View Full Version : Pain in aikido?

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06-01-2006, 02:00 AM
On the Women in Aikido forum run by Anne Marie, the question came up recently whether pain was a necessary part of aikido/technique or not. We are not talking about injury, but simply about the pain that is inflicted by e.g. lever techniques such as nikkyo or sankyo. I find this question quite interesting and thought I´d bring it up here to see what you guys think about it.

I once read someone´s opinion, that for example sankyo is purely immobilization and does not work on the basis of pain at all, and I am not sure I entirely agree with that. Does pain only come in when uke resists? Does the pain show uke the right way to move (i.e. away from the pain)? Would moving before the pain sets in be anticipating the technique (in other words: bad ukemi)? Or do you think pain is just plain unnecessary?

Personally I quite like a bit of pain in practice ;) and I try to use the pins as stretches. But that doesn´t mean that it is correct.

What do you think?

Dirk Hanss
06-01-2006, 03:24 AM
Hi Sonja,
just my humble opinion.The stretches are good for uke's health, so at least the final pin should always be applied somewhere between "just not comfortable" and "not real pain", i.e. far away from injury. There are exceptions with elderly or injured uke, but only doing soft comfortable locks might not be enough in general.

For the middle part you can do the stretching, too. But I guess, we should always try to find the best point to change the technique and go forward.. So when uke is down (nikyo) or on his toes (sankyo), we do not need to make uke feel the pain that he might get, when he is resistant.
And it is not only true for co-operative uke - in this case one should agree upon a little resistance then and now to ensure the technique is applied well. But a perceptive uke would try to avoid or escape that painful position and thus is unbalanced for a split of a second. If you are perceptive enough to recognise this moment even before it happens, you can do the following part without uke even recognising what has happened and particularly not feeling any pain. I have felt this only occasionally - not to say accidentally - but when classes really focus on this, it might happen more often. I am sure, some shihan can do it whenever they choose, but did not take me as uke for this demonstration.

One good exercise to get there, is to do just a simple shomenuchi ikkyo, only using your two pointer fingers. Unfortunately I am still far away from doing this without the risk of breaking my own fingers. But I try and I try.


06-01-2006, 03:36 AM
Reliance on pain = bad. Excessive use of pain to the point of damage = bad. However, in general I agree, the use of pain is fine between consenting adults (and I believe mandatory in certain dojos, the wee scamps).

For me, pain is part and parcel of various moves and should be used (or at least be available) for emphasis, just like atemi. Also, I wouldn't consider moving prior to the pain setting in being a bad uke. If nages entire technique is Dependant on inflicting pain I would move prior to the pain to a point where I can hit them - sorry, I meant remonstrate in a kindly yet vigorous manner. If my centre is not being taken, I'm not interested in staying around for the crunch.

Caveat - don't use pain in your techniques unless you're willing to accept it back - favourite niggle of mine. As they say, everyone should get a fair crack of the whip.

Alec Corper
06-01-2006, 04:06 AM
Pain should not be the goal of practice, but it is, and should be, one of the consequences of the learning process. Unless we are talking about the "fluffy bunny" approach to Aikido, it is, and hopefully will remain, a martial art. You can't learn to swim without getting wet, you can't learn MA without some knocks and bruises. Of course it should be tempered according to age and health, and there should never be intentional misuse of the uke/tori contract, but at the same time if there is never any pain how can you learn to work with and around your physiological responses. Immobilizations do hurt somewhat, and hurt a lot if uke is resistant, or tori is insensitive, but they do not work solely on kuzushi, unless your uke has already planned to surrender their balance before completing the attack. Rather like atemi, an empty gesture unless the capacity to actually strike has been developed, so too is an immobilizing technique that does not contain the power and accuracy to do serious damage if taken further than uke's natural flexibility and bodily alignments.
I'm old fashioned, I still believe that experiencing graduated pain (and sometimes real fear!) are part of the martial path and without these two aspects at times being present you may as well do dancing, (By the way, even dancing cause pain when done too hard or too seriously ;-) )

Amir Krause
06-01-2006, 04:21 AM
The way I understand this is that pain is a necessary part of some techniques (for example, pressure points based techniques). In addition, while applying most pins, the relevant joints generate pain.

