As a martial artist, you never really appreciate what true pain is until you see someone dislocate a shoulder or pop a knee in the middle of a class. I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to hear that loud “pop” followed by a blood-curdling scream twice in my martial arts career and neither of them has discouraged me from going back.
Pain and risk of injury go with the territory in any kind of contact sport so if you’re going to participate you should learn to expect and overcome pain if you want to be successful.
During the spring of 1999 I joined a Kenpo dojo in Boston, Massachusetts, that was invitation only. I had been through a few years of training and got the invite from a friend at work who had been attending classes at this school for about a decade. We walked through the door just as this middle-aged woman who had been sparring chose to resist a throw move by the instructor instead of falling as she should have. The result was my first experience with that popping sound. She screamed, went down in a heap, and was immediately surrounded by most of the students.
Later on I would learn that there are actually 5 ways to overcome pain in martial arts and they can be applied in any contact sport…
You should always relax your body as soon as possible when you injure yourself until you determine the extent of how badly you are hurt. If you are in the middle of an activity you should disengage quickly and move away from the contact area. If this is not feasible right away then try not to use the affected part of your body. You will often see fighters switch their stance or even go to an opposite approach in the middle of a round. This is almost always due to the pain of an injury.
Meditation is relaxation taken to the next level. Those who are experienced with meditation claim that they can shut off the pain entirely by relaxing the mind and body and simply channeling the feeling of pain away. This may seem far-fetched to some but the brain controls all messages to the body, including the nerve pulses that tell you that you are in pain. If you can block those with the control that comes from regular disciplined meditation then you can overcome the pain.
Ignoring or blocking out pain is a sign of either tremendous toughness or extreme stupidity. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop whatever you are doing so you don’t injure yourself. In martial arts we use tapping out as a universally understood signal that we are at the extent of our pain threshold. You can ignore pain to a certain extent and keep fighting but you need to know what your limitations are. Weightlifters often say “no pain, no gain” and it’s true to some extent. You do need to feel the pain to build muscle, but pushing beyond your capabilities will result in strains, tears, and chronic injuries in your neck and back if you’re not careful!
Understanding pain is by far the most effective way to deal with it. That martial arts instructor in Boston that I learned so much from made it a point to teach us all about the human body and how it worked. Knowing how the pieces go together and how they come apart gives you a tremendous edge when you start to feel pain. Is it an indicator of a pending or existing injury or is it just the normal pain of physical exertion? Understanding the difference will enable you to push yourself further without fear of injury.
Accepting pain is for those who suffer from chronic conditions yet still want to participate in contact sports. Everyone has a certain tolerance level when it comes to pain: for some it is higher than others. For those in chronic pain it is reality of life that they have to deal with. Learning to accept that certain activities are just going to hurt but doing them anyway is the ultimate test for a true athlete. There are those who play just because they love the game, no matter how much pain they are in during or after the game, match, or contest. Think about that the next time you think you’re in pain.
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