“The integrity of a person is not in the job he does, but on how he does it.”
Sitting ringside last weekend at an amateur event, I was able to hear the coach talk to the junior competitor. “You are good enough, you have done the work, you know what to do, just believe in yourself”. Of course this could have been any sport, at any level, but it was boxing.
What struck me the first time I was involved in the sport was the interaction between coach and competitor. Despite the single person competing against another in the ring, it is a team sport. The second thing that struck me was that these athletes weren’t the stereotypical meatheads, but well rounded, disciplined and respectful people – respectful of all, opponents, trainers, each other and others in general.
With the state governments and AMA’s position to lobby against combat sports, why would someone train or compete in combat sports, or allow their children to train as there are risks which are so well publicized? The reasons are multiple and except for the miniscule risk involved in most sports, all positive. I have noticed over my time involved in sports there are broad reasons of entry into combat sports.
Those with lower self-esteem/bullied etc.
This is a relatively large group, and many would not be afraid to admit that this was the case. As a competitor trains and competes, the development of previously suppressed personality is evident. It mostly isn’t about physical prowess or skills, but the knowledge that they have a focus, develop self-belief and self-confidence.
The bullies / overconfident
This group is much smaller than those outside the sport think. Over a short period of time, humility and respect usually develop from the knowledge that skill and victory has nothing to do with egos, but all to do with self-control. Those who don’t develop these characters generally don’t last long. It’s no coincidence that PCSC’s used to run amateur boxing to keep “troubled kids” off the streets, and it worked. Today, competitors are not permitted should there be a tendency to violence outside the sporting arena. I have witnessed coaches indicating to competitors that if they “got caught bluing” they would be barred from the gym. I have also heard, on multiple occasions coaches telling juniors that if their school grades dropped they could expect the same.
The competitors who want to lose weight
Often competitors join the gym, lose a lot of weight, start developing a healthier lifestyle and develop focus. In some circumstances this leads on to competition as a chance to put their skills to test which some take up with gusto.
The natural athletes
“If judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will spend his life thinking he is stupid”. Some have transitioned from other sports and found their niche . Coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and socio-economic statuses, they develop the same passion and respect. Often I hear “I would be lost without Muay Thai, it has given me so much”. I find it crazy that someone would want to take that from them.
Some start for self defense, some have a friend who is in a gym and are inspired by the health gains, some have siblings who participate etc.
From a medical perspective one may ask why, as a doctor whose job it is to promote health am involved in Combat sports?
I have been involved in sports medicine for many sports– AFL, Rugby, Soccer, Cycling, Triathlon to name a few. I enjoy being around people who have respect and appreciation for each other and everyone else. I enjoy the camaraderie within the sport, and I enjoy seeing positive results. The enjoyment that competitors get just competing in combat sport, win or loss, surpasses other sports I have been involved in. I see competitors thanking their opponents for the competition and becoming friends through competition.
Combat sports are not the blood sports often portrayed, and no one involved wants to see anyone badly injured.
Fortunately there haven’t been any significant injuries in WA. It is as far from the animosity and anger of a street brawl as the sport of javelin is to using a spear to injure someone. One only has to attend an event to see that. It is a sport in the truest sense.
In WA, Combat sports as a group are the most highly governed. Competitors require both annual medical, pre-contest and post-contest medical. Annual blood serology for amateur boxing and biannual serology for Muay Thai, MMA and Professional Boxing is mandatory. A contest cannot commence unless a doctor is immediately present, and a doctor can terminate a contest at any time. Safety features, such as a fenced arena in Mixed Martial Arts help keep the risks to a minimum. This safety feature has been banned in WA while MMA continues legally, making it more dangerous for competitors and the risk of falling out of the arena is real. This is akin to state government banning seatbelts in cars.
There has been a significant amount of false and misleading information by both the media and medical profession in general. As a doctor, I feel that the best way to make an informed decision is to gather evidence and weigh up risks and benefits to try and make an unbiased assessment. Unfortunately, unscientific “chicken-licken” style of reporting with significant bias and reluctance to gain evidence with unbiased preconception goes unchallenged. Examples are Mr Barnett’s notion of the risk of head injury from strikes in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (there is no striking in BJJ). The prevention of Soa Palelei, a world-renowned athlete to attend PMH (where he has made significant charitable contributions) on publicity grounds is in stark contrast with the endorsement or a multinational fast food conglomerate.
Combat sports are very popular in WA, and growing annually. In my view they do much more good than harm. I am proud to be associated with them. We all strive for a peaceful tolerant society, where diversity is applauded. The stereotypes of combat sports being barbaric and unregulated are ones that only a mature approach to understanding will overcome, which I feel will benefit us all.