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Martial Arts: Injury Prevention and Treatment


Its effects on the Martial Artist and Athlete

By George W. Alexander, Ph.D.

The significance of maintaining proper hydration cannot be emphasized enough. It is important for martial artists and athletes to be mindful of hydration after workouts. This is especially true during the summer months when extreme heat is a factor. During and after a workout that includes heavy exercise, sweating through the pores of your skin loses electrolytes. In particular, sodium and potassium are lost and can create a water-electrolyte imbalance. Without getting too deep into biochemistry, sodium and potassium are the most significant, but other electrolytes include calcium and magnesium [a co-factor]. These electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of body fluids constant.

Electrolyte replacement and recovery are the two most significant factors in maintaining proper hydration. The result of dehydration [and electrolyte loss] can be severe cramps, etc. If one consumes alcohol after a workout this is a double whammy! Alcohol tends to further dehydrate the body. If you are dehydrated and just try to rehydrate with water only, you further dilute your already depleted electrolyte levels! That's why medics use a saline solution.

Additionally, once you've reached a certain level of dehydration you can't rehydrate by drinking alone. I know. I’ve conducted empirical research in this area! The body cannot absorb fluids fast enough by merely drinking liquids. That's why you have to have an intravenous injection of fluids. Be careful, it's not easy but you can kill yourself! Oi Vey! Too much potassium or too little can also stop your heart. Kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in blood constant despite changes in your body.

Would a traumatic electrolyte disturbance cause renal failure? I don’t know. Dehydration becomes more of a significant risk factor as one ages. When I was twenty-years old and running up and down mountains in the jungles of Vietnam with a hundred-pound rucksack on my back in ninety-degree heat it didn’t seem to be a factor. Yes! We got dehydrated and oftentimes ran out of water on our patrols, but none of us ever seemed to have any real adverse or long-term health effects from it. But four years ago I was in the hospital for dehydration.

Now you get the gist of this article. It wasn’t from sweating in a martial arts class but from working outside in the heat. However, I’ve had the same symptoms, after a strenuous karate and/or kendo class. In any case, I started to get some wicked cramps even though I drank water and Gatorade all day. It just wasn’t enough. I tried to gorge myself with Gatorade and water and some salt at a convenience store.

My legs were so cramped up I could hardly stand. I had to arch my back to counter the abdominal cramps I was having at the same time and my fingers were cramped and contorted as well. I must have seemed like an alien or something from the exorcist movie! The other customers in the store were very uncomfortable and no one tried to help as I clutched the counter violently and rendered obscenity after obscenity. They merely stared at their shoes and hurriedly tried to check out at the counter. As a result I took too much salt and over medicated myself and wound up throwing up all over the convenience store floor.

By the time the ambulance arrived (the store clerk was totally freaked out and called an ambulance) I was in the restroom with diarrhea and sprayed the floor and walls since I could not sit down because of the leg cramps [in my quadriceps].

The paramedics came and gave me an IV immediately. It helped but I was not completely asymptomatic yet. I got into the ambulance under my own power and sat in the seat just behind the driver. The paramedic who was attending to me said, "You'll have to lie down because we are not allowed to transport you unless you lie down." I looked at him sternly and with a seriousness of purpose that was fitting of my condition and said, "I can't lie down! You'll have to transport me while I’m seated. If I lie down I will get another horrific abdominal cramp and when I raise up screaming to try and counteract the contraction of my abdominals [think of childbirth now] I'll tear the inside of this ambulance to pieces." He looked at me for a second realizing my unwavering commitment to my statement and the graveness of the situation at hand and said, "Ok! You can stay seated!" Perhaps he thought I was a little nuts too! The men in the white coats with the butterfly nets were not there and I’m sure he didn’t want to try and put a straight jacket on me! He then quickly signaled to the driver and we were soon on our way to the hospital.

The evening I spent in the hospital wasn't exactly fun either. After a number of blood tests, heart monitor applications, EKG readings and a mean nurse, the doctor came in and said, "You know you can kill yourself if you keep doing this." I said, “Thank you for that information doctor.” Anyway, it was two years before even I had the nerve to go back in that convenience store!


