Can Kids Get CTE From Martial Arts? How To Protect Them

CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) is a continuing disease of the brain contracted from repeated severe blows to the head with such force that lasting damage is done that can never be repaired. 

The risk of kids getting CTE from practicing martial arts is very low. Kids can safely practice martial arts without worry of CTE if coaches, teachers, and parents ensure kids participate safely and with proper gear to avoid lasting damage to the neurological system. 

It is essential to allow children to interact in fun and healthy activities outside of school and home; however, it is necessary that you protect the physical safety of your children, even when they are involved in physical sports such as martial arts. Over time, you will be grateful that you monitored your children, even though they may have been disappointed at the oversight. 

Can Kids Get CTE From Martial Arts? 

Kids can get CTE from martial arts if they suffer multiple severe blows to the head over a long period of time. Different individuals will withstand different amounts of extreme impact before getting this disease. However, everyone is prone to getting it if they suffer enough physical trauma.

To be clear, this sort of trauma is generally on the level of a professional boxer over multiple years. If a parent or an instructor is allowing this to occur with an underaged student, the problem is with this lack of proper expectation and guidance rather than the sport or art. Kids should not be participating in full or even heavy contact competitions.

Even though CTE’s diagnosis has been around for many years, it has not often been discussed within the virtual community. Those who received this disorder would usually call it “punch-drunk syndrome.” 

Children have fragile and developing brains and bodies. They will be more susceptible to being harmed from head trauma than an adult would be. Because of this, it is crucial to take necessary precautions when allowing your children to interact in martial arts recreationally. 

And again, it is unadvisable for children to participate in sports where hard, repeated blows to the head are taken over periods of years. The results within an adult anatomy is bad enough in these conditions, for children the situation could be dire.

Most good martial arts instructors not only require headgear to be worn when partner drills are attempted, but would be open to any parent who wished to have headgear worn for the duration of class time. Here is a great headgear that is made specifically for protecting children during martial arts practice. You can get one here on Amazon.

What Is CTE?

CTE stands for “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,” a disease associated with either repeated blows to the head or early signs of dementia. This neurological diagnosis is a direct result of too much damage to the brain. The brain is one of the human body’s most fragile parts, and it needs to be protected at all costs and treated with care because your life depends on it.

Keeping discipline with safety precautions in the martial arts and in home practice can lesson this slight possibility of long term effects even further. Wearing proper gear and using appropriate control is essential for all students in the martial arts, and this is especially true for children. Have a plan and do your best to follow through with it. Your future self will thank you later!

How Someone Gets CTE

Someone can get CTE from suffering numerous concussions while playing sports, receiving repeated strong physical blows to the head area over a period of years. The results could include developing early-onset dementia.

Children are rarely susceptible to getting Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy when they play physical sports such as football or martial arts. Because of the lower impact children take, protective measures, and infrequent contact to the head, this is relegated to a remote possibility.

Dr. Bennet Omalu has researched extensively on the dangers of contact sports, particularly football, and its link to CTE. This is concerned with older college and mainly professional athletes with much higher strength and abilities than nearly any child.

If you’d like to read about his studies, you can purchase his book available in several forms on Amazon called “Truth Doesn’t Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports”.

It is impossible to create an environment where there is a guarantee that no injury is possible for nearly any sport. For any activity, it is up to the parent to decide if the risk is worth it for their children to interact in these energetic sports. This type of decision also hangs heavily on the type of sport and the instructors and coaches involved. (Source: Being Patient)

Treatment For CTE

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no currently known successful treatment for CTE. The true way to deal with the degenerative brain disease is to prevent children and adults from taking repeated heavy impacts to the head. This can be done in many ways.

Some precautions to take are:

  • Wear proper head protection
  • Control the pace of sport practice and gameplay
  • Control weight class and age designations of participants
  • Have experience coaches, instructors, and officials overseeing sport activities

Since there really is no known cure or remedy for the disease, it is left to precautions and preventions of responsible adults in charge of children. It should be noted that this disease will not come about through occasional accidents or periodic impacts to the head. It is decisively a result of extreme repeated blows taken directly to the head.

