Pain is the greatest
teacher, but no one
wants to go to his
What Can Injuries Teach Us?
When an adult begins the study of martial arts, they have
two primary questions. The ﬁrst one is, “Can I do this without
getting hurt?” The second one is, “Can I do this without
Everyone knows that most kids are fearless and, with a few
exceptions, aren’t afraid to try anything that looks fun and
exciting. Adults, on the other hand, are usually self conscious,
and tend to gravitate toward things that they feel that
they are good at, or at least could be good at. While kids
instinctively see in martial arts the potential for having fun,
adults weigh the potential beneﬁts against the potential
danger of injury.
Getting hurt while practicing martial arts is usually a taboo
topic. Certainly no school owner wants to discuss the
potential for injury at length with a student or prospective
student. Everyone insists that they run a very safe program
and, on the whole, the martial arts industry is much safer
than it was in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. That era was known
for bare knuckle ﬁghts and long, bloody workouts. Training
methods back then would make any modern exercise
physiologist cringe. There was no consideration of heart rate,
no warm up, no cool down, potentially dangerous ballistic
stretching, classes that when on for hours without hydrating
the body and routine hyper-extending of joints. These days,
personal safety really is a concern and, while no training
environment is completely risk-free, today’s schools and dojos
take the fundamentals of safe training very seriously.
That said, it’s still ridiculous to believe that you can practice
martial arts for years without experiencing an injury. Anyone,
in any style, that has practiced at a high level of intensity
for ten, ﬁfteen, twenty years or more has experienced their
share of injuries. And it’s not just a matter of what goes
with the territory. I believe that experiencing injuries along
the way is a very important part of your practice, part of
your development as a martial artist. We have all heard that
a life without struggle is barely worth remembering, and
that what does not kill you makes you stronger. Indeed, it is
living through the bumps and bruises of practice that help
us live through the bumps and bruises of life. It is feeling
the locks — really applied — and the kicks and punches that
land squarely on their mark, that helps us gain respect for
our art. We realize that these techniques actually work, and
we begin to understand their effectiveness. We’ve all seen
countless ﬁlms and TV shows where the hero and the villain
are engaged in a battle to the death and each are able to
withstand 5-10 minutes of the most powerful punches, kicks
and throws that the other can dish out! We start to become
desensitized to the power that a good technique possesses.
Getting hit with one good technique — even moderately
executed, helps to remind us that people don’t just bounce
back up, ready for more! In the real world, most ﬁghts, most
physical confrontations are over in seconds, not minutes.
If you didn’t feel
the power of
you may not
how effective it
Fighting through pain builds endurance;
Fear of pain builds focus
There are wide discrepancies in the way each individual feels
pain. Some people have very high pain thresholds, and are
able to withstand incredible amounts of physical discomfort,
while others complain and crumble under the slightest
twinge. It is precisely the intense physical nature of our
Pain to a large
degree is a
In martial arts
pain is used
as a catalyst
to help the
in the moment.
the thought of
pain is enough
to keep the
mind from being
practice that helps to strengthen the martial artist’s tolerance
for pain. Time and time again we see men and women begin
their practice with a fairly fragile constitution. But within
a couple of years, these same people become physically,
mentally and emotionally stronger. They can endure more.
The limit that they push themselves to gets higher and
higher. When they started, a mere bump might give them
pause but, a couple years later, there they are taking reverse
punches and throws in practice and just shaking it off.
In a very real sense, it’s the intensity and the perceived level
of danger that aid the martial artist’s sense of being in the
moment. It is your healthy respect for the techniques, and
what they could do to you, that help you to be here now!
Think of it this way; sometimes you have an absolutely
dreadful day, a dreadful week, when everything in your
world goes wrong. You’re under pressure at work, your
personal relationship is on the rocks, your ﬁnances are shot.
It’s not only raining, it’s pouring bad news. Yet you discover,
time and again, that one of the most helpful things that you
can do to clear your mind and shake off your troubles is to
go to practice. Why is this? Because practice pulls you out of
yourself, it removes you from the turmoil of what happened
before and what might happen next and what someone did
and what you’ll have to say to someone else later. You leave
all of that behind when you bow in. The world, and your
life, is still going on, and you’ll still have to settle all your
problems, but that’s later — tomorrow — next. For now, you
step onto the mats, get off the the daily rollercoaster and
ﬁnd yourself squarely in the moment.
When you’re sparring at a very fast pace, there’s an
immanent danger of being hit, kicked or choked. In this
situation, your mind has to let go of all its thoughts, all its
stress; it has to relax and focus one pointedly in the moment.
Otherwise, you will get hit!
But it’s not the act of sparring that focuses your mind. It
is the understanding that you could be hurt if you don’t
concentrate. It’s the injuries that really strengthen your
respect for practice. You remember back to when you
didn’t concentrate on making a tight ﬁst and you had to
live with a sprained ﬁnger for a week. You remember your
mind wandering and walking into a kick that bruised a
rib. You gain new respect for concentration, and you gain
tremendous conﬁdence in the techniques themselves. You
will forever have greater respect for the sidekick that you
were hit with, and consequently greater respect for your own
sidekick, and for the art itself!
