Stuart White, 1st Dan and Assistant Instructor with RTR TKD Hastings

Taekwon-Do: What are the risks?

I was proud and privileged to have recently had the opportunity to grade for my Taekwon-Do (TKD) 1st Dan black belt.  As many of you will know it is a testing time, which raises a number of questions and answers about yourself and TKD.  One such question, put to me during my formal interview by Master Rimmer was, ”Do you think Taekwon-Do is good for us?”

As an active sports person all my life, and a Physiotherapist who has been promoting movement for the past 20 years, my immediate response of course, was ”yes”.  From a personal perspective, I have no doubt in my mind.  Then we went on to talk about injuries and using science to train smarter and it got me thinking a little more about the benefits, risks and costs to us as individual’s and our society.  So, during that post grading period (where one is confined to a chair!) it seemed like an appropriate time to exercise my mind and delve a little deeper.

Now I realise that I may not be the first to raise this topic but after researching some of the readily available ACC injury data, various NZ healthcare reports and statistics, the data was a bit of an eye opener*.

So, what does the data tell us about injury risk of doing TKD?  ACC injury data for martial arts (as a whole) for the past 5 years, indicates that around 4000-4500 claims are lodged each year.  Of these, ACC have provided specific data which confirms that around 600-700 of these claims are specifically related to TKD.  The financial cost to ACC for all martial arts injuries was around $3-4.4 million per year, over that same 5-year period.  Specifically, TKD only accounts for around $450-500,000 of this total.  This doesn’t take into account factors such as lost work productivity for businesses, but the ACC injury type data clearly shows that soft tissue injuries account for around 85% of all injuries and would therefore probably not result in a lost time injury.

Although there is a dearth of scientific research specifically directed to TKD, I think it is fair to say that there are a number of accepted physical and mental benefits attributed to it.  Mr Gilpin touched on some of these in his excellent article in the last edition. (Taekwon-Do & Mental Health and Wellbeing) I think the question is, therefore, more around the risks of not doing TKD?

From my practice, I see declining activity levels in our children.  The research supports this, with the Government now actively trying to reduce childhood obesity indicators such as TV time, poor sleep and limited physical activity time.  In New Zealand, obesity and overweight children includes around 32% of 2-14 year olds, and almost 66% of the adult population (15 years+).  So out of NZ’s total population of just under 4.8 million, slightly over 2.5 million are now classified as overweight or obese which places us in 3rd position on the world’s ‘’fattest’’ countries table.  It is unsurprising then that research indicates our children will be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than us.  And the cost of this epidemic?  A recent University of Auckland study estimated the cost to NZ to be around $722-849 million per year, with obesity accounting for 9% of all illness, disability and early death.  In addition to this when you factor in the increasing costs of mental illness in children and adults, currently estimated to be somewhere between $3-6 BILLION per year in NZ, a sport and martial art like TKD which is based on a foundation of ‘’intensive mental and physical conditioning’’ would seem to offer the fundamental attributes.

So, back to the original question ‘’Is Taekwon-Do good for us?’’ and do the benefits outweigh the risks?  I am no mathematician, but the cost data seems fairly clear cut to me.  Whilst I am not saying injuries are acceptable, they are to some extent part and parcel of sport and exercise.  ITFNZ as an organisation should without doubt continue to use science to improve service delivery, education and training techniques, in an attempt to minimise risk to its members, although the proportion is already small.  In my mind, the data clearly shows that the risks and costs of inactivity to our society far outweigh the relatively small injury risk and cost of participating in TKD.  So, if asked again, my answer remains the same ‘’yes!’’.  TKD is good for us and that any risk lies with not doing rather than doing.  Hopefully, with that knowledge we can continue to make the world a more peaceful and healthier one.


*References available on request but are readily available online


Leave a comment