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  • earplugs

    This post got me interested in earplugs for kendo practice. I've been trying some out over the past several weeks, and thought I would share my experiences so far. I have tried 4 different varieties so far. In picking ones to try out, I was primarily looking for a compromise between protection from the loud noises in the dojo and the ability to understand sensei's directions. It is obviously not practical to remove earplugs from under the men when sensei is trying to talk to you.

    1) Etymotics ER20 High Fidelity Earplugs. These supposedly reduce the sound level at all frequencies by about 20dB and maintain good sound fidelity. I found them to be helpful and I was able to understand directions during keiko with men on. I think this is because 20dB is a pretty moderate amount of sound reduction. On the negative side, as can be seen in the product picture, they have a stem that extends out from the ear. I found that the men would press the stems downward, toward my shoulders, which put pressure on the top sides of my ear canals, which was a little uncomfortable. I was concerned that the contact between the stem and the men would conduct noise, but I found that it was not a problem. But perhaps the biggest problems I had with these is that the stem is smooth plastic which made them unexpectedly difficult to remove with my sweaty fingers at the end of practice.

    2) Peltor Combat Arms Earplugs. The main gimmick with these is that they have one end that only blocks loud noise, while allowing quieter noise to be heard. I am not sure if they actually function correctly in constant loud noise environment, but I thought they would be worth a try. The ones I got were double-ended, where the other side is a normal earplug. As a double-ended plug, they were much too large to fit under the men, however, the "normal" earplug end could be removed leaving a much shorter stem than the Etymotics. I tried these out during warmups without men, and the hearing protection seemed to work as advertised, so with the shorter stem, I was quite hopeful. Unfortunately, although the stems were shorter, I found that my men pressed on the stems and pressed the plugs deeper into my ears. This was ok early in the practice but it became increasingly unpleasant and uncomfortable as practice wore on. I left that night with a very bad headache. Unexpectedly, the longer stem of the Etymotics was less uncomfortable. Unlike the Etymotics, because these stems were made to hold on a second pair of earplugs, they had a ridge which made them easy to remove. I would say that these earplugs might be useful when acting as shimpan for a shiai or some other situation like that but I personally found them way too uncomfortable for wearing under the men.

    3) Rock n Roll Hearos. I tried these because their attenuation chart shows that they have relatively fair sound reduction at lower frequencies but have quite high reduction at higher frequencies -- 28.5 dB at 250 Hz and 43.8 dB at 8000 Hz. I understand that speaking voice is normally in the range of around 100-400 Hz, so I thought that maybe these would be effective at blocking the percussive sound of the shinai while letting in voices. Of course, loud kiai could still be damaging to your hearing, but since kiai obviously are going to be in the same frequency range as the human voice, I don't think there is much that can be done to block one but not the other. The Combat Arms earplugs above was my best shot at dealing with that problem, and it turned out not to work so well. I found these earplugs were a good compromise. They seemed reasonably effective at blocking noise from keiko and only moderately interfered with my ability to understand instructions. I found I was able to follow along with instructions given to the group, however understanding individual conversation or direction was more difficult. They were also a little small for me, but it turned out not to be a problem because my men, again, pressed the plugs into my head. Because of the fit, though, I would not use these for shimpan or other situations without men. Obviously, YMMV.

    4) Extreme Hearos. These are the earplugs I use when I fly on planes. In comparison to the above, they attenuation data says they block 40.3 dB at 250 Hz and 47.3 dB at 8000 Hz. When flying, I find that they interfere significantly with my ability to understand people speaking to me (for example, the flight attendant), so these do not meet my objective of not interfering with my ability to hear direction. I used these simply as a control -- I have plenty of them since I regularly use them already. As expected, they blocked plenty of sound and I think it would be difficult for someone who isn't familiar with the normal routine of the dojo to make out what was going on while wearing these types of earplugs. However, they did provide the best overall sound reduction and I would say they are good if you can count on not having to actually understand what sensei is saying to you (this can come up more often than one might expect if you don't speak Japanese).

