What and how big negative consequences might martial arts lead to?

I was very interested in martial arts when I was younger, and I am still interested. However, I have chosen not to train any martial arts because of my fear of brain damages and/or getting swollen/damaged organs that either look aesthetically bad or are dangerous. It might seem a bit silly, but my academics are important to me, and I would definitely not want to do hurt my potential, neither do I want swollen organs and lose my aesthetics. So how would different martial arts affect these factors (and other possible factors that you might come up with)? I feel a bit insecure about doing kick-boxing since it puts a lot of pressure on the head with kicks, punches, elbows etc., (even though I think I very much would appreciate it), but I am thinking about karate, and possibly grappling too.

I would be grateful for any help,

Thank you in advance!

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    Extremely relevant similar questions: martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/293/… and martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/998/… Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 14:08
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    Don't train a full contact sport, but if you ever step into a situation that you are being attacked and you decided not to learn Martial arts. The Guy beating you up will not care about your academics or aesthetics :)
    – user1928
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 5:29
  • I'm appalled by how the community are treating questions like this. It's a legitimate concern that few martial artists or indeed any sportsmen are willing to address until they get a life changing injury. Will attempt to answer this weekend. In the meantime see my questions on the topic.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 18:07
  • martialarts.meta.stackexchange.com/q/466/6503 you can see here that many of those active on this forum are completely irrational and hostile in their approach to this topic.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 18:29

11 Answers 11


Everything that's physically challenging carries the chance of injury. Deal with it.

Running risks joint degeneration. Bicycling can be bad for sexual function and mobility. Hikers get lost and freeze to death. Tennis causes elbow pain. Soccer players blow out their knees. Baseball players risk concussions from wayward pitches to the head. Lifting weights can cause muscle pulls and ligament tears. Sex causes pregnancy, STDs, and feelings. Anything strenuous risks heart attacks, strokes, muscle pulls and joint injury. I can't think of any exercise that doesn't have risks. But--sitting on the couch causes diabetes, heart disease, immobility, boredom, and a boring personality.

"Martial arts" is too broad a category to define risks for. The risks are totally different between two karate schools, because one is hard contact and the other is no-contact. Aikidoka and BJJ practitioners both experience accidental joint and soft tissue damage, it's just a question of which joints are more common to get hurt.

If injury prevention is a high priority, then you shouldn't train any sparring arts, nor anything that involves joint locks or drilling with contact. You'd be better served going to a gym and developing a maximum-safety running-and-lifting program. But if you want to learn a martial art, then recognize that all activities carry risks, get over it, find a place to practice where people aren't meatheads and they clean the mats regularly, and start training instead of thinking about it.

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    Couldn't agree more. +10 Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 19:23
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    +1 for "Sex causes pregnancy, STDs, and this --> feelings"
    – DJ22T
    Commented Jan 27, 2014 at 15:11
  • Overtraining can also cause injuries.
    – Tassisto
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 13:03
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    Extra plus points for this: "But--sitting on the couch causes diabetes, heart disease, immobility, boredom, and a boring personality." Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 20:48
  • You clearly don't have a clue about the topic and avoid thinking about it because you don't want to believe that you are putting yourself in danger. Not all risks are equal. That is the job of probability. To inform us on these topics. This question deserves a numerical answer with calculations and evidence.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 18:10

Visit a couple of dojos that interest you and ask about their injury record.

Look for older students; once you cross 50, injuries count more and heal slower. Moreover you're more likely to have other injuries that complicate your practice.

Ask about training with injuries, and "opt-out". I can no longer do kneeling work, and when I visit a new dojo I reveal this and ask if it is OK if I step to the side of the mat when they do kneeling work. Listen to the grounds of the answer, and see if you can live with that reasoning. Does it make you feel safer? Does it address your concerns?

Watch a couple of classes and see if you would feel safe doing what you see. (This particular question will evolve over time).

All physical activity involves a risk of injury. Martial arts involves a higher risk of injury. You must accept that risk to get on the floor. There are ways to minimize the risk (Taiji, aikido, bagua skilled instructors, trusted classmates, strong physical conditioning, prudence). You also need to decide what you want to learn. If what fascinates you is kick boxing or Krav Maga, then you're going to have to accept a much higher risk of injury than if you're fascinated by internal martial arts.

I think the question ought to be, "In this dojo, with these people, doing the art I see, do I feel comfortable about the balance between what I'm learning and the risk of injury?"

Although I don't know enough about it, you may want to investigate Capoeira, which I understand to emphasize harmony over conflict in a sligthly different way.


The main thing to understand is that your are in charge of how you train. So if you would like to train light contact, or no contact at all, you should be able to. If your club does not respect that, they are not worthy: Martial Arts nowadays is not as it used to be in terms of need. We need it less for warfare and more for self-defence. As different people have different needs, if your Martial School does not have this awareness, they probably will not be very helpful to you.

I'll enumerate a couple of common injuries that are more or less associated with different styles.

