Can You Even Compare The Two?

Laugh if you’d like. It does sound ridiculous. Karate is a physical activity, done with full-body movement, and sometimes other people! Brushing your teeth…I mean, duh, right?

Over the years, I’ve heard many statements about the “dangers” of martial arts training.

  • “I don’t want my kid sparring…it looks dangerous.”
  • “Weapons will hurt me; I’m not doing it.”
  • “Sweeps and throws result in falling, which is bad.”

In reality, training in MuDoKai martial arts is one of the safest activities you can do. Let’s look at why. We’re going to focus on sparring in this post, but the idea carries across to all other forms of training.

Not All Movement Is Equal

When students train at our martial arts dojo, they are focused on the strategy. They’re considering form in every way (or at least us instructors are!) and applying their techniques from a particular mindset.

In our daily lives, many of us move without thinking about what’s happening. It’s movement that stays injury free by sheer habit and luck alone. Until that luck runs out.

It’s About Focus

When brushing your teeth, what’s your procedure? Do you carefully squeeze toothpaste onto the toothbrush, or just force it out into the bathroom somewhere and hope it ends up around where it should be? If the latter, I really hope you have a reliable cleanup crew on call!

Toothbrush Black and White

Once brushing, is it a mission to conquer plaque through any means possible, or a careful expedition focused on loosening debris and keeping your teeth and gums happy? Finally, when rinsing, is your aim to stay within the sink, or be the fastest to completion and make a mess in the process?

If you’re like most people, the answer is a little bit of both extremes. Sure, you’re paying attention to keep toothpaste off the floor, but just enough to remain at the sink. It’s why when the dentist hands us that little “are you brushing” tablet, our back teeth always turn blue.

We brush, but as a habit, not a considered movement.

“Danger” Is In The Perception

Of course, most of us consider dental hygiene one of the less risky actions of our day. (After every meal, right?) It’s almost a challenge to get hurt, unless you, hmm…contort your neck, pull your back, or twist your wrist. Wow, seems dangerous!

Man In Abdominal Pain
Toothbrushing, man. Toothbrushing.

Actually, there are many ways to cause one of those, “aw man!” injuries. You know the kind; the ones you don’t want to admit how it happened at work (kids, enjoy time while this isn’t an issue!). Yet almost no one says, “that’s it, no more toothbrushing for me.”

Sparring is the same way. Except you’ve already decided it’s hazardous. I mean, there’s punching, kicking, and who knows what else! Every action movie highlights it, normally ending with everyone bloody and damaged. Right?

Wrong.

Sparring: “A Clever Game of Tag”

If I were to tell you my record of injuries in sparring and toothbrushing are similar, would you think I was lying? Think again. Sparring is one of the least dangerous activities you can engage in, sports and daily life included. How is that possible?

Ever since I started sparring in the kids class *ahem* years ago, Shihan Mason explained it to me as, “a clever game of tag.” Who gets hurt playing tag? The goal is not to injure your opponent, rather, to control the moment of engagement and be faster to a point.

How can you accomplish this goal safely? Why, your training, of course! Students develop their skills in timing, fakes, reach (I’m looking at you, tall people), or just replicating the techniques as practiced in pairs, basics, and kata (forms).

At no time is, “break their nose” or “bruise the ribs” ever a thought. We are all learning from each other, not fighting to the death!

Sparring Isn’t Fighting

This bears repeating: Sparring isn’t fighting. A fight is uncontrolled, with the only goal being to win. A sparring match has firm rules of targets (where you can hit), techniques (how you can hit), and control (how hard your hits can be).

Junior Students Sparring
Two beginner Junior students consider their targets and techniques.

During sparring classes, all participants wear protective gear to further minimize risks. In every match, a senior student serves as referee, telling the pair when they must stop and when they may resume. It’s as much of a fight as squeezing toothpaste on your mirror is brushing your teeth.

Over my years of training and teaching, I’ve heard many parents of students and big kids (you call them adults) express apprehension towards sparring class. “Isn’t karate about avoiding a fight?” they would ask. It’s a great question, and the response is as follows:

“Yes, it is about avoiding confrontation whenever possible. However, if unavoidable, sparring offers a way to develop the necessary skills within a controlled environment where you can feel safe, but still have a degree of adrenaline.”

In other words, sparring feels real. So your body reacts accordingly. And you reap the benefits.

Embrace The Black Belts!

Many of the senior Black Belts spar regularly, and it may seem intimidating to enter that environment as a beginner. In reality, we love when you begin training, as we can help you build confidence and skills, then watch your improvement over time.

Are we able to “beat you up”? Probably, but how would that help anyone? And what would that show about our dedication to a lifestyle of humility, kindness, and mutual improvement?

Brush Your Teeth. Then Come Spar.

Brushing your teeth isn’t dangerous. When done properly, sparring, as we endeavor to perform it at the dojo, isn’t either. So come by and start your training!

Soon you, too, will be ready to safely enjoy the excitement of sparring at the University Karate Center.

Just be careful with the toothbrush before you arrive. Those things are ruthless!