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PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 11:28 pm 
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Ever since Jhoon Rhee made his fortune off of the Safe-T-Chop and Safe-T-Kick, "safety" equipment in sparring has pretty much become a mandatory thing in a commercial dojo. I started practicing long ago enough to remember the days when a mouthpiece and groin cup were the only safety equipment used. These days, folks want to get padded up like the Michelin man.

I judged at tournaments for years - before and after the advent of special equipment. I came to a personal conclusion from my own observations that the safety equipment was causing a loss of control, resulting in a different kind of injury. Such was thought to be the case in boxing where daily practice with head gear didn't necessarily stop folks from developing long-term brain injuries.

Here's an article which seems to agree with my beliefs, albeit in a different venue.

- Bill

Quote:
The Wall Street Journal
SPORTS
NOVEMBER 11, 2009

Is It Time to Retire the Football Helmet?
New Research Says Small Hits Do Major Damage—and There's Not Much Headgear Can Do About It

By REED ALBERGOTTI and SHIRLEY S. WANG

This football season, the debate about head injuries has reached a critical mass. Startling research has been unveiled. Maudlin headlines have been written. Congress called a hearing on the subject last month.

As obvious as the problem may seem (wait, you mean football is dangerous?), continuing revelations about the troubling mental declines of some retired players—and the ongoing parade of concussions during games—have created a sense of inevitability. Pretty soon, something will have to be done.

Counterintuitive, or just plain dangerous? WSJ's Reed Albergotti discusses with colleague Chaz Repak why some experts think an NFL without helmets would vastly reduce on-field injuries in American football.

But before the debate goes any further, there's a fundamental question that needs to be investigated. Why do football players wear helmets in the first place? And more important, could the helmets be part of the problem?

"Some people have advocated for years to take the helmet off, take the face mask off. That'll change the game dramatically," says Fred Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor who studies head injuries. "Maybe that's better than brain damage."

The first hard-shell helmets, which became popular in the 1940s, weren't designed to prevent concussions but to prevent players in that rough-and-tumble era from suffering catastrophic injuries like fractured skulls.

But while these helmets reduced the chances of death on the field, they also created a sense of invulnerability that encouraged players to collide more forcefully and more often. "Almost every single play, you're going to get hit in the head," says Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long.

What nobody knew at the time is that these small collisions may be just as damaging. The growing body of research on former football players suggests that brain damage isn't necessarily the result of any one trauma, but the accumulation of thousands of seemingly innocuous blows to the head.

The problem is that there's nothing any helmet could do to stop the brain from taking lots of small hits. To become certified for sale, a football helmet has to earn a "severity index" score of 1200, according to testing done by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or Nocsae. Dr. Robert Cantu, a Nocsae board member and chief of neurosurgery at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., says that to prevent concussions, helmets would have to have a severity index of 300—about four times better than the standard. "The only way to make that happen, Dr. Cantu says, "is to make the helmet much bigger and the padding much bigger."

The problem with that approach, he says—other than making players look like Marvin the Martian—is that heavier helmets would be more likely to cause neck injuries.

One of the strongest arguments for banning helmets comes from the Australian Football League. While it's a similarly rough game, the AFL never added any of the body armor Americans wear. When comparing AFL research studies and official NFL injury reports, AFL players appear to get hurt more often on the whole with things like shoulder injuries and tweaked knees. But when it comes to head injuries, the helmeted NFL players are about 25% more likely to sustain one.

Andrew McIntosh, a researcher at Australia's University of New South Wales who analyzed videotape, says there may be a greater prevalence of head injuries in the American game because the players hit each other with forces up to 100% greater. "If they didn't have helmets on, they wouldn't do that," he says. "They know they'd injure themselves."

Dhani Jones, a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals who has played rugby, too, says head injuries in that sport do happen, but they're mostly freak accidents. "In football, you're taught to hit with your face," he says. "You're always contacting with your 'hat,' which is your head."

Taking away helmets might have other benefits for the sport. It would bring down the cost of equipment, which can be crippling for some schools. A slower game might also be more palatable to some parents. And with their heads uncovered, football players might be more attractive to endorsers.

By all accounts, banning helmets isn't on anyone's agenda. Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, says the league isn't contemplating the idea. Its focus is on improving helmet technology and on rules "that help take the head out of the game." Not wearing helmets, he says, "is not going to eliminate the risk of concussion in a sport that involves contact." Dr. Thom Mayer, a medical adviser to the NFL players' union, says there isn't enough research showing that playing without helmets would reduce brain injury. "It's an interesting theoretical question, but I don't think anybody would consider playing NFL football without a helmet," he says.

Larry Maddux, the head of research and development for helmet-maker Schutt, says even without helmets, players would inadvertently get hit in the head—and regular knocks and bumps could turn into concussions. Thad Ide, the vice president of research and development at Riddell, the NFL's official helmet sponsor, says getting rid of helmets would be a bad move. "There would always be incidental contact," he says.

