12 July 2011


A student in class got a concussion yesterday and had to go to hospital. The interesting thing about it was that no single hit to the head looked that serious. I really do not think that any of them were, in and of themselves, that traumatic, but this just points out the problem with concussions: They do not always occur because of a single big trauma; instead, they could occur because of several small traumas.

So what is a concussion? Basically it is when the brain gets bruised. A knock to the head makes the brain bump against the skull and this causes it to bruise. Every time the knock is repeated, the severity of the bruise increases.

Some concussion symptoms are immediate, for instance getting knocked out, feeling dizzy, seeing stars and / or a ringing in the ears.

Other symptoms often come later for instance:

  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • problems concentrating
  • not remembering what happened
  • slurred speech
  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • loss of balance
  • persistent or increasing headache 
  • a feeling of pressure in the head
  • light sensitivity
  • irritability
  • dilated pupils or pupils of unequal size
Any or all of these symptoms could indicate concussion. A little headache or dizziness is usually not something to worry about, but a persistent or increasing headache, and the addition of any of these other symptoms should be taken seriously and requires medical assessment. 

Unless there is brain swelling, bleeding or other severe problems, the best medicine is merely resting and keeping still. Remember that the severity of a concussion increases with repetition, so do not do any activity that could cause your head to bump or shake. A two weak rest from sport activities (including sparring) is usually required, maybe longer depending on the trauma.

Bruising, including bruising of the brain, i.e. concussion, is common in martial art training. It is part of the risk and often an inevitable part of practicing a contact / combat sport. Concussion could occur accidentally, for instance you running into your opponent's technique or slipping and hitting your head on the floor. Sometimes it is not accidental and either you did not guard / block properly or your opponent purposed to knocked you out, which may or may not be legal in your system. Either way, it comes with the territory. Sparring in the martial arts are often about hitting and getting hit. The main idea is to hit your opponent without being hit yourself. Often easier said than done, but that, after all, is what training is about. I say this not to play down the seriousness of concussions, but to emphasize the reality of what a martial art is intrinsically about. If you decide to participate in a contact / combat sport, then know that there are obviously risks involved.

Read more at Martial Arts and Sport Science.

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