Countless gyms and training facilities across the country offer professional coaching and instruction in combat sports. While some specialize in a single form of fighting or self-defense, many offer at least introductory classes in a wide range of combat sports. Here are a few questions to ask in choosing a combat sport training facility:


  • What is the background, philosophy and experience of the school’s sensei, master or head instructor?

  • What are the goals of other students (potential training partners) at the gym?

  • Is the gym convenient for you in terms of hours and location?

  • What is the average class size?

  • Does the gym have a full and varied schedule of classes?

  • Does the gym offer general fitness and conditioning classes in addition to combat-sports specific training?

  • Is membership required? (If so, take advantage of trial classes and memberships before signing on the dotted line.)

  • Does the gym engage in competitions with other gyms? (The option to compete is nice to have; it’s even better if the gym has a winning record!)

  • Is your focus on self-defense? (Some gyms specialize in self-defense training.)

Adapted from a article.

Check 3 GPS Ready Score

Your supervisor may use the following checklist to determine whether you have adequately addressed the risk factors for participating in combative sports. If you can answer “yes” to all the questions below, you should be good to go!

Y / N         1. Do you know basic and advanced techniques?

Y / N         2. Do you wear proper hand/foot protection (e.g., gloves)?



Y / N         3. Do you wear proper mouth protection?



Y / N         4. Do you wear proper head protection?



Y / N         5. Will you be competing at your experience/skill level?

Y / N         6. Will there be Emergency Medical Technicians or other medically qualified individuals available?



Y / N         7. Does the gym/company provide proper training?



Y / N         8. Is the gym/company licensed, insured and reputable?



If you answered “yes” to all the questions above, you should be good to go!


Top Hazards and How to Mitigate Them

1. Inadequate safety equipment

Mitigate: Since most combat sports are inherently high-impact, full-contact activities, it is critical to protect the most vulnerable areas of the body: head, hands, mouth, shins, groin, and for more ground-centered sports like wrestling, ankles, elbows and knee joints. For boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA), helmets provide impact absorption for the head and, if they include face guards or cages, protect against maxillofacial injuries. Helmets for wrestling primarily cushion the ears, which can take a beating during grappling on the ground. Sport-specific gloves protect the knuckles and, if the sport allows them, may have built-in wrist supports. Hand wraps or inner gloves offer added cushioning and moisture absorption. Mouth guards not only prevent teeth from getting knocked out, but some are designed to optimally align the jaw. Shin guards are a must, especially for beginners, whose kicks often go awry until they acquire more skill. Last but not least, don’t forget the groin guard, as kicks and punches can land in unintended places.

2. Inadequate or improper physical/mental conditioning

Mitigate: Appropriate strength and conditioning workouts are essential prerequisites for safe participation in training (skill-building) and actual competition in any combat sport. Workouts and mental conditioning exercises should be aimed at improving your body’s ability to fend off injuries. Factors to consider in designing your optimal workout include personal style of fighting, previous injuries, genetic predispositions and training schedule. Be careful not to do exercises that put undue stress on previously injured body parts or overtrain to the point of debilitating fatigue, which can also increase your risk of injury. Rapid increases in frequency, intensity, duration or resistance of training can lead to overuse injuries, including stress fractures, shin splints, and joint tendinosis.


3. Inadequate training


Mitigate: To avoid putting yourself at undue risk of injury, you must acquire the fighting skills, both offensive and defensive, to compete well at a given skill level and weight class. In addition to developing physical skills, you will need to cultivate sport- and opponent-specific fighting strategies.


4. Inadequate nutrition/hydration


Mitigate: Acute weight loss, whether by restricting food and/or fluid intake, can impair both health and combat sport performance. Studies have shown that sudden cutbacks in calorie consumption not only reduce punching force and cognitive function but also increase one’s risk of musculoskeletal injury and infection. Dehydration can lead to hypoglycemia and electrolyte imbalance. As Danny Lennon writes in Making the Cut, “If you still think doing burpees in a sauna whilst wearing a bin bag is the way to make weight you’re in real trouble.” Instead, work with a reputable trainer and nutritionist to follow a gradual and medically sound plan for achieving your targeted weight.  


5. Fatigue

Mitigate: Make sure to get a solid seven to nine hours of shuteye each night; all the physical training and mental conditioning in the world won’t put you in peak fighting form if you don’t get enough sleep. Human growth hormone (HGH) and cortisol (aka stress hormone), are two important chemicals released during the sleep cycle. HGH is essential for muscle building and repair, bone growth and oxidation of fats, and cortisol directly affects the body’s ability to digest glucose. In addition, a regular good night’s sleep is key to maintaining reaction time and balance and warding off illness and injury.


Athletes participating in combat sports, particularly those in which the head is a legitimate target of high-impact punches and kicks, face a serious risk of concussion every time they enter the ring or cage. According to one literature review, the sports with the highest rates of concussion per 100 participants include boxing (14–45%), martial arts (0.3–4%), karate (0.4–3%) and taekwon-do (0.2–10%). Mitigating the risk of concussion requires recognition of the symptoms and knowing when it is safe to return to activity after suffering such an injury.

According to the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, concussion symptoms include:

  • Balance problems

  • Difficulty communicating, concentrating

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Fatigue

  • Feeling emotional

  • Feeling mentally foggy

  • Headache

  • Irritability

  • Memory difficulties

In 2017, the Association of Ringside Physicians released the following concussion management and return to activity guidelines for combat sports athletes:

  • If a fighter is exhibiting signs of a concussion during a bout, the fight should be stopped.

  • If a combat sports athlete sustains a TKO secondary to blows to the head, it is recommended that he or she be suspended from competition and refrain from sparring for a minimum of 30 days.

  • If a combat sports athlete sustains a KO without loss of consciousness (LOC) secondary to blows to the head, it is recommended that he or she be suspended from competition and refrain from sparring for a minimum of 60 days.

  • If a combat sports athlete sustains a KO with LOC secondary to blows to the head, it is recommended that he or she be suspended from competition and refrain from sparring for a minimum of 90 days

  • All combat sports athletes, including the winners, should be evaluated for signs and symptoms of concussion post-bout. Evaluation should be performed immediately post-bout ringside but also later repeated in a quieter, controlled environment (e.g., dressing room).

  • Combat sports athletes may participate in non-contact training and conditioning one week after sustaining a concussion or loss via TKO/KO secondary to head strikes, provided his or her symptoms are improving and do not increase in severity with activity. A gradual activity progression of increased intensity is recommended, starting with light aerobic activity progressing to more rigorous/combat sports-specific activity and finally sparring when symptoms have completely resolved.

  • Under no circumstances should a combat sports athlete compete or engage in sparring activity or competition if he or she is experiencing signs and symptoms of concussion.

  • Nausea

  • Nervousness

  • Numbness or tingling

  • Sadness

  • Sensitivity to light or noise

  • Sleeping more than usual or difficulty falling asleep

  • Visual problems - blurry or double vision

  • Vomiting


Association of

Boxing Commissions

and Combative

Sports (ABC)


Taekwon-do Federation