditioning your body, shin guards defeat the purpose.

If you're sparring, shin guards allow you to walk home afterwards.

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Short answer - catch your shin on your opponent's knee or elbow in a roundhouse kick without shin guards and see how you feel. ;)

Or, to look at it another way - Do targets defeat the purpose in training? Does a face mask or mouth guard defeat the purpose of training? Does practising with dull/not metal throwing stars or a wooden blade defeat the purpose?

These are all tools designed to keep you safe while learning the techniques, and they have their place. As stslavik mentioned, randori is essential, but it's still not the same as getting in a real street fight, making it, by nature "not realistic." Randori is a lot more controlled, and your opponent has training, and you're both sober. In a street fight, your opponent is most likely not trained, may be drunk, may have backup, and the situation as a whole is a lot less controlled.

I tend to liken Ninjutsu with chess - when it comes down to it, the moves themselves don't matter much. What matters is that you're thinking two or three (or four) moves ahead of your opponent. Knowing the moves gives you the ability to determine what to do in a given situation, and power to plan them ahead of time, but when it's all said and done, what matters is what worked.

As David said, if you want to toughen your shins up, do conditioning exercises that will do it gradually and safely. You'll do more harm than good to yourself in the long run if you're constantly out for weeks at a time for bone fractures.

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There is an additional angle here: the shin guards do not just protect your shins, they also protect your sparring partner from your shins. This can even be the more important thing, because while your shins can hurt a lot when hit, they are actually quite robust, they are very effective as blocks and can do great damage in attacks.

Head, groin and gum protection work one-way, as an "armor" if you will. Boxing gloves, shin protection and pads on the spans of your feet work both ways, they protect both the wearer and the other person. I guess your fists can take some damage on your partner's face, but I don't think that's what we're wearing gloves for, primarily.

From that angle, no, shin guards do not defeat the purpose of sparring, which is to give you a reasonably safe way to practice your fighting. Not having injuries makes you able to do more sparring.

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I would definitely second this comment. We spar both with and without pads. Without, the injury rate is higher, but not generally to the shins. It's the things they hit that get injured. Compare a poorly-controlled kick to the face with and without pads - that's why we wear pads. –  Rophuine Aug 28 '12 at 5:07

yes an no :)

any padding tends to make you spar less realistically. But then, 'realistic' is not always the goal.

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Yes they defeat the purpose, they prevent conditioning. Are you going to hurt a few times if you don't have them? Absolutely you will :)

As you practice Ninjutsu I wouldn't expect the leg kicks to be raining down on your shins though. Any conditioning you do also has flow-on benefits - I play football (soccer) without shin guards, I haven't needed them for many years. You will likely want to do some extra conditioning as well, for that you may get some value from this previous answer.

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I can't speak for the OP's school, but in mine, it's not that leg kicks are "raining down on your shins," but rather that a number of kicks connect at the kicker's shins. –  Shauna Mar 21 '12 at 14:46

I'd go strongly with no. The only people I've seen have full compound fractures of the tibia and fibula are Muay Thai fighters. They're also the ones to spend the most time conditioning their shins to toughen them up. Long term it weakens them.

And really there's no point, you're not going to make them stronger not wearing shin guards, all you'll do is eventually desensitise them to the pain, but when you're in a fight, adrenaline and determination will do that for you.

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