When I was 11 and training in martial arts (internationally​ competitive and consistently​ placed in every competition) I had to spar against an adult in clads for practice and did break their ribs with a well placed kick and because they’d forgotten their chest padding. So, just speaking from personal experience that a child could break an adults ribs, but I was a very highly trained kid who’d been in karate for several years at that point.

Well, that was the point of my response. The character in question had no training. You know as well as I do what someone with no martial arts training throwing a kick looks like. What chances would you give them in a managing to successfully perform the technique in a fight for their life? The odds are not in their favor.

Just from my experience teaching martial arts, the number of kids who could what you did at age eleven in a sparring match is tiny. Possibly by dumb luck. If you competed internationally then you were obviously in the top tier, and that puts you in a league far beyond what most kids are capable of. Most adults too, for that matter.

Consider though, the amount of time per day you spent training for your
competitions in comparison to your classmates including those in
whatever school you went to. In all the karate students in all the world, you were probably in the top percentile of a select group that ever makes it that far. I can list on one hand the number of martial artists I’ve known who went to international competitions. That’ll really skew your perspective.

And, of course, the chances of sparring injuries increase substantially when we forget our pads.

While we’re on the subject of injuries:

My brother almost lost his leg, for example, when he decided to throw a roundhouse kick at Starke when they first met. My brother was eighteen (and a fourth degree black belt, who should know better) and Starke had police self-defense training from a cop in Wyoming when he was a kid. The cop was a little on the crazier side and taught small children the standard joint breaks they were teaching at the time to regular officers. One of them was the defense against the roundhouse kick, which includes a knee break. My brother came very close to walking with a limp for the rest of his life. Instead, he went on to become a boxing national champion in the welterweight division.

Those of you who’ve heard about my brother before might remember the time he almost lost an eye when our instructors were dumb enough to let two young black belts spar with UFC fiberglass gloves and perform head blows. To this day, he is (just a little) walleyed.

Then, of course, there’s the story I got off Starke from one of his karate friends in college. The two brown belts that the black belts let spar without restrictions and each of them ended up with a broken leg.

Not everyone highly trained is smart or responsible. Sometimes, they’re really, really dumb. Or not paying attention. Or criminally negligible.

Let this be a lesson to every writer out there who wants to write a “No Pads” sparring session with beginners or… just in general. There’s a really good chance that if no one’s paying attention someone will be leaving with broken bones even if the match started with the best of intentions.

This also isn’t counting what happens when the kids decide to spar and no one with sense is there to stop it. That happens too.

And then there’s the part that’ll horrify some of the readers out there, which is martial artists swap these kinds of stories around with each other and laugh about it after the fact. The explanation for this behavior is injuries get normalized when you’re in a culture where the chance for experiencing them is high. This happens with soldiers and cops too, in regards to their own. Then martial artists, soldiers, and cops will swap these stories with each other, because its one of the parts of all three cultures which cross over. It’s like the stories you tell about family vacations, and stupid things your friends did, except its about breaking ribs, dislocating joints and the time you watched someone’s leg turn into a screw. Panic in the moment, but funny later.

If you’re outside that culture, the casual disregard will sometimes sound absolutely bonkers. That casual attitude, however, is a nice tell for someone who’s been in the business awhile. The chance being injured or seeing an injury happen on a training mat or walking the beat is something you’ve adjusted too. Not that you want it to, but you’ve seen it. Plus, you’re getting little minor injuries all the time which helps when it comes to handling them.

Figuring out how to present various normalized mental states for characters of different backgrounds is hard because we’re so used to thinking about our state of normal. The problem is everyone’s version of “Normal” is different.

-Michi

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