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Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture
Safety in Martial Arts Classes
This is more a question than a suggestion I have just received a wonderful email from a student in which he said he finds my Martial Arts classes a great balance of Fun, Learning and Safety For me, keeping your classes "Safe" is part of being a professional and intelligent instructor So I wondered what you would consider the term "Safe" means in martial arts classes and also, what you guys do in your own classes to help enforce this element of "Safety" For me, some examples would be.... Safe from injury - not asking students to perform silly jumping spinning stunts over chairs, etc Safe from injury - ensuring students are challenged physically, but within their own capabilities Safe from ego - allowing students to ask questions andmake mistakes without getting hurt physically or being ridiculed or punished in any way Safe from bad attitude - an environment where bad attitude is not accepted or allowed to grow - a compasonate and supportive class with fellow students all willing to help each other Safe from Bad Technique and Training Methods - no standing on your students legs to "help" them achieve deeper stances So - what do you think guys and gals?
Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Good theme Alan! In my former life as an industrial electrical I was heavily involved with safety procedure and training. One of the big positives of this is that I got good at identifying the causes of accidents before they became accidents.

They way it works is that you have lots of unsafe actions before you have a near miss. You have lots of near misses before you have a minor accident. And you have lots of minor accidents before you have a major one. The trick then is to reduce the unsafe actions and erode the pyramid from the base. We did that at the place I worked and we won awards for our safety record.

In my classes I find the much lamented risk assessment process (which is a requirement in the UK) and the resulting “dojo rules” and practises help ensure that injuries are very rare. The rules and practises becomes habit, and training can then be hard and safe. It’s not about “wrapping people in cotton wool” but effectively identifying and controlling the hazards of martial training.

There is sometimes an assumption that good training should result in injury otherwise it is not realistic. The military don’t want people shot in training and the fire service don’t want people burnt; so they train smart. Injuring people needlessly and rendering them inactive is neither “good training” or smart.

When I tell people about the way we train – especially in reference to the methods of sparring – I frequently get the comment that they could not do that as they fear lots of injuries. However, our injury rate is very low. Lower, I would suggest than most clubs.

I’ve copied some of our sparring rules below in the hope they are of interest. We also have similar rules for pad-work etc. and all our activities are formally risk assessed. As I say, it is very rare we have any injuries.

In the 24 years our dojo has been open, we have only had to call for an ambulance twice. Once for me and once for Murray (4th dan who you’ll now from all the DVDs) and both incidents – both awkward falls from throws – were in private training away from the dojo.

All the best,

Iain

1 – The safety of your partner(s) must always be your prime concern. Their safety is your responsibility! Your partner is kindly loaning you their body to practise your techniques on. You have a duty to return it to them in the same state in which it was loaned to you!

2 – No one is permitted to spar when injured.

3 – Your licences must be up to date for you to spar (and train generally).

4 – If an injury occurs, no matter how minor, the sparring must immediately stop and the injury reported to the instructor in charge and entered into the club’s accident book.

5 – When striking, protective equipment must be worn. Gloves (when punching) and shin and instep guards (when kicking) must always be worn. Gum shields, groin-guards and chest protectors are also strongly encouraged. If you choose to forego any of these items you must appreciate there is a greater risk of injury should your partner inadvertently fail to abide by these rules. All equipment must be in a good state of repair. You have a duty to check the suitability of all your equipment prior to use.

6 – Long hair must be tied back, nails must be cut short and no jewellery is to be worn during sparring.

7 – All sparring must be physically and emotionally controlled.

8 – No strikes are permitted to the groin, joints, neck and other vulnerable areas. Junior students (under 18s) are not permitted to make or receive any contact, no matter how light, to the head.

9 – Live grappling must always be conducted with care.

10 - In grappling, you must tap out, and / or verbally submit, the instant your partner has successfully established a winning position (i.e. when a lock or strangle has been applied with control).

11 – You must release your grip the instant your partner taps out and / or verbally submits. Maintaining a position after your partner has tapped will not be tolerated and offenders will be barred from sparring.

12 – Juniors are never permitted to encircle the head or neck with their arms. They are also not permitted to intentionally place their heads under their partner’s arms.

13 – All joint-locks, strangles, chokes, etc. must be applied with great care.

14 – Juniors are not permitted to use joint-locks, strangles, chokes, etc. in live grappling. Juniors are to look for holds only during grappling ground work.

15 – Attacking the small joints (i.e. fingers, toes) is not permitted.

16 – Any form of neck crank is not permitted.

17 – If mats are not down, throws and takedowns are not permitted.

18 – All throws and takedowns must be executed such that your partner can land safely. Techniques which, by their nature, cannot be controlled are not permitted (i.e. any technique where the opponent will land face first, lifting and flinging the leg, etc).

19 – If you can’t safely execute any given technique, you must not attempt that technique in sparring!

20 – If you feel your partner is not abiding by any the above rules, or is being unsafe in some other way, you must instantly cease sparring with them (the instructor in charge should also be informed why you have stopped). It is neither brave nor beneficial to continue with someone who is sparring incorrectly.

