Groin Protestion: Macho, Myths, and Misinformation

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.
  1. Why not? What are your reasons for NOT wearing groin protection?
  2. Do you, your school, or your instructor teach actively and vigorously attacking the groin?
  3. If yes: Do you, your students, or fellow students deliberately miss the groin (striking, say, the thigh) or stop short (like pulling a punch) when attacking the groin during training?
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:
  • Discomfort
  • Overconfidence
  • Fear of Complacency
  • Macho/Absurd
Let's examine some of the objections raised in each category and respond accordingly.

Survey Responses:

"The dang thing's uncomfortable."
"Mouthguards and straps [on my glasses] don't hinder movement. Cups can."
"I hate wearing a cup. They are uncomfortable, they creep, and they restrict movement."
"I find them incredibly uncomfortable. I've tried many different brands, and haven't found one that doesn't discomfort me to the point of dangerous distraction."
Discomfort was the most reported excuse for not wearing groin protection. So what about discomfort? First, ask yourself, is a knee brace more or less comfortable than a cup? Many knee braces are designed to protect your knee by restricting your movement in undesired directions, i.e.: keeping your knee from moving too far in directions your knee was not designed to bend. Comfortable or no, would you wear a knee brace to protect your knee? Would you wear it even if the brace restricted your movement somewhat? Sure you would, especially if you wanted to use that knee later after training.
Granted, groin protection is uncomfortable — at least at first — but so were shoes when as children we began wearing them. They even hindered our movement as toddlers, but we got used to them. Personally, I find sandals much worse. Still, if I had to, I could get used to them. Baseball players, football players, and hockey players (the smart one's at least) ALL wear groin protection, (hard cups,) for hours at a time. Funny, they don't seem to have problems moving — no restrictions there. I know, I know, they're not martial artists — they're not warriors.1 But perhaps, they are tougher and smarter than we are since they wear the "darn things," even though they are uncomfortable. Or perhaps, as professional athletes, they see the value in equipment which protects vital parts of the anatomy?
Wearing a painful cup

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. Smiley face

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.

Survey Response:

"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."
Over Confident Karate Guy Overconfidence was the second most offered excuse. This excuse completely ignores the fact that the blow that tags you is always the one you did not see, and you know, it is very often a well-practiced blow by your opponent.

There's a BIG difference between watching for a groin strike and training to strike it. There is even a difference between watching for it in a school where no one wears groin protection, and a school where everyone does.

I recall teaching a workshop in Kansas, and a young woman said that the groin was a target in her school. I asked, "Does everyone wear groin protection?" To which she replied, "No." The young woman was standing in front of me and in an excellent position to backhand, hammer, or punch me in the groin, so I asked, "OK, hit me in the groin." Although I did nothing to deflect or avoid her blow, seeing if she could actually hit the groin — and yes, I was wearing a cup — the young woman could not hit the target in three attempts. The groin may very well have been a target in her teacher's school, but no one wore groin protection, so no one seriously attacked the groin! Hence, she was as unpracticed in striking the groin, as her male classmates were in protecting it.

As far as the guys who think they can "get it the hell out of there," I'd like to know, what happens when you're practicing other, non-groin specific drills or techniques. What happens to spontaneity? If opposing training partners pull punches or put on the brakes for groin strikes they will certainly make their attacks easier to see. They will be slower (braking does that, it slows things down). All of which brings up a very valid and oft-overlooked point: Never practice to miss! You lose accuracy, spontaneity, and speed.

Practice to Miss!
Putting on the brakes is practicing to miss. A more obvious example is slapping the thigh to simulate a groin strike. That's like punching to miss the face. We all know martial artists who controlled or pulled a punch in a real fight just because that is precisely what they did in training. Well, slapping the thigh is no different. If you slap the thigh in training, then you'll slap the thigh when you meant to hit the groin especially under adrenal stress. Worse, you won't have good technique because frankly, both the lines and methods for striking the thigh ARE very different when striking the groin. If you don't practice hitting the groin, you'll never be good at it. When shooting, playing basketball, baseball, football, or even golf, you don't practice to miss. If you do, you're guaranteed to miss when you "play the game." Believe it or not, to prevent injury, you actually hit the targets. Football players do not practice tackling by missing each other, they follow fundamental drills and learn to hit with correct form. This not only protects themselves but also their opposing players. To prevent injuring the groin, you wear a cup, just as you would a knee brace or shoulder pads, or a helmet with a faceplate. Simple as that. Duh!!

Survey Responses:

"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.'"
"No one wears a cup in my school unless we are specifically working on a drill that attacks the groin. I never want to be complacent about not getting out of the way."
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].

Survey Response:

"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.

