Archive for combatives

10 Questions with Hoch Hochheim

Posted in 10 Questions, Self-Defense, Training, Violence, Weapons, Women's Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , on January 6, 2017 by Combative Corner


What got you into the martial arts?

That is a very long story, but even as kid, I was always interested in tactics and fighting. Maybe movies and TV spurred my interest? The how-to tricks. A vehicle to learn this stuff was martial arts, which I started in 1972 with Ed Parker Kenpo. I was about 18 years old? No kids back then. But martial arts were never my end goal, just a ways to learn those tactics and tricks. I personally find martial arts themselves to be distracting. All sorts of biases and things happen in this training process that gets one off the path of clean, unarmed and mixed weapon, generic fighting.

Incoming mob/crowd, you have 30 mins to teach a complete novice how to fight. What do you teach them? 

The suggestion in the question is – me and a group are about to be bombarded by a mob or group? My questions to best answer that question is who, what, where, when, how and why? The answer has to be customized for the situation. Who is the mob? What do they want? Where are we? When is this happening? How specifically will it happen? Why? If IO knew that? I could answer something.  It is so, so situational.

Short times? Generally, I almost never, ever do short, self defense training classes. I have to be really be pushed, coerced or “guilted” into doing one. Fighting info is too big and too perishable as it is for people in regular training. I know some people that like to do that but I don’t for that reason, I am just not geared up to cover short segments/deals. I do have do a speech on “Who, What, Were, When, How and Why,” though. A speech, nothing physical, that is pretty important for all to know and that speech can be squeezed into all kinds of very short or longer time frames.

As a self-protection expert, what do you consider to be under-taught or under-appreciated concept in the self-protection field?

The seamless mix of hand, stick, knife and gun training is way, way and foolishly under-taught. No matter where in the world you live, no matter the laws and rules, criminals and enemy soldiers use knives, sticks and guns. You fight them, you pick up their weapons. “We live in a mixed weapons world” is one of my opening mottos.

It is commonly taught that if someone demands your wallet or purse, you should throw it to the ground and run. Is this good, universal advice? If not, are there cues as to when we should do this or not?

Many instructors just say “always run away, which is “simpleton” advise. “Simple” better advice is “run away, if you can.”  Based on military and police history as in crime and war, you should pick and choose and gamble with just “turning around and running away.” Sometimes the mugger wants your watch and ring too, not just the wallet. They chase you. Then, they also chase you out of a predator instinct. The military once called it “The Caveman Chase.” And remember, you are easier to kill from behind, another long known concept that goes back as far as Alexander the Great. Easer to kill, not because you can’t see the attacker, but the attacker can’t see your face, doesn’t personalize you. Much more about this in my knife book. The goal is an “orderly retreat,” as a method to leaving, whatever that is situation-by-situation. Also, who are you leaving behind when you run? How fast and far can you run? How fast and far do you think the attacker can run? What clues do you have that you can run? Maybe the physical make-out the robber? I can’t answer that with any certainty.

A common argument in the self-defense community is that if you really want to protect yourself, buy and carry a gun. What are your personal thoughts on guns and conceal and carry?

Oh yes, on the handgun. But you just have to figure out and be trained on how and when to use it. Well, the whole who, what, where, when, how and why to use it. That goes for  any weapon for that matter. But I use the breakdown for training.

  1. There/Not There – why are you “there” in the first place? Why can’t you leave?
  2. Pull/Don’t Pull – When and if do you pull the weapon out?
  3. Point/Don’t Point – Is the weapon out, or ready in some way and concealed in some way? Bladed body, etc. Or, do you point it at the enemy?
  4. Shoot/Don’t Shoot – All of these require an essay to dissect.

If you look at the entire self-defense community, the majority of people learning to defend themselves are men. Men with little or no fighting experience are often concerned (apart from being harmed) with defending themselves and getting sued, taken to court and/or arrested. What do you tell your students/clients who are concerned with this issue?

