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PPE for use in martial arts

Reviewing the specific tests used to assess protective wear for martial arts, as outlined in the EN 13277 range of standards.

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When an individual practices a martial art – in both competitive and training environments – he or she may choose to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). The European harmonised EN 13277 standards stipulates the requirements for such equipment. The standard is split into eight parts, as follows.

General requirements

EN 13277-1:2000 – 'General requirements and test methods', specifies the basic requirements needed for all martial arts protection, as highlighted in parts two to seven. It gives instructions for innocuousness testing (both physical and chemical, to ensure that there are no restricted substances present in the protectors that may harm the wearer or any opponent), as well as the marking and user information that needs to be supplied with the protectors. Also included are more general requirements, such as restraint (the protector should not move too much during use), sizing, marking of zones of protection and materials not splitting during the relevant impact performance tests.

Arms and legs

Part two of the standard – EN 13277-2:2000 – is entitled 'Instep protectors, shin protectors and forearm protectors'. The zone of protective coverage required is determined by the height of the user (which must be stated on the label of any protector). The main test for the protectors is an impact test, which involves a striker being dropped onto the sample. The striker is 2.5 kg in mass with an 80 mm diameter face, a domed top and a radius of curvature of 100 mm.The sample is laid on top of a rigid half cylinder with a diameter of 90 mm, which simulates a limb. This support has an anvil in the centre, mounted on top of a load cell. The striker is then dropped from the height required to generate an impact of specified energy.

Impact sites are chosen to include those areas of the protector considered to offer the lowest protection, and each site is impacted at 60-second intervals. This is carried out at two positions for instep protectors and three for shin and forearm protectors. The sample is impacted three times consecutively, using 3 J of energy. The peak force recorded by the load cell for any individual impact must not exceed a figure of 2 kN.

Protecting the chest

EN 13277-3:2013 relates to trunk (torso) protectors. The zone of coverage is determined by the height of the user (which must be stated on the label of any protector). The anvil for this test is a flat-faced steel cylinder contained in a flat steel plate that is used to support the sample. The sample is laid on top and held down by a 10 kg compression ring, after which the sample is subjected (as shown in figure 1) to either three consecutive 12 J impacts or three consecutive 2.6 J impacts (if the protector is for use in the practice of Karate, a lower energy requirement is used). The striker (the same specification as in the part 2 test – detailed above) is dropped from the required height at 60-second intervals. This is repeated on two other positions on the sample. In this case, the transmitted force must not exceed 3 kN. Trunk protectors for use in Karate must also not exceed 250 g in mass or 15mm in thickness.

Guarding the head

Head protectors are covered by EN 13277-4:2001+A1:2007. This section uses the same impact equipment required for testing trunk protectors, with three impacts of 3 J being carried out on each of three different test points, and an interval of two minutes between impacts. The maximum transmitted force shall be less than 2 kN. A head protector must not have a mass greater than that detailed in the standard – dependent on the size of wearer for which it is intended. It must also contain a system that will allow air to escape from the ear if the side of the head is struck, thus preventing additional damage to the eardrum due to trapped air. In addition, there is an assessment on the effect the head protector has on the wearer’s field of vision.

Caring for the abdomen

Figure 1: Under part 3 of EN 13277, torso protection is subjected to three consecutive 12J impacts, and the transmitted force must not exceed 3kN

EN 13277-5:2002 concerns male and female genital protectors and abdominal protectors. Male genital protectors are impact tested on an anvil block with an 80 mm radius of curvature. A modelling clay cylinder is placed between the anvil and protector to measure the minimum internal clearance of the protector during the impact. Three impacts (each of 2 J) are carried out with an interval of two minutes between them. Different impact sites are tested using a new sample. No part of the protector shall crack or split, and a maximum peak force of below 3 kN is required.

Female genital protectors and abdominal protectors use the same impact equipment as in EN 13277-3. This involves three impacts, each with energy of 3 J, carried out at two test sites with an interval of two minutes between impacts. Again, the peak force must be below 3 kN.

Specifically for females

EN 13277-6:2003 – 'Breast protector for females' contains a deformation test. This involves a pre-load of 80 N being applied and the test being stopped at a total force of 400 N. The linear deformation is recorded at a test load of 300 N, and the relative deformation is work out as a percentage. It is important that there is adequate space between the protected part of the body and the protector itself, and that the protector will not collapse on the protected area, potentially causing serious injury. This part of the standard also contains an impact performance test that uses a cylindrical anvil with a 25 mm radius hemispherical surface and impact energy of 2 J. The requirement is given in the standard in the form of a graph, and is dependent on the relative deformation obtained by the protector.

Hand and foot protection

EN 13277-7:2009 relates to hand and foot protectors. Hand protectors are defined as 'equipment worn on the hand to protect the user against injuries caused by strikes against other persons or training equipment'. It should be noted that not all gloves used in martial arts are designed to protect the user from damage to their hands. It is advised that equipment that might fall outside of the scope of this standard should clearly state that it offers no protection to the user, and this type of glove would not be classed as PPE.

Hand protectors come in two classes: Class A – 'hand protectors comprising a zone of normal protection', and Class B – 'hand protectors comprising a zone of increased protection'. Both Class A and Class B are impacted using the same equipment as in EN 13277-2. The glove is tested at two different sites, and is impacted with energy of 3 J. A maximum peak force of 2 kN is allowed. For Class B gloves, two additional impacts of 10 J are carried out on the increased protection, also with a permitted maximum transmitted force of force of 2 kN. The foot protector impact test is the same as for type A gloves, but with four impact sites.

EN13277-8: 2017 covers the additional requirements for karate face protectors. This standard has three defined sizes of protector, which all need to be under a set mass. The clearance between the protector and the nose must meet a set distance ≥30 mm for 'large' and 'medium' sizes, and ≥20 mm for a 'small' size. A deformation test is carried out on the protector in which a force of 200 N for large and medium sizes and 150 N for the small size is applied. The nose of the head form should have no contact with the protector which, after testing, should not be damaged and should regain its original shape. The protector is also subjected to impact testing using a force of 3 J on the tip of the nose. It is impacted three times at intervals of two minutes between each impact. It should not break or burst during this testing.

Because martial arts protectors are generally considered to be Category II PPE, manufacturers or suppliers must get them CE marked before they can legally be sold or distributed in Europe. This means that a Notified Body must carry out an EU type-examination, and be satisfied that the products meet the essential health and safety requirements of the European PPE Regulation before issuing a certificate.

SATRA's Essential Guide to PPE is available at

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