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Treating Injuries and Training around them

Written by Doug Walsh

As in life itself, in Karate injuries of some sort are inevitable. Some may be minor, some may be major and some in between. And they may occur for and be a result of numerous reasons. This article is by no means an analysis of, nor that of a medical expert, but just a few tips; especially for newer students of Karate-Do.

Oftentimes, when we think of and/or hear "injuries," occurring during Karate training, we tend to think of injuries incurred from any type of Kumite (not just Jiyu Kumite - free sparring). Injuries/issues such as muscle pulls, aches, sprains, joint, bone, knee and/or hip issues, etc. can occur for numerous reasons and some may not be preventable. While the treatment of these could be an article of itself, these can be treated in any number of ways. However, training around these requires imagination and creativity, both of which are a part of training itself.

Kanazawa Sensei (L) and Tsuyama Sensei (R). Note his bandaged right hand in the photo. See story at end.

With any type of injury/issue, one must accept that this (hopefully very temporary) injury issue exists. Ignoring it and/or denying it will only prolong its existence, oftentimes will make it worse and make the recovery much slower and less successful. The "no pain, no gain" philosophy and mentality in regards to injuries is counterproductive and must be avoided at all costs. In most cases (depending on the nature of the injury), missing a training session or so can be helpful to firstly allow the body to absorb the existence of it and the mind and spirit to accept the existence of it. This also allows one time to analyze it as much as possible, create a plan of treating it and gradually training as safely as possible while allowing it to heal and recover. In this type of injury/issue particularly, listening to one's body is of paramount importance. There is no medical expert nor anyone else who knows exactly how we are feeling. Being that said, training in this condition requires extreme care and knowing one's limits. Training alone extremely lightly and slowly will give one a sense of what can and cannot be done. This is a gradual process and will change as one heals and recovery increases. When returning to class training, once again going at one's own level is a must. Too often from the eagerness to return to training, inspiration from the instructor and/or classmates, adrenaline and other possible factors, it can be easy to overdo it and thus allow the injury/issue to remain and possibly get worse. While in this condition and training in class like this, it is also a good idea to train at the end of the line of students and/or in the back row of students. Another good idea is to mention it to others and welcome any possible advice. Going slow overall and not doing any techniques that cause pain or aggravate the condition are just a few examples of how one can train in class and not have to stop training completely. As a very simple example, if one has a pulled muscle in one's leg, do not perform mae-geri keage (front snap kick) with that leg, or possibly modify it by not attempting to kick at a high target and/or not extending the leg completely and only bending the knee up. And certainly not at full speed. Another example is if one has a hip or knee issue to train in slightly higher stances than normal and in the case of a hip issue to temporarily not use as large of a hip rotation as normal. And again, not at full speed. Of course, these are just a few possibilities and examples. Many more could be suggested and recommended by others. It goes without saying that if one does feel one's condition is painful and not improving to seek medical attention.

Injuries as a result of any type of Kumite may possibly be a little more complicated. It must first be said that being that any type of Kumite training includes bodily contact, the possibility of injury must be accepted. One of the many reasons for bowing to one's opponent, in addition to showing respect for each other, is a pledge to do one's absolute best to control one's techniques, emotions and not injure one's opponent. It is also the acceptance of whatever may occur with either party, not blaming one or the other for anything that may occur and not retaliating (at the moment or in the future) for any accident that may possibly occur. In addition, it is the acceptance of having caused injury to another and showing genuine concern for, empathy for and repentance to the injured party should an injury have occurred.

As with injuries that are not a result from Kumite training, injuries that do result as of Kumite training, the same methods should be adhered to. In addition, (once again depending on the nature of the injury) simple first aid can be applied in many cases. Some simple examples may include taping a finger(s), toe(s), wearing a shoulder brace, wearing a knee brace, etc. Notifying one's instructor of this injury and of one's partner of an injury are both very important for the understanding and the safety of all. Again, the impatience and/or overeagerness to return to Kumite can be dangerous and counterproductive. It is advisable to not participate in Kumite training until one feels (or is notified by a medical expert) that it is safe and that one can do so with complete self honesty and self-confidence to be able to do so.

With almost any type of physical injury, the RICE treatment is recommended and can be applied.

1. Rest. Rest and protect the injured or sore area.

2. Ice. Cold will reduce pain and swelling.

3. Compression. Compression, or wrapping the injured or sore area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease swelling.

4. Elevation. Raising the sore or injured part of the body above the heart. Doing so reduces pain, throbbing and swelling.

Injuries of any type in Karate training can be a cause of one considering quitting training and/or quitting training altogether. This absolutely need not and must not be so. As in life itself, injuries (physical and emotional) will inevitably occur at some point. Yet, with time, patience and care (from others and self-care) we heal. We continue. We hold on.

Photo story:

On 28 October 1957 the 1st All Japan Karate Association Championships took place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Kanazawa had trained intensively for the championships. However, five days before the championships were due to start, he broke his wrist in two places.

"Kanazawa was upset by the injury and decided not to compete. However, his mother had travelled to Tokyo to watch him compete in the tournament. She asked him whether he had other limbs he could use. Not wanting to disappoint her, he entered the tournament. He used his good hand for blocking and his kicks for scoring, all the way through the tournament. He won four fights by ippon. In the final, he defeated Katsunori Tsuyama in the kumite final."


1. Courtesy of

2. Photo courtesy of

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