If the truth be told,
most people are
able to withstand
so much more than
Deal with injury; Don’t run from it
Most physical injuries heal rather quickly, but emotional and
psychological scars can last a long time. An injury may not
be the direct fault of the partner you were working with
at the time, but you will probably ﬁnd yourself avoiding
practicing with them for a while once the injury heals. Some
injuries can steal your practice completely if you allow it.
For example; a student practices for many years without any
serious injury. One day, he falls poorly and injures a shoulder.
As he waits out the healing process, he starts to believe that
practice is too dangerous; he’s too old to do be doing this.
He’s forgotten how many years up until now he’s practiced
without an injury! Human beings have very short memories.
When we’re confronted with sickness or injury, we are very
easily persuaded that we will be sick or hurt for the rest of
To be a martial artist is to deal with injuries. The best advice
is not to miss class when you are hurt, but to learn how to
modify your practice. After all, this is more than punching,
Don’t seek injuries
out through poor
but when they ﬁnd
you, do not resent
them, learn from
get in the
way of your
kicking and throwing. We’re also developing sensitivity,
awareness and creativity. If your arm or hands are hurt,
work on kicks, or just footwork. If your leg is injured, work
on hand techniques. If you can’t stand at all, work on your
grappling. Even if your injury is so severe that you cannot
practice at all, at least go and take notes. You will be amazed
at what you can learn from the edge of the mat.
Don’t allow safety gear to hinder
your technique or control
Pads, gloves, helmets and other safety gear are all beneﬁcial
inventions and should be used most of the time, but they
have their drawbacks. Many people never learn good control
because they rely too heavily on their safety equipment.
Gloves can hinder the development of good technique,
making it difﬁcult to make a good ﬁst or strike with the
correct part of the hand. Students who have only practiced
with pads think nothing of hitting an elbow, knee, or
punching the back of the head. In real life, this is terrible
technique and should be avaoided. Practice gear can also
limit your ability to grab.
On the other hand, in striving for complete realism, some
people claim, “if practice isn’t full contact, it is not real.” Let’s
be honest — if you can practice full contact and still have a
partner to practice with tomorrow, then your techniques are
not effective enough. Practicing hard does not mean trying
to injure your partner before he or she injures you.
Fear of injury helps us to stay mentally focused. This is a good
thing. An actual injury teaches us respect for the practice and
for good control of its techniques. This is also a good thing.
Control helps us practice the most efﬁcient techniques safely.
Control allows us to develop the sensitivity to know just how
much is enough and how much is too much. Injuries are best
kept to a minimum but, regardless, years from now, you will
not remember the injury. What you will remember is how
you got hurt, and the memories of the experience and the
stories that grow out of them will be something that both
you and others can learn from.
Practice hard, practice safe. But don’t run from injury. Learn
Mark began his martial arts practice in his
mid twenties. Always very athletic he was
in as good of shape as anyone you would meet. He was
strong and fast and the years of playing a variety of sports
helped to develop cat-like reﬂexes. He was unusually ﬂexible
– perfectly suited to the practice of martial arts. Mark would
grasp techniques quickly and then rep them thousands of
times. He worked harder than anyone in the dojo and, as you
might imagine, in just a couple of years he became one of
the strongest students in both forms and sparring.
His success appeared to come from his constant hard work,
but really it was his passion for practice that was his strength.
After a long hard day, Mark couldn’t wait to get to the dojo
and start sweating. Physical practice was his sanctuary, his
way of recharging his battery. The sweat washed away the
stress of the day.
Mark continued his practice week in and week out, and
by his ﬁfth anniversary of practice he couldn’t imagine life
without martial arts. Mark had taken many tests in the last
ﬁve years but his biggest test was yet to come.
heal quickly, but
tend to linger. If
you get injured, get
back in class as
soon as possible
and battle your
demon while it is
control over the
body is the ﬁrst
step to discipline
and control over
It was Saturday afternoon and Mark and Craig were free
sparring at a very intense pace; a drill that both men
had done many times before. About 25 minutes into the
practice Mark attacked with a front punch/reverse punch
combination. Craig side stepped the ﬁrst punch and
answered with a powerful sweep to Mark’s front leg, just
as Mark was shifting his weight for his reverse punch. The
sweep was executed with speed and power and Mark hit the
ground immediately. It only took a moment for everyone
in the school to realize that Mark was seriously hurt. The
technique that swept him off his feet damaged his ACL (the
supporting tendon). Mark would need rest, followed by
aggressive physical therapy. The whole process could take
2-4 months. The pain in his knee was bad enough, but the
thought of going 4 months without practice was unbearable.
Mark’s initial reaction was to deny the severity of the injury.
He insisted that it was not that bad and that he would be
healed in a couple of weeks. Then, once he admitted to
himself how badly injured he was, he thought that he would
never practice again, that his martial arts career was over. He
rationalized that practice was just too dangerous and it was
risky to continue with a compromised knee.
