Preventing risks in the practice of Martial Arts

Prevention of injury related to martial practices.

In spite of all the caution one can take to ensure the safety of his pupils, injury in the dojo are bound to happen. It is a martial art after all. However, these accidents can be anticipated and we can make sure they do not devolve into too dangerous situations.

In order to avoid legal trouble and life threatening injuries, here is a little series of steps to improve the safety of your dojo. It is organised as follows:

  1. The systematic teaching of ukemi and security measures.
  2. The maintaining of a proper work environnement
  3. The bare minimum for emergency care
  4. The training of one or several people to first aid
  5. An orderly and well functioning insurance
  6. An orderly list of people, and medical authorizations
  7. Disconnecting the group’s finance from the individuals

1. The systematic teaching of Ukemi and security measures

This is the first and most important aspect. Ukemi techniques are meant to teach students how to protect themselves, they are not meant to be aesthetically pleasing or to be used to show off. They allow the practitioner to receive a throw or pin without damage and in that sense are an absolute necessity.

This point may seem obvious, however too many teacher forget that it is their duty to keep their student safe, even though each and everyone is responsible for his own integrity. A teacher must know which student is able to perform in the right conditions if he wants to prevent dangerous injuries. More over, a student can not only hurt himself but others, and potentially face legal charges if not insured.

It is common for dojos to dedicate several classes to ukemi. But if these classes are not regular enough or only happen on certain days, some less regular students might miss them. Alas, these students are also the most at risk. To avoid this particular problem, I suggest that teachers, concerned with the well being of their student, hold a record of attendance to ukemi classes. They could also systematically take practitioners on the side to teach them ukemi while others continue to train normally. In any case, people not ready to take highfalls shoud be excluded from dangerous exercises (Koshi Nage, Ganseki Otoshi, Kata Guruma, and Randori).

Then come security measures. They can be global or concern specific exercises. They should acknowledge the most frequent injuries and build habits to prevent them. These measures can include warm ups, mobility drills, bodybuilding exercises as well as placement on the mat, behavior with weapons, etc. The teacher should systematically consider the risks posed by new situations. For example, knee injury being common in Aikido, a teacher could impose on his student to perform mobility drills (correct squat form, ankle mobility, hip mobility) before practice and teach them the right ways to sit in seiza or get back up (An often overlooked cause of stress for the knees).

To learn further about Ukemi and safety measures you can read my article on Ukemi or download these 10 rules for a better ukemi (PDF).

2. The maintaining of a proper work environnement


Martial arts are practiced on mats, not outside, not on wood, and especially not on concrete.

The mats must be flexible enough to absorb chocs but should not be too soft to prevent the feet from sinking into it. They should be exempt of holes and defect and close enough together to avoid breaking toes and fingers. They should be replaced or repaired when they are damaged, and cleaned regularly. You should also check the roof for potential leaks that could damage the mats or make it slippery.

It is also important to have a buffer zone between the mats and the walls of the dojo, if that is not possible you should consider investing in wall mats. The reasoning is the same for potential pillars.

If your martial art involves demanding high falls having a crash pad for training is a huge plus. If your art is more centered on weapon work, then you need to be mindful of the height of the room.

3. The bare minimum for emergency care


Some accidents don’t require going to the hospital, for others it’s too late when you get there. The material you keep at your place must answer both cases.

For the less serious injuries, bandages and disinfectant are in order. It is also interesting to have some voltaren (or any other anti-inflammatory), cool packs, cotton compresses, scissors and more depending on the specific needs of your students (antihistamine for allergic people for example).

For the more serious cases, having a defibrillator nearby along with someone capable of using it is a big advantage. However a defibrillator may not be affordable for most dojos (about 1500€ in Europe).

As for unexpected events, emergency training will make you able to deal with any situation in the best possible way.

4. The training of one or several people to first aid


Ideally, every teacher should have followed at least one first aid course. But this is not the case in many dojos. If the teacher is not there for long periods or if you want to be safer, it can also be interesting that some advanced student also receive at least partial training.

General first aid courses are given by the red cross, but you could also find courses more specific to martial arts, please search for what is available in your vicinity.

What I would suggest is for martial clubs to impose this training once a students attains a certain level of expertise in the art. For exemple the clubs could finance the first aid course as a reward for shodan or when the student starts teaching from times to times.

5. An orderly and well functioning insurance


Accidents can sometimes be not only health damaging but costly. You are never safe from insurances turning back on you when the damages are too high. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have an insurance that covers 100% of possible costs and to maintain this insurance in perfect order.

It is easy for an insurance to turn against you when clauses are not respected, don’t give them that opportunity. Also, make sure the contracts and accidents declaration forms are readily available. Make copies of these documents if possible. Reflect carefully on any contract clause and coverage limits which may be insufficient for your case.

Finally, make sure you can easily contact the insurance company at any time!

6. An orderly list of people, and medical authorizations


A student who is not properly subscribed is not properly insured! It is necessary to regularly check that all your students are in order.

Along with that, you can ask students for a doctor’s approval document on their ability to practice martial arts. This allows you to detect any pre-existing condition and be better insured in case of troubles. Finally, your registry can allow you to check participation rates and attendance to special ukemi classes.

Nafudakake are lists of members you can find in some dojos where they can be used to display ranks.

7. Disconnecting the group’s finance from the individuals


In the worst cases, when your insurance fails you or in case of trial, it is important for your association to be juridically disconnected from the patrimony of its members. If that is not the case, the dojo’s owner could be condemned to pay from his pocket or the sum could be split between every member of the association. To avoid this issue, I advise clubs to form nonprofit organisation or societies, or rely on bigger federations to limit the amount lost.


Accidents are bound to happen, however if you followed these steps carefully you’re now safe from the most dangerous situations. So leave the worries behind and train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere!

If you still wish to further protect your students, you can either read my other article about ukemi or have your students read this article so that they too know how to improve the safety of your dojo.


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