In the end, remember that for citizens in modern times and civilizations, your willingness to fight, no matter how righteous and defensive your actions might be, may often end with you going to jail, with considerable legal fees and maybe with some added doctor bills to boot. You may well be vindicated later but at a physical, emotional, and monetary loss. You can very easily be arrested and you could be sued. Violence sucks. It’s a negative experience. But you are stuck in that nasty  vortex.

Regular people should fight criminals to escape (and a criminal could be your drunk Uncle Harry. Once he attacks you he is officially a criminal). So, winning for most, regular people is just fighting to escape. No over kill, no maiming, no killing unnecessarily. (My courses are called “Force Necessary”) You fight to win, but what is winning?. There are 5 ways to “win,” or to “finish” a fight, whether soldier, citizen, security or cop.

  1. You leave. You escape from the opponent (using the “Orderly Retreat” concept), with no physical contact.
  2. He leaves. No physical contact. You use threats, demands and intimidation to make the opponent desist and leave.
  3. He stays. Physical contact. You inflect less-than-lethal injury upon the opponent. Injure and/or diminish to a degree that the opponent stops fighting and won’t chase you.
  4. You and he both stay. Physical contact or verbal control. You control as in arrest, contain and restrain. You capture and, or escort the opponent. Or, you detain/capture the opponent and await the proper authorities.
  5. He dies. Lethal methods. We fight criminals and enemy soldiers. Sometimes we kill them.

I get concerned that so many systems teach fighting like everyone you struggle with is a Nazi commando doomed to a neck break or scooped out eye balls. The system you train in, the things you say on the web, the tattoos you have, the names of the weapons you carry, your associates, everything can be used against you in court. I can tell you story after story about this.

Many self-protection specialists say that self-defense is more of a mental game than a physical one. Is this your opinion? Why or why not?

That is one of those intellectual hair-splitters that I don’t care to hair-split. I guess you need both but to what “exact” percentage at any given time, I can’t say. 50%-50%? You could be mean as hell in your head, but gas-out in 40 second fight. Then your mean/tough mind is in a skull on the ground getting bashed because you didn’t physically train enough. It’s both sides seamlessly working in unison. Why split it? Some folks got it, some folks can get it, some folks never will.

Women and children are the most victimized individuals in any society. Should women and children be taught differently than men? Why or why not?

“It’s a mixed person’s world” is one of my mottos. In many ways everyone should be taught differently. Every person is a different size, shape, strength, age, fitness level, job, situation, etc. with weak spots, ailments and laws to work around. There is no cookie-cutter fight system for all. In the end, it is the responsibility of each person to find their favorite things they can do well, for facing the problems they most likely will face. The instructor is supposed to facilitate that process, not make cookie-cutter robots. At some point you can teach statistically high “blanket” items like “hand striking” of course, especially in the beginning, but we can’t forget the eventual, necessary customization. And customization and prioritizing shouldn’t ignore lesser, probable events. Crazy stuff has  and can happen.

Another big concern and why so many people are doing jiu-jitsu now is the perpetuated line that “most often the fight will end up on the ground.” In your experience, do you find that this is true? Either way, what traits/abilities are essential in someone to adequately defend themselves?

Well, for starters, when I did jujitsu it was a different time. Lots of standing solutions and takedowns. Judo was the ground wrestling arena. Today, the Brazilians have utterly redefined the term, as well as advanced the ground chess game.

But I think that everyone should be able to up, down and fight everywhere. I don’t like to see Billy Bob’s Kick boxing school on one street corner, and “Big Ralph’s Wrasling” school on another corner. Fighting is fighting and you fight where you fight. Seamlessly. Standing, kneeling, sitting and on the ground. You fight where you fight, with and without weapons. That is the end goal for me and what I teach people to pursue. But, in order to amass an education in these subjects we must meet experts in each of these fields. Again, all sorts of biases and things happen in this training process that gets one off the path of clean, unarmed and mixed weapon, generic fighting.

