Biomechanical study of full-contact karate contrasted with boxing

J Neurosurg. 1986 Feb;64(2):248-52. doi: 10.3171/jns.1986.64.2.0248.


It is known that boxers suffer a characteristic cumulative brain injury from repeated blows to the head that correlates well with the number of bouts fought. Much less is known about full-contact karate (kickboxing), which is relatively new. In full-contact karate, punches and kicks are actually landed, rather than being focused to culminate just short of an opponent, as practiced in traditional karate. Although a combatant can win on points, the surest means of victory is a knockout. Consequently, fighters strive to land blows to the head. To investigate the relative force of kicks and punches, a dummy head was mounted 175 cm above the floor (to simulate a 50th-percentile man standing erect) and 125 cm above the floor (to simulate the man in a crouched position) on a universal joint permitting motion about three axes. The mechanism was contrived to provide constant rotational stiffness, and springs provided constant restorative moments about the three axes. The texture of soft tissue was simulated by a mask of visco-elastic foamed materials. Fourteen karate experts punched and kicked the dummy. Accelerometer measurements in the 90- to 120-G range indicated that safety-chops (hand protectors) and safety-kicks (foot padding) did not reduce acceleration of the dummy. Ten-ounce boxing gloves mitigated peak acceleration to some extent. Kicks and punches produced accelerations in the same range. Violent acceleration of the head by any means produces injury. The authors conclude that, if full-contact karate is widely practiced, cases of kickboxer's encephalopathy will soon be reported.

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Boxing*
  • Head / physiology
  • Humans
  • Sports
  • Sports Medicine*