    I am not really done goofing around with earplugs. I have gone back to look at some of my assumptions, such as the frequency range that is useful to block. I took a video of a shiai that I was at, an examined the soundtrack in a spectrogram. It appears that the clash of shinai is centered around 10 kHz, while kiai, applause, and the sound of the fumikomi get mixed up (in the low resolution of the application I am using) in the range of 6 kHz and lower. There is not really much of anything going on above 11.5 kHz or between around 9.3 kHz and about 7 kHz. But this is just when there is one match, and not during keiko, so things might be different in the dojo. I am thinking it might be interesting to bring a spectrum analyzer to the dojo to take some readings. Anyway, my preliminary results are:

    a) Rigid bits sticking out of your ears are bad. No earplug fits entirely within your ear canal (or else you couldn't remove it), so this means you want an earplug with a soft exterior.

    b) The men will hold the plugs in your head, so the fit is not critical. As long as you can get a good seal with pressure, it will be ok. But if the plugs are too big, then the pressure will probably be uncomfortable.

    c) All earplugs (sold in the US) have an attenuation chart on the packaging that shows how well they work at different frequencies. You're primarily interested in big attenuation numbers at 500 Hz and up.

    I hope this is interesting to someone. If anyone has any suggestions for other earplugs to test or whatever, please let me know.

  • #2
    Very interesting Hyuna. I have tinnitis and experimented briefly with earplugs, but found that the increase in the sensation of "internal noise" (the tinnitis) with earplugs seemed to outweigh the benefits. It's also quite weird hearing your own breathing above nearly every other sound (other than the tinnitis of course !)

    Thanks for the interesting list of products. I might check it the whole earplugs thing again.

    b

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by hyuna View Post
      This post got me interested in earplugs for kendo practice. I've been trying some out over the past several weeks, and thought I would share my experiences so far. I have tried 4 different varieties so far. In picking ones to try out, I was primarily looking for a compromise between protection from the loud noises in the dojo and the ability to understand sensei's directions. It is obviously not practical to remove earplugs from under the men when sensei is trying to talk to you.

      1) Etymotics ER20 High Fidelity Earplugs. These supposedly reduce the sound level at all frequencies by about 20dB and maintain good sound fidelity. I found them to be helpful and I was able to understand directions during keiko with men on. I think this is because 20dB is a pretty moderate amount of sound reduction. On the negative side, as can be seen in the product picture, they have a stem that extends out from the ear. I found that the men would press the stems downward, toward my shoulders, which put pressure on the top sides of my ear canals, which was a little uncomfortable. I was concerned that the contact between the stem and the men would conduct noise, but I found that it was not a problem. But perhaps the biggest problems I had with these is that the stem is smooth plastic which made them unexpectedly difficult to remove with my sweaty fingers at the end of practice.

      2) Peltor Combat Arms Earplugs. The main gimmick with these is that they have one end that only blocks loud noise, while allowing quieter noise to be heard. I am not sure if they actually function correctly in constant loud noise environment, but I thought they would be worth a try. The ones I got were double-ended, where the other side is a normal earplug. As a double-ended plug, they were much too large to fit under the men, however, the "normal" earplug end could be removed leaving a much shorter stem than the Etymotics. I tried these out during warmups without men, and the hearing protection seemed to work as advertised, so with the shorter stem, I was quite hopeful. Unfortunately, although the stems were shorter, I found that my men pressed on the stems and pressed the plugs deeper into my ears. This was ok early in the practice but it became increasingly unpleasant and uncomfortable as practice wore on. I left that night with a very bad headache. Unexpectedly, the longer stem of the Etymotics was less uncomfortable. Unlike the Etymotics, because these stems were made to hold on a second pair of earplugs, they had a ridge which made them easy to remove. I would say that these earplugs might be useful when acting as shimpan for a shiai or some other situation like that but I personally found them way too uncomfortable for wearing under the men.

      3) Rock n Roll Hearos. I tried these because their attenuation chart shows that they have relatively fair sound reduction at lower frequencies but have quite high reduction at higher frequencies -- 28.5 dB at 250 Hz and 43.8 dB at 8000 Hz. I understand that speaking voice is normally in the range of around 100-400 Hz, so I thought that maybe these would be effective at blocking the percussive sound of the shinai while letting in voices. Of course, loud kiai could still be damaging to your hearing, but since kiai obviously are going to be in the same frequency range as the human voice, I don't think there is much that can be done to block one but not the other. The Combat Arms earplugs above was my best shot at dealing with that problem, and it turned out not to work so well. I found these earplugs were a good compromise. They seemed reasonably effective at blocking noise from keiko and only moderately interfered with my ability to understand instructions. I found I was able to follow along with instructions given to the group, however understanding individual conversation or direction was more difficult. They were also a little small for me, but it turned out not to be a problem because my men, again, pressed the plugs into my head. Because of the fit, though, I would not use these for shimpan or other situations without men. Obviously, YMMV.

