Like any athletic activity, it is impossible to completely eliminate risk of injury without changing the essence of the activity. Especially in something like martial arts, the point of the training is to develop the ability to fight and defend yourself. In order to develop this ability training has to be realistic but safe.
So what do we in order to create a safe training environment?
The most important thing is the No Meathead policy. We really emphasize good training habits to our students so that egos don’t come into play and that everyone views one another as their teammate rather than a rival. This, more than anything, probably helps prevent injuries more than anything.
Here is a short story. We had a female student switch schools. She put up a Facebook a few weeks later saying she had been injured at her new school. To make a long emotional story short, she was involved in a sparring match with a rambunctious male white belt who exploded into an arm lock, injuring her, and requiring her to take weeks off of physical activity.
I don’t know the full details of the situation so I can’t comment on how exactly we would be different but I know a few things for sure that we do that would prevent this and that probably aren’t noticeable right away (you have to go somewhere that doesn’t employ these protocols in order to see the difference).
Instructors are trained to properly match up students so you definitely wouldn’t match up a petite female with a wild White Belt. Secondly, the White Belt would know based on his own experiences NOT to crank on a submission hold because as his own first experiences training would most likely be with upper belts who would not be doing that to him. Therefore, he would learn not to do it to others.
Due to our expansive class schedule and the fact that the majority of our students remain active members for years, we are able to run classes for different skill levels and intensities. Most MMA gyms have small, rotating clientele which requires them to have lots of mixed classes of different skills and with people of different goals. So you might get a mom with no experience who is trying to learn Muay Thai Kickboxing for fun in the same class with a 21-year old aspiring fighter also with no experience – occasionally this can lead to disaster but most often just leads to a bad training environment where neither person benefits as much as they could have. For us, we have Pro level competition-oriented classes to Basics classes without sparring and everything in between. We have group classes as well as private one-on-one training. This helps us provide the right environment for a variety of people and prevent mismatches that can cause injury.
And of course, we require proper equipment, hygiene, and have all the medical training (CPR & First Aid) for the staff. This allows us to make an inherently ‘dangerous’ activity as safe as possible. I haven’t ever seen or visited a legitimate MMA gym that is safer than Crazy 88.