He decided to go in and talk to the master and say his
goodbyes. After listening to Mark, the master asked “How
long have you practiced?”
Mark responded, “Over ﬁve years sir.”
“And have you had any major injuries besides this?”
“No, just a couple of bumps and bangs but nothing serious.”
“So,” said the Master, “for ﬁve years you have practiced
without incident and one accident makes practice too risky?”
Mark saw his point and happily replied, “I really don’t want
to quit. I’ll be back as soon as I am better.”
The Master responded, “Why wait until your body heals? You
can come and watch classes and take notes.” Mark smiled
The next week he attended three classes and then stopped
coming. After two more weeks the Master called Mark to
inquire why he was not in class. Mark responded, “Sir, it is
just too painful to see everyone practicing and not to be able
to be out there. I am just the kind of person that likes to do it
100% or not at all.
Master responded, “I see. For the last ﬁve years have you
been practicing your breathing exercises and meditation
Mark said, “Excuse me?”
The master said again, in a gruff voice, “Have you been
practicing your breathing exercises and meditation since you
Mark responded, “No sir I haven’t.”
“Well then, you never were practicing 100%, but I still
allowed you to physically practice. Maybe this injury is the
lesson you need to take your practice to the next level. Up
to this point, you have seen practice as a physical discipline,
naively overlooking the internal aspects. This injury affords
you time to practice at another level. I want you to begin
breathing and meditating every day and come to class
consistently 3 times a week. Bring pen and paper, take notes
on the lessons and record what you observe.”
Some things can
only be learned
from the outside
looking in. Every
now and then,
spend some time at
the edge of the mat.
Two and a half months later, Mark’s knee was completely
healed, stronger than ever. After his ﬁrst class, the Master
asked, “So Mark, what did you learn from this test?”
Mark replied, “I learned how important practice is to me and
I learned that practice is much more than I initially thought it
was. There are subtleties in movements I was not seeing and
there were whole areas of my practice that I was completely
neglecting. Now I am able to see my practice extend into
every area of my life. It seems that without this injury I
would have continued to practice for years with a limited
And the master smiling said ,“Your injury was just one
example of good news bad news – who knows?”
“Long ago, there was a farmer who lived in China. One day, several
wild horses crashed through the gates of his farm, causing a great
deal of damage. “Oh no!” cried the neighbors, “This is terrible news!”
The old farmer shrugged, “Good news, bad news—who knows?”
The next day, the horses came back and the farmer’s twenty-year-old-
son managed to capture one. All the neighbors ran over to admire it,
“Oh, how wonderful!” they cried, “What good news!”
“Good news, bad news—who knows?” shrugged the farmer.
Several days later, the farmer’s son, attempting to break the steed,
was thrown and his leg badly broken. The neighbors rushed over,
peering at the young man in bed, “Oh, this is awful news!” they cried.
The farmer shrugged, “Good news, bad news, who knows?”
A few weeks later, the Chinese army came by, taking
all the area’s young men for war raging in the south.
They couldn’t take the young man with the broken leg… “
Write your own Eulogy
The topic this month is to take personal injury to the
extreme. Write your own eulogy. This is a common
assignment in many self-improvement courses and, because
of the focus it demands, is a very powerful exercise.
Remember, you must do the work to get the beneﬁts.
Everyone is going to die someday and, at death, the tendency
is to remember one’s life. Sit down and pretend that that
that far-off day has arrived and that everyone is gathered to
reﬂect upon your time here.
Be both speciﬁc and all-encompassing. Address each area of
your life and its accomplishments. Stretch yourself and write
as if you reached your fullest potential. What did you do?
What did you leave that will carry on because of you?
examine their life
as they approach
death. The truly
wise examine their
life while they are
To truly be
mind and body
must work in
Distinguishing between Meditation and
Martial arts are based on the development of mind, body
and spirit. If the body is injured, we need to modify our
practice, not further aggravate the situation. Many people
feel that if they are injured, they are unable to practice. One
problem with this line of reasoning is that they’re separating
meditation from physical practice. It is as impossible to
separate meditation from practice as it is to separate your
mind from your body. Both are a part of the total You,
and in that relationship they transcend their uniqueness.
Similarly, meditation and physical technique are both a part
of the total art and, within that relationship transcend their
As a martial artist you should be meditating daily.
Remember that meditation is not a breathing exercise,
not an afﬁrmation or visualization, not at all the same as
watching your thoughts or sharpening your senses. All these
are internal practices and should be used regularly, but all
are designed for speciﬁc results. Just as you wouldn’t confuse
a knife hand with a sidekick, understand that there are many
different internal techniques. Each has its purpose. You have
learned many of these techniques but always remember that
meditation is more than a mere technique. Meditation is the
foundation of all true martial arts.
To be a martial artist you must be meditating regularly.
Review Module One Lesson 12 for clariﬁcation.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,
The Greatest Minds and Ideas of all Time,