After more than four decades in the martial arts (studying them for self-protection) it still amazes me how many practitioners train without groin protection — even though they advertise what they teach as effective for self-defense. I shouldn't be so amazed, knowing that it was decades before hockey players wore any kind of face protection. Still, in an effort to discover why so many were downright hostile toward any idea of wearing a "cup," I submitted the following questions to martial arts bulletin boards and news groups like rec.martial-arts on Google®.
If you're a male and you study martial arts, but you choose NOT to wear groin protection.
Internet forums like rec.martial-arts are notorious for providing small amounts of usable information
versus trash (poor signal to noise ratio), so predictably, the overwhelming majority of responses were
decidedly on the macho and absurd side of the spectrum. A handful of responses were more thoughtful,
but the arguments raised for NOT wearing groin protection, even by the more thoughtful contributors,
were the same. After sifting through the various opinions and responses, separating the wheat from
the chaff, the objections fell into basically four categories:
"The dang thing's uncomfortable."
The first time I sparred with safety gear on my feet, it felt like I was wearing watermelons, but you know, I got used to them. Why? Because we had to. Tournaments began requiring safety equipment. To compete you had to wear the safety equipment. Later, when we began training with regular shoes in our school, not those paper-thin kung-fu shoes — they too felt unbelievably heavy. Here again, we adapted.
As far as a cup being uncomfortable to the point of a dangerous distraction, isn't getting hit in the groin a more dangerous distraction? Ever wear a bulletproof vest? It is uncomfortable at first — especially on hot summer days, but police officers seem to adapt to wearing them. Likewise, those with Concealed Carry Weapons permits have to adapt to carrying two-pound handguns on their hips. Seems we can adapt to pretty much anything we set our minds to.
Men are not the only one's who have to wear protective equipment. As young women move through puberty, they begin to wear brassieres or bras. Today women have many different styles and types of bras to choose from, however, there was a time when there was one style that fit all, and all were uncomfortable. Today, we have gotten used to seeing many women exercising and competing in sports bras. But women competed in those old most uncomfortable bras as athletes for years and there was never a complaint published about them, until the new sports bra's were introduced. Human beings are wonderfully adaptive creatures, and we get used to a lot of things; clothing, black coffee, tobacco, alcohol, condoms, you name it! So whining about groin protection being uncomfortable seems more than a little childish. If little children and young women are able to make the described lifelong apparel adjustments, then surely we male macho martial artists (warriors, as some like to call themselves) should be able to adjust to wearing the "dang thing," during our brief periods of martial art training.
"Just because the groin is a target doesn't mean that we leave it hanging out there. We get the hell out of the way when we see it coming, and since it is a valid target, you can bet we're watching for it."
Practice to Miss!
"In a real fight, you don't have groin protection, so if you train wearing a cup, there's the subconscious idea that you're somehow 'protected.'"Complacency is the third most reported excuse for not wearing groin protection. The fundamental fact is, if you don't train with a cup on, you'll never know just how vulnerable you are, or how well you can protect yourself simply because no one seriously goes after it — not in real fight speed anyway.
You may also have heard something like "in a real fight, you don't have groin protection, so if you train wearing a cup, there's the subconscious idea that you're 'protected'." Not so. Anyone who carries a gun regularly knows very well when they don't have their weapon with them. When I'm doing an impromptu demo in street clothes, or an out of town workshop where the airlines have misplaced my luggage, and I must teach without a cup, I am keenly aware that I do NOT have a cup on. I am very, very much aware of that vulnerability. No sir, no one gets complacent about groin protection if they train in a school where the groin is a legitimate, protected, and actively attacked target.
The next excuse for not wearing good groin protection
was offered the least, and I am trying not to rate excuses negatively, but on
any scale, the next one deserves the highest ranking for macho absurdty [read stupidity].
"In the [name withheld to protect the stupid] systems, we were encouraged not to wear a cup in order to learn to protect oneself. If you were accidentally hit, the idea was to 'get into' the pain and find out what its 'limits' are. I think the kempo guys wore cups, but I'm not much into checking." [emphasis added]Consider this: Conditioning is important, but if we macho martial artists ever tried to condition our faces to take shots there, it's doubtful that we would ever get a good-looking woman to give us a second look.
At a workshop in New Jersey, one of the participants was a huge, very strong law enforcement officer. Even though we always say "good groin protection is mandatory," he felt he didn't need to wear a cup. Well after he recovered from a punch to the groin he said "I must be getting used to that"! I hope he wasn't, in fact, "getting used to that," because for several minutes he was both helpless and vulnerable, leaving him available for more opportunities for his opponent to help him test his pain threshold, and completely unavailable to defend himself or anyone else. To the officer's credit, he recognized that and started wearing good groin protection in class.
Ask yourself, how many painful blows to the groin will it take for you to "get into"
the pain and find out what its "limits" are? Better to learn to be seriously aware
of the value of the target (against your opponent,) and, at the same time, vulnerability
of your groin as a target. Certainly, it'll be a less painful lesson for you.
We protect the head and face because they are targets; we protect the ribs because they,
too, are targets. Many say the groin is a target, but refuse to protect it.
Does that make any sense at all? We don't wear head and rib protection all the time
because we train to handle light contact to the head and face, and even moderate contact
to the body. The same cannot be said for the groin which is a far more sensitive target.
Finding Good (Comfortable and Secure) Groin Protection
First, the most comfortable groin protection will NOT be worn outside your uniform.
Nor will it look like a huge diaper (for men or women). That narrows it down, so let's look
at "inside the uniform" protection.
It should be obvious, but the groin is an extremely effective target for self-defense. However, if the "martial art" you study is really a martial way or martial sport, then the suggestions made here probably do not apply in your training, your art, and your school. If, on the other hand, the art you study claims self-defense effectiveness as its primary focus, but groin protection is not mandatory in your school, then you might want to seriously ask "why not?" Hopefully you will receive better excuses than those we received.
Granted, protective equipment of any kind is not foolproof. All have their limitations. The recommendations here are just that, "recommendations." You will have to seek your own balance between comfort and protection. But while the equipment is not foolproof, those who still steadfastly refuse to wear any such protection are actually living proof (for the moment at least) that in many cases, stupidity really can be painful.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1999-2016
All rights reserved.
Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando