If You Don’t Like It, Then Split!

It should go without saying that if you train in the martial arts, you’re going to get hurt. It isn’t a knitting class, so you should expect that at some point in your martial arts career, you’ll take a hit. Even for people who have been training for decades, mistakes and accidents can happen. I’m reminded of last year, when one of the fellow black belts in my club cracked me in the nose with an elbow. It stunned me and my nose started bleeding, but I was lucky enough that he didn’t fracture or break it.

Whether by accident during drills or because you zigged when you should have zagged, getting hit is the LEAST of the injuries you could suffer while doing most traditional martial arts, such as karate. I’ve had pulled and torn muscles, damaged ligaments, bruising, hairline fractures and a score of other injuries too numerous for me to name or even remember after thirty-two years of Okinawan karate. But these injuries were sustained due to the necessary aspects of karate that I had to learn, and were mostly accidental.

This is where we discuss what is, in my opinion, one of the most WORTHLESS movements taught in the martial arts: the splits. Surprisingly, there are a number of styles that teach and train with middle splits. Just to be clear, a middle split is the one illustrated above, where you open the legs and hips and lower yourself down to the floor and come to rest on your inner thighs. Although this type of split is generally used in things like gymnastics, it’s also considered a staple in certain martial arts styles that use high kicks, such as Tae Kwon Do.

Don’t get me wrong, Tae Kwon Do is an excellent system (for those it suits) and is absolutely challenging. But I’m a realist and I believe in always examining how effective any technique would be in a real-world application. It’s always fun to learn fancy and flashy techniques that look god in the dojo, but why learn self-defence if the technique you’re practicing can’t be used to, well… defend yourself?

This is where the splits start to give me problems. There is, honestly speaking, no practical application for a full split in the martial arts. Right about now, I can almost hear the chairs of every martial artist reading this, creaking in protest as they hold up their hands and say, “Now, hold on just one damn minute…” But bear with me for a moment as I explain my logic behind this assertion.

We’ve all seen the splits done, either on television or in movies. Some action heroes have even contributed to the wow factor behind doing the splits (I’m looking at you, Van Damme!) and it’s almost exclusively for practitioners who perform high-flying or fancy spinning kicks. And even though we can all agree that receiving someone’s heel to your face after they’ve spun it around once or twice would be an effective deterrent against your continued consciousness, these high kicks come with a batch of problems of their own.

A traditional martial artist will tell you that the smart money is on keeping your kicks no higher than the waist or lower abdomen. the reason for this is pretty simple. If you kick any higher than that, you’re shifting your centre of gravity and putting all of your weight on one foot. For anyone who’s ever been in a fight, I don’t need to explain why this is a bad idea. It opens up a plethora of vulnerable spots EVERYWHERE on your body and leaves you open to getting your ass kicked. High and spinning kicks may be great for breaking boards in the dojo, but they serves very little purpose in actual self-defence.

Next, there’s the issue behind how this split is accomplished. You’re asking something of your body that it wasn’t designed to do. Our bodies aren’t designed to split open at the hips the way is required for a middle split. I mean, you have just about all the different tissues involved in that one movement: muscle, tendons, ligaments… You name it. Not to mention the hip joints and surrounding bones. And most students want to progress as fast as possible and often find themselves taxing their body before it’s ready.

Although some medical sources advise that doing the splits is generally okay, any medical source I’ve read has indicated that the most important aspect is to ensure that you work at it slowly and progressively, accepting that it may take weeks and even months to accomplish a middle split. If you ever do at all. I can split to about half way down to the floor and that’s it. But then, I enjoy and appreciate my groin and don’t want to cause it any damage.

If you’re new to the martial arts and the curriculum requires a full split prior to promoting to a certain belt, be sure to take your time. Stretch properly and work at it slowly. If you’re training for the actual purpose of defending yourself, maybe accept that this style isn’t the one for you and look elsewhere. There are already likely to be numerous injuries in your future without causing the intentional ones. No need to hurt yourself intentionally. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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