Getting Comfortable with Discomfort in the Martial Arts

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort in the Martial ArtsIn Jiu-jitsu, there is a lot of close contact in our training. We’re always in each other’s personal space, which can be uncomfortable for people just starting out. Just yesterday, I was demonstrating a defense in which I was prone on my belly while my attacker was kneeling between my legs, holding my wrists down with his body weight pinning my torso. Oh and my demonstration partner was over 200lbs too. For most people, this would feel uncomfortable between the invasion of their personal space and the feeling of being immobilized physically. But if we’re to learn how to defend ourselves, it’s absolultely vital to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you let the feeling of discomfort take over, it can create a panicked state, a desperate desire to get out. In this state of mind, it’s hard to focus and see opportunities that can help facilitate your escape. Without the ability to think critically about the best options for escape, you’re more likely to flail about using all your strength up in the struggle. If you’re bigger and/or stronger than your attacker, this may work out, but if you’re at a strength disadvantage, you’re more likely to tire yourself, further limiting your ability to escape.

Overcoming Personal Space Issues

Most people coming into an art like Jiu-jitsu are more or less comfortable but for those who aren’t for whatever reason, but are still motivated to learn and train, it’s an important first step in getting comfortable with discomfort. To be able to train, you have to get used to being so regularly. The best way to work through this is to have people to work with who are respectful of your space. If physical contact is very uncomfortable for you, make sure you let your instructor and training partners know what you need to be ready for it. As an instructor, I can usually tell when new students have discomfort with personal space. I’ll encourage their training partners to let their partner know how they’re going to grab them and before they do so, ask them if they’re ready for the grab. Over time, as the student has more and more close quarter experiences on their own terms, they’ll feel more and more comfortable, at which point the student can expand their comfort level, increasing the intensity of the engagements.

Overcoming Pain

What is mild pain for some, is extreme pain for others. It all depends on our bodies and what we’re used to. In martial arts training, you experience varying degrees of pain the more involved your training becomes. In a good school, the day-to-day pain you experience in training is not injurious. In Jiu-jitsu, it can come in the form of strikes to motor points, pressure to pressure points, stress to joints in joint lock applications, etc. When done correctly, these things will cause manageable levels of pain but usually not injury. When you first start out though, the pain seems a lot worse because you’re not used to it. Naturally, I encourage students to go a bit easier on newer students who are receiving strikes, pressure point applications or joint locks for the first little while, increasing intensity as they get used to it. After a while, you start to mentally disconnect from the pain, not reacting as strongly as you did in the beginning. It’s not that it doesn’t hurt, it’s just that you become mentally able to take it, knowing that it’s not going to injure. This is a great training skill, but even more importantly, a self-defense skill. Being more comfortable with pain, you’re more able to tolerate pain that may afflict you in a real situation. You can mentally shrug off hard hits that may leave a bruise leaving it to be dealt with at a later time when your safety is not at stake.

The mental toughness that comes from overcoming mental and physical discomfort is valuable not only in the martial arts, but in every day life as well. It helps you stay calm and focused when stress levels run high, whether it’s in a crisis situation at work, an unexpected terrain change when snowboarding, or when dealing with a traffic collision.

Now over to you. Have you noticed any changes in your mental toughness after taking up training in the martial arts? How has this manifested in your life? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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