Someone I know broke her nose last month. She is a karateka, but she didn’t break her nose doing karate. Nonetheless, her experience can serve as a cautionary tale for us karateka. A broken nose is not an injury to be taken lightly. The consequences are extensive for a severe break. Anytime someone is injured, it impacts their life and the lives of those around them.

I’ll summarize her medical treatment. Paramedics did an initial evaluation that included a screening for concussion. She spent a couple of hours in the emergency room. A CAT scan taken there revealed her septum was shattered. Nine days later, when the swelling had gone down, she paid a visit to an ear-nose-throat doctor. Soon after, she underwent surgery under general anesthetic to put plastic braces inside her nose. Those remained in place for two weeks. Because of the nature of her pain medicine, a family member managed it for her. She spent nearly a full month not being able to breathe through her nose and she was in constant pain. Granted, the pain diminished over time, but still – not pleasant. The plastic braces inside her nose put pressure on her palate and the roots of her teeth, so she ate soft food for two weeks.

A week ago today, the doctor removed the plastic braces that had been inside her broken nose for two weeks. She returned to Karate this week. However, the doctor doesn’t want her sparring until May. Because of her injury, she missed class for an entire month. She most definitely will not be testing for her next belt this month.

This is what a broken nose does to a person. And it’s not just the person whose nose was shattered. Others are impacted too; they need to step up to the plate in order to help. I’m going to throw out a rough number here – I estimate twenty people were involved in this karateka’s care, whether that was for four minutes or four weeks. Five are family, three of them were the most intensively involved. One family member missed work to take her to surgery and appointments. That person’s absence meant co-workers had to pick up the slack. The consequences rippled outwards, and will continue to spread, at least via myself.

If I serve as shushin (referee) during a tournament and you’re competing in my ring, be warned. I am not feeling very charitable towards any competitor who does not exercise good control when striking to their opponent’s face. Because I understand the impact of a broken nose I am now willing to risk losing my license by imposing harsh penalties if I see a river of blood streaming from a swollen, purple nose.

Here’s what you can do to help prevent broken noses. Grab a buddy and practice protecting your face. Do this on a regular basis: at least once per week. Beginners – make absolutely sure you are not leaning forward (“leading with your face”). To practice controlling your strikes, make a simple target. Tie a small piece of cardboard on thread and hang it from the ceiling (use clear “Scotch tape” in case the thread winds around your finger or wrist). Try not to hit the cardboard, but come as close to hitting it as you can. Believe me, the extra practice will be worth it. Yes, I know – Karate is a rough sport. Stuff happens in spite of precautions. But we can try to minimize the odds of hurting our sparring partners.

Am I saying to never hit someone full speed and power? Absolutely not. Let’s face it – one of the main points of karate is learning how to hurt people. That’s what a punch to the nose is for, right? Outside of classes, seminars, tournaments, etc. – yes! Breaking someone’s nose could be an option if you are afraid for your life (check your local laws). From what I’ve heard, a broken nose is quite painful. That might discourage an attacker at least long enough for you to get away. If you want to be sure that you are capable of generating enough power to break someone’s nose, have a buddy hold a focus mitt for you, or work with a heavy bag.

There’s value in developing finesse and control, and there’s value in generating devastating power. Just be sure you know when and where to use which ability. Keep control of your temper in class and in the ring. The consequences of injuring someone reach beyond the moment of impact and affect more people than just the injured party. Guard your face, and be careful of your partner.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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