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Ouch.

February 7, 2015

Is it just me, or does anybody else out there associate colours with different days of the week?  Here’s how it goes for me: Monday is blue, Tuesday is kind of light grey, Wednesday is a decent orange – but not as bright as an actual orange, Thursday is dark brown, Friday is black, Saturday is white, and Sunday is kind of a ruddy red.

I don’t know why, but it’s been that way since school. Probably it was imprinted on me when I learnt them on colour-coded flash-cards, and everyone else in my class has the same associations whilst those down the corridor, with a different teacher, have different colours, or stripes, or cartoon animals.

So much of our world isn’t actually what’s really there, but a dangerous cocktail of our expectations and interpretation of reality.  We take input from our sensory organs, send it to the brain, and the brain decides what the most sensible interpretation should be.  We all carry our own little versions of the Matrix in our heads, telling us what’s happening and what’s probably going to happen next.

Take pain, for example.  I mean all it is, really, is your brain telling you something’s happening.  It takes an electrical signal, makes a decision that that thing is unadvisable or unwanted, and provides you with a cheery little warning.   Really, it’s the same signal that tells you you’re being stroked, or tickled, or gives you that random itch on the one occasion when you can’t reach your nose – just a little louder.

In fact if you want to find out which bits of you hurt and which bits of you don’t without going through the trauma of stabbing yourself all over with a compass*, tickling can be a useful (and if you bring a friend perhaps fun) alternative.  If it tickles, there’s a cluster of nerve endings.  If there’s a cluster of nerve endings, it’ll hurt more than a bit that doesn’t tickle.

There is, of course, a reason for this – nerve endings are clustered around areas of the body that need to be protected, to give the best possible early warning that they’re threatened.  Which is why you must escape a tickle.  And why palms, feet, belly neck and armpits are classic areas of child torture and cruelty for fathers everywhere.

But it’s not real, you know.  It’s the matrix.  And like Keano, you can break it if you know how.  You can manipulate that mix of expectation and interpretation and turn it into your best weapon.  I’m not talking about how to hit the bits that hurt, though.  That rarely works, particularly in the middle of an adrenaline fuelled, alcohol filled fight.  After all most fights include one of those things, probably both, and both are pretty effective pain-killers.

No, I’m talking about manipulating the pain response, the interpretation of pain signals, and using it as a disruption to turn things in your favour.  Playing your opponent on a string like a puppet master, if you will.  And so, without further ado, I bring you How Not to Get Hit’s patented three rules of pain.

One – the brain can only process (give or take) seven things at any one time.  If you provide more than seven signals, or stimuli, when defending yourself (a series of relatively hard & committed strikes, slaps, or pushes will do) to as many targets as you can get to, it will become increasingly hard for your opponent to respond.  Anyone out there who grew up on eighties Manga, think the seven finger exploding heart technique from Fist of the North Star.  But manage your expectations – no hearts will explode in the execution of this technique.  What will happen though, if each strike is hard enough to send a disruption signal to the brain or is aimed at an area where this disruption signal is hard-wired (like the eyes, groin or throat), is that the attacker will find all the distractions a confusing fog of movement and will likely become less responsive to a) one big mother sucker punch to get them the hell off you and / or b) a hardy shove on the chest, away and slightly downward to break posture, create distance, and get out of there.

Two – the anticipation of pain is worse than the pain itself.  If you can get your attacker to fear pain, then it is likely their will to fight will be reduced in proportion with their belief in their ability to win without injury.  Your ability to fight will, in turn, increase with your belief in your ability to win.  To continue my eighties film analogy, this is the bit where they found the glowing green blood on a leaf in Predator: “If it bleeds, we can kill it”.

Now this can be tricky, since as we mentioned earlier the first thing to go when the adrenaline (or vodka) kicks in is pain sensation.  So instead of going for pain, go for the areas of the body which pain was designed to protect, the vital areas.  Attack the eyes, the throat, the plexus, kneecaps, groin, feet and hands.  Areas of high sensitivity, and areas that the body is hard-wired to protect.  Get a good shot in one of these areas and watch the pain cut through, as the bring tries to protect something it actually needs to survive this fight in the first place.

Also, threaten pain.  Now if he’s attacking you, waving your fist ain’t gonna cut it – we’ve already established that in his assessment of you he’s seen nothing he finds particularly scary.  However if you introduce something that will trigger that response, then the stakes are changed.  Normally I wouldn’t be the one to encourage a weapon since pulling a knife is actually a pretty good predictor that you, yourself, are going to get stabbed.  However if your life is in danger, then picking up something that your attacker fears will do them damage, and waving it about, can be a pretty effective means of halting an attack as self-preservation kicks in.  What’s around you – any ash-trays, chairs or bits of wood?  Get creative; I once saw a kid pick up a bicycle and wave it at his attacker – who stopped, perhaps out of confusion more than anything else.

Three – pain is worse than the anticipation of pain, if it’s unpredictable.  Fear of the unknown is our most powerful, and debilitating fear.  Apart from giant hairy spiders and, for some reason, the witch from the Moomins.  Or is that just me (last obscure 80’s TV reference, I promise).

Now, for the record, we’re getting more into control & restraint territory here than self-defence so if you’re just reading for personal safety purposes, you can skip this bit as it really isn’t relevant.  Still with me?  OK.

Now, what bugs me a lot in martial arts, is when somebody gets a good lock then uses it as an opportunity to test out their newest pressure points.  It’s normally junior grades who do this, as soon enough one finds out the hard way that the quickest way to get a badger to furiously break out of a cage is to poke it with a stick.

However in the process of manipulation, control and restraint giving someone a reason to expect a certain pain from a certain direction is very effective at reducing their resistance to pain from another.  Think of it as an attack on a castle.  You move all your forces to repel an attack on the East wing, which leaves you wide open when the sneaky force advancing behind uprooted trees to breach the West wing (Shakespeare reference that one – pat yourself on the back if you got it).  Get half a lock on, make a big show of a kick or a punch being brewed up in eyeshot, then get a sneaky one in out of their line of site from the other side in a wizardly example of misdirection.  You’ll find it a very effective way of breaking resistance, creating confusion and controlling direction.

So there you have it.  How Not to Get Hit’s introduction to pain.  I’ve barely touched the surface here really, you could fill a whole book with this stuff but at least here, with a bit of though, play and practice, you’ll find something that comes in handy one day.  Whatever colour, or pattern, or cartoon animal, you personally feel that day to be.

*You know, like you did at school to your friends in maths class.  A friend of mine, John, once was asked by another friend, Andre, if he could stab him in the hand with a compass.  Expecting a playful poke, he unwisely agreed.  What he was not expecting was for Andre to suddenly grab his write, pin his hand to the table, raise his compass high above his head like a talisman, and bring it down with all his might**.  It got noisy.  To the best of my knowledge he still can’t wiggle his little finger.

**He should have – this is a guy who once threw a wheely-bin through a classroom window, and took a box of Rice Crispies onto the school bus only to, in turn, throw them at people and shove them up his nose screaming “set the crispy bits free!” at the top of his voice.  Unpredictable, is what I’m saying.

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