Friday, October 22, 2010

What use is pain?

In my originally conceived how-to book on the tactics and techniques of Jan de Jong jujutsu (aka Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu jujutsu) I intended to include a 'little science' to support said instruction. When writing about joint-locking techniques (kansetsu waza)I wanted a paragraph or two explaining why pain is experienced as the joint is moved towards, but not necessarily beyond, the range of movement of the joint. The research into pain to provide this paragraph or two resulted into a separate chapter in and of itself. This chapter is now intended to be included in my books tentatively entitled and dedicated to 'Injury Science' and 'Beyond Fight-or-Flight' and is (today) receiving a fleeting mention in 'Throwing Techniques and Takedown Techniques of ALL Martial Arts' - book #1.

The research into pain turned out to be fascinating, revealing a hitherto unknown treasure trove of information. Apparently we've learnt more about pain in the past 10 years than we have in the past 1,000. Information which broadens and deepens our understanding of pain and can be applied to similar effect within the disciplines studying the tactics and techniques associated with interpersonal violence.

'What use is pain?' is the title of an article presented in the British Journal of Anaesthesia (2005) by T.P. Nash, Department of Pain Medicine, Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Liverpool, UK. 'Ask any medical student, trainee anaesthetist, or patient 'what use is pain?' an they will tell you it is protective, or it is a warning.' Nash can add martial artist and particularly martial arts/self defence/close combat instructors to his list of people who provide this answer to this question.

He starts out by referring to the International Association for the Study of Pain ( and explains that 'in no way [do they] suggest that pain has a use or is protective.' Myth number one exalted on high already challenged within the first paragraph of Nash's article.

Nash explains that Galen (2nd century AD) was the first to suggest that pain had a use: '"The third aim of nature in the distribution of nerves is the perception of that which can cause harm" (De Usus Partium).' He also refers to Sydenham in the 17th century who reckoned that pain caused reflex movement for retraction and flight. He also refers to Leriche in 1939 who considered pain to be no use at all. He quotes Leriche as saying:
'Defence reaction?' Fortunate warming? But as a matter of fact, the majority of diseases, even the most serious, attack without warning. When pain develops ... It is too late. ... The pain has only made more distressing and more sad a situation already lost.'
To cut a long story short (something my blogs appear to be incapable of doing) Nash concludes:
If pain had any important use, then surely we should experience it with every injury. But pain is not always felt immediately after injury. Beecher found 65% of severely wounded soldiers and 20% of civilians undergoing major surgery had little or no pain for hours or days after the injury. Indeed, 37% of injured patients attending an emergency clinic felt no pain for many minutes or even hours after the injury. Clearly, it is not a reliable informant. ... Pain is not even an essential part of the withdrawal reflex, which happens even before pain is felt [(Hervey, GR. The functions of pain. In Holden AV, Winlow W, eds. The Neurobiology of Pain. 1984).
Beechers article is fascinating and will be referred to within my book(s) and maybe the subject of another blog. Nash goes on to say:
Pain normally produces strong aversive responses. However, dogs can be trained to seek painful electric shocks that normally produce strong aversive behaviour, when they receive a reward of food after each shock. It is clear that pain is involved in learning and memory, normally producing aversion but if the reward is good enough, it may lead to the animal seeking the pain source to obtain the reward.
This is the argument that Greg Downey was making in reference to the animals/competitors of the Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments in his 'Producing Pain: Techniques and Technologies in No-Holds-Barred Fighting' (Social Studies of Science 37/2 April 2007) which was discussed in a previous blog of mine.
If our evidence that pain has a use, and is protective and a warning, is based on knowledge about congenital or hereditary insensitivity to pain, then we must accept that the evidence does not support this view, or is severely flawed.
If our view of the use of pain is severely flawed, what does this say about the tactics and techniques which are developed within the marital arts and other close combat disciplines based on our 'understanding' of the use of pain in the human species?

We use 'pain compliance' techniques. Pain is used as a form of mental unbalancing (which I'm currently writing about and which inspired my looking at this issue). Paraphrasing Col. Rex Applegate in Kill Or Get Killed, pain is to be avoided in the attacker and inflicted upon the opponent. Law enforcement officers are taught to use, among other things, pain to subdue violent offenders. The same law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions for excessive force when these supposed pain techniques failed to subdue the violent offenders. These strategies, tactics, and techniques (and their representation in courts of law) are all based on 'conventional wisdom' - which we can now significantly improve upon.

SueC writes a blog ( entitled 'My Journey to Black Belt' and follows my blog, as I do her's. She recently wrote a blog on training methods and their focus on combat effectiveness with reference to her own experience. Without confirmation todate, I'm prepared to accept responsibility for inspiring her thoughts on this subject and subsequent blog based on my series of blogs on the same subject :). Having (somewhat egotistically) said that, Sue refers to the reluctance of women to participate in martial arts or self defence training because of a fear of being hurt, which includes a fear of pain. Do you know one of the methods that is being used to increase pain tolerance? An understanding of the pain process.

David S. Butler and G. Lorimer Moseley in Explain Pain suggest
there are many myths, misunderstandings and unnecessary fears about pain. Most people, including many health professionals, do not have a modern understanding of pain. This is disappointing because we know that understanding pain helps you to deal with it effectively. Here are two important things we know about explaining pain: the physiology of pain can be easily understood by men and women in the street, and undertanding pain physiology changes the way people think about pain, reduces the threat vale and improves their management of it.
I'll be writing more about this issue in later blogs, and obviously in my books, but for now I'll leave you with this tidbit: pain is not felt, pain is experienced. This understanding opens the door to a vast array of possibilities and implications for the marital arts and any disciplines associated with interpersonal violence.

Until next time.


  1. John,
    I am interested in obtaining a copy of your book "Jan de Jong: the man, his school and his ju jitsu system" as I am a student of Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu Jujutsu and Hymus Sensei often tells stories of de Jong Sensei. Are you able to point me in the right direction for purchasing a copy?
    many thanks.

  2. Michael

    You could try the Jan de Jong Self Defence School to purchase a copy. If there is no luck there you are more than welcome to email me with your address and I'll send you a copy.

    Just so you're aware, the book is not a how-to book. It was designed as an information book for use by Jan de Jong when he conducted seminars in Europe. It includes all the gradings up to 1st kyu in detail and then a description of the requirements of 1st kyu to 3rd dan which is the end of the technical gradings.

    My proposed book #4 or 5 is intended to be a how-to book. I direct your attention to Kruyning's book which is listed in my 'books of interest' on this blog. There is significant overlap with the teachings of Mochizuki and those of De Jong. You'll find a lot you'll be familiar with in that book.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.