Friday, October 30, 2015

The Language of Pain


Every martial artist, regardless of style, has to form a very close and personal relationship with pain. Pain is often times viewed as a barrier that needs to be surpassed in order to raise the level of our technique. In many respects pain is a teacher, helping us identify the different problems within our art. Bruises left behind after sparring can be viewed as a map that outlines the weaknesses in our defense, dull pains can tell us when something isn't aligned, sharp pains can warn us to slow down our training. After training long enough, we begin to understand that each type of pain is as a letter of the alphabet, spelling out our journey of training.

As a martial artist, pain is a crucial language because it's the method the body uses to help us prevent injury. At times injury can also be a strict instructor, and at other times it can be a thief, attempting to disqualify us from the battle that matters most. Many young warriors are seduced into danger by their own ego and attempt to ignore pain, later finding themselves retired early for not heeding to the whispering warnings of the body. A true martial artist is first and foremost a survivalist who understands the language of pain, yet navigates carefully the valley of damage.

Generally as an internal artist, pain - aside from sore muscles - is more related to something that is not properly aligned in the structure. An ache in the knee means your weight is not in the right place. A kink in the thumb is an indication of a poorly executed palm technique. All of our martial arts teachers will do their best to warn us of such hazards, but experience is the only real way to know how something is supposed to feel...or not feel.

We live in a society that almost completely contradicts the lifestyle of a martial artist, seeking to make everything more comfortable and convenient. This only nullifies our senses because inconvenience is just another form of pain or discomfort that can help us map out our situation. The media pushes concepts of faster computers, easy access entertainment and softer beds. But if martial arts is truly the mirror of reality, then, the softer our lifestyles become, the harder our life will be.

A man who is forced to walk to work will have to adapt many new habits to meet with the problem. He will have to wake up early, exercise more and make better use of his time. So his car problem in many ways will turn out to be a health solution. Each discomfort or inconvenience we are faced with is just another opportunity to improve the quality of our life through strengthening of the spirit. True happiness is not intuitive and the route is often the opposite direction of our mood. By giving into our mood, we lose control of our development and feed our spirit laziness.

This is the reason I've always felt strongly that everyone should partake in martial arts at least long enough to understand the meaning of progress. All forms of progress are preceded with pain or discomfort of some sort. When we avoid those difficulties, we all together avoid progress. As for the martial artist, it is important to steer clear of things that may damage us, but there is little to no advantage in avoiding challenges.

People often describe this concept by coining the phrase, "No pain, no gain." But unfortunately many of us can and are experiencing pain without making any gains at all. In fact we find ourselves faced with all kinds of pains from frustration, strife, disappointment, hopelessness, anger and misunderstanding. Some people live their lives in a loop, doomed to repeat the same conversations and debates with different people for the rest of their lives. Pain can only teach us if we are listening and willing to learn from it. Otherwise it becomes a wound that will not heal, leading to a place of permanent damage.

Identifying pain is not as easy as one may believe. Many times when we have a pain in our leg or neck, the root of the problem is in the back or the hips. You may continue to try to rub ointment on the sore areas and never understand where the soreness stems from. You may be trying to deal with your bad temper, but it continues to reemerge in different areas of your life. It's because the root of the problem is not your temper and your temper is merely a side effect from improper alignment elsewhere.

In the bible the Israelites roamed around the desert for 40 years, but the trip was only supposed to be 11 days. Their unwillingness to submit and understand caused them to loop through the same pains again and again. Whether it's in terms of your training, career or relationships, God is speaking to you through both blessings and discomfort. If you are willing to heed to those warnings and follow directions, you will find that all of your misfortunes are just a journey to wisdom, joy and ultimately power. If you ignore the warnings, you will continue to experience the same frustrations in different forms for as long as you choose.

I'm assuming many of us are pretty good at listening to the pains of the body by now, but how skilled are we at identifying the pains of the spirit? Are there obstacles that continue to manifest in different forms in your life? Or have you convinced yourself that you have bad luck and can never catch a break? Those who have an ear, let them hear.