21 – You must always carefully listen to any additional instructions given by the instructors and be sure to abide by them.

22 – Those students who demonstrate an inability to spar in a safe and responsible manner will be barred from sparring. The instructor’s ruling on this final and non-negotiable. Sparring is a grading requirement so those not allowed to spar will also not be permitted to grade

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

"Safe" to me means free from injury- No Body Gets Hurt,  including emotional injury, physical injury, and spiritual injury. 

I find that if you train smart, and everyone is there to learn- then safety is a natural byproduct. 

Now some minor occurances are bound to happen, mostly fingers caught in Gi's and toes rolled over, or caught in the mats. But this comes with the sport and the art. Nothing a small ice pack can't fix. 

On the job of the coach in class, it is much as Iain describes- actively looking to reduce the likelyhood of injury from taking care of the precursors that lead up to more serious safety concerns. 

3 rules of our gym: 

A) No Body Gets Hurt

B) Keep It Honest

C) The Coach Is In Charge

Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture

Iain, Andrew

Great responses and Iain, thanks for sharing your rules and regs, really useful and a great example of the detail that instructors must go to in order to run professional academies, classes and seminars.

I agree with all points, and also agree that a "Safe" place for a student to train must have a large link to the reduction of injuries and more intelligent training.

Wha about other aspects of how a student may feel "safe" when attending your classes - such as emotional safety (for want of a better expression) The kind of safety they would feel if they felt comfortable and able to ask questions without being laughed at

or the safety they might feel when being supported and encouraged by instructors and senior grades?

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Great rule list Iain. I may "borrow" it if you'll permit. Not teaching at the mo' but planning on doing so soon.

BTW - looking forward to you slapping me about in a safe and controlled manner on Sunday!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Jon Sloan wrote:
 I may "borrow" it if you'll permit.

Of course! The whole point of the site is information sharing so please use as you see fit. I'm pleased you think it will be useful.

Good discussion this! More to add, but I have to dash! I have a class to teach and I need to carefully inspect the training environment for all potential causes of injury smiley

All the best,

Iain

Andrew Carr-Locke
Andrew Carr-Locke's picture

Al Peasland wrote:

Wha about other aspects of how a student may feel "safe" when attending your classes - such as emotional safety (for want of a better expression)

The kind of safety they would feel if they felt comfortable and able to ask questions without being laughed at

or the safety they might feel when being supported and encouraged by instructors and senior grades?

That's what I had in mind when using the free from emotional injuries term. In our classes, a big part of what we do is based on group discussion and problem solving. When teaching a new technique, we go over the application very quickly and have the students test it out with each other. Then we gather as a group and look at who made it work for them and why, as well as who had trouble with the technique and why. The group as a whole comes up with solutions by testing their own theories out with each other. Any new developments in technique or application of a specific technique are then added into our curriculum going forward. It is really a living thing. 

But yes, we have a free and open learning environment where everyone can make comments and add in their info with out fear. Of course if the suggestions don't work, it becomes apparent because everything is pressure tested as comes up. 

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Al Peasland wrote:
What about other aspects of how a student may feel "safe" when attending your classes - such as emotional safety (for want of a better expression). The kind of safety they would feel if they felt comfortable and able to ask questions without being laughed at, or the safety they might feel when being supported and encouraged by instructors and senior grades?

That’s a really important aspect of training I feel. If the people in charge have their student’s best interests at heart then support, encouragement and students feeling comfortable asking questions should naturally flow from that.

All the good instructors I have trained with have pushed me beyond my perceived limits, but I always had the sense I was “in good hands” throughout, no matter how demanding the training got. It’s that style of teaching that I try to emulate.

Andrew Carr-Locke wrote:
That's what I had in mind when using the free from emotional injuries term. In our classes, a big part of what we do is based on group discussion and problem solving …

 …we have a free and open learning environment where everyone can make comments and add in their info with out fear. Of course if the suggestions don't work, it becomes apparent because everything is pressure tested as comes up.

I like that concept of naturally involving students as part of the process. I think that really helps ensure “understanding” and not just “replication”. Good stuff!

All the best,

Iain

Al Peasland
Al Peasland's picture

Good stuff guys.

This reminds me of a chat I had with a young lad on one of my seminars. He was a fairly high TKD grade but was being bullied at school and generally having a rough time of it.

It would have been easy for me to say how the martial arts techniques we were learning could defeat his bullies, and how he had to fight back, etc.

Using this as a way of encouraging him to train more and keep going to classes.

In actual fact, I think the best thing the martial arts classes offered him was a safe haven. A few hours of respite each week, where he could look forward to being in an environment that cares, that supports and that encourages. With a group of people, almost "family like", and where he could let his mind focus on the arts and on nothing else.

For me, yes, Martial Arts could offer this kid some physical tools to fend off the bullies, but at the very least, his martial arts classes should offer him this chance for respite