      4) Extreme Hearos. These are the earplugs I use when I fly on planes. In comparison to the above, they attenuation data says they block 40.3 dB at 250 Hz and 47.3 dB at 8000 Hz. When flying, I find that they interfere significantly with my ability to understand people speaking to me (for example, the flight attendant), so these do not meet my objective of not interfering with my ability to hear direction. I used these simply as a control -- I have plenty of them since I regularly use them already. As expected, they blocked plenty of sound and I think it would be difficult for someone who isn't familiar with the normal routine of the dojo to make out what was going on while wearing these types of earplugs. However, they did provide the best overall sound reduction and I would say they are good if you can count on not having to actually understand what sensei is saying to you (this can come up more often than one might expect if you don't speak Japanese).

      I am not really done goofing around with earplugs. I have gone back to look at some of my assumptions, such as the frequency range that is useful to block. I took a video of a shiai that I was at, an examined the soundtrack in a spectrogram. It appears that the clash of shinai is centered around 10 kHz, while kiai, applause, and the sound of the fumikomi get mixed up (in the low resolution of the application I am using) in the range of 6 kHz and lower. There is not really much of anything going on above 11.5 kHz or between around 9.3 kHz and about 7 kHz. But this is just when there is one match, and not during keiko, so things might be different in the dojo. I am thinking it might be interesting to bring a spectrum analyzer to the dojo to take some readings. Anyway, my preliminary results are:

      a) Rigid bits sticking out of your ears are bad. No earplug fits entirely within your ear canal (or else you couldn't remove it), so this means you want an earplug with a soft exterior.

      b) The men will hold the plugs in your head, so the fit is not critical. As long as you can get a good seal with pressure, it will be ok. But if the plugs are too big, then the pressure will probably be uncomfortable.

      c) All earplugs (sold in the US) have an attenuation chart on the packaging that shows how well they work at different frequencies. You're primarily interested in big attenuation numbers at 500 Hz and up.

      I hope this is interesting to someone. If anyone has any suggestions for other earplugs to test or whatever, please let me know.
      Wow, that's really interesting Sensei!

      What about those over the counter earplugs, btw? (The kind used for sleeping or whatever...that you can get at rite aide or walgreens?) Would those work, or be better than nothing? (I guess I'm just wondering where you are getting these fancy ear plugs, as well...)

      I honestly cannot hear (or understand) a thing thats going on once class, keiko etc starts. And I often get confused during the waza part, (or often can't understand things) so I don't think being unable to hear a thing would make a difference to me in class.

      When you say "Sensei's directions" I am assuming you mean the few seconds before we rotate or whatever... and Sensei is like "Big Men" or whatever...? I can SOMETIMES understand SOME of the directions...

      The few times I fought Sensei, and I screwed something up... he'd try to tell me in the middle "don't do that" or "do this" and I'd be like... "I uhm, can't hear you..." so heh, wearing full sound dampening earplugs might not make a difference for me.

      Its funny, I was just wondering if I lost some hearing...especially since some dude (outside of kendo) screamed directly in my ear... ever since then...

      Anyway, let us know what you find out! What's the best kendo earplugs? (I wonder if someday, one of the kendo suppliers will start makin them for kendo... )

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
        What about those over the counter earplugs, btw? (The kind used for sleeping or whatever...that you can get at rite aide or walgreens?) Would those work, or be better than nothing? (I guess I'm just wondering where you are getting these fancy ear plugs, as well...)
        I get the Extreme Hearos over the counter at the drug store. I'm sure others work and are better than nothing, but, like the Extreme Hearos, they are made to reduce all sounds, and my main goal was to find something that would help but still allow me to understand what sensei is saying, so I didn't put a lot of effort in trying "normal" earplugs.

        The other fancy earplugs I got via Amazon.

