Accident and injury risk factors for martial artists

accident_sign300I thought some other martial arts instructors out their might be interested in this list I put together to help assess factors that contribute to accidents and injuries during training. As a rough rule of thumb, the more such factors are in play at any one time, the more alert instructors and students should be to avoid accident or injury. If I have a lot of these factors present in a class, I lean more toward the conservative options every time I’m faced with a choice about what to do next (let people work on their own, or spend a little more time reviewing first? Full contact sparring, or half speed with hands only?)

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I welcome suggestions and comments. What factors have played into injuries and accidents in your experience?

Space and equipment

  • Are you in a space designed for the purpose, or are you using a space that was designed for some other activity?
  • Is the space large enough for the number of people and the activity level?
  • Is it small enough that everyone can see and hear you?
  • Does the space have proper equipment, such as mats?
  • Are participants wearing the correct gear for the activity? If not, how are they adjusting? (Does “I forgot my mouthguard” mean “No head contact” or “Sit out”?)
  • Is the lighting adequate for everyone to see what is going on (not just in their immediate space, but throughout the room)?
  • Is the temperature excessively cold or hot?


  • What range of skill levels is represented among the students? Are all students similarly skilled, or do you have a mix of beginners and old pros?
  • How much experience do participants have with this TYPE of activity or technique?
  • How much experience do they have with this SPECIFIC activity or technique?
  • How much experience do YOU have with the activity or technique?
  • When was the technique or activity last taught, reviewed, or practiced?

Physical issues

  • Do participants have any injuries or limitations?
  • Does anyone have a significantly different fitness level from the rest of the group (lower OR higher)?
  • Are all participants adequately warmed up?
  • How fatigued are they?

Partner/relationship factors

  • What is the size/weight/gender/age/experience differential between partners? (In my experience, more disparity generally translates to higher risk.)
  • Do the partners have a prior history of working well together? Of problems?
  • How new is each person to the group?
  • Has any participant ever expressed, privately or otherwise, concerns about working with anyone else in the group?
  • Are partners actively communicating about appropriate force and speed levels? Have you explicitly told them they need to do this? Have you demonstrated how to do this?

Energy levels

  • Are there observers, photographers, or guest students present?
  • Is it a formal demonstration?
  • Is it a promotion class?
  • Does anyone have a brand-new belt or stripe?