A collaboration of criminal justice colleges years ago came up with the four common ways we hit the ground, as best they could from research.

  1. We trip and fall
  2. We are punched down (usually sucker punches)
  3. We are tackled down
  4. We are pulled down

The very fact that you can often land on the ground, is reason alone to worry about it. I am a big fan of generic, MMA-ish, fighting with an emphasis on ground and pound. MMA has become very clean and generic for it does. It wants to win and system borders be damned. Plus, nothing replaces ring time -to quote Joe Lewis.

We are now in the New Year. What resolutions do you have and/or goals for the year?

I am supposed to be retired, you know. HA! I hope to trim my seminar schedule down to one USA city a month, one international city a month and one Sunday a month in the Dallas/Ft Worth area where I live. Technically, this means I am home two full weeks a month, but I can already see this is stacking and packing up differently than I planned for 2017 already. But, I would like to teach way less, write way more, and just hang out with my wife most of all.

Bonus Question What book or resource (besides your own material) have you suggested or gifted most and why?

Oh man…DON’T get me started on THIS list, as I recommend a different book in every one of newsletters every three weeks for years, but here are just a few.

  1. Smarter Faster Better : by Charles Duhigg. Tremendous, enlightening, myth-breaking into on performance
  2. The Talent Code : by Dan Coyle
  3. Streetlights and Shadows : Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making by Gary Klein
  4. Anti-Fragile : by Nassim Talib
  5. Bounce  : by Matt Syed

For more information on Hoch Hochheim and Force Necessary please visit his website.


The Art of Aikido in these Modern Times

Posted in Aikido, Martial Arts, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2016 by Combative Corner

Gary Boaz

Over the last several years I’ve talked a lot about how I believe that the way aikido is taught falls drastically short of modern practicality. This has led to many misunderstandings. I’ve been accused of saying that aikido doesn’t work in modern times. That’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t waste 25 years of my life on something that doesn’t work. What I am saying is that I believe in the principles of aikido. Where today’s teachers fall short is in the presentation. If aikido is to survive, even to evolve we have to address the modern fighter. We have to train against hooks, jabs, uppercuts, knees, elbows, the groundfighter as well as modern weapons. I recently dug up an article discussing this and these next video clips will go along with those themes. 

If you want more examples of aikidoka doing this, check out Lenny Sly A former Tenshin practitioner, Sly is advancing his own aikido with what he refers to combative concepts. It’s great stuff. A word of warning, his videos aren’t always safe for younger ears or if you are at work. Regardless, his stuff works.

Sensei Gary Boaz

Reposted with Permission from Facebook

The other side of the coin to the traditional munetsuki kotegaeshi. Please don’t think I’m saying that kotegaeshi doesn’t work. That’s not what I’m saying. Quite the opposite. Apply the principles to a modern attack and see what happens. Get your butt outside the freaking box folks!

With this article, we have reached 300 POSTS!!!


Controlling Your Attacker [Video]

Posted in Safety, Self-Defense, Training, Women's Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by chencenter

In the Outfoxxed Program we have a technique that literally, “Keeps our attacker at arm’s length” – which is okay, as long as we have him under control.

If you haven’t seen, read or heard,… my wife Jennifer and I created a YouTube channel especially for the ladies out there in order to give them some strong tools, methods, and motivation.  Learning self-defense is important, especially for those most victimized [women].  If you like our channel, message and/or videos, please share.

Outfoxxed Program with Michael & Jennifer Joyce

Michael Joyce : CombativeCorner Founder


10 Questions with Michael Joyce

Never Get Tied Up : Self-Defense Survival (special guests: Roy Elghanayan & Dr. Ruthless)

The Valkyrie – Attacking with Sword & Shield

Posted in Safety, Self-Defense, Training, Videos, Women's Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by chencenter

To all our readers here at CombativeCorner.  We have two more videos to share with you to introduce you me (Michael Joyce) and my wife’s (Jennifer) new project, to share our Outfoxxed Self-Defense Program globally.  We’ve previously shared our introductory video, managing distance, 3 predatory types, and the Fence.  Now, it’s time to share one of our favorite movements of all-time, the Valkyrie.