        When you say "Sensei's directions" I am assuming you mean the few seconds before we rotate or whatever... and Sensei is like "Big Men" or whatever...?
        That, and also sometimes sensei will give people specific feedback during keiko. It is important to be able to pick up on it when they give it.

        It is also important to maintain situational awareness. The dojo is crowded and you need to pay attention to where people are and what is going on nearby. If someone falls down, for example, you don't want to trip over them. This is easy to do and automatic, if you can hear.

        For myself and others who are 4+ dan, sometimes students will ask questions, too, and you have to be able to hear them as well. Even though you can brush off questions during jigeiko, maybe you are the off person in the rotation, or something, or maybe you have to stop because there is a problem with a shinai or bogu, or maybe there is a visitor that you have to help out. Then you might need to hear and respond to questions.

        It's important to be able to hear reasonably well during practice. For that reason, I wouldn't use the Extreme Hearos or similar earplugs that try to block out everything.


        "Normal" earplugs come in a variety of "strengths," though. The Etymotics I tried only block around 20 dB -- with a NRR is 12 dB -- and I found that I could understand what was going on using those, so a "weak" enough "normal" earplug is probably ok, but you can probably do better to protect your hearing. That was my motivation in looking at the Rock N Roll Hearos, that don't evenly reduce sound at every frequency.


        You may have problems figuring out what sensei is saying simply because you aren't used to hearing it. You'll get used to it over time. Various sensei have routines that they like, and it gets easier to follow the flow of practice after you are accustomed to it. Similarly, as you get used to the jargon, it gets easier to decipher what sensei is telling you.

        Incidentally, if you commute to Manhattan every day on the subway, like me, then I suspect the subway is much more damaging to your hearing than practice. I need to measure sound levels to be sure, but that is my gut feeling.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by hyuna View Post
          That, and also sometimes sensei will give people specific feedback during keiko. It is important to be able to pick up on it when they give it.

          He's tried to give me feedback during keiko, but I'm serious, I cannot hear or understand what he is saying at all. And its not because of any jargon. Or a lack of trying. Basically, to me, all the noise sort of blurs together and I cannot differentiate one sound from the next. Most people can understand (as in, make out words, etc) even during keiko? The only way I could is if I could lip read. And I can't. I think it would also be the same if someone fell down- the noise would blur together and it would amount to me not being able to hear it. So basically, during keiko, I really sort of ignore any input I get from my ears (except when there's a brief pause in the kiai-ing and such such as when the Sensei gives directions) and sometimes I can understand that, especially if I know the jargon (which I am slowly learning.)

          I wish there was a way to get the feedback and be able to hear it. I'm sure it would be tremendously helpful. Often, during keiko, Sensei (or other senseis) will say something (can't understand what,) then do something, then say something(that I cant understand), then do something... and I dont know whats going on. I always think "Ok, did he say I was SUPPOSED to do that, or am I NOT suppoed to do that?" (because you know, outside of keiko he will often they will say, don't do THIS, (then he does something) instead do THIS (then he does something.))

          I can get it when people arn't keiko-ing but if you say somethng to me during keiko- well 99% of the time, I can't hear it. ugh. maybe something is already off with my hearing... I can't believe its possible to hear ANYTHING during keiko, yet people keep trying to talk to me...
          Last edited by MartialArtsGirl; 12th October 2009, 12:38 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
            Basically, to me, all the noise sort of blurs together and I cannot differentiate one sound from the next.
            Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? Have you noticed how in the beginning when you hear someone speaking at native speed, it is all just a string of nonsense babble? Then later on you start to be able to pick out a word here and there. Then another, and then another, and eventually you start to be able to follow along?

            It's the same thing. Your brain has to be trained to know the sounds of the key words and the context in which they occur and then you will be able to understand what everyone is saying. To to get there, you have to make a dedicated effort to learn the language of the dojo. That only comes from lots and lots and lots of very mindful practice.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by hyuna View Post
              Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language? Have you noticed how in the beginning when you hear someone speaking at native speed, it is all just a string of nonsense babble? Then later on you start to be able to pick out a word here and there. Then another, and then another, and eventually you start to be able to follow along?

