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The martial arts have evolved over millennia as a means to kill or disable. It is only in the last few decades that the martial arts have been marketed and sold as sport. It would appear that the transition to sport is incomplete.1

There has been a veritable explosion of interest and participation in the martial arts globally. Commercial entrepreneurism, media promotion, the health and fitness resurgence, and international diplomacy and goodwill have attracted at least 75 million participants worldwide.2 The United States has been particularly infected with martial arts fever in the last few decades, with an estimated 8 million practitioners. In many countries, the annual growth rate is expected to be 20% to 25%.

The 20th century brought rising popularity for the martial arts as sports forms and the attraction of a young and exuberant audience, likely due in part to the popular use of martial arts in films. Approximately 20% of martial arts participants are children.3 Martial arts training has been advocated for individuals of all ages and abilities, including the elderly,4-9 patients with rheumatoid arthritis,10 and patients with spinal cord injuries10,11,12 for conditioning and fitness, self-defense, health and recreation, self-confidence, self-discipline, social and environmental support, sports competition, artistic expression, and psychological, philosophical, and religious transformation.

Many styles of martial arts are practiced today, each with its own subtypes, schools, and individual philosophy of discipline. Training in all the martial arts is time-intensive and focuses on mental and physical endurance. Most martial arts incorporate a balance of body, mind, and spirit and emphasize focus, concentration, physical fitness, flexibility, strength, speed, power, agility, balance, reaction time, and coordination.3 In several martial arts forms, seasoned practitioners have demonstrated an ability to accelerate their feet from 0 to 30 mi/h and kick an opponent with a force of 6400 N.13,14 Recent medical reports provide evidence that this onslaught is probably harder on human bodies than most other sports.15

Research on the physical forces, morbidity, and mortality involved in martial arts practice is sparse compared with many other sports.16 The study of karate, for instance, has been limited primarily to hand traumatology and conditioning.17 This lack of information has spawned many false notions and perpetuated the aura of mystery surrounding the martial arts. While it is recognized that there are benefits to participation in the martial arts, like most sports, participation involves a risk of injury. However, some of the risks engendered by kickboxing and the martial arts as practiced are unwarranted and preventable.1 The available evidence on martial arts practice can be used to provide valuable insights on the prevention and rehabilitation of injuries associated with the sport.

Therefore, the purposes of this chapter are to provide the following features:

  1. Present an overview of various martial ...

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