Protecting Against Karate’s Most Common Injuries

Years ago, when Hanshi was a white belt, his instructor – like most in those days – had them strike their arms and legs with soda bottles or clothes rods wrapped with hemp rope in order to toughen their forearms and shins. This enabled them to withstand the rough training sessions which were standard when he was a student.

Training in those days was rough partly because pads weren’t available yet. But, fortunately for all of us, this is no longer the case. A wide range of pads are now available which make training in karate safer than most other athletic activities. The best instructors today are constantly searching for better ways to ensure that their students are always as healthy and injury-free as possible.

I would like to focus in this article on those pads which protect the legs and feet of in karate.

Several types of leg and foot pads are available. So, selecting the right ones can be confusing. There are pads, for example, which protect only your feet; those which protect only your shins; those which protect both your shins and your insteps (the upper part of your ankle); and those which protect your shins, insteps, and feet.

How do you decide which to purchase? Well, the first thing to discover is what your instructor recommends or requires. Some instructors are very specific about pads. Others leave it totally up to their students. So, you should begin by asking your instructor what he or she recommends. Remember that it is generally best if you buy your safety and protective equipment from your instructor. This better ensures you will always get the best quality and the highest level of protection.

If he or she has no preferences, then my advice is to always wear as much protective equipment as you can without reducing your visibility, technical options, mobility, or speed. Since the most common injuries to martial artists are generally those to the shins and toes, these areas should be as well protected as possible.

Foot pads generally only protect the top of the foot and offer minimal protection to the toes themselves. (Better protection of the toes is generally achieved by taping them with trainers tape.) These types of pads may be sufficient for those styles which kick with the instep but offers little or no protection for those which kick with the ball of the foot. They offer no protection whatsoever for the shins. As such, I believe combination shin, instep, and foot pads offer the best lower body protection.

Pads should be covered in vinyl. This enables them to be disinfected. Pads covered in fabric – such as the white cotton type – can absorb and hold blood, which can then be passed on to your next partner, or they can pass it on to you. This is very dangerous in this day and age. Also, pads should be stuffed with some form of space-age material which spreads out and absorbs the force of blows and not just cotton or foam rubber which merely softens it.

So, make sure you have the right pads and always protect your shins and feet to make training as safe and productive as possible.