Concussions, Black Belts & Self-Protection Plans (diary entry)



Tuesday night’s CPD lesson for a martial arts teacher was largely a consultation. We discussed duty of care in one aspect of black belt gradings and also an overview of the self-protection programme this teacher is currently implementing.


The value of the black belt has become a regular controversial topic since the commercialisation of martial arts. My client is part of an association that appears to have done a great job in adding validation to this qualification. At the end of a hard day’s examination on all the various aspects of the art, including both theory and practical aspects, all candidates are expected to spar for 30 minutes continuously with each other and with other black belts. This takes the form of over-lapping two minute bouts. This is more about testing fighting spirit and mettle than anything else. Fighting is technically full-contact and the rules allow for ground-fighting.


The concern is the issue regarding concussion. Already tired fighters are more at risk in injuring one another due to the lack of control that will inevitably creep into the sparring. My client wishes to implement stricter rules regarding suspected concussions and would also like to reassess head-kicks.


Head contact will never rest on a satisfactory verdict. Quite simply every time the head it impacted in some way or other the receiver will suffer some degree of brain damage. That is the choice every full-contact fighter faces. This has led to both many in the medical profession and even some martial arts luminaries, such as Robert W. Smith, to oppose head contact in all striking combat sports. We are faced with a dilemma of sorts. Either you want more reality or you want far more safety. This is not a subject that will be easily resolved.


My advice was to definitely pursue the concussion argument with vigour. A student that suffers visible impact to the head should be provided with more than the allotted 10 second break that the grading allows before they are failed. The grading authorities need to make a judgement call on whether a) the student legitimately needs more time or b) the student is playing for time. I would advise a medical professional to be in attendance or otherwise to always err on the side of caution when it comes to concussions. My client makes the strong point that the symptoms of brain injuries are not always immediately obvious.


I don’t agree that head contact with kicks should be prohibited. We debated on the level of control. However, although it is a very good point that it is harder to control a kick than a punch I contest that punching to the head is far more common and that a far higher percentage of knockouts in full-contact activities that permit them are down to punches than kicks. However, I do agree there should be more enforcement regarding head contact. At present, this is more a courtesy between fighters. After all, the objective of the sparring test is not to secure a win but for the student to show they can keep going.


The overview of my self-protection programme has seen some reshuffling and greater enhancement of certain hard skills that will be directly implemented in my upcoming seminar in Denmark next month. I sketched out a soft skills map that made attitude and respect to be the core attribute running throughout. It also contained a feedback loop of Mo Teague’s Recognise, Read and Respond adaptation of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop. We discussed the reason for this adaption, which feeds into how the fence is used – the elimination of the decision component. This is covered in the first part of my Aftermath podcast.


Hard skills were divided up into three stages with tactical escape running as the core skill. The importance of tactical escape has emerged as an ever important area that is paid lip service too often. The three stages deal with pre-emptive tactics, regaining the initiative and anti-grappling/combat grappling.


, ,