Good Pain vs Bad Pain

I can’t find a good online definition for “pain”. They all talk about physical pain being “discomfort caused by illness or injury”. Martial artists, heck, anyone who has done fifty sit-ups on a whim knows that pain doesn’t have to come from “illness or injury”. Do me a favor. Reach over and pinch your arm. Feel that? Is there any other way to describe it other than pain? Are you injured? Ill? No. Your body is just telling you that there is something going on that could be dangerous. It’s giving you a message, saying “Hey, look over here! Do you see this? Can you do something about it please?” Pain is a message, plain and simple. You can stop pinching now.

And that, really, is what this post is about. Several times lately I’ve shared with people the concept of “good pain”. Using the strict dictionary definition, there should be no such thing. But if we redefine the word to something like “a sensation usually described as unpleasant warning of potential injury or illness”, then we can conceive of situations where some instances of pain can actually be good.

The avoidance of pain seems to be deeply woven into our culture. We live lives of easy comfort when compared to our ancestors. Cars, mass transit, elevators, supermarkets, department stores, convenience stores, climate control, and other modern appliance are just some the modern inventions that shield us from even mild discomfort, let alone the pain involved in life.

If you are in a martial art class, you should expect lots of changes. You should expect unfamiliar and unpleasant sensations. You don’t necessarily have to expect injury. The two don’t have to be linked. Honestly, that is one of the hardest things about training children. They are used to pain being linked to injury. Adults have usually matured past that point.

Changes in state can result in unpleasant sensations, or at least sensations that without contextual clues to the contrary are perceived as unpleasant. Pain, whether good or bad, physical or emotional, comes from change. Can you imagine a life without change? Can you imagine a life without pain? Pain is opportunity.

I would challenge you to stop thinking of all pain as something bad to be avoided. I would challenge you to embrace your pain and the message that it has for you. Without physical pain you wouldn’t know of injuries until after the damage was done. We would not know where healing was required. Without emotional pain, you would not be conscious to the potential for personal and spiritual growth. Pain focuses the attention and consciousness. Good pain is the pain of stretching, the pain of effort. Good pain is not the tearing pain of over-work or the sharp pain of injury. Good pain can be accepted and endured. Good pain is a guide that shows us where to focus our attention and training. Facing good pain and working through it brings a sense of accomplishment. Working through bad pain usually brings a sense of guilt.

Martial art teachers are faced with the job of re-educating people to the fact of good pain. We use pain, not as a masochistic means to our own pleasure, but as a tool to encourage self-discovery and awareness. We need to know what you are feeling so that we can fine tune our efforts. We need to know what is easy for you, what is hard, where you hold tension, where you are relaxed. Our intention for our students is a life of health and vitality. Good pain is the doorway to achieving that goal.

It is no secret that our society is plagued by diseases of affluence. Giving in to pain avoidance behaviors can only magnify the long-term effects of a sedentary lifestyle and low self-esteem. By embracing your good pain now, in the moment of discovery, you can avoid lingering debilitation later in life. You can move towards your goals of wellness, accomplishment, and security.





One response to “Good Pain vs Bad Pain”

  1. Jen Ward Avatar

    Awesome article. Fear of pain is what perpetuates more pain. If people would just relax into the initial pain stimuli, the experience would be moved through much more easily than building it up with secondary reactions and resistance. Thanks for writing this Ken. It is a good reminder for me.

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