So what should be done?

Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon who has conducted brain research for the players' union, says the NFL should change the rules so linemen aren't allowed to go into three-point stances before plays—a rule that would prevent them from springing head-first into other players. He says he would also stop all head contact in football practices. Dr. Cantu says brain injuries could be reduced by enforcing rules already on the books in the NFL—especially helmet-to-helmet hits, which are not always called by officials. "There have to eventually be some hard sanctions for referees," he says.

To many, the solution is to come up with a better helmet. The NFL is currently conducting independent testing of helmets with a focus on "more accurate and comparative information about concussive forces," says neurologist Ira Casson, a co-chair of the NFL's Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee.

In the past, attempts to create a better helmet haven't met with much success. Robert Cade, who is better known as an inventor of Gatorade, created a shock-absorbing helmet that was used by a number of NFL players in the 1970s. In the late 1980s, Bert Straus, an industrial designer, came up with the ProCap, a soft outer shell that fits over helmets to help absorb blows. It was also used by some NFL players but also never caught on.

Nonetheless, the strongest argument for the helmet may turn out to be an economic one. The NFL is shaped around the notion that players can run into each other at high speeds without consequence. It's the same sort of idea that has made Nascar the nation's most popular form of motorsport. And beyond all this, there's the very real question of whether the prospect of serious mental impairment later in life will ever discourage people from playing the game—let alone watching.

"Without the helmet, they wouldn't hit their head in stupid plays," says P. David Halstead, technical director for the Nocsae, the group that sets helmet-safety standards. But without helmets, the game "wouldn't be football," he says.

Write to Reed Albergotti at Reed. Albergotti@wsj.com and Shirley S. Wang at Shirley.Wang@wsj.com
- WSJ


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:15 pm 
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Quote:
Counterintuitive, or just plain dangerous? WSJ's Reed Albergotti discusses with colleague Chaz Repak why some experts think an NFL without helmets would vastly reduce on-field injuries in American football.


I want what these folks are smoking. These "experts" need a history lesson:

Remembering the game that changed football -- for the better

Quote:
November 2009 marks the all but forgotten centennial of a moment that could have ended football in America, but instead forced the sport down a different, better path.

Football was so gruesome at the turn of the century that in 1905 President Roosevelt himself demanded the sport clean itself up. The notorious flying wedge was banned, but by ought-nine -- as they said back then -- it was still a brutal battle royal. The New York Times summed up the season's championship match as "an indescribable tangle of bodies, arms and legs."

That game, played on November 20 and arguably worthy of the "game of the century" label, pitted undefeated Yale and Harvard against each other. In then typical fashion, there were no touchdowns. In fact, when Yale won 8-0, it finished its whole season without letting up a score. The forward pass had been legalized in a limited fashion, but football remained mostly pounding scrimmage; few players wore helmets, and a close observer declared that as the Harvards and Yales pummeled each other, "It was the most magnificent sight ... Every lineman's face was dripping with blood."

But the great game of a hundred years ago was overshadowed by greater carnage at other major universities. Three weeks before, when Harvard played at West Point, an Army lineman named Eugene Byrne was killed. Then two Saturdays later, against Georgetown, in the nation's capital, Archer Christian, the University of Virginia's star halfback, met his death. The Chicago Tribune reported twenty-six players were killed on the gridiron that year. How long would America allow its youth to perish for a silly game?

The president of Stanford, disgusted, called football "rugby's American pervert." Colonel John Mosby, who as the fabled Confederate "Gray Ghost" had seen his share of death and mayhem during the Civil War, was an even more fascinating critic. The old warrior called football "a barbarous amusement" that "develops the brute dormant in man's nature and puts the player on a level with ... a polar bear."

In the face of such withering widespread criticism, the new NCAA was forced to find ways to reduce the game's dangers. Although some of the game's powers -- not unlike the smug football aristocracy in the Bowl Championship Series today -- were relatively content with the gory status quo, other colleges took a more progressive approach. Rules liberalizing the forward pass were instituted for the 1910 season, and soon it became the weapon that opened up a safer game.

Of course, some things never change for the better. Canny old Colonel Mosby also made this point: "It is notorious that football teams are largely composed of professional mercenaries who are hired to advertise colleges. Gate money is the valuable consideration."

Yes, college football was already an academic fraud when the Gray Ghost wrote that exactly a century ago, and although the NCAA could clean up the game on the field, it never has figured out how to manage the other abuses.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:23 pm 
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Quote:
These days, folks want to get padded up like the Michelin man.


