A colleague of mine has for some time been considering training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Knowing this (and angling for a blog topic), I recently asked him what- as a newcomer to the martial arts- was the most important question regarding the training he wanted an answer to.
“Will I get hurt?” was his instantaneous response.
This is a much deeper question than its brevity suggests, and a full answer is going to take a good amount of text:
Will you get hurt when you take up the martial arts? If one takes the question strictly literally, the answer should be a resounding “if the teacher/trainer/coach is any good, then you shouldn’t be seriously injured”.
Let us be brutally honest, At their heart, the martial arts are concerned with violence. And in any physical sport or pursuit, minor injury is effectively inevitable.
If you train in any martial art for any length of time, you will get sprained wrists, ankles, a sore nose, the occasional light poke in the eye (nine times out of ten without causing any damage at all) or an occasional unintentional strike to the groin. Even Aikidoka and Karateka amass injuries, despite the impractically compliant nature of their training regimine.
On the other hand, a good coach will be experienced in risk-management, and will sculpt their class into a place where challenging but safe stimuli provoke combative but controlled reactions from their students.
In my experience, the only real dangers in martial training come from overzealous fellow students, and the continued presence of such students in a class is a direct result of a coach who isn’t controlling the class properly. This doesn’t mean that you should look for a class where the “discipline” takes the form of a teacher acting as a guru, and all the students rushing to obey his every word. You can find this attitude in many dreadful schools, and more often than not, such environments do not discourage egotistical, dangerous behaviour. Rather, they encourage it. Do not confuse a person who can stand in a line and perform a series of bows, scrapes and shouts on command, with a self-disciplined, empathetic individual. (A self-disciplined, empathetic individual is always what you want in a training partner.)
Instead of seeking a school that performs actions by rote en masse and calls it “discipline”, I would recommend that you seek a school where everyone has a common goal: to learn and improve, without incurring injury. You will find such an environment in a professional or amateur competitive fighting gym, like an MMA gym, a submission grappling gym (like a BJJ school), a boxing/kickboxing gym or a Judo dojo.
Nobody is more experienced at training than a competitive fighter. Nobody is more experienced at stopping short of injuring their training partner. Nobody is less emotionally constipated regarding victory or defeat. (Every competitive fighter will have lost countless bouts on the mat or in the ring, and therefore will face defeat with more equanimity than a non-contact dojo warrior. In other words, if you as a newcomer manage to tap them out, they are less likely to hold a grudge and rough you up for fun.)
Having said all this, I should re-iterate that accidents happen in any physical sport or pursuit. But by picking a school where the mood is constructive, where the teacher is respected not because of his belt but because of his knowledge, and where the students are united not by ego but by a shared desire to become better, you will minimise the risk of such accidents.
If the question had been “will training hurt?”, as in “will it be painful?” then the answer would be very different: “If it’s any good, training will be painful.” Having someone pinning you down and/or joint-locking you hurts. Doing squats and pressups hurt. And the more you do of these things, the better you will get.
So, the most complete answer to my colleague’s question could be boiled down to:
“Pain: yes. Minor injuries: probably. Major injuries: almost certainly not.”
“And PS: join a gym that’s based on competition fighting.”