Everyone Benefits
Wearing groin protection does more than just protect me from painful mistakes in training. It also gives my training partner a target that he can actually hit. Knowing that the groin is a target is simply not enough. Even when knowing the target is fair game, reasonable people, (hopefully your training partners are "reasonable people"), will not attack the groin. One female responder said, "no one wants to 'accidentally' hit unprotected guys [in the groin]. You feel a real jerk when that happens."

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
In nearly four decades of serious martial arts training and study, I've had a chance to use or see just about every kind of groin protection available, and while you might think old groin protection was the only stuff that was bad, there are offerings out there today that are just as bad. Here are some guidelines and recommendations.

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.

Worst Cup Award
This award (which includes the most uncomfortable award) goes to one that's been around since I began training in the late 60's. You can still find it in many of your major shopping stores. For martial arts training this old-style cup-n-jockstrap neither protects sufficiently nor supports adequately.

Although better than nothing, this kind of groin protection really proves the argument, "The dang thing's uncomfortable."


Poor Cup & Supporter
Most Comfortable/Worst Cup Awards
Although advertised as Recommended for contact sports, the Bike Pro Flex Hard Cup (on the left) and others like it, with their wide rubber sides, flex nicely around [read allow smashing into] the organs they are supposed to protect! MMA players can wear these kinds of cups because attacks to the groin are prohibited in Mixed Martial Arts competitions (see UFC Rule Number 7). These cups are, therefore, definitely NOT recommended for contact in our school (probably because our training is NOT for sport).

I must point out that one of our female students said these male Flex or Sports cups are,
in fact, quite comfortable for women to wear.

Bad Bike Cup     Bad Under Armor Cup     Shock Doctor
"Flex" cups like these provide adequate protection in sports because there, blows to the groin are rarely direct and are definitely infrequent. They remain, however, inadequate in an environment where practitioners deliberately strike the groin and do so with great accuracy and regularity.
This NuttyBuddy®, "Protecting the Boys" cup [emphasis added] looks like it should work, but it does NOT. The biggest problem is its lack of protection from below. Again, the Franklin cup or the Cricket cup provide the best protection for what we do.


Nutty Buddy Cup

Best [Currently Available] Cup Award 5 out of 5 stars
Just so no one thinks I have it in for one manufacturer or another, the "Best Current Cup" award goes to this "Franklin Sports MLB® Adult Pro Style Cup". This excellent hard cup is identical to the discontinued Bike hard cup (model 7180) and has been available at Target and Walmart. Besides this cup, there is yet another excellent, Cricket cup.

Franklin Cup

Excellent Cricket Cup 5 out of 5 stars
Crickets may be small but this Cricket Groin Protector Cup by Aero is not. It provides excellent groin protection, and we wholeheartedly recommend it.


Cricket Cup by Aero


Diamond MMA 5 out of 5 stars
Diamond Compression Jock Shorts & Cup System

The Diamond Compression Jock and Cup System provides excellent groin protection for high impact sport athletes.




Diamond Compression Jock Shorts & Cup System


> OK Guys, now check out the Best Way to Wear the Cup.




Gender Equality

Equality in training rests on more than just masculine shoulders. If your male training partner wears groin protection so you can practice striking a highly effective and equally vulnerable target, then return the favor. Show everyone that you believe in equal training and give him a groin target he can safely strike as well.
For that, three models of groin protection for our "Yin" practitioners are available. They are as follows:
    Shock Doctor Women's Pelvic Protector
    Adidas Female Groin Protector
    Title Boxing Female Groin Protector
Again, design style and not manufacturers, are what is recommended here. As we understand it (cannot say I have tested any of these Smiley face), all are comfortable and offer a reasonable degree of protection, but the one recommended by two of our latest female students is the first one, the Shock Doctor Women's Pelvic Protector.
(Click here for recommended breast protection.)
Shock Doctor Female Pelvic Protector

Shock Doctor Women's Pelvic Protector

Adidas Female Groin Protection

Adidas Female Groin Protector

Title Female Groin Protector

Boxing Female Groin Protector

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.


  1. Compared to our troops who put their lives on the line defending our nation — civilian martial artists of any kind have absolutely no right to call ourselves warriors.
    [Return to reference point]
Our  emphasis  is  on  the  practical.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1999-2016
All rights reserved.
Last update:  Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando
Web Site of Bob Orlando: Instructor in Kuntao-Silat (Chinese kuntao and Dutch-Indonesian pukulan pentjak silat), author of two popular martial art books: "Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals" and "Martial Arts America: A Western Approach to Eastern Arts"; and producer of four martial art videos: Fighting Arts of Indonesia, Reflex Action, Fighting Footwork of Kuntao and Silat, Fighting Forms of Kuntao-Silat. Offering practical martial arts instruction to adults living in and throughout the Denver metropolitan area including, Lakewood, Littleton, Morrison, and Golden Colorado.