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Home Dojo The Agony of Defeat – Martial Arts Mistakes, Mishaps and Accidents

Back when I was an avid sports fan (somewhere back in the dim recesses of the ’60’s and early ’70’s) and religiously watched ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports every Saturday I remember cringing every time the Yugoslavian skier Vinko Bogataj crashed through the ski ramp …

Poor Vinko inadvertently became the living embodiment of “the agony of defeat” thanks to that oft-viewed clip. Ask anyone who was on the screen when they said “the thrill of victory” – you’ll draw blank stares (Mario Andretti?). But they all remember “that skier-guy that wiped out”.

One of the foremost qualities that a martial artist prides themselves on is control. Whether performing an intricate kata, sparring with an opponent or breaking a board with a one-inch punch control is vital for the successful execution of technique.

So it should come as no surprise that the following examples of loss of control, along with good old-fashioned Fate stepping in to embarrass and injure the artists involved, are so shocking, disturbing and – let’s face it – amusing.


Probably the most-often seen examples of mishaps and injuries are during breaking exhibitions. Whether the intended targets are pine boards, cinder blocks, ice blocks or any other substance that should never be attacked by the human body, these items often seem to have a mind of their own and take their sweet revenge upon any person foolish enough to challenge them.

I particularly identify with the poor guy in the television studio doing the flaming boards break. I had a similar semi-tragedy befall me back in 1990 doing a demo in the local shopping mall. I had five pine boards laid atop each other vertically, no spacers, and had set them on fire with lighter fluid while I was blindfolded.

After the appropriate waiting period to build suspense (and the height of the flames) I brought my knife-hand down through the stack, certain I had gone all the way through, but there was no applause. That was odd.

… then I smelled burning hair.

Turns out one little rambunctious flame had decided to hitch a ride on my uniform sleeve and start consuming my arm hairs. The sight of a blindfolded man calmly standing upright while flames licked at his arm must have caught the audience off-guard, hence the lack of adulatory applause. Luckily my student on-stage with me (a volunteer fireman) had the presence of mind to smother the fire with a large towel that just happened to be laying around the stage.

Live and learn. Next time I’ll remember to pull my arm BACK after the break. As if there will BE a next time …

Lack of Focus / Control / Spatial Awareness

I combine all these because they often seem to conspire to bring the mighty martial artist down. Focus, control of movement and awareness of where you are in time and space lead to probably the majority of martial arts mayhem.

Note the audience laughter during what are most assuredly the most painful injuries. People are savages.

Slips, trips, misjudging distances, losing balance – they’re all out there, waiting for YOU.


It’s only to be expected that our most illustrious combat sport, mixed martial arts, falls prey so often to accidents. The hard-and-fast nature of the conflicts lend themselves to mishaps and Lady Luck is rarely in the front row.

Note the large number of trunk shots and eye gouges – who says those techniques aren’t effective? Usually the Women’s Self-Defense Seminar instructor who has never been in a real fight in their life.


Even the “gentle art” is prone to accidents and bloopers, although somehow after watching the MMA clip these don’t seem all that bad. After all, it IS all perspective …

Maybe if you’re worried about accidents you should choose Aikido as your martial art. Seems they get off easy in the emergency-treatment department.


Perhaps no martial arts weapon is deadlier than the nunchaku – I mean, for the guy using them. This poor kid seems dedicated enough but once again proves that Fate has no favorites …

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