Never Waste An Injury: The Psychology of Setbacks in Combat Sports

By Ciaran O'Regan


You are progressing on your martial arts journey and greatly enjoying the process.

All the pieces are falling into place. Your growth curve is beautiful. Every day at training you are picking up new skills and identifying new areas to work on. You have the momentum of a boulder rolling down a hill and you are excited about your progression.

With the rate at which you are improving, you see the sky as the limit for your skills. Life is good. Then…


Some body part, that just seconds before in your mind was as indestructible as steel cables wrapped around stone, gets just plain old fucked up. The reality of injury now hits you like that mile-wide piece of iron and rock that made acquaintance with the dinosaurs.

Maybe you got an elbow popped in an arm bar. Or got your ribs banged up from a body shot in sparring. Or caught a guys elbow with your foot while throwing a liver kick. Or you even could simply have been unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a pair of exhausted guys accidentally falling onto your leg while rolling, resulting in you knee getting smashed to bits.

In combat sports, injuries are inevitable.

If you partake in combat sports to any kind of serious extent, you will get fucking hurt. The reality of engaging in full-contact combat sport is that it is not a matter of if you get hurt, but when.

There is of course a scale to this. Some injuries will be worse than others. Similarly, there are smarter ways to train and less smart ways to train. However, regardless of training experience, precautions you and your team take, equipment worn, sessions planned, or genetic robustness: injury will come knocking on your door eventually. The meat wagons we operate, after all, are just made of bones wrapped in muscles and skin and contain a whole load of other squishy organic material. The fragile structures which we call “bodies”, that belong to even the best of the best fighters, with the smartest coaches, and with the best genetics, still eventually hit a brick wall and break at some point (consider the rate of fighter pull-outs in the UFC due to injury as a clear example).

So what happens when you do get hurt?


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