Please watch https://youtu.be/ylB5EXnT3SA?t=174. This is from the TV series The Americans, Season 6 Episode 5.

Paige starts biting — forcefully, it appears — into her dad's arm at 2:55 until 3.01. In this total of 6 seconds. you can see that Philip feels her bite, but he doesn't even try to stop her biting until the 6 seconds pass. Is this realistic? How can an martial arts expert train to withstand this bite?

Unquestionably, most untrained adults would flinch as soon as they're bitten so forcefully! They couldn't withstand a second of the bite!

  • maybe I've understand what do you mean. If you are asking about why MA-training people feel less pain while being in sparring, than, please, reword your question. And, in such case, example above becomes slightly irrelevant - because sudden bite is somewhat another. Jul 1, 2021 at 9:28
  • @MacacoBranco This question was indeed asked before on this same 6 second clip, downvoted, unanswered, and roomba-ed. I personally think it's fine.
    – mattm
    Jul 1, 2021 at 14:06
  • @user2501323 If it's about individual pain tolerance and willpower, then that's an answer. Just because biting is not normally trained in (your) martial arts does not mean the question is off-topic.
    – mattm
    Jul 1, 2021 at 14:07
  • I see. I'll try to combine and formulate then Jul 1, 2021 at 14:08
  • Related (except this one asks about the elbow strikes): martialarts.stackexchange.com/q/10345/70
    – slugster
    Jul 2, 2021 at 13:49

3 Answers 3


If you've watched some, for example, MMA fights, you may notice that fighters are generally tolerant to pain and injures got in process. And yes, it's really so - just because high adrenaline levels do suppress pain. Level of suppression depends on genetics and hoard of other things.

But what you've described is a "sudden bite". No previous adrenaline. In such situation, you feel it as you feel it - as a bite. Of course, some people may have more natural pain tolerance - but it's natural, not trained. Of course, you may try to train it a bit, in some obvious way - like hardening shins with a wooden makivara.

Generally, I don't think that you would succeed in such training - just because bite is too piercing to just suppress it with your skin.


You may think, that doing thinks like a chemical scorch on your hand will make you more tolerant to pain - but your question is asking about sudden pain - where you don't have time to concentrate and prepare.

  • 1
    Training muscles and the ability to strain as many fibres as possible at once sure helps to mitigate damage, though. Sure, it hurts, but so what? Pain and pain tolerance are mainly a thing of the mind and can be ignored with enough willpower even without adrenaline Jul 1, 2021 at 14:49
  • @PhilipKlöcking My sense of the extreme Shaolin hardening techniques is that they rely on fibre strain. (You see it combined with breathing work in regard to the abdomen specifically.) I've watched monks break spears thrust against their their throats, but I doubt that would be possible with a razor sharp spear point. Sledgehammer is applied though a medium such as a concrete block, but never directly to the body, and certainly not to the head. (Shaolin groin hardening for men involves destroying the organ, and yet some young men still seem interested in it!;)
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 9, 2021 at 21:20

Not unrealistic at all, imho, in that Philip is highly trained fighter.

  • The bite Paige delivers is not determinative. Only pain is inflicted.

There is no serious risk of loss of function of limb, nor of death.

  • Sometimes you have to take a hit to prevail, or other types of damage to prevail

In a knife fight, I'd trade a wicked gash to my forearm in exchange for being able to penetrate the opponent's abdomen with my own blade. (I don't carry a knife for precisely this reason—better not to engage in a knife fight:)

  • Philip has Paige in a chokehold, an advantaged submission position

Strategically, Philip is correct to maintain the hold despite any potential damage from the bite.

To make that bite work against a serious fighter, you'd probably have to tear out a chunk of flesh, and even that likely wouldn't stop them, or a guarantee they would give up the hold.

The only possible way for Paige to prevail with a bite in that situation would be to sever the tendons inside the elbow, which is extremely unlikely, if even possible.

It may not be a question so much of "How can you withstand a forceful bite" but "Must a martial artist be able to withstand a forceful bite, and when is it advantageous to do so?"


I've watched this scene a few more times, and it's very good choreography, representative of the better work over the past few decades.

Notice how relaxed Philip is during the grappling—Royce Gracie had a similar looseness, usually used to supreme effect.

My guess is they brought in a stunt coordinator or choreographer or consultant with some military experience, familiar with Spetsnaz training and Russian wrestling, because that's Philip's background.

The fight sequence also has a narrative arc for Paige in particular, a hallmark of high level fight choreography, where it's part of her character development, and she gains a realization over the course of the fight, broken up into dramatic beats.

The way Philip anticipates Paige's movements, such as when she tries to kick back into his foot and he's already moving his leg back indicates the character has done this a million times.

  • When Philip realizes Paige is biting his arm, he looks more annoyed than anything, and conveys with his face that he's just going to have to suffer it.

Releasing the grip would be arguably more unrealistic, especially in context of Philip's background.

Pressure of the rear naked choke would likely also diminish potential bite strength, and jamming the muscle even tighter into the mouth would be potentially advantageous. [This part just speculation, based on physiological assumptions.]

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