The traditional saying here holds true, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

How To Keep Children Safe In Martial Arts

Researching martial arts facilities and finding coaches that genuinely do everything in their power to keep the games fair and the children as safe as possible are the first steps to keeping your children safe, even though they are still interacting in martial arts. 

Tips for keeping your children safe in martial arts:

If you would like to see or purchase specifically designed protective gear and equipment for the martial arts, check out my Little Ninja Shop here.


One method that will help keep your children safe is to stay with your child and witness every lesson, practice, and tournament. This way, the adults who are supposed to be supervising will be encouraged to do their best, and you can also have the ability to be present and pull your child out of class if you ever feel like things are getting out of hand. 

With online classes, this is quite easy to do! To learn more about our online martial arts program, read here.


An educated child is a prepared child. Make sure you teach your child safety about not only martial arts but also about their body. Let them know that it is okay to stop something if they feel uncomfortable or if they grow tired and feel like they cannot protect themselves as well as they are usually capable of doing. (Source: Combat Sports Law)

I’ve addressed this subject in depth here, in this other article. Read to learn more.

How To Choose A Safe Martial Arts Style For Your Child

Martial arts has many different sports under its umbrella, including MMA, karate, judo, and aikido. Some of the more aggressive and hands-on forms will be more likely to cause CTE in children. It is vital to research the safest forms of martial arts to allow your children to participate in if they are persistent in participating in these sports. 

One thing to keep in mind is the timing of most injuries and lasting problems when children study the martial arts. Most injuries are eperienced by beginning students not familiar with the techniques and rules associated with their respective styles. The longer they practice, the less aggressive they tend to be, the safer they tend to practice, and the more capable of taking care of themselves they become.

Styles That Can Pose The Most Risk Of CTE For Children

Just a note in the beginning: There are several styles that children should not be exposed to, at least on the competition level. They could successfully train in these styles, but competitions in them by their very nature should be out of bounds for children. Here I am not saying that the following styles can’t be studied by all children, only that they shouldn’t by most.

Unsafe styles for most children:

  • Mixed Martial Arts (Inappropriate Techniques / Competitions)
  • Muay Thai Kickboxing (Competitions)
  • Boxing (Competitions)
  • Pekiti Tirsia (Inappropriate Techniques / Competitions)

I’ve discussed the main differences in martial arts styles in this other article, “A Complete Parent’s Guide”. If interested, you can learn much more by reading it.

What Forms Of Martial Arts Are Safer For Children

We have laid out several of the safest and best forms of martial arts for children under the age of 15 so that you can rest assured that you are entering your children into sports that will more likely keep your children safe! CTE is nothing to take lightly, which is why it is very important to be completely aware of the dangers that each different form of martial arts may have.


This sport can be a little more aggressive with the wrong instructor, but if it is done right, it can be safe for younger children. Any age can learn this sport, and this is why children often interact with it. Karate involves kicking, striking and open-hand techniques that do not necessarily have to be done on or with another person. This sport is unlikely going to cause serious injury to your child.

Tae Kwon Do

This sport involves both strength and balance. It is primarily a kicking style and has a popular international and Olympic competition schedule each year. Teaching children to be in tune with their body and how it moves is the basis for this sport. If knowledgeable and competent instructors are found, this sport is not aggressive enough to cause Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy. 


This style is also an excellent choice for kids. As with others on this list, it has an internationally recognized Olympic sport attached. It incorporates intellectual planning and physical self-defense into one well thought out sport. There are no strikes involved in this art. It is based on takedowns and hold downs to control an opponent or ones own body (Source: Full Contact Way)

The Kids Martial Arts CTE Takeaway…

All physically based sports pose a danger to your child’s safety at least in some way. Martial arts is a physical sport, and if not executed correctly, your child could possible get seriously hurt doing it.

Though it is exceedingly rare, there is still the slight possibility that one consequence of high impact martial arts practice may lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. However, if you are careful to pick the right form of martial arts at with the right instructor, your child will likely enjoy the sport safely and healthily. 

Being a thoughtful and careful parent is essential, even when you allow your children to explore the sports and activities they want to interact in. Teaching your children to think for themselves and to stop interacting in the sport if they do not feel safe doing so is especially important.

Martial arts can be a fantastic sport for your child if it is executed in a safe and supervised manner!

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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