Does it hurt?

Sooner or later we all experience some form of physical pain. Unfortunately we martial artists, over the course of our training careers, find ourselves living with what would be considered by most, more than our fair share. However, from simple blisters and rug-burns to strains, sprains, broken bones and muscle tears, you can learn to manage most, if not all, the pain associated with any injury you might sustain. It all has to do with having the mental edge.

Do you know your mind can't think of two things simultaneously? Try it. Close your eyes and think of a word, any word. Now think of another word. Using your inner, think of one, and then the other. Now think both of them at the very same time. You can't. You can only think one word and then the other. Your mind can't think of two things simultaneously.

Your mind will go to the stimulus with the greatest intensity. For example, if you're just standing on a corner waiting for a bus, that blister pressing against your new shoe might be unbearable. If, however, you find yourself caught in a burning building, your intense need to escape before being burned to death just might be the ingredient needed to distract your mind from the broken leg you sustained, and you'll get up and run. An extreme example indeed, but you get my point. Your mind will shift its attention to the stimulus with the greatest intensity.

Pain, however, is not all bad. It's actually quite a good thing. It is a natural indicator that something is wrong, and an intelligent person would heed the warning, assess the situation and act accordingly. But focusing your mind on something else, something with the intensity equal to, or exceeding that of the pain, may be what's needed in the interim. Another way of managing the pain is associating it with different words, words not normally used to describe pain. For example, as a loving parent and martial arts instructor, whenever one of my own children or students come to me with tears of pain caused by some physical accident, I assess the situation quickly, and act according to the severity of the trauma inflicted. However, I also ask what color the pain is. “What color?” they ask with a ‘is this guy a jerk' look on their face. “Yes.” I say. “What color?” You'll be surprised how much pain goes away, and how soon the tears dry up the minute they begin to search for the answer.

As well, the word ‘pain' is an unpleasant one. No one associates good things with the word ‘pain'. So use other words to describe it. Words like twinge, tingle, prickle, or even throb are better used. Your injury may still hurt, but if you put it in a different context, it may feel different. And because you're not covering up the feeling, you're not risking greater injury by ignoring potential warning signs.

As simple as these mental pain control strategies of shifting attention and changing the words seem, they really can, and do work. As a life-long martial artist and professional stuntman for 15 years, I have practiced these techniques almost on a daily basis to great success.

So give it a try. Next time you're in pain, think intensely about something else and give what you're feeling another name. Soon the pain will become discomfort, an annoying sensation, and the annoying sensation, a minor inconvenience, and the minor inconvenience, a joke. And we all like a good joke.

Till next time, stay safe, and stay sharp!

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