Friday, July 15, 2011

Training with pain

The first thing I discovered when I started training in a martial art is that knuckle push ups hurt. I distinctly remember the hardwood floor, forming two fists and trying to place my body weight on those very tender knuckles. That was my first introduction to pain in the martial arts. Surprisingly its not part of what is shared when a prospective student walks in the door (probably for fear of scaring the student away). You will hear that you will become stronger, develop discipline, attain focus and flexibility.

You will not hear that you will experience pain on many different levels. The truth is you WILL experience physical pain if you are practicing a hard style, its just something to come to terms with. Somewhere along the path you will sprain, twist, bruise or break something. You will not be told this when you begin, because frankly it would deter most of us from training. Could you imagine walking into a school and being told "Sure you will get stronger, but don't forget you will also feel lots of pain!" Most of us would turn around right there and head for the nearest exit.

You will experience emotional discomfort and in some cases pain, as you are confronted by yourself, your limitations and aspirations and the gap between the two.
So how do you deal with pain? Most of us flee from pain, if it hurts we want no part of it. When it comes to a devoted practice and a mindset of training, you accept certain pain as part of the equation. Now I'm not advocating training with broken bones or in excruciating, mind numbing pain. That would be detrimental to your training and would put your sanity in question. If you need to rest by all means do so, likewise with injuries, give them time to heal. However, there are some situations when it is acceptable and even expected to continue even when in pain. Think about how our society glorifies the hero who is injured but doesn't give up. The one who despite the pain he/she is feeling digs deep, finds a reserve of inner strength and fortitude and manages to overcome whatever obstacle lies before them. We all seek to emulate that model or at the very least admire it.

It is usually the case that what many of us consider pain is actually moderate discomfort. The problem surfaces when we must leave our comfort zone. Push ups, to use an earlier example, are not what I would consider a comfortable exercise, they tax your body to a considerable degree, but I do them until it " hurts" because the benefits outweigh my discomfort. We each hit out threshold for pain at different points, the question is not if but when. What do you do when you hit the place where whatever you are doing is no longer comfortable and just downright hurts. Do you quit? Do you rationalize that it wasn't really for you anyway? Do you create an elaborate story to reconcile the fact you couldn't face the discomfort and more importantly, yourself? The alternative is to accept the presence of pain, adapt and get stronger.

I have always believed that if you quit in your head, your body just follows suit. you have to learn to train with pain. My first hand experience of this was taking a promotion with a broken hand. A concerned sensei pointed out my condition to the head instructor and I was informed that I had another hand with which to strike. Again this is an extreme example and I don't suggest training with broken limbs, but I have seen individuals whose practice is as important as breathing to them, these people let very little stop them from training, including pain.
The dynamic of pain is an interesting topic which I wont explore in its entirety here. Suffice to say we each experience pain differently. How this impacts your training rests with the reaction you have to the pain you will experience. You can embrace it, realizing that its a facet of the training, something else to overcome. You can reject it and the training making it something to avoid at all costs.
Even though I belong to school of thought that pain is part of the process, I don't advocate pain for pains sake. Pain is always a byproduct of pushing ourselves harder and longer, making our bodies and minds stronger, each and every day.
You will get stronger, you will be more focused, you will improve your flexibility, you will develop discipline and you will feel pain.
What will you do when that moment arrives?

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando