Concussions R Bad

Discussion of concussions often centres around contact sports. Here in Canada, news is made when hockey players must miss games, and the same is true of American football, and the most relevant for this Bartitsu blog: boxing.

All you really need to know is hitting your head is bad.

What is a concussion?

“Concussion” means “to shake violently or strike together” and the thing they’re talking about is the brain against the skull. It is brain damage through traumatic impact.

A concussion is more likely with accelerations that involve rotating the head during the impact, which is why a punch that turns the head causes a knock-out.

Immediate Signs and Diagnosis

Concussions are diagnosed by the effect on the victim: a temporary loss of brain function, which may involve loss of consciousness, loss of balance and coordination, post-traumatic amnesia (unable to remember the impact), incoherent or slurred speech.

Worse effects such as post-traumatic epilepsy, go beyond the concussion, and require medical attention at first sign. Call an ambulance if the victim shows:

  • Convulsions
  • Unequal pupil size
  • Vomiting

Short-term effects

The only treatment for a concussion is rest. Symptoms gradually diminish over the course of up to 3 weeks, and usually include:

  • headaches
  • difficulty with balance
  • light sensitivity
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • disorientation or confusion, trouble concentrating

Again, seek medical attention if symptoms include repeated vomiting, or any other persistent symptoms that make you worried. If minor symptoms persist beyond 3 weeks, it’s also a good idea to have a check-up with your doctor.

Long-term effects

The most important finding from medical research is this: The more concussions you have, the more you’re likely to have in the future. In other words, no one develops a resistance to getting knocked out… especially not by repeated knock-outs.

Wikipedia’s article on Dementia Pugilistica puts it well:

The condition, which occurs in boxers having suffered repeated blows to the head, manifests as dementia, or declining mental ability, problems with memory, and Parkinsonism, or tremors and lack of coordination. It can also cause speech problems and an unsteady gait. Patients with DP may be prone to inappropriate or explosive behavior and may display pathological jealousy or paranoia.

On the other hand, any single concussion is unlikely to cause long-term problems, and mortality is near-zero.

Implications for training and sparring

Don’t get hit in the head hard, and don’t fall on your head.

When we train our pugilism skills, we will punch towards the face, but without contact.

Falling technique should emphasize tucking the chin (looking at your belt) when falling to the side or backward. This keeps the stabilizing neck muscles tight, and the cranium farther from the ground.

How do I cause a concussion or knock-out?

I wrote a previous series on How to End Violence Using Bartitsu, in which I described The Knockout.

Current research points to the rotation of the skull as a major component. Concussions can also occur from linear hits to the front or back of the head, but are far more frequent when the head turns. Since the jaw can act as a lever to turn the head (better than the nose, the cartilage of which can compress and move), a hit to the side of the jaw deals the appropriate vector for a knockout.

However, I also mention in that article that hitting the side of the jaw is far less reliable than other targets (such as the pit of the stomach: the “mark”) and therefore prioritizing a knock-out is an inferior strategy.


Wear your seat belt. Wear a helmet when there is any risk (but remember that helmets prevent skull fractures, they can’t stop your brain from hitting your skull on the inside).

Seek medical attention if you have ANY symptoms after hitting your head.

Train with safety in mind. Especially where your mind lives: your head.


Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.