Grappling - BJJ (of the grappling styles that's the one I have more experience with):

  1. Broken toes - this is due to being on the ground, getting swept.
  2. Cauliflower ears, just like rugby guys, due to friction of ears against Gi
  3. sore hip-flexors (sorry not too sure about the spelling) - this is because as a beginner of BJJ you will spend a lot of time on your back with the partner on your guard. This puts a lot of pressure on this area as you are tense and tend to squeeze your legs around the partners waist.
  4. Shoulders, some times due to locks applied to quickly before you have the chance to tap-out.

Judo - Knees for falling badly; broken fingers for getting it stuck inside your partner's Gi and blisters on your fingers due to friction when gripping.

Interestingly I have had less injuries with stand up fighting style like Muay Thai and Kickboxing, but the training is sorer because of the hits onto the face and body. Although people tend to think that BJJ is very safe, that's the art I got most injuries from.

Find training partners like-minded, people that appreciate the need to keep things safe and enjoy the training. Martial Arts' spectrum is so huge that you can adapt every training into your needs.

To sum up, I would take this approach:

Research the styles you like the most. Then, find out how the clubs in your place train. When speaking with the instructor, be clear to express your concerns and assess whether they have an open-mind towards your needs. Try to do your own researches on youtube and google about what your martial art is about. Then put an ad somewhere looking for partners or private instructors: as long as safety is your priority, the rest will flow. Remember, you don't need contact, strength or condition to simply train and enjoy martial arts as a hobby. In fact, something I always say: the slower you train (hence safer), the more control you gain (on a long run). The main think about Martial Arts is not about flying kicks or hitting hard; Martial Arts is all about being smart; so it's not about training hard, it is about training smart.

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    I agree with most everything except the idea that someone can choose to sit out of fundamental activities like sparring. It's reasonable for some gyms to say, "train like we train or you can't train with us," and it's reasonable for that to involve sparring. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 14:24
  • True, but when you put this proposition forth you are assuming that the person training has the same goals as you do. I understand that you are very focused and take it seriously: Martial Arts is really important in your life and as such I agree, sparring is fundamental. However someone else's priority might be safety above all, for whatever reason. They might enjoy practicing the techniques without necessarily wanting to become fighter, and as such, for this person who praises safety first, sparring does not become fundamental. Importance becomes subjective.
    – Lex
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 14:41
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    I'm just quibbling over the word "worthy". Plenty of quality schools don't have room for someone who wants to pick and choose which parts of practice they'll do. Still a good answer, still upvoted, but if someone's not a good fit for a martial arts school because they don't want to train martial arts, then I think calling the school unworthy is a little odd. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 14:54
  • Hmm, yes, putting it in this way, I agree with you: you right, the person needs to want to train; thanks for the upvote. Perhaps I should edit my answer to reflect what we have established???
    – Lex
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 15:20
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    Editing the post would be fine. The idea of Stack Exchange is to make quality answers that help all readers, not just the original poster, so edits are encouraged. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 15:47

You need ask yourself a question: What do I want to achieve in martial arts?

  • If you want a sport first place - injury guaranteed
  • If you want the cultural experience - no injury
  • If you want self-defense - depends on the system, injury might occur

Usually martial arts are without contact or more usually instructors are keeping everyone safe so nothing really is happening during practices. I myself have been doing martial arts since 1990, and I had one serious incident at a tournament that sent me to the hospital with memory loss.

I also have personally witnessed serious knee, hips, shoulders, and injuries that were as a consequence of football and rugby.

I have been an instructor since 1993, and I never had serious injury during my training. I am not counting one broken finger, two noses (one mine), and one fractured rib.

People training MA are usualy sensible and not abusing people. So to answer your question, if you want avoid all problems

Do not do: Anything related with sport

Do: Martial arts based on cultural aspect (e.g. kendo, aikido, yaido, kyudo)

If you feel that some risk might be present, the most important thing to choose carefully is the instructor.


I've trained in 5 or 6 martial arts over the course of 30+ years, mostly physically vigorous ones with a moderate to high level of contact. I've taught and trained with hundreds of people, and probably seen thousands compete in tournaments.

I've never heard of anybody with "swollen/damaged organs" from MA training and don't even know if that's physically possible (except for some kind of freak accident). I don't know anybody who has "brain damage" -- though that's certainly a plausible risk if you're a professional-level full-contact fighter in an art that emphasizes blows to the head (e.g., boxing and MMA).

I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody suffer a "career-ending" injury (one that would preclude any future martial arts training).

I've seen and experienced injuries that keep people out of training for a few months. I've had two acute injuries: I tore an ACL in my knee once, and I dislocated a shoulder last year. Both are fine now, though I am a bit more careful with them (and in general). When I was younger and stupider, I overtrained to the point of having some chronic knee and hip problems, but those also got better when I cut back to a more moderate/sane level of training. I've had scores of minor scrapes, bruises, joint sprains, an occasional badly smashed hand or foot, but those are all things that are fine again in several days.

I've seen other injuries happen to people -- a handful of broken bones (more often from falling freakishly wrong, rather than from being hit), a few people knocked out cold or having a minor concussion (but always walking away under their own power, after an x-ray showed no serious injury that needed more than rest), a couple cuts that needed stitches. But remember, this is over decades and watching thousands of matches.

