Groin protectors – Don't let them be your worst enemy

Groin protectors are more than simply a way to prevent pain – they can save your life!

The urge to protect your groin probably produces one of the strongest flinch reactions amongst males of all ages. This is not simply because of the genetic imperative to defend your future family, but because getting even a slight knock in the testicles really, REALLY hurts.  I’ve heard numerous tales of guys getting a smack down there, and simply passing out from the pain, but it is even possible to die from circulatory problems caused by damage to the testicles. I was kicked between the legs about two years ago as I delivered a kick, and it only caught me on my butt muscle (gluteus maximus). Nevertheless, it was so hard that I still experienced pain in that muscle over six months later. I wasn’t wearing a protector, but I’m certain that if the kick had hit me square in the testicles, I would have lost one or both of them.

Unlike some organs in your body, such as bones, or your liver, which will always auto-repair given time, testicles don’t work quite like that, and are much more fragile, so even relatively small injuries can result in the loss of one or both of them.

For this reason, it’s vital to wear protection during kumite. Groin guards are not compulsory during class sparring, but they are during tournaments, when things often get rather more spirited.

Of course, kicks below the belt are not legal in the GKR system, but accidents happen, so you can’t take your safety for granted. In fact, if you are a kicker, particularly someone who round kicks to mid-height, there is a significantly increased chance that you may take one in the privates. Why? Because when you lift your leg to kick, you provide a guide straight back to your crotch. Kicks that would otherwise have sailed past safely, can strike your raised thigh and slide or bounce right between your legs.

Wearing a protector (or box) is not just a good idea, it’s vital.

Choosing a type

The GKR type of protector MUST be worn underneath the gi
The kick-boxer type can be worn under or over your gi trousers and is much more comfortable and convenient

There are two main types of protectors that I know about: the standard GKR cup and pouch ones comprising a plastic cup, and a separate, washable holder;  and the polyurethane kick-boxer type.

The GKR type are designed to be worn under your gi, but over your underwear. They have a relatively small cup that is just about large enough to surround and support your genitals. The cup has padded edges, so that it doesn’t hurt too much if it presses against your pelvis and abdomen. It is vital that you do not wear this type of protector outside your gi. The elastic is not strong enough, and the cup shape and construction are designed for close contact to your groin. If you wear the cup over your gi, your testicles can move about, and it is common to hear tales of people who have been kicked in the groin, only to find that their cup actually becomes a weapon, squashing their trapped testicles against their pelvis. In these cases, incorrect use of the groin protector has actually made the damage worse, because without the guard, the testicles at least had a chance to move with the kick. Personally, I don’t like the GKR guards. I think their design makes it far too easy for them to move about (even when worn properly), trapping your testicles against your body. Also, I don’t think that they work particularly well against rising kicks. Furthermore, they’re uncomfortable, and because they must be worn UNDER the gi, you end up wearing them or hours, including during kata. My suggestion, if you have one of these, is to put the strap on when you dress, but only insert the cup just before kumite.

The other type is a hard polyurethane cup that is completely covered with soft vinyl. It does not have a material pouch. I tend to think of these as kick-boxer protectors. They have a very different construction, and can be worn inside or outside your gi. Although they come in a variety of shapes, they are all much larger than the cup and pouch ones. This is not just because they fit over clothes, but because they usually have a substantial plastic plate that rests against the abdomen. This plate dissipates thrusting type kicks – in other words strikes that come from the front, by spreading the force across your lower stomach muscles. Whilst there are many that simply cup the testicles much like the cup and pouch protectors, I feel that these are highly susceptible to the “fall out” problem described by cup and pouch users. I prefer the ones that taper to a very narrow band that curves right between your legs, following the line of your perineum (the bit of your body between the base of your testicles and your anus - seventh planet of the solar system don’tcha know!).

Worn on the outside, a GKR protector turns into a plum squisher. Nasty!

This vital piece of construction, and the narrow cup is far more effective, and you get used to it very quickly. Because the cup reaches right between your legs, rising kicks hit the cup, and the cup hits your body (not your testicles). Furthermore, because these ones are a bit narrower, they tend to lift the testicles, confining them in a safer, and better-protected area.

Getting the right size

I don’t have much to say on this except to relate a story. When I was about 12 or 13, I went to the local sports shop to buy my first protector – an act that to me was far more embarrassing than buying my first condom. To make matters worse, the shop was crowded. I pointed to the protectors and shyly asked for one. “What size?” the assistant loudly asked, wilfully oblivious of my squirming, or the long queue of people behind me. Size? I didn’t know I would need to know a size! And how was it measured? “Erm, medium?” I tactically answered.

I was probably being optimistic at the time, and it’s just as well it was never tested in anger…

If there’s one time in your life to be honest with yourself, this is the time. If every pair of large underpants you buy feels too snug, then maybe you should go for a large. If it always feels a little breezy down there, maybe small is your size. Everyone else should probably go with medium. Sorry.

Some protectors enable you to specify the cup size, but most just come in senior or junior, with various sized waistbands.

Keeping them clean

Again this is blindingly obvious I’m sure, but your groin is one of the few areas in your body that produces a particularly pungent type of sweat. This sweat very quickly becomes unpleasant. A good rule of thumb is, if you wear a protector inside your gi, wash it, or wipe it down every time you wear it. Incidentally, if you do buy the kick-boxer type, never ever wear it inside your underwear. The vinyl sticks to your skin, and you’ll spend the whole day re-adjusting yourself – believe me, I’ve tried (well I had to know didn’t I?!).