How Protective Gear Ruined the Martial Arts

Protective Gear Makes You hit Harder

Speaking of martial arts protective gear, I was there when it was first introduced. This was about 1968, I was an instructor at a Chinese Kenpo school, and the school owner came out and placed several pieces of protective gear on the floor before freestyle class.

We stared at the martial arts padding, and listened as the owner told us we wouldn’t suffer any more injuries, that we could really refine our kenpo fighting techniques, and the sun was going to shine in Mudville.

We laced up body protectors, pulled on shin guards, fit out fingers into the gloves, obscured out vision with headmasks, and bowed to each other.

The first few minutes were undoubtedly laughable. We were all uncoordinated under the sports padding, but it wasn’t long before we began to realize our rock ‘em sock ‘em potential.

Pow! Ooof! Punch! Kiai! Ow!


That’s right, we quickly realized that protective gear didn’t protect. What it did was make us hit harder. After all, it wasn’t supposed to hurt, right?

So we punched harder and kicked harder, and, suddenly, somebody’s laying on the floor. Hurt.

That wasn’t supposed to happen!

But it did, and you know what the solution was?

More freestyle protective gear. Mouthpieces. Harder shielding. Bigger helmets.

And here’s the funny thing, before we got protective gear we didn’t have many injuries. Sure, a mouse under the eye, a cut lip. But nothing serious.

Afterwards? Well, I broke a toe. And then, a few months after that, I broke a finger.


But we kept using those pads, and for a simple reason: they cost money.

Yep. We paid good bucks for that stuff that didn’t work, and the school owner was quite happy about that.

Fortunately, not long after my injuries, I went to a karate school that didn’t use protective gear. Thank goodness. i was tired of getting hurt.

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