Outfoxxed Program Website

Outfoxxed Program YouTube

10 Questions with Lee Morrison

Posted in 10 Questions, Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2014 by Combative Corner

Lee Morrison Urban Combatives

Lee Morrison is (in our opinion) one of the top instructors in the world when it comes to self-protection.  His no-nonsense approach, as well as his rich background in Combatives make him a favorite among many martial art and “combative”/RBSD students.  Lee is the owner and founder of Urban Combatives (link on the above image) and instructs both in his native UK and internationally.  It’s a real privilege and honor for us, so without any further ado… 10 Questions with Lee Morrison!

When was the moment you realized you wanted to teach Combatives?

Initially I didn’t want to teach – I considered myself first and foremost a student and still do. I use to train with lots of Combatives guys, the late Peter Robins and of course Dennis Martin, among others, and they obviously saw something in me and always asked me to teach or present a module at our frequent events. So initially I’d travel to Combatives seminars and present my take on it.

Then I realized there was nowhere around training, in the way I wanted to so I hired a hall with a few like-minded training partners and we’d pressure test everything. Word got out then more people started to come and before you know it I was actively teaching a group class. This is how I started out but the real reason I decided to make it a career is because I found the main thing, above all else, that I could really do well and enjoy.

Obviously you’ve had some great influences and had the opportunity to learn from some amazing guys. Which individual had the greatest impact on what you are doing now and why?
Everyone I’ve trained with gave me something. In Combatives my main influence was Kelly McCann, particularly his early stuff. It was the immediate ‘in your face’ explosiveness, backed up with serious attitude that really suited my personality in regards to violence or counter/violence. Even as a kid I’d hit first and motor as fast as I could move to get it over with as soon as possible. I like the precision with which he presents material – also he is always totally prepared.

To be honest if your are talking about who has had the most influence on me that led me to my conclusions regarding ‘dealing with violence effectively’ that really in main came from the people I worked with on the door and also from those I’ve dealt with on the door and in the street. You want to learn how to deal with a predatory profile then study a predatory profile. My life, for better and worse sometimes, allowed me to rub shoulders with many such individuals and trust me when I tell you, I paid attention!

What is your background as a bouncer? (when did you step away from it, and for what reasons)

At 21 years old I went on the doors for the first time. Several reasons really, first I needed to earn extra money for my family, but I also like many, had questions with regards to dealing with the whole violence thing, in spite of the experience I had gathered growing up, I still found the feelings relating to violence, horrible and at times hard to deal with. Adrenaline can hit you hard and I wanted to get a handle on that.

I knew that frequent exposure would help so I got the chance to work the doors and continued to do so for the next 14 years. I left in the end because I realized I had the conclusions I needed. I worked with some really great people of veteran experience and learned a lot from them. My goal or end game at that time was to make a living teaching full-time, so as soon as I made that possible via profile and consistently working the International circuit, I left.

What was the worst situation that you can remember when working the doors?

There were many that I considered myself truly tested. I’m not really a war story- kind of person; I only use live examples when it is relevant to the module I’m teaching. To be honest those that talk a lot about this kind of thing with a smile and a yarn give the impression of glorifying violence, to me I always found that distasteful. The truth is I have always hated violence, I just learned how do deal with my share effectively enough to share my conclusions with others that maybe need it.

As an instructor/coach/teacher, what (in your opinion) is the most important concept to understand when it comes to self-protection?

Avoidance where possible, along with the cultivation of awareness and early threat cue recognition. Also the importance of developing a confident body language profile.