Overreactive hyperbole to rules requiring certain safety equipment. Talk to anyone who competes under WKF rules and you will find that Michelin Man padding is not required at all. Watch youtube videos of WKF matches. Watch videos of demos in years past at Summer Camp of Gary Khoury, Roy Bedard and our Canadian friends. Sport karate of the highest order, and no Michelin Man padding at all. Worried about insurance liability? Multiple insurance co. out there who will insure you and your students if you comply with just the WKF rules on protective equipment, as our friend John Hassell has stated, again, at Summer Camp in years past.

Gene


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:25 pm 
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Gene DeMambro wrote:


Watch youtube videos of WKF matches. Watch videos of demos in years past at Summer Camp of Gary Khoury, Roy Bedard and our Canadian friends.

Umm... I'm a WKF referee. I judged in Atlanta when they had the All Okinawa tournament there.

I won't name names, but I've seen a match with one of the listed members at the named venue where someone's teeth went through their own face. The safety equipment didn't help.

Schit happens.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 12:23 am 
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Not only was I there, Bill, but I probably have it on video.

Can't have it both ways, Bill: Either retire the football helmet and protective equipment because it makes the sport more dangerous, or throw your hands up and say, "Schit happens"?

So the solution is.......


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 5:59 am 
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Bill Glasheen wrote:

I came to a personal conclusion from my own observations that the safety equipment was causing a loss of control, resulting in a different kind of injury.

In all my years of sparring without hand mitts and judging tournaments without such equipment, I never saw such an injury as I saw in that one match. Whether or not you got it on film is moot. You couldn't possibly see on film what I saw in a clinical evaluation. Hell, I didn't see it until I went up close after the fact.

The solution isn't necessarily better head gear and hand mitts, because it encourages the participants to be even more careless. In any case, it's clear that things aren't necessarily better, except for the fact that insurance companies will cover you if you abide by their rules. That's a pretty weak justification for doing something that's next to useless. Some may feel better knowing that they're shielded from ambulance chasers. But I run my dojo being concerned about the student.

If it doesn't work, implying it can't be done better is no justification for ignoring a problem. Difficult problems are opportunities for creative solutions.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 7:01 am 
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Bill,

I still have no clue what your postion here is. More equipment, less equipment or just different equipment? More rules, less rules or different rules?

Quote:
In any case, it's clear that things aren't necessarily better


YOUR opinion, and not necessarily fact. I argue that things aren't necesrily better because a few teachers aside, a lot of instructors just can't teach sparring well. And that is based on my own observation.

Still waiting for a solution to this one.

Gene


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 8:53 pm 
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Gene DeMambro wrote:

Still waiting for a solution to this one.

Solutions won't come until the problems are exposed and acknowledged.

By the way, I remember one more very serious injury (cracked eye socket) that came from those demonstration matches you spoke of above. That was a nasty one. Fortunately the individual had a full recovery.

MY personal solution is to use the equipment only when we have to. We spend much, much more time on prearranged work with no equipment other than groin cups (if the students want to wear them). I also wean my students off the mats when doing ukemi work. No shin guards unless protecting an injury. Etc., etc. Want to hit something? Do some kotekitae, ashikitae, karadakitae, or some bag or target mitt practice. Do something dumb? Go ahead and break your finger.

It's a much slower approach. But IMO it's one that prepares someone much better for an encounter where none of those crutches will be available. And... I find that the students are doing less of the sport karate and more of Kanbun's style. We poke with hirakens, shokens, and nukites. We're learning the owie points and the structure-destroying points. Students are getting on both sides of "tasting the hot sauce" and getting an intuitive sense of the martial rather than the sport. There's a lot more grabbing, grappling, and gentle throwing. It's a very different way.

The sport has its place. But I'm doing the equipment only to keep the lawyers away. In reality, it is as much trouble as it is help.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 21, 2009 11:46 pm 
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That was the answer I was looking for. Exhibit A, Bill, on you being one the instructors that "get it". Now the big question is why others have such a hard time with this.

Gene


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:44 am 
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I hate most of the gear. I never feel like I have good footing while wearing the foot pads, and it all is just too cumbersome, and not being able to grab/control during sparring just shuts down half my game.

:evil:

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:09 pm 
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Quote:
These days, folks want to get padded up like the Michelin man.

I laughed because I wore that suit often at events until my retirement last year. I so often wanted to borrow it to enter the ring for a laugh.

Safety gear (and rules) often are devised to protect the stupidest of the stupid. How would one drive if there was a spike protruding from the steering wheel instead of an air bag?

Not a fan of head gear in the ring as it encourages excessive head contact IMO. Eye protection seems more sensible and mouth pieces (good ones) another worth while investment. Gloves and wrapped hands I think are a good idea for those wishing to "slug er out a little"
Shin pads optional. NAILS cut short and clean!!!!! Positive attitude and at least a spark of intelligence before being allowed to put others at potential risk.

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