Kicking Your Students; Abuse or Training?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate
24 Sep 2008


I read with interest this story about a lady karate instructor training her students to take kicks. Apparently she challenged her students to see who could take the most kicks. A kid wound up with blood in his urine and she (the karate instructor) was charged and acquitted of child abuse. In this post I will review this story and point out the pros and cons of some types of conditioning. I will also examine what I think of this case (based on the limited information in the article) as well as what I believe optimal training for children should be.


I remember when I was first starting karate, learning how to punch into pads and toughening my hands in buckets of sand. I had to practice inward blocks with partners so I could block harder. I was taught that the body could be toughened up so one could fight better.  I do remember taking some kicks and punches as part of that process. As I moved to non-traditional styles (Kenpo Karate), I noted the focus went from deadening my senses (ostensibly to take pain) to learning how to connect with kicks and punches. I did not have to break boards but rather score points on my opponents! Here is one video I found of an apparent Muy Tai boy learning how to take kicks and punches.




This boy like so many others learning martial arts, is doing whatever he can to be a good fighter. In full contact matches, a fighter must take may kicks and punches to dish out his own attack. Conditioning one’s body to take a kick or punch can have the affect of allowing the fighter to counter attack after taking a hard shot. If this boy did not condition his body before stepping into the ring, he might get knocked out with a hard knee to his gut or such.


I used to spar without gloves and foot pads with a friend in my early (about 14) teens. He was older and told me that he did not learn anything unless he got hit hard. He reasoned that if I got a punch or kick in on him, he would have to learn how to block it the next time. I wanted to spar with him because he the tough kid on the block. I got a certain amount of respect by training with him.  Well one day I took a round-house kick to my ribs that apparently broke them. I say apparently because I was in pain for several months but did not tell my parents. You see if I asked for help I would have been a wimp. So to this day almost 40 years later I can still feel the difference on one side of my ribs. I think I am really lucky the broken rib did not puncture a lung.


In the case of the karate instructor, I think friendly competition is one way of keeping interest in a class. Instructors often try different exercises or activities to keep students interested and coming back to class. In the larger scheme of things, karate students like football players are going to get hurt occasionally and some instructors or coaches are better than others in watching out for your kids safety.


The judge in the case I think ruled correctly because there was no intention of harming the students and other kids were not getting harmed. If the judged had ruled against the karate instructor when there was not intent – that may have opened the door for other parents to sue whenever their kid got hurt in practices of other sports.


Now for what I think. I tend to think karate instructors should not focus too much (if the style normally does) on kids taking punches or kicks in normal practices but rather on punching and kicking pads/bags or in controlled sparring. The kid in this example was 11 years old and his muscles are not yet developed. Kids are our most precious resources and (speaking from experience) some injuries can be with a person for a lifetime. I don’t think this instructor went too far but I would not let her teach my kids as I would want my kids protected more until they were at least 16 (late teens). That is just my preference as I know muscles are more developed by that age. Maybe I am overprotective but that is my view.


By the way I do not think conditioning training should really include taking punches and kicks or toughening one’s knuckles for that matter. Think about it… how often is your kid going to get into a fight? maybe five times in his life? Would you really like to risk injuries and arthritis later in life to avoid bruised knuckles five times? I don’t know about you but when I have gotten in fights, I have not ever thought about – will my hand hurt if I punch this guys nose? No, the fun (err I mean sense of accomplishment) of having to defend yourself is nursing your injuries and getting sympathy from your loved ones.


In closing I would just like to emphasize that a parents job should be evaluating what sport you are sending your son or daughter to and if you do not agree with the training methods – pull them out. But if you leave them in, don’t complain about injuries unless they are over the top (such as the instructor hitting your kid in anger and causing injuries – that is abuse).

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2 Responses to “Kicking Your Students; Abuse or Training?”

  1. Kim Says:

    I remember blocking several of your kicks and punches with my face. Injuries are just something that happens. We heal, we learn from it and we go back for more. I have yet to meet (or oppose) a quality fighter that got to that level by never putting the gloves on and sparring. I couldn’t agree more with this article. Well said! Kim

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks Kim,

    I used to think other sports were safer than karate but when I went to a friend’s judo class, I noticed lots of injuries. At least in karate getting injured was not the normal course… just the odd unexplained bruise. :)