Here’s what I learned from that lovely experience. Age is a factor. The older you get presuming you still workout and are not a couch potato the more risk you have of becoming overly dehydrated. Once you’ve been severely dehydrated it can reoccur more easily. In other words you are more susceptible to it.

The solution is simply being more aware. New Mantra! "Before, During and After! That's when you drink lots of fluids. Not after the workout when you've sweated out a large quantity of fluid and salts. That's what we did in the old days when we were young and didn’t take any breaks in the dojo. We don't do that anymore. You need to drink, "Before, During and After!"

But drink what you might ask? Gatorade is what people have been drinking for the last twenty years. But if you are the more health conscious type think about this. Gatorade has electrolytes in it but also has artificial colors. PowerAde has electrolytes in it, but it is also loaded with sugar that you don’t need. It has corn syrup that is high in fructose, artificial colors, ester gum, coconut oil and brominated vegetable oil. I don’t know what brominated means bro. I know what a bromance is. Anyway yuck!

Recently athletes have been rehydrating with Pedialyte. It’s for making sure infants stay hydrated. It’s pretty good in terms of electrolytes and has less junk in it but it does have artificial colors. I didn’t like the taste. It reminded me of changing diapers! I tried coconut milk that has plenty of electrolytes in it but didn't particularly like the taste. It was also expensive and didn't satisfy any of my cost efficiency requirements. I’m getting ready to try some other stuff called Hydrate and Recover. The brand name is Wilderness Athlete. You might try it.

There is another drink called Recharge that is sans artificial colors and sugar. The other thing is you can always cut the Gatorade in half with water. If you’ve seen Propel, that‘s what they did. Brilliant cost cutting and marketing. Don't know if it sold that well. I haven’t seen it lately in any convenience stores I frequent! I would have asked for it but the clerk behind the counter seemed nervous. This is not a detailed comparative analysis but rather a cursory review of hydration and how dehydration can affect a martial artist and athlete. The short-term solution is to drink before, during and after and cut your Gatorade in half with water until we come up with something else.

Take care all! Cheers and of course hydrate.

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About The Author:

George W. Alexander is the President and Founder of the International Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Federation. He is also the Founder of the Okinawa Hakutsuru Kenpo style of karate. Alexander began his training in 1964 while serving in the United States Marine Corps on assignments to mainland Japan, Okinawa and Southeast Asia. He began training in Shorin Ryu Karate in 1964 while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and trained with a number of noted masters. Serving as a team leader with the US Marine’s 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam (stationed Dong Ha, 1967 & 1968), Alexander led jungle intelligence gathering teams.  Alexander martial arts experience includes Shorin Ryu Karate & Kobudo (Hanshi, 10th dan), jujutsu (Hanshi, 10th dan), kendo (7th dan) and judo (3rd dan).

Master Alexander holds a B.A.  degree in Business Administration from Florida Atlantic University ( Boca Raton, Florida, 1979) where he also did graduate work in Asian history under Dr. Tsung I. Dow. He later received his Ph.D. in political science. In 1983 he received a Master Certificate and teaching credentials in Shorin Ryu Karate and Kobudo from the All Okinawan Shorin Ryu Karate and Kobudo Association.

In 1989 Alexander founded Yamazato International, a company specializing in martial arts publications and video productions. He has been featured in a series of videotapes on Karate, Kobudo and Jujitsu. In 1991 he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. In tournaments competition he was the 1997 National AAU Karate champion and voted one of the world’s top 100 martial artists by the International Martial Arts Federation. He has won many titles including USA Karate Champion and World Karate Champion. He has served as a director and advisor for many martial arts organizations.

Interested in the history of the martial arts, Alexander has conducted extensive historical research and translation and has written numerous articles on the martial arts as well as the books, Okinawa Island of Karat,  Bubishi (Martial Art Spirit), The Shorin Ryu Karate Training Manual, Warrior Jujitsu, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Japanese Martial Arts and Japan’s Warrior Nation –The Samurai in the Twentieth Century. He has also been featured in a video called The Secrets of the Bubishi.

George Alexander's websites include, and

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

hydration, proper hydration, working out in heat

Read more articles by George W. Alexander

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