There are lots videos in which you talk about the approach, the tools at your disposal and intent behind your attacks.  What is your method when dealing with a knife-wielding maniac?
That’s a silly question really, if you are unlucky enough to meet such a person the advice is clean cut, fucking run! If you are totally unable to escape and now you are facing anyone armed or unarmed that represents a significant threat to your existence, the most important thing before anything physical happens from your end, is where your head is in that moment.

You’ve got to cultivate the kind of mentality that absolutely refuses to be victimized. How you think or train your pre-fight perspective is EVERYTHING! In a physical sense once the total acceptance and willingness to engage with everything you have is present, shut down his head/main frame with as much impact as you can muster and keep fucking going until it’s over! Do so with an attitude that dictates your very life depends on it!

It is obvious to many that women are the most “in need” of this material- does your teaching approach or methods change when you address a different gender (and how)?

My teaching in the main will adapt when I’m specifically working with a women’s-only class. Even if there are women present in a group class or seminar I will often adapt certain specifics for them. Before offering solutions to any student regardless of age/gender it is important that you understand the problem. So if I am teaching Anti-grappling for example I would first talk about how we got here before any counter response – do you see?

So with any subject it is the same. If we are looking to teach women, we must understand that the main threat to women comes from men! Then understand how the threat is two-fold as most assaults on women take place from men known to them within a relationship/family circle. Of course street attacks from those unknown to women also occur, as do blind dates that suddenly turn bad. But the fact is such situations are less frequent than what was previously mentioned.

In terms of physical skills, women can innately rip, claw and tear effectively, thus creating possible tissue trauma injury which may indeed lead to the option of escape or a follow-up with something more significant. So I focus first on making them better at what comes naturally before giving them more impactive tools such as elbows and knees. Not all women can generate enough power to shake the brain into unconsciousness with a palm strike alone.

So I will adapt the tool for impact and tissue trauma. I will also focus more on primary targeting especially the eyes/throat and groin as opposed to the more generic targeting of hit the head hard to shake the brain in the more male-orientated classes. But eventually both methods will be employed.

America has and probably will always maintain a fascination and obsession with guns.  What is your stance on guns, their use, and/or gun laws?

Well I agree that it is people that kill people, take a gun or a knife and lock it in a safe for fifty years it won’t hurt anyone. It takes INTENTION to turn any said tool into a weapon. To be honest I love to shoot and do so when abroad at every opportunity. With that said sanctions on gun law are of course necessary but let’s be honest there are enough black market weapons around for those of bad intention to lay their hands on. In the UK everything construed as a potential weapon is outlawed but this simple fact does not apply to the criminal, who will of course carry regardless.

Personally I think all women in the UK should be allowed to carry OC spray for Self Defence but of course that will never happen and I think that if you are stringently checked and checks are maintained, and you have had proper training which is maintained for skill retention, then you should be allowed to keep a firearm under correct conditions of safety for home defence, but again that will never happen here.
What are some of the things you dislike about the self-protection industry today?

Internet forums full of “keyboard Commandoes” with absolutely no experience of dealing with violence, then slating others. Also wankers that bitch and whine about whose using whose material.  Bottom line is if you pay for the training, you drill it under testing conditions until you own them – how you use anything is your fucking business. No one owns anything – it’s all been done before by bigger and better people so deal with it!

When Lee Morrison isn’t teaching or traveling for work, what does he like to do for fun/recreation?
Spend time with my kids, family is very important.

Bonus Question:

If you could pit any two athletes together (in their prime – dead or alive), who would you like to see fight?

William Wallace and King Leonidas of 300

Published:  JAN. 20, 2014



Lee Morrison Urban Combatives Profile PicLee Morrison is the owner/founder of Urban Combatives, one of the top internet resources on Combatives.  Having trained under Dennis Martin, Kelly McCann, Geoff Thompson and Charlie Nelson (to name a few) – there is no doubt that Lee is the real-deal! For more info, click his pic on the left.

