Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fear and Pain

This is a topic I said I would discuss some time ago and it occurs to me that I have not yet followed up.  Pain tolerance and your pain threshold are important things to understand.  I think we must also be aware of the fact that our reactions to pain are in large part an emotional response.  Very few people respond to pain in an analytical way.  

Why does that make a difference?

For most people emotions are difficult to control.  Fear being one of the really big ones where control can be lost quickly.  In some psychology, fear is said to be one of the most primal emotions and greatest if not our single motivator.  Not sure I agree with all that but I can tell you that for me fear is a big motivator.  If we look inside I think we can all find fear as one of the root feelings associated with many of our actions.  That fear might come in the form of fear of loss of life, fear of loss of a job, fear of embarrassment, fear of rejection, and for guys a big one is fear of failure. 

When I say fear I am not talking about a paralyzing sense of panic.  Just the spectrum of small fears that nag at you day to day perhaps all the way up to but just before the panic stages.  Fear is just very common.  In fact, I have heard that stage fright is the number one fear for most people.

Analyzing your Fears

So why are these things so scary?  What is it we are afraid of specifically?  I think if we start to really examine our fears we can make them unravel.  Pull them apart till we get to the core of the issue and then logically weight the value of those fears.

I am going to focus on the fear of pain because I think it is a far less realized fear than is addressed in all of the "My Biggest Fears" lists I have found online.  Example, I work with an instructor that lives about 45 minutes from my home.  It is difficult for me to drive there every week but I try to go as often as possible.  This gentleman has been studying the martial arts for over 40 years.  He has worked with instructors like Ajarn Chai Sirisute (Muay Thai), Dr. Maung Gyi (Bando), Morihei Ueshiba (Aikido), and many many more.  I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with this man.

Over the years I have invited several martial artists, mostly black belts, to his class.  I always try to go with them to introduce them and also to make sure they have someone to work with since I sent them.  The instructors classes are based primarily on Lua but of course are colored by his many experiences and training over the years and in other styles.  One thing that is fairly common place in class is pain.  Not enough to make a guy cry like a baby but he teaches people about violence.  That includes things like biting, joint manipulations, striking with power, etc...  I think that with the exception of perhaps two students I have never in my near 20 years working with this man had anyone go to his class more than once.  Why is that?  Fear and Pain.  More to the point, fear perhaps of pain. 

Some of these black belts are high ranking too.  Third and forth degree, years of training, some in great shape and others in terrible shape.  The only students that I know that have stayed are either military trained or have been students of mine.  That is not to say that I have some special corner on the market for preparing people for this class but that I try to be realistic about how violence in the real world is going to happen. 

Why do we Fear Pain?

What is there to fear?  I think that in large part we associate pain with injury and injury with death.  Pain is a brief look into our mortality.  That may seem like a big jump for some of you but look inside and see where the path goes for you?  Pain is unpleasant and a great deal of pain can kill you.  Indirectly but dead is dead.  Pain can put you in shock and your body can respond to shock by shutting down.  Rare but possible.  However, Pain in small manageable bits can be enough to improve your threshold.  To make the kind of pain you can withstand more bareable and to challenge the top end of what you can push through.

I hope that no one ever has to deal with pain from violence.  If you do feel pain, many times the adrenaline dump we experience with violence will mask the pain.  However, that is just a mask, the pain will make itself felt eventually.  Pain is unpleasant but it is not a show stopper.  Or at least it should not be.  Chronic on going pain such as from serious injury or illness can wear down a person's tolerance of pain.  But think about the pain of training for a big athletic event.  You cannot tell me that people who train for the Olympics do so without pain.  If they did I think they would fail. 


Suffering is a natural part of life.  We experience it at some point or another, that I think is unavoidable.  So why do we work so hard to avoid it?  Why work so hard to avoid pain when an opportunity to train with one of the world's greatest martial artists is available.  It is unpleasant but human beings grow through adversity.  So by running the other way from pain, fear, and suffering we are actually avoiding growth.

I don't know if you believe in the Bible, frankly even if you do not there is wisdom in its pages.  Example:
Romans 5:3-4  ...glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 
Looking at human history there are many times where people find growth through suffering.  Christianity happens to be a very good example of that very growth.  In some of the most harsh conditions in the world we can find pockets of Christian faith that thrive despite the adversity of being executed publicly for their faith when discovered by the local government.

Pain is no fun but pushing through the it, pushing through the fear associated with it can lead to great improvement.  Not just in athletic ability for those of us who train in the arts but in character too.  We have all heard the expression that pain builds character.  If it is true than the converse must be true as well.  A life of ease must ruin character.  Perhaps...

Not the most organized post but it works for now.  I may go back and edit this a few times.  Sorry if it rambles.  


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