OK, so here's the bottom line to take away:

  • Minor injuries are common in martial arts, but are not any more serious or likely than in any other contact sport. Your risk of injury is probably no worse than if you play soccer, football, hockey, basketball, or any other contact sport. You are VERY VERY unlikely to do anything that results in permanent brain or organ damage like you are worried about.

  • There are a lot of martial arts to choose from offering a wide range of techniques and contact levels; you have a lot of latitude to choose one that's right for you. It doesn't have to be one that features a lot of full-contact blows to the head.


I've been training Karate for the last 11 years.

You get hurt sometimes, accidents or clashes happen. You get over it. I've had a few injuries over the years, broken foot, hand, ribs, all from accidents. It happens. You try to learn from it (block with your hand closed!) and carry on.

Our Dojo is very strict on having control, which should be a factor in your choosing of a dojo or art. Take a look at the instructor and students, are they demonstrating good technique with control, or are they happy to apply a technique without control.

I studied and trained through high school and university. Many of the people in my Dojo are professionals (several doctors, a lawyer), or studying at a high level (Working on Masters degrees or PHDs.

I love what I do, and wouldn't change it for the world. Find something you enjoy and do it!


The answer to your question is... it depends! What are you training in, and in what way are you training?

If you're training primarily in something that has you doing forms, or very light push hands, or low force and simple touches? Your odds of injury are really low. If you're doing something that involves heavy force strikes, throws, etc. odds of injury become higher. If the teacher has you training in a way that puts your body in bad positions, doesn't have you build up necessary stabilizer muscles, or you're training with people who lack control and want to go hard? The odds become much higher.

Right now I'm recovering from chemotherapy and cancer treatment - I'm doing low intensity drills and standing grappling moves - worst I've got is a small bruise on my arm. On the other end of the scale, you can see folks who jumped into an MMA school, had folks doing heel hooks without control and permanently destroying people's knee ligaments.

The nice thing is that you can choose to what level you want to get involved in, as far as martial arts and scale it to what you feel safe at. Concussions are definitely not good for anyone, including non-academics, so that's a fair worry. Practicing with forms, or drills tends to lower the injury rate. Funny enough, weapon focused arts also tend to have lower injury rates in general.


It depends you could pull a muscle if you don't stretch right, if you do sparring you could get hit accidentally. But all i can say is that if you do a type of martial art there is no way to avoid getting an injury, it's just what comes with doing martial arts.

  • Whilst I agree - injuries in martial arts are inevitable - the same is true of almost every sport. Where a class is run with adequate risk assessment and precaution the benefits surely out weigh the risks. So injuries are something that just happen ANYWHERE - we can reduce the chance but never avoid it entirely
    – Collett89
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 9:35

Well, life is not safe at all. I believe that getting injured in a card accident is much higher than getting seriously injured during a training practice or even a competition. You can always ask your partner to be "less harsh" with you if you feel uncomfortable. And keep in mind that no martial art is safe enough. E.g. there are no sparrings in aikido, but people often twist and even break their arms and fingers.

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    You must play some hardcore card games ;-)
    – Nathan
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 16:17

Sparring is not intended to be full-on, kill-or-be-killed, or even MMA style attacking. It's intended to be paced to your level, where you can practice closer to a real world situation. It lets you work on timing, evaluating the techniques you have learned & seeing how they fit with your personality, as well as integrating everything into a whole. It also helps you to find weaknesses and learn how to teach yourself what you need to learn. In the 3 years I've studied, I've been accidentally clocked once in the face. I was trying an advanced technique on someone too close to my level. Specifically, I was trying to go around the punch, rather than block it. I kind of backed off of that for a while. :-) But, I put ice on it for a solid 2 hours that evening, and the next day when I went to a job interview, they didn't even see a mark. And as to brain damage, that is just completely off the table. If the dojo you are considering doesn't control their sparring so that this is not an issue, then not only are they going to be having a huge backlog of lawsuits, but they are not pursuing this as why my grandmaster calls "spiritual training."

  • Concussions are a factor in judo, wrestling, boxing, and kickboxing, and there's a significant contingent in each of those sports that consider the activity to be spiritual training. That's part and parcel of hard-sparring arts. Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 23:39
  • You may be right. I'm offering a newbie perspective, skewed by my own experience. At our dojo, the Grandmaster stresses "control" in sparring. I would assume that another interested party could find a similar Dojo, which was the point I was trying to make. If I thought I had a serious chance of getting a concussion, I wouldn't dream of going. We spar very hard at times, but always with control. I think a newcomer could find a Dojo with that kind of approach. In our Dojo control goes hand-in-glove with spiritual training. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 0:33

Just as much as tripping while running, or cutting yourself while cooking. As you progress you get stronger and wiser.

Most important thing in training is to look after your body and your partner's body.

Never be too confident, as it would leave to higher possibilities of injuring yourself. If you cant do it, just tell your instructor.

As you train longer, your body gets tougher and less likely to get injured.

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