*Pic courtesy of Neal Martin’s website CombativeMind.Com

Lee Morrison Interview with Paladin Press

Posted in Martial Arts, Miscellaneous, Philosophy, Self-Defense, Training, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by Combative Corner


Posted in Miscellaneous, Self-Defense, Training with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2012 by Combative Corner

 Pain don’t hurt.

                                  – Dalton, Roadhouse

Steel is an incredible metal.  It is both tough and resilient.  A material’s ability to absorb energy when deformed elastically and then to return it when unloaded is called resilience.  Soldiers, particularly today’s elite warriors, also need steel-like resilience.  They must undergo grueling physical training to build strength and endurance as well as a tolerance to pain.  They must also undergo psychological training to learn to control their attention and to direct it to what is relevant for survival.  The training helps them to test their limits, and then to push through physical and mental barriers to accomplish real, not Hollywood, impossible missions, and to learn what Robin Rosenberg calls “emotional self-regulation,” or what he describes as “how to act in planned, intentional ways, not impulsively…how to regulate their emotions when their buttons get pushed.”
One of the key parts of the psychological training of elite soldiers is learning how to redirect their attention from pain.  “They are amazingly able to focus their attention to the problem at hand,” Rosenberg says, “momentarily diminishing the threat of the situation so that negative emotions don’t spiral out of control and interfere with the mission.”  They learn how to distract themselves from negative stimuli, or better yet, how to sort out relevant from irrelevant negative stimuli.
H.K. Beecher, a physician who served with the US Army during the Second World War, suspected that some individuals could manage pain more effectively than others.  He observed in “Pain In Men Wounded In Battle” that as many as three-quarters of badly wounded soldiers reported no-to-moderate pain, and that they refused pain relief medication. Beecher noted that these were not trivial injuries, but consisted of compound fractures and penetrating wounds.   Beecher concluded that some men seemingly had the ability to block pain.
What is Pain?

Today’s martial artists and combatives instructors could learn a thing or two from this knowledge.  Much of self defense training is built around two major principles:  (1)  Avoiding our own pain, while (2) generating pain in others. In fact many modern combat specialists train in specific “pain compliance” techniques.  Richard Nance, law enforcement defensive tactics instructor, defines these techniques as “either manipulating a person’s joints or activating certain pressure points to create sufficient pain to achieve compliance (to verbal commands).”  A more thorough knowledge about pain is important in pain management techniques as well as understanding an individual’s response to pain.

So, what is pain?  “Pain is complex and defies our ability to establish a clear definition,” says Kathryn Weiner, director of the American Academy of Pain Management. “Pain is far more than neural transmission and sensory transduction.  Pain is a complex mixture of emotions, culture, experience, spirit and sensation.”

Pain is good because it’s bad,” says Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, a pain specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “And it’s the badness, the unpleasantness, the horrible emotions that are evoked when we feel pain that make it work so well.”
One of the main problems that people experience when they feel pain,” says martial arts instructor John Moore, “is that they complain about it. They complain to others, and they complain internally to themselves. ‘Oh man this hurts, I can’t believe this.’ The issue with this is that we create this vicious cycle of emotion where we get more and more upset – to sustain this – the mind amplifies the pain experience. They also project the mind into the past (memory) and future (imagination) to add energy to their emotions. This can descend into a serious state of self-pity, a very low level form of grief that taints everything we experience.”
Moore may be right.  According to A. D. Craig, pain researchers now understand that there are specific pain centers in the brain, which have apparently evolved from a primitive system that controls physiology, or the health of the body.  “The overlap between these areas and emotion-processing regions of the brain could explain the peculiarly human subjective qualities of pain,” says Craig.  “There is evidence that different feelings of pain have their own specially adapted pathways to the brain.  (Thus) pain can then be seen as a specific homeostatic response consisting of a distinct ‘physical’ sensation and an ’emotional’ component.”
The experience of pain depends not only on sensory signals coming in, but on your emotional state and how you interpret those signals,” says researcher Tor Wager, who proposes that “pain is a psychologically constructed experience.”
Pain in Margaritaville

