I caught a knee in the chest at judo the other evening. That kind of hurts today. Why on earth do I keep doing something where catching a knee in the chest is not just possible, but permissible? Then I go to jodo where my partner gets to hammer on my gut with a big stick from time to time. Am I nuts? Don’t bother answering that, we already know the answer.
Martial arts hurt sometimes. That goes hand in glove with what martial arts are. Martial arts are combative disciplines. One part of that is getting banged up from time to time. I go to judo and get thrown around the room and bounced off the floor. Some nights I’ll take upwards of 100 falls. Somewhat surprisingly, the difficult part is not taking the falls, but getting up afterwards. It’s more work than you think.
If it’s just me being uke for someone who is practicing their throws, it doesn’t hurt. If we’re doing randori (grappling sparring), the falls aren’t always completely controlled, and sometimes I land badly. That can hurt. The strange thing is that I remember bad throws hurting a lot more when I was young and first started training than they do now. There is a big lesson in budo practice about how to handle and evaluate pain, and it’s fundamental to everything going on in the dojo.
People commonly think that the person who can cause the most pain and damage is the toughest. My thought is that the person who can absorb the most is the toughest. Part of budo training is learning to handle what other people do to you. This lesson is a basic one not only in the modern arts like judo and kendo, but it’s fundamental in classical systems of jujutsu, kenjutsu and other weapons.
Falling down hurts sometimes. So does getting hit with sticks and hands and feet. If you’re learning a combative art, it’s not just about what you can do to someone else. It’s also about what they might be doing to you. If you’re not learning how to deal with the discomfort of being thrown or taking a hit, you’re not learning budo.
I have to admit, there isn’t much out there that matches judo for the regular level of discomfort experienced when training. Judoka get banged around to the point that bumps and bruises aren’t even noticed. I come home from keiko, take a shower and discover a new batch of bruises that I don’t remember getting. How can that be?
Any good budo develops and demands a high level of focus. Judo certainly does this. Particularly during randori, I don’t have any mental space to spare on worrying about a little bump or bruise. I’m so focused on what I’m doing that sort of discomfort doesn’t even register.
What surprises me is just how much that is true in budo that don’t specialize in picking people up and throwing them at the ground. Most arts don’t demand that sort of pounding, but all good budo do require that we learn to handle discomfort. Kenjutsu has bangs and accidents where wrists and knuckles get whacked. Jodo in particular emphasizes absorbing tsuki and the occasional bang on the wrist. Aikido bends and attacks joints is ways that can be uniquely torturous. Other arts have their moments of vigorous contact as well.
Is there a good reason for this, or is it just an excuse for people to hurt each other? There is a good reason behind a certain level of a bumping, banging and bruising. There’s no other way to get used to this sort of discomfort, and if you’re really learning a martial art, you need to be able to handle basic levels of discomfort and even a bit a pain now and then. It’s part of the learning process.
If at time any you need the literal skills of martial arts, you’re certainly going to have to be able to focus through some pain and discomfort, maybe a lot of it. If you can’t do that, you’ll fold the first time things start to hurt. Pain hurts, but it doesn’t have to distract. One key is learning that there is a difference between discomfort, pain, and harm. Discomfort and pain can be endured, but harm is to be avoided.
|Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis|
Not everyone approaches this part of practice wisely. The most foolish way learning to handle and absorb pain and discomfort is to be like the people who try to prove they are better than everyone else by taking more pain and still getting on the floor to train. These people do a great deal of damage, most of it to themselves. They push past enduring discomfort and pain right into inflicting harm on their own bodies.
For the rest of us the question then becomes, what level of discomfort is learning, and what is abuse? It’s good to learn to to handle discomfort, but how hard to push is always a good question. We’ve all met people who push themselves too hard and too far. For me the key is that if someone is getting themselves injured, they are pushing to far.
There is a dark side to this lesson to watch out for as well. There are people who use the need to learn to be tough as an excuse to abuse the people they teach and train with. I’ve seen bullies and sadists purposely inflict unnecessary pain and even harm on their training partners in order to “help them toughen up” and similar excuses. Anyone who complains about the treatment is excoriated for being soft and weak.
Putting up with this sort of abuse is not a sign of strength. If you find yourself dealing with people who abuse their partners, don’t stick around and put up with it. One aspect of budo is standing up for yourself. Let people know this isn’t acceptable. If they won’t listen, leave. Don’t let yourself be injured or abused.
Learning to deal with discomfort and pain is an important lesson. Equal to learning how to deal with it though, is learning when not to endure it. Discomfort and pain can be a sign of stress and pushing ourselves, but they are also signs that we are pushing too far and getting close to harming ourselves. Knowing which and respecting the differences are just as important as being able to put up with the discomfort of training.
I love training, even though it hurts sometimes. The joy and rush of randori or sparring is like very little else. For me, this makes it easy to ignore the odd bump or bruise. The occasional ache and post training stiffness is a small price to pay for all that I get out of martial arts practice.
The truth is, to quote Jimmy Buffett, that “the pleasure is worth all the pain.”