Ban combat sports!

In this article I discuss a question that most have already come to a conclusion on:

Should combat sports be banned?


With viewership of sporting events like UFC and boxing on the rise, many people including psychologist, sociologists and the medical community, have spoken out against combat sports.



 With viewership of sporting events like UFC and boxing on the rise, many people including psychologist, sociologists and the medical community, have spoken out against combat sports. 


Those who call to ban martial arts or combat sports can usually be divided into one of three groups, or all of them: 



Violence or aggressive behavior is morally wrong and should be discouraged.




Street violence will rise as a result of poorly regulated or sanctioned events. In other words, those watching will take it upon themselves to determine what is socially appropriate.



Life-threatening injuries or long-term disabilities will lead to a poor quality of life for athletes.


Lets take a closer look at these three objections.


1: Morality




“It does not matter if they are mutually consenting adults or if paramedics and medical doctors are always at the ringside. Nothing should ever override the most basic and universal moral principle that involves respecting and caring for others as human beings. I truly understand that there are individuals who may wish to test their skills under more realistic conditioning (something more analogous to real self-defense or battle situations), but this does not make it morally acceptable in a civilized world. There are many other ways to be physically challenged… mountaineering, white water rafting… for the well-being of others.” 

Janel Gauthier. Ethical and Social Issues in Combat Sports, Chapter 5. Combat Sports Medicine. 2009.





First off, what the hell? Stay in your lane Janel. Going toe to toe with an opponent is the ultimate test of skill, guts and brains. Fighting is the oldest human sport, unless you can count those who RUN from a fight, then track would be the oldest sport. 


In any case, if athletes understand ALL risk that is involved, then they should be free to do as they choose.


The risk of developing CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) has reduced considerably when professional associations such as the AIBA (International Boxing Association), UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), USMTA (United  States Muay Thai Association), NCAA Wrestling Rules of the Game or the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) developed a standardized set of rules and regulations that fighters, promoters, medical associations, coaches, trainers etc… must abide by in order to compete in their league or under the association. 

These include weight classes, use of protective equipment, length of bouts, number of bouts over a given time span, pre- and post-competition medical clearance, and even the size of the competing area (mat, cage, ring). 

All of these rules have dramatically reduced overall injury rates, injury severity, and the health of the fighter. Basically these organizations all met up and thought: “We want to see people enjoy a healthier fighting career… how can we do that?”

The use of protective equipment, such as helmets, has been a hot debate lately. Some athletes, coaches and even medical professionals are under the impression that the use of head gear (not wrestling head gear to prevent the old fashioned Badge of Honor: cauliflower ear) in striking sports like boxing or Muay Thai, prevents concussions or brain trauma. 

While some research suggests that this is so, the evidence is conflicting and difficult to sift through.


Head gear has been demonstrated to reduce the frequency and severity of facial lacerations, which is a large part of competitors being disqualified from competing. I could throw out stats and figures, but it essentially boils down to this:

The majority of “contact” hours an athlete occurs during training. You train for 2-3 hours a day, five to six hours a day.  This includes technical, tactical as well as strength & conditioning. Then comes competition and you might fight for a 6 minute match (wrestling) or up to 25 minutes (professional MMA). 


When training, there is rarely a medical professional on staff (unless you’re a professional with a well-endowed team), assessing fighters injuries.

Medical assessment is typically only available at the fight itself where they review past medical history & ask a few questions. Or maybe as a follow up if you experienced a significant enough trauma and you were referred for further testing after the fight.


So it would make sense (and its been demonstrated in the literature) that fighters may suffer a concussion while training, not report it, continue to train, then suffer the consequences of second impact syndrome or over the length of their career, CTE. This is well known to be the case with Muhammed Ali (bless his soul) and his vicious sparring sessions.

If you suffer a concussion during a competition, the medical staff will most likely have you follow up with more advanced care and you may be prevented from competing again for a period of 30-60 days. This does not full address the issue, but it makes the fighters health a priority.

Mouth pieces do nothing to prevent concussions.- only dental trauma.



2: Morality

“In general, the more persons watch media violence, the more aggressively they behave. Exposure to television violence does have an effect on violent behavior in some viewers, and that effect may be long lasting.”

Janel Gauthier. Ethical and Social Issues in Combat Sports, Chapter 5. Combat Sports Medicine. 2009.





While I do not necessarily disagree with Janel’s suggestion that some viewers may be more likely to behave violently when watching violent film. It has been my personal experience from speaking to dozens of fighters across the combat sports spectrum, that martial arts have a positive influence on discipline and respect. 


Although there may be a few “bad seeds” out there (what profession doesn’t?), this is largely controlled by the years or decades of dedication and commitment it takes to earn a black belt or open up a prestigious school. Those athletes who do harm to weaker people often know what its like to “get a piece of humble pie” as my training parter Marty Davila so cleverly pointed out. So, essentially, getting your teeth kicked in or choked out by someone who might be smaller than you when training, is a motivating force to NOT do so.

All in all, the benefits of learning a skill set for fighting or self-defense far outweigh any risks associated with a handful of scumbags starting street fights.

3. The Individual


“The understanding that there is an inherent risk of being injured participating in any sport needs no formal research. However, it seems that some are concerned with the role that combat sports has an intent to do as much damage to the competitor as possible. This is in contrast to other sports where points or grades are awarded based on skill (like basketball or soccer) that does not require one to injure their opponent to win.”

Janel Gauthier. Ethical and Social Issues in Combat Sports, Chapter 5. Combat Sports Medicine. 2009.





Yes, combat sport athletes rely on operating at a level that will incapacitate their opponent- punch, kick or tap.

Or in BJJ- tap, snap or nap.

It is not basketball. It is not soccer.

Competitions even offer a greater reward for submission or fight of the night. This likely heightens the element of aggression.

Not too much else to say here. If you don’t like it, don’t compete. Or watch it. Or let your children watch it until they understand what it is thats going on.


My contention with the individual morality of doing harm to another falls to the  common denominator that there will always be evil people in this world who mean to do you harm. If there is no opportunity for healthy-minded individuals to defend themselves or others via the participation in combat sports, then social Darwinism will result in the common “winner”: evil people.


Making a sport of it encourages an environment that differentiates things that work and things that do not work. Look at this absolutely INSANE video of how to defend against rape.