In Jimmy Buffett’s song, ‘Margaritaville,’ Jimmy sings, “I blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top, cut my heel had to cruise on back home.”  But what exactly happens when you’re walking along the beach and suddenly step on a pop top?  First, there are special pain receptors called nociceptors which spring into action whenever there has been an injury, or even a potential injury, such as breaking the skin.  “Pain,” according to Ossipov, Dussor, and Porreca, “results from activation of sensory receptors specialized to detect actual or impending tissue damage.”  So even if the skin is not broken, explains Erica Jacques, “the tissues in the foot become compressed enough to cause the nociceptors to fire off a response.  Now, an impulse is heading through the nerve into the spinal cord, and eventually all the way to your brain. This happens within fractions of a second.”  The spinal cord, a complex bundle of nerves, is a superhighway for nerve signals traveling seemingly at almost light speed to and from the brain.  “But your spinal cord, Jacques says, “does more than act as a message center:  It can make some basic decisions on its own. These ‘decisions’ are called ‘reflexes.'”  The foot moves quickly, without a lot of thinking involved, from the immediate source of pain.

Jacques describes an area of the spinal cord, called the dorsal horn, which acts as an information clearing house, directing impulses to the brain and back down the spinal cord to the specific area of injury.  “The brain does not have to tell your foot to move away from the rock, because the dorsal horn has already sent that message. If your brain is the body’s CEO, then the spinal cord is middle management.”But taking your foot off the pop top is not all there is to it, because pain is more than simply stimulus and response.  The spinal reflex may take place at the dorsal horn causing the quick reaction of moving the foot, but the pain signal continues to travel on to the brain.  Jacques says that several things happen.  “No matter how mild the damage, the tissues in your foot still need to be healed. In addition, your brain needs to make sense of what has happened.  Pain gets cataloged in the brain’s library, and emotions become associated with stepping on that rock.”  Different parts of the brain are involved with this process…the thalamus gets involved so that the pain is more completely interpreted.  The cortex is engaged to learn where the pain came from and to compare and contrast it to other sensations already stored in the pain catalog.
What Does Pain Look Like?
In an incredible NY Times article, “My Pain, My Brain,” Melanie Thernstrom looks at some new breakthrough pain management techniques at Standford University, called “real-time functional neuro-imaging,”  that actually allows subjects to see computer enhanced images of their own brain activity while feeling pain for the purpose of trying to change brain activity and thus control their pain.
This real-time process shows colorful images of brain activation of the parts of the brain which are involved in pain perception.  Subjects, over a matter of weeks and several sessions, can learn how to increase or decrease their pain while watching this activation.  The process is similar to early, indirect biofeedback exercises, but is more specific.  According to Dr. Sean Mackey, the study’s senior investigator, this new approach allows subjects to interact with the brain itself.  “We are doing something that people have wanted to do for thousands of years. Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Now we’re watching that process as it unfolds.”
The study has begun to show that there is not just one, single pain center in the brain.  Instead it appears that pain is a complex, adaptive network which may involve as many as 5-10 areas of the brain.  This ‘pain matrix’ has been described as “a collection of brain regions that are involved in neurological functions, including cognition, emotion, motivation, and sensation as well as pain.” (Ossipov, Dussor, and Porreca)

