Are there any secrets that come from the hidden, secret, traditional world of martial arts (you may smile), that could be taken or applied before or after extensive sessions to prevent, lessen or relieve soreness?

I'm thinking of things like herbal remedies, thinks to drink, eat, or apply on your body.

Note that I am not talking about how to relieve pain from multiple-people drills or sparring, but soreness and pains from long, deep stretches, and movements to which the body is not accustomed.

I am interested in things that help the body recover, essentially: promote blood circulation, energy circulation, muscle relaxation, all that good stuff and more if possible. I don't want painkillers or anti-inflamamtories (they'll hide what my body is telling me) .

  • 5
    Well, there is alcohol. ;) Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 3:30
  • I asked a meta question about whether this is on-topic. Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 12:53
  • I've found that there's nothing traditional nearly as effective as a little ibuprofen, a clinically validated anti-inflammatory. (Avoid taking on an empty stomach!)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 4:35

6 Answers 6


Since you're basically asking for anecdotes, here's a third hand account of a technique used by a purported 80+ year old Korean war veteran who still runs marathons. Ice bath. Yup, after your exercise, you take a bath full of cold icy water. OK, so it's not from martial arts exactly, but it seems sufficiently anecdotal. I think you'll find lots of cultures have used ice baths here and there.

I have also personally used "hot/cold" showers when I'm particularly sore from intense exercise. The method is to to turn the hot water off in the shower and try to leave cold water running over you for about 30 seconds, then turn the hot back on. Do this about 3 times. I imagine that this causes less of your blood to be pumped to your extremities during the cold periods, and then the opposite during warm periods, which essentially just helps you get good blood flow all around your body, which helps recovery.

  • Anecdotal enough. I had heard something like that before, though it was only about turning the water cold at the end of the shower. I'll have to play with this one :)
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 9:40
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    For those who know Eddie Izzard, he was doing an ice bath every day to avoid soreness. Also, there are plenty of medicinal data to support this. It is not anecdotal. Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 11:53
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    Astonishing what Eddie managed to do, considering he had never run a marathon before. I am in awe of that achievement.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jun 13, 2012 at 12:21
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    I understand studies have been inconclusive, but icing and cold showers straight after a session help me enormously. If I have a long cold shower I'll be less sore than if I don't. If I ice for an hour or two, I barely get any soreness. Any heat at all seems to be counter-productive for me, although I suspect this varies with the individual.
    – Rophuine
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 0:24
  • It worked for me. I like it. Sold. At least until a better answer comes up. :)
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 2:33

Dit da jow is a classic. There are a variety of recipes, each supposedly for a different purpose.

The stuff we use at the school seems pretty good for reducing bruising, and is a mild pain-reliever on par with Arnica Montana (neither is as good as Tylenol, IMO).

I've seen it available from an acupuncturist I tried once, but I didn't get any from her.


Most places I've trained have seen bruises and soreness as a badge of honour. Perhaps modern sports medicine would suggest ice, pain killers, and anti-inflamatories, but as I understand it, your question is about traditional techniques.

Conditioning has often been a component where I've trained. Beat on the makiwara until your hands are too tough to hurt. Punch each other in the stomach until you toughen up enough that it doesn't hurt. Do pushups on your knucks until it doesn't hurt. Legs sore after kicking drill? Do more drills tomorrow until it doesn't hurt anymore.

I've seen some people use various herbal ointments to help develop calouses to prevent hurting and to do more damage. But I think that's just a way of speeding up the toughening process.

But in the end, most of the "traditional" tecniques I've heard of all centre around toughening up until it just doesn't hurt anymore. Nothing about potions or lotions to prevent you from hurting.

  • I can say we do this at my Taekwondo club. Conditioning by being kicked and pushups on the knuckles in particular.
    – jhsowter
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 3:36
  • I was not talking about pain from contact, but pain from hard work: deep, long stretches, and movements to which the body is not accustomed. I'll edit my question to make it clearer.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 2:26
  • Fair enough Trevoke. But I think my answer still stands. As my old instructor used to say "the only way to get good at something is to do more of it". Which is to say: keep doing those stretches until it doesn't hurt anymore. I'm not saying this is the best way to train. I'm just saying it's the traditional martial arts (macho) way.
    – nedlud
    Commented Jun 18, 2012 at 23:18
  • @nedlud Yes, in a couple of years, I probably won't get quite as sore when doing martial arts for seven hours a day; in the meanwhile, I want to know how I can keep doing it.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 1:54
  • @Trevoke if it's so you can keep training now, I'd forget about "traditional" tecniques. A nurse I train with swears by pain killers, and anti-inflamatories :) You can even use the proactivley before training.
    – nedlud
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 0:44

This might be in a similar vein to the Dit da jow mentioned by GraduateOfAcmeU, I have heard that Tiger Balm works wonders and have used it from time to time myself as well. In general its one of those remedies that tends to work best on some things, but not on others. For example, the Arnica montana gels seem to work to help bruises heal a bit faster, but the Tiger Balm seems to work best for general soreness.

If you pay attention to the ingredients you will notice that a lot of the traditional remedies tend to have some of the same ingredients as modern remedies such as Icy Hot so even some of the modern remedies arguably have a long history behind them.

  • 'buries' => 'burns' ? Thanks for the answer!
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 15:07
  • @Trevoke - 'buries' => 'bruises' My spelling is off today. :/
    – anonymous
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 15:26
  • Tiger balm does work wonders (though it's as expensive as gold). Capsaicin, e.g. rubbing a habanero on the skin, works wonders too, though you had better be careful with coming anywhere close to your face afterwards, even after washing hands.
    – Damon
    Commented Jun 30, 2012 at 21:32

Dit da jow is the traditional liniment of Chinese martial arts. Arnica cream is a popular Western herbal analog. More than a few higher-level martial artists lovingly brew or compound their own secret/proprietary recipes for these.

I've used both jow and arnica successfully. I've come to suspect that the exact formulation and ingredients of the liniment don't matter nearly so much as the massaging action of application. In this case, any hand lotion or massage oil would do just as / almost as well. But many people swear by specific lotions' perceived analgesic, thermal, or herbal properties, whether of jow and arnica or widely-available brands like Bengay, Icy Hot, Tiger Balm, Mentholatum, and Aspercreme.

Though decidedly "non-cultural," someone mentioned Tylenol (acetaminophen). While a successful pain-killer, you might do better with ibuprofen, which also has anti-inflamatory properties. Many athletes (martial and non-martial alike) consume 400-600mg post-training or post-performance to combat pain and joint inflammation. In addition to icing and liniments/massage, I've found this very successful.


You should read "A Tooth from the Tiger's Mouth: How to Treat Your Injuries with Powerful Healing Secrets of the Great Chinese Warrior" by Tom Bisio. This book is about healing from the perspective of the Chinese martial arts and generally covers topics in sports medicine.

The topics discussed in the book include:

  • Ice is for dead people. It may reduce pain and inflammation, but it prevents injuries from healing properly. On this issue, apparently the originator of the RICE treatment protocol has changed his mind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RICE_(medicine)
  • injury classification covering sprains, fractures, strains
  • acupressure
  • massage
  • stretching and strengthening exercises
  • diet
  • major classes of lotions and liniments, and some recipes if you have access to the herbs
  • soaks, poultices, plasters
  • moxibustion
  • treatment for particular injuries

For general (rather than localized) soreness, I am not sure there is much guidance available other than resting, eating well, and continuing to do exercises.

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