              It's the same thing. Your brain has to be trained to know the sounds of the key words and the context in which they occur and then you will be able to understand what everyone is saying. To to get there, you have to make a dedicated effort to learn the language of the dojo. That only comes from lots and lots and lots of very mindful practice.
              No I mean, I understand that and I do need to do that! But, when all the shinais are hitting the mens, (or dos, or kotes or other shiais), with all the fumi komi, with all the kiai-ing... I can't make out ANY human voice, even in English. The fact that people keep trying to talk to me during keiko (in English I think) makes me wonder if I'm just deaf or something...? Can other people hear an ENGLISH voice with all that noise?

              Unless thats what you meant?
              Oh wait, maybe that is what you meant...

              Comment


              • #8
                One of my senseis uses cotton balls, he tears off small pieces and uses them instead of the ear plugs. As for being able to hear others though I'm not sure, since he is the one directing practice it's mostly only important he be heard, but in the past when students have asked questions he seems to be able to hear them relatively ok, but I’m not sure what the effectiveness of the cotton balls are compared with the ear plugs you have listed.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Is this a big problem. I have noticed its loud but knot anything that seems dangerous. I know that prolonged exposure can eventually reduce hearing range, but to the extent of needing to wear earplugs?. Maybe if Audio was your daytime job. Thanks for the research and information.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by 1stdan View Post
                    Is this a big problem. I have noticed its loud but knot anything that seems dangerous. I know that prolonged exposure can eventually reduce hearing range, but to the extent of needing to wear earplugs?. Maybe if Audio was your daytime job. Thanks for the research and information.

                    A little while ago someone posted an article about a research study on hearing loss and kendo- done by Japanese researchers. The researchers found that kendo players have decreased hearing compared to kendo players.

                    Does anyone have a link to this article/post?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
                      No I mean, I understand that and I do need to do that! But, when all the shinais are hitting the mens, (or dos, or kotes or other shiais), with all the fumi komi, with all the kiai-ing... I can't make out ANY human voice, even in English. The fact that people keep trying to talk to me during keiko (in English I think) makes me wonder if I'm just deaf or something...? Can other people hear an ENGLISH voice with all that noise?

                      Unless thats what you meant?
                      Oh wait, maybe that is what you meant...
                      If my sensei or one of my sempai explain something to me during keiko I can understand them perfectly as long as we are not standing to far apart. Even with my men, and all the kiai's and fumi komi's. Only difference would be that we speak Dutch instead of English :P

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by MartialArtsGirl View Post
                        Does anyone have a link to this article/post?
                        I linked to it at the top of my initial post.

                        1stdan: I don't know if it is a problem or not. I have been practicing kendo almost 20 years and my hearing is better than my wife's, and she has never set foot in a dojo. Moreover, as I mentioned before, I think my trip to work is far more dangerous to my hearing than practice.

                        That said, I'm getting older and my hearing is definitely getting worse, and I see no reason not to protect what I have left. Especially if I can do it cheaply, easily, and without interfering with practice.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Toecutter View Post
                          I’m not sure what the effectiveness of the cotton balls are compared with the ear plugs you have listed.
                          Consensus seems to be that plain cotton offers negligible protection from noise, but I haven't tried it. I suppose it would be an easy experiment for someone who has any cotton balls at home. I will have to look.

                          Cotton mixed with wax or other similar substance can make a very good earplug, but I did not test anything like that (either commercial or homemade) because they, like the "normal" earplug block all sounds.

                          I am also not sure about the reusability for kendo. Earplugs of this type generally seem to be a putty that you use to cover over your ear canal. Normally this can be reused, but in our case the men will be touching/pressing the outside of the plug all the time and so lint/etc from the men will be dirtying the putty. This probably impacts the longevity of the earplug.


                          I have found another promising looking earplug that I hope to try once they arrive, perhaps next week sometime. I will look into trying some cotton or other putty-type plugs as well.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I would worry about using cotton balls if only for the fact that cotton strands can remain in your ear (stuck to earwax or something) and possibly cause an ear infection.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I have never used earplugs while doing kendo. I have used them when friends and I were jamming.

                              The kind that i had were also used in watersports and by motorcycle riders.

                              They were shaped in such way they would fit perfectly under a helmet.

                              They had a little piece which you could remove them by.

                              When I'm home I'll look for them if I haven't thrown them away yet.

                              They colored over time even though cleaning them.

                              Comment

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