It is possible to practice pinning techniques without pain, but only if Uke will be sensitive enough to realize the lock is on him before the pain sets in. Tori should do the technique to the best of his ability, and continue the pin well in to the pain if Uke does not signal him to stop.


Chicko Xerri
06-01-2006, 06:12 AM
Pain within Aikido techniques. Read the last paragraphs on this page http://www.geocities.com/fudoshinoosa/Aikido-Kenkyukai-Introduction.html

Marc Randolph
06-01-2006, 08:43 AM
I've always been taught that pain is not necessary for proper aikido technique execution - "all" that is required is to control uke through the use of off-balance (if only that was as easy as it sounds!). Joint locks are there to provide a better connection to uke's center - so even techniques like kotegaishi can be performed without pain compliance.

Another thing I've read and have been taught is that the onset of pain indicates that damage is occuring or about to occur. Further confirming this concept is that most dojos don't allow children to receive any sort of locks - exactly because they don't detect pain until the damage is already done. I don't want to damage my training partners.

Lastly, if involved in a situation on the street, your attackers adrenaline could easily prevent him from feeling much pain until everything is already over with. I don't want to train in the dojo to rely on pain compliance, if pain compliance very well may not work on the street.

Having said all of that, unexperienced ukes often push back against various joint locks and cause themselves pain. Our solution to that is to go slow - which one needs to do anyway to insure uke is off-balance at ALL times during a technique.

Have fun,


Mark Freeman
06-01-2006, 09:54 AM
Aikido can be done effortlessly and without pain, it can also be done with pain compliance as the motivation for movement.I know which one I prefer :)



06-01-2006, 10:12 AM
A small amount of pain is necessary to gain insight of the lever, how it functions, what it affects, and to learn the mistakes that can occur while executing it. Even then, it is enough only to reach the point where joints are locked, and the lever starts to work, and _not_ snap the joint in two. For the purpose of learning, some resistance can be applied then. After that, I prefer focusing on the movements that enable lever execution. Simply emphasizing that the lever should take place then is sufficient. Why make the partner suffer needlessly?

06-01-2006, 11:01 AM
"Nobody likes to take pain. But its always good to take a little stretch"
Now who said that? :)

Kevin Leavitt
06-01-2006, 03:12 PM
Pain is a tool in the tool box. In the right situation it works well. I don't rely on it too much, but sometimes it is just the right thing to evoke a response from your opponent to make an opening or set something up.

Usually you should be in the more dominate position to use this to your advantage though.

06-06-2006, 10:18 PM
Here's a poll on the subject I took several years back:

"Do you think pain is a necessary component in effective aikido?" - 6/16/2001


-- Jun

06-06-2006, 11:51 PM
Pain's kinda like a well-placed atemi. It's persuasive, but it's no substitute for good technique. It's more like the parsley decorating your plate than the actual meal. You never know what kind of freak you're going to encounter, so it's best to just stick with what will alwasys work and that's taking uke's balance. Of course, that's easier said than done. Especially for me. :P

06-07-2006, 01:43 AM
And what about the ability to take pain? Also, practicing hard/fast can sometimes involve pain (again: not because of injury but rather because of general muscle aches, etc, due to exhaustion and feeling "battered")? Do you think one should practice to the point of experiencing a certain amount of pain? Always? Never? Just playing devil´s advocate here ;)

06-07-2006, 10:35 AM
And what about the ability to take pain?
"Is enduring physical pain necessary in getting better at aikido?" - 10/9/2004

"Is inducing physical pain in others necessary in getting better at aikido?" - 10/16/2004

-- Jun

Kevin Leavitt
06-07-2006, 11:19 AM
Sonja wrote:

[And what about the ability to take pain? Also, practicing hard/fast can sometimes involve pain (again: not because of injury but rather because of general muscle aches, etc, due to exhaustion and feeling "battered")? Do you think one should practice