T Nation

Want to Start Martial Arts, Scared About Concussions


Hello there.
For a while now i’ve been thinking about starting some type of martial art, specifically muay thai and boxing but i always hear “horror” stories about people who are practice martial arts that they always suffer from injuries, specifically head injuries and brain damage. Many say they suffer from memory loss etc. I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. I’d to start to get more in shape and maybe even compete on an amateur level if i like it, but thinking brain damage and concussions is really hindering me from starting.


The people who get brain damage from martial arts tend to be the ones who compete and fight for decades (Muhammad Ali). One of the main themes of martial arts is learning to have a guard and not get hit in the head.

Some people are super susceptible to concussions, while others never seem to get them. It’s a crap shoot.

Go tour a gym you might want to train at. See if the people sparring are wearing mouth pieces and gloves. Ask the trainers how they monitor for concussions. Most trainers aren’t macho idiots and try to protect their students (revenue streams) to the extent possible.


I wouldn’t worry. Most martial arts of any kind spend most of their sparring time doing light sparring anyway. At least in my experience.


I am only speaking for boxing, which is the only sport I have experience with.

But if concussions and head injuries really worry you, don’t spar and don’t fight. You can hit the pads, work the bags, do the drills. But if you don’t like the idea of getting hit in the head over and over, stay away from that ring.

Will you end up a dribbling mess if you spar a few times? No, of course not. Lots of people spar and have their fun - even log an amateur fight or two or five - without consequence.

But any time you fight, there’s a real chance you could get fucked up and put down. It’s the cost of doing business. This is the hurtin’ game man. There’s no way around that. And I know few people who were in this game for a long time that haven’t seen some collateral damage by the time they’re 40 or 50.

If you’re not comfortable with that, no shame. Most people aren’t. Hell, even I’m not entirely. But it’s a seductive sport, and once you figure out that getting hit doesn’t “hurt” like you think it does, it’s easy to keep pushing a bit further each time. That’s a choice only you can make.

Again, your mileage may vary. Some guys retire from long pro careers and are sharp until the day they die. Others get brain bleeds and die during an amateur fight. It’s a total crap shoot.


And I don’t want to scare you off - I’ve been in boxing for a long time, and it’s an unparalleled sport. It is one of my life’s passions, and I’d never give it up.

But anyone who tells you it isn’t dangerous is outright lying.


I did taekwondo for like a decade and never did any full contact fighting. We did a touch point scoring system and were required to wear headgear (plus gloves, footpads, and mouthguard). You had to definitely connect with a strike but if you were too hard you could get a warning or disqualified. We also didn’t do hands to the head (just foot). I think more people got hurt doing flying kick board breaks and such.


There are for sure martial arts that have less contact. I would think Kung Fu or Tai Chi? I did different TKD styles and ATA gets a bad wrap but is a fun one for the recreational Martial Artist… but some schools don’t go with that model and they even have a successful MMA fighter so check it out before judging. I went to one that had a fair bit of both and also did Krav Maga and some other things. The only thing that turned me off there was the $$ and I got more into a full contact style back then…

I don’t feel like concussion is likely in BJJ either but I suppose its possible in the throwing/judo phase. I have not had me bell rung yet in BJJ.


Definitely Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.


I’ve never had my bell rung, but I’ve definitely been elbowed and kneed in the head more times than I can count. I’ve had 6 black eyes. I think it’s just a side effect of my style though; I haven’t seen anyone else getting their face that banged up.


No concussions either but one black eye and one split lip in 9 months training. Knees and elbows seem to have a way of finding my head, usually when I’m passing guard. Part of the game it seems


Any cauliflower ear yet? It’s been 2 years and my right one is getting a little thick.


Yep just a little in my left ear. It was sore for a few weeks before I realized it was cauliflower ear. In hindsight it seems obvious but at the time it was just one more body part that hurt from jiu jitsu, so I didn’t think much of it. Once I realized what it was I got some needles and drained it, then got some headgear that I wore until it felt normal again.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it will probably come back. If you want to avoid that you’ll need to keep wearing the headgear.

It happened to me and I couldn’t take wearing the headgear so stopped wearing it. Cauliflower ear came back (both ears eventually) and I had them drained repeatedly. At one point I had an ear drained every day for almost a month. Thank god I had insurance. Long story short, my ears are nice and caulflowered now. The good news is they no longer swell up.


Whatever happens happens. I’ll just manage it as I go along.


I trained heavily in TKD for years, and was an instructor for a bit as well and…wait I forgot why I was writing about this.

Just kidding. Concussions are no joke, and I did sustain a few to be honest. This happened when I had a crappy guard and my sparring partner had crappy control. It can happen…

That said, I wouldn’t suggest training in a martial art and NOT performing some sort of sparring. It provides practical application that is hard to learn from just practicing technique.

To be honest, I would be more concerned with something that required consistent head impact (like football) than the periodic knock to the noggin you might get training in a martial art. But that is a very biased personal opinion.

(And my man from May of last year probably could care less about my better late than never post. Ha)


I think this is where non-striking arts can really shine for the person who is not interested in getting hit hard in the head. Rolling is sort of like rough sex. If one person isn’t in to it, just go light and flow roll. But if you both agree to get nasty, a whole world opens up that’s about as close to all-out brawling as it gets.

Bumps bruises black eyes and cauliflower ear might result, but head trauma will be unlikely. My instructor even likes to slap me in the face when I’m not protecting against strikes, and I don’t mind that level of rough play at all. Totally consensual!

As a part time bouncer on one rowdy night per week, all this sparring has really helped. When things get violent everything slows down for me and I can understand what’s happening, what my options are and handle it without even getting worked up.

I didn’t have problems bouncing before bjj, but the difference is huge. Almost matrix-like with how I perceive, process and act on the situation. Adrenaline still kicks in but I act very deliberately now instead of just being big and strong and even a little panicky. Very cool stuff to experience.


Try telling one of your female training partners that before the next round, LOL.


Lol! Was thinking the same thing, though you might get an even stronger negative response from one of your guy training partners. :wink::joy:

Concur with what others have said pretty much across the board. To be fair though, certain grappling arts are much more prone to concussions than others. For example, Greco, Judo, and Shuai Chaio/Jiao all encourage and even reward high altitude throws/or even “slamming” in some cases. Such impact forces often far exceed the “HIC” (Head Injury Criteria) forces encountered in even the hardest strikes to the head. Yes, these arts all pretty much are performed/practiced on padded/matted surfaces and usually in training you control your throws so as not to injury your training partners. But, just like in striking Arts accidents can happen and the potential for concussions is still high in such situations.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t practice Takedowns or throws if you do a Grappling Art though, just that certain arts tend to discourage slams (BJJ and Folkstyle Wrestling for example) while others tend to encourage it (Greco and Shuai Jiao for example). So if concussions are a concern, I would advise choosing Grappling Arts that discourage, penalize, or even disqualify participants for “slamming”.

Good luck.


I dunno some of the guys I train with might get into it.

slap hands.

“Punish me hard daddy I’ve been bad.”


“Just slap me in the face and call me a whore.”


“I’m trying to work on closed guard punch block.”

“That’s a good slut let’s keep our jits violent bro”