At first glance, it appears that kickboxing and boxing are very similar sports. It’s just that kickboxers get to hit their opponents with their legs as well as their fists, right? Well, it turns out that there’s quite a bit of difference between the two sports and one may be much safer than the other.
So is kickboxing safer than boxing?
Kickboxing is indeed safer than boxing. According to doctors, professional boxing is possibly the most dangerous sport in the world today. Kickboxing injuries on the other hand, often look to be much worse than they really are.
Having said that, it is important to note that neither kickboxing nor boxing are likely to lead to severe problems for casual practitioners. Let me explain a bit further.
Why Is Boxing Considered To Be So Dangerous?
Boxing is the only martial art where the sole focus on the sport is to rain blows down on your opponent’s head. That’s not to say that knockout blows and head blows don’t exist in other martial arts, because they do, but rather to note that boxing’s only objective is to punch your opponent in the head until they fall down and don’t get back up again.
This means that boxing is an excellent martial discipline and can be very useful in self-defense because the objective is to remove the other person from the fight as fast as possible, but it also makes boxing dangerous.
That’s because blows to the head are, in essence, blows to the brain. Your brain is the most vital organ in your body. It controls every conscious function and many of your unconscious functions too. When a human being is declared dead in a hospital – it’s not their body that physicians look at, it’s their brain. Brain death is how a human being dies.
Dying In The Ring Is Rare
If you were to believe the publicity, then your biggest fear would be dying in the ring. Michael Watson’s fight against Chris Eubank or Nigel Benn’s fight with Gerald McClellan (as seen below). Both ended in tragedy with Watson ending up in a wheelchair for life and McClellan died just after the final bell had rung.
Yet, while this is a risk. It’s a minimal risk. These fights are famous precisely because their outcomes are a rarity. Most boxers don’t die in the ring and deaths in other sports are equally as common. Footballers die on the pitch. Rugby players too.
Horse riding may be the most lethal sport in the world (riders regularly die when thrown by their horses) by the measure of deaths during participation. Yet, horse riding isn’t considered to be the most dangerous sport – boxing is.
What Are The Real Risks To Boxers?
The real reason that boxing is considered to be so dangerous is a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE for short. It’s not a problem that is unique to boxing.
In fact, it’s so common in the NFL that every footballer is given a scan following a concussion received on the pitch. Thousands of players are suing the football leagues because they believe that the risks of contracting CTE were downplayed and they were tricked into taking risks that they should not have taken on the field.
What Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE?
So, what is CTE? It is a form of dementia. It used to be called “punch drunk syndrome” because of its prevalence in boxers. The blows to the head that a boxer sustains in a fight appear to tear the nerve fibers in the brain. This, in turn, leads to wider degeneration of the brain’s capacity and capability. In short, the brain of a CTE sufferer looks remarkable like an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain.
Sadly, while Alzheimer’s is a disease of old people, CTE is not. It is very common in retired boxers and the symptoms are worse than just an inability to recall facts, dates or names. Sufferers typically develop anger management issues, depression and are prone to drug and alcohol abuse. That’s because CTE destroys the area of the brain associated with “impulse control”.
When The Damage Is Done, It’s Done
What is particularly scary about CTE is that once damage has started to appear in the brain, it spreads. This is true of Alzheimer’s too and it appears once the injuries have been sustained, they go on to damage the rest of the brain even if you protect yourself against further injuries.
That means young men who take up boxing in their teens and 20s, may well be signing up for serious brain problems a few years down the line.
What Is Being Done About CTE?
Well, in most sports there are major steps being taken to reduce and minimize the risks of CTE. We’ve already touched on the NFL and Ice Hockey has been examining the role of the “enforcer” to see how head injury might be diminished there. Soccer has already changed the materials they make up the soccer ball with to prevent injuries when the ball is headed.
However, boxing is a completely different challenge. It is the only martial art and the only sport where injury to the brain is the objective of the sport. Remove head injuries from boxing and there would be no boxing.
This is why there is a growing call among medical professionals to ban boxing completely. They argue that the sport is unnecessary with so many alternative options available to learn self-defense.
Barry McGuigan, the former World Featherweight Boxing Champion, said ‘Boxing damages your brain: don’t let anybody tell you different’
There is some evidence that the risks may not be as great for amateur boxers, but this research was conducted 12 years ago and no follow up study has agreed with its conclusions.
Why Is Kickboxing Considered To Be Less Dangerous Than Boxing?
So, why is that kickboxing is considered to be less dangerous than boxing? There are two reasons that kickboxing is less dangerous than boxing:
- The way that kickboxers fight differs from the way that boxers fight
- The competitions that most kickboxers take part in differ from boxing matches
The Way We Fight
The first and obvious difference between kickboxing and boxing is that while they may be similar at a very surface level – once you drill down into them, kickboxers and boxers aren’t very similar at all.
Boxers punch and they punch the head, over and over again. Kickboxers use their hands, arms, elbows, legs, knees, feet and they attack a much wider area of the body.
Boxers land harder, heavier and faster punches because this is all they practice. Kickboxers tend to not be as fast and their punches are normally lighter than a boxer’s punches.
That means there is a much reduced risk of serious brain or head injuries when fighting a kickboxer because they simply aren’t beginning the fight with the objective of causing serious damage to the head.
The Competitions Are Different
Both kickboxing and mixed martial arts tournaments aren’t set up to aim for the knockout. Now, it’s fair to say that a knockout achieved in a legitimate way will win such a tournament but that’s not the objective.
Kickboxing tournaments are shorter than boxing matches and a kickboxer may face many opponents in a single day rather than slugging it out with a single opponent – though at the highest level they may face only one opponent. This means that there is less opportunity for the kind of sustained beating that a boxer faces in the ring.
Kickboxing and MMA matches often look more violent because of the amount of blood spilled but these tend to be minor wounds rather than serious wounds. Again, it’s only boxing where all the effort is expended with the intention of injuring the opponent’s brain.
What Are The Risks To Kickboxers?
This isn’t to say the kickboxing is entirely risk-free. Not at all. Kickboxers like all sportspeople risk sprains, breaks, muscle problems and yes, even head injuries. They just don’t face the likelihood of such severe brain injuries as boxers do.
Generally speaking, the health and mental benefits of a martial art outweigh the risks of becoming hurt by a good margin and unless you are competing at the very highest levels, there are few long-term health risks from most martial arts including kickboxing.
Based on the scientific evidence we have today, boxing appears to be far more dangerous than kickboxing. It’s the only martial art that the medical profession wishes to ban and the only martial art where attacking the brain is the objective. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid boxing completely, but it does mean that you should consider sparring in a headguard (to reduce head injuries) and that you should think carefully before you choose to compete and take blows to the brain!