Turn it Up, Turn It Off

Soldiers, athletes, martyrs and pilgrims engage in battles, athletic feats or acts of devotion, Thernstrom says, “without being distracted by the pain of injuries.”  This is due to the mind/body’s pain-modulatory system.  The sensation of pain is highly variable between individuals.  Sensory input to the body’s central nervous system can be modulated or inhibited.  One’s “emotional state, degree of anxiety, attention and distraction, past experiences, memories, and many other factors can either enhance or diminish the pain experience.” (Ossipov, Dussor, and Porreca)
Thernstrom recounts the story of when the teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton’s arm was bitten off by a shark:  She felt pressure, but she didn’t feel any pain.  Hamilton later described the terrible incident, saying, “I’m really lucky, because if I felt pain, things might not have gone as well.”  Perhaps this is why the modulatory system evolved, Thernstrom surmises, “if she had thrashed about in pain, she would have bled until she drowned.”
There is an interesting irony to pain,” comments Christopher deCharms, who, Thernstrom says, worked with Mackey in designing and carrying out the Stanford study.  “Everyone is born with a system designed to turn off pain. There isn’t an obvious mechanism to turn off other diseases…with pain, the system is there, but we don’t have control over the dial.”
A “system designed to turn off pain”–what a great description of the pain-modulatory system. This system uses endogenous endorphins, opiate-like substances, to shut down pain.  The system even sometimes works when placebos are administered.  When the brain believes that pain relief has been provided, even when it hasn’t, (i.e., the placebo effect–what the Skeptic’s Dictionary defines as “the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health or behavior not attributable to a medication or invasive treatment that has been administered“), the pain-modulatory system is activated and endorphins are released.  “Activity in some pain-sensitive regions did not drop when placebos relieved pain,” observes researcher Daniel Kane. “This result strengthens the idea that placebos do not block the body’s sensory features that transmit pain from the skin to the brain. Instead, the brain modulates its interpretation of those signals.”
However, you can also turn up the pain.  Just as there is a placebo effect, there is also a “nocebo effect” which is just the opposite..  When patients expect a treatment that they are led to believe will enhance pain; i.e., “when subjects were told verbally or nonverbally through the application of conditioning stimuli, or both ways that enhanced pain was to be expected, it was found that expectation of pain resulted in pain to non-painful stimuli as well as enhanced pain in response to noxious stimuli, suggesting that increased pain expectancy activates the pain network.”   (Ossipov, Dussor, and Porreca)
How to Turn It Off
A 2006 study at Wright State University found that deep-breathing relaxation exercises may contribute to one’s ability to manage pain.  Combining deep-breathing, especially abdominal or diaphragmatic/’belly breathing,’ with PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) exercises is recommended as a pain management tool.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, stripped down certain Buddhist meditation practices in the late 70’s and developed a ‘mindfulness’ approach to pain management.  His book Full Catastrophe Living remains one of my favorites and offers some much needed advice to those who lead stressful lives and go on to experience severe body pain.
There are really three dimensions to pain,” Zinn explains, “the physical or sensory component; the emotional, or affective component, how we feel about the sensation; and the cognitive component, the meaning we attribute to our pain.”  Expectations, projections, and fears about the pain compound the stress and exacerbate the pain.
As weird as it sounds, he recommends that we change our relationship to the pain by opening up to it and paying attention to it.  “If you distinguish between pain and suffering, change is possible. As the saying goes, ‘Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.'”
As an experiment dip your arm in ice water, and at first you can distract yourself, (a story, mental imagery, a mental puzzle), and you can stand the pain.  But eventually the pain becomes too intense.  Mindfulness however might allow you to handle the pain longer.
This may seem a little bit new-agey, and skeptical radars are probably going off all around.  However pain management clinics and doctors specializing in treating pain have been using Zinn’s formula for decades with good results.
Expecting pain to occur or believing that pain will get worse is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  On the other hand distraction and reappraising the pain while focusing on the mission at hand seem to help downplay the pain.  John Moore recommends that we should not mentally judge or put labels on the pain we experience.  “Do not go into a memory or project anything into the future. Slow down your breath…don’t label the feeling, don’t judge it as good or bad.”
Guest Author Ron Goin, P.U.M.A.
[Original post, Feb. 6, 2012. website]
Ron Goin is a critical thinking, rational, humanist, skeptical & a non-traditional combatives instructor with 45 years of Martial Arts & combatives training.  He runs a blog of his own.  Follow it if you dare.  (click his picture to travel there)
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