All martial arts can be dangerous even when expressed through sports. In the realm of fighting arts, there are basically two categories of combatants: the grappler and the striker.
The grappling arts include wrestling, judo, and jiu-jitsu, while striking arts encompass kickboxing, muay thai, karate, tae kwon do, to name a few. Since body types vary, there are practitioners who are more comfortable in the grappling arts, and there are those who favor the striking arts. Needless to say practitioners are expected to get hurt in pursuit of these disciplines.
In the Olympics, the two most common fighting sports are boxing and wrestling. Both fighting arts have roots dating back to the ancient Olympics and whether for sports or the battlefield, the risk of injury during practice increases with age because of the style of play, contact forces, and size of athletes.
From 1982 to the present, there are reported fatalities in the sport of wrestling, and there are more permanent than nonpermanent disabilities, which include brain and spinal cord injuries. While these are not common occurrence in the sport of boxing, boxers experience the negative effect of their sport later in life. Nosebleeds, concussions, and cauliflower ears occur more frequently in grappling, while cuts and scrapes are common occurrences in the striking arts.
Grapplers are known to suffer shoulder injuries called acromioclavicular (separation or clavicle fracture), anterior shoulder dislocation (shoulder bone was pulled separated from the body), and elbow dislocation often caused by a fall on an outstretched arm and hand, or a repeated trauma to the point of the elbow, or simply being caught in any form of arm lock.
Although strikers such as boxers seldom report these kinds of problems, in the art of muay thai, kick boxing, and kyokushin karate, the following problems are seen: prepatellar bursitis (swelling on the front of the knee), patella dislocation (knee cap comes out of place), medial collateral ligament sprain (a direct blow to the outside of the knee), anterior cruciate ligament tear (tearing of ligament from a strong sudden twisting motion/hyperextension), meniscal tear (a sudden twisting injury while weight bearing or squatting).
Both grapplers and strikers suffer back pain because of muscle strains, and very often at the lower back. Because of risk of injuries, sparring sessions and actual competitions need proper supervision and strict compliance with the rules and safety guidelines.
Children can practice the grappling and striking arts early but the preferred age is 10 when their bodies have developed enough motor skills and enough flexibility to move properly. Parents should be involved in their child’s pursuit of these disciplines by feeding them the right food with the correct nutrients.
The use of weight categories is important in combat sports. This is to ensure that competitors are matched against others of their own size. As fighters advance in their practice, they become stronger, faster, and sometimes heavier making the maneuvers they use more dangerous. Some fighters who opt to remain in their chosen weight class take diuretics, forced dehydration (wearing of plastic suits), and abrupt cutting of calories (skipping meals and use of laxatives) when they get heavy during off-season. These practices can put the body into shock.
There are a lot physical benefits in doing both striking and grappling arts which includes improvement of flexibility, burning of body fat, increase in strength, and self confidence. But practitioners need to fully understand the injury risks that go with their practice. Boxers need to wear headgears (unless competing in professional division) and proper gloves during practice, and sufficient mats and ear guards for grappling.
I highly recommend as much as possible the use of a good mouthguard. Although headgears and ear guards are now mandatory for competitions, the sport of mix martial arts (MMA) uses less cushions and less hand protection. But there are endless ways to finish a fight, and this makes MMA safer compared to other combat sports so to speak.
The striking art of kickboxing and muay thai is one of the best ways to workout if the goal is to burn calories. However, when practitioners are ready to spar, there should be awareness of the possible dangers. Fractures can happen in any sport and constant high-impact contact on the same spot can either strengthen or damage that anatomical part. Kicking and punching on heavy bags can lead to joint pains. The toes and the wrists take most of the pressure when there is a mistake in execution of the movement. Among grapplers, ankle and neck fractures (sometimes finger fractures) occur. Strikers carries the danger of dislocation especially the peroneal tendon that runs down the leg, normally feels like an ankle sprain but does not heal for a long time.
Concussions occur when the brain hits the skull with an abnormal impact. Grapplers who land hard on the mat with the side of their faces and head are often a normal scene in an amateur tournament. Concussions happen a lot in the striking arts because the common goal of both fighters is to knock out each other. Dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, headache, and a slurred speech are all signs of concussions.
Hematomas are mostly seen in striking arts, but grapplers suffer this injury as well. This is an obvious swelling related to internal bleeding. Complications from hematoma include compartment syndrome, which may require the amputation of the affected area.
Regardless of the age of students, professional supervision is a must to ensure the safety of the participants in the ring and the mat. A professionally trained instructor is mandatory to learn the basics of a combat sport while keeping it safe. Learn to follow rules and regulations that are set for a specific fighting style. Either grappling or striking, or combination of both, have risks of injuries. Injuries will limit your capacity to excel. There is no such thing as a small or big injury. A small injury can get worse, and a big injury can remain. Good sportsmanship should come first, unless it is a real combat done outside the ring or the cage. Yes, there is such a thing as safe training, but not in an actual fight.