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Big part of my training is maintaining control of your body even though I feel physical pain. There are usually two situations, in physical pain while still having energy to fight, and in physical pain while being exhausted.

How do you train attacks/defense while in physical pain?

Are there safe ways to cause a lot of physical pain without long term damage?

How do you learn to recognize when there is too much physical pain?

Here are some examples of pain that I have experienced but was unable to overcame as quick as I'd like: punch in the ear, solar plexus pain when breathing from kick or a punch, when kicked near the shoulder blade or kidney paralyzing pain in my spine.

All of the above cause intense pain for few seconds and than go away to the point where I'm able to refocus and become more avare of what is happening around me.

There are more instances but I would say that the above are the once I'm concerned about the most.

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You may want to clarify your needs. The art you practice and the actual problem with pain. –  tacone Feb 12 '12 at 20:10

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I want to make sure I hit every part of this, so I'm going to make heavy use of quotes here...

First, we need to answer an unasked question: What is pain?

This is important first off since, in order to work through pain, you have to understand pain. Pain is a nervous-system response to intense or damaging stimuli. When someone strikes you, your body perceives the stimulus, nervous impulses fire, hormones flood your body, and your brain sends a message – Something has happened at XYZ location, be aware of it!

Part of overcoming pain is overcoming fear. The fear of pain intensifies pain and prevents you from thinking through the problem. This does not help, so it can also be important to experience pain as a means of overcoming a fear of pain.

Finally, it's important to notice that it's the brain that sends the impulse as to how pain is perceived. There are those who, either through an addiction to the hormone release, or through mental control, or even through misfiring of neurons experience pain as a pleasurable sensation. Since the brain tells the body what to feel and how, we have an opportunity to change our interpretation of that pain, maintaining acknowledgment that it is a warning of imminent danger, but perceiving it as a welcome message, rather than a crippling one.

Now let's answer your questions.

How do you train attacks/defense while in physical pain?

The problem that most practitioners experience is that they jump straight into pain. That is, from the first moment, they're taught to feel pain, to tap out, and the pain ends. This instills a fear of pain. Like a child learning to walk, you have to take easy first steps, not attempt to run full out.

First, experience pain.

When I was first faced with this same issue, my shidoshi (instructor in the Bujinkan) was using me as the class uke, demonstrating techniques on me with regularity, and always taking them to a final control. After a bit of this, he would make the pain excruciating; I would be screaming in pain. Eventually, I knew that I had to take the pain, and I began to "drift off". I would use visualization to get myself into a nice place (I have a fondness for Maui, so I'd visualize myself on the beach there), only to be wrenched back to reality, being told I needed to experience it. He was right.

Once you experience pain, you can isolate the pain. Use the pain, and feel for it; what direction is the pain moving, how are you contributing to it, and, most importantly, what happens when I breathe?

A French obstetrician by the name of Dr. Fernand Lamaze, in the 1940s, became rather fascinated with the techniques practiced by midwives in the Soviet Union. Many of these practices included breathing and relaxation techniques guided by the midwife during childbirth, and led to the development of a series of techniques designed to increase a woman's confidence in her ability to give birth. Similarly, these techniques are used by (and may stem from) Cossack practices for avoiding or shrugging off pain, by giving the mind something else to focus on. The human brain is fairly well maxed out most of the time on its ability to multi-task, and forcing a specific focal behavior (e.g. breathing) can be distracting. Distraction, as you'll note I'd already found, is imperative in blocking pain. Finding a distraction that allows you to stay active and focused is far better than imagining yourself on a beach in Hawaii.

When you find yourself in pain, first start breathing in forced deep breaths. While you do so, find the source of your pain. Once you find the source, the most general rule of escape is to move toward the pain. Note the way you need to move in performing escapes from shoulder locks, wrist locks, chokes, etc. when you're training escapes. Pain wants to draw you away from the thing hurting you; sometimes to escape a burning house you need to leap through flames.

Are there safe ways to cause a lot of physical pain without long term damage?

Well, yes and no... Any impact injury carries risk. Any rending, tearing, pulling, grabbing, etc. can have the risk of dislodging a blood clot leading to infarction; grappling could lead to fracture and bone shards could cause an embolism. That said, so long as you're carefully training, these risks are minimum.

Training with a partner you trust is key. Exploring your pain threshold carefully can lead you to a greater understanding of when enough is enough, always being careful to push just past where you want to tap. You want the immediate result, but there is no easy way to learn to overcome pain. It's equal parts personal resolve and psychological trickery to move past the things that cause you intense pain.

How do you learn to recognize when there is too much physical pain?

Very good question. Before you begin training to resist pain, you need to learn what causes you pain. Work with a partner in slowly inflicting pain upon each other, being careful to not injure the other, and resolving to push further than you'd normally allow before tapping.

Generally, if you can't escape from this level of training, then you just need to tap. Your partner should continue to slowly apply greater pain until you tap or escape. If something gets torn, you've gone too far. Careful training is vital, and only you can know your limits.

Here are some examples of pain that I have experienced but was unable to overcame as quick as I'd like:

This is irrelevant. All pain offers the same effects. The compression of the sciatic nerve leads to a collapse in the legs, compression of the suprascapular nerve leads to a numbing of the arm. But pain is pain. These nerves carry impulses, and you can not overcome their compression immediately; it's a physiological function. The pain you feel, however, you can overcome, but to do so quickly will mean practice. Nothing comes overnight.

For those that cause a momentary loss of function, train from the position to which you're dropped. Do that, and you'll still be defensible.

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All of the above cause intense pain for few seconds and than go away to the point where I'm able to refocus and become more aware of what is happening around me.

Of course they do - they are supposed to, your body doesn't like being hit in those spots!

You can mitigate some of these to a certain degree by:

  • building the muscle groups around the target area. This can lessen the pain and discomfort from a wayward shot, but still will not prevent pain and/or damage from a precise and expertly targeted shot. You can have abdominals of steel but a correctly placed shot into the Solar Plexus will still cause issues because of the Vagus nerve cannot be completely shielded by muscle.
  • working on your technique and awareness so that you do not get hit in vulnerable spots
  • doing a lot of linework and katas/forms to enhance your muscle memory so that even when suffering through a blow to one of these areas you can still continue to function.

IMVHO you should not work on conditioning these areas without expert supervision. You will never eliminate the pain of being struck there (unless maybe you join the traveling Shaolin monks and spend many years training). The best (and fastest) solution is to not get hit there.

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A lot of disclaimers apply here because different types of pain tend to mean different things and while you can ignore some of them to an extent, you want to be careful not to ignore things too much your you may find yourself with a serious injury on your hands. I'm going to run down the short list of issues that I've encountered while training:

  • Sharp pain while stretching - Stop and ease up a bit, odds are you have hit a threshold and you don't want to keep pushing yourself any farther than you already have as it could result in torn muscles.
  • Pain during cardio work (i.e. side stitch) - These are just something you have to tough through, on the bright side, the better shape you get into, the less likely the are to occur if you are warmed up properly.
  • Dull aches and pains following practice or deadening exercises - I like to call these "demotivators" because they tend to persist anywhere from a couple minutes after practice to a couple days later and have a tendency cause people not to come to class any more. Assuming these aren't sharper pains they tend to be something you can safely ignore. Just make sure you stretch and warm up properly before class and in some cases rubs like Tiger Balm can help a lot afterwards.
  • Sharp pain following a strike from another - This really depends upon where you get hit and how hard, make sure you pay attention to what your body is saying so you don't make something worse by ignoring it, but generally when it comes to sparing practice you shouldn't have to worry too much. However, even though you can't stop a fight if you get hurt on the street, you should be careful not to push yourself to do something that could get your injuries. One thing to note though, in my experience, my worst injury (partly torn ACL) didn't result in any immediate pain due to shock, I just couldn't support my weight on my knee any more. In the event that something like that happens, stop immediately. Likewise if you are dizzy and are having problems recovering in general, you can make things worse by pushing yourself when you should not.
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What kind of pain? There are many kinds. Beyond the obvious "mental / emotional / physical", there are many kinds of each. The awareness of this will get you started on the path to understanding.

When is there too much pain? When there is so much pain that you can't think. When your world disappears, and your body, and your mind, and all that is left is the pain. Over time, with training, the pain can be your friend, too. Not to be feared, but to be understood, to be recognized.

Pain is a great teacher.

[Edit - Okay, your concern is that your body is made of flesh and can be disoriented. As far as I can tell, you could try PCP or just practice really hard not getting hit that way, or examine these situations and examine how to minimize damage / effects. There are always ways. It just takes time, and my answers may not work for you.]

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I'm glad you clarified your question.

The question I see there is not "how can I overcome pain" but "can I overcome (partial) paralysis?".

The answer is simple: no, you can't. Weak spots are just that, weak, and should be defended.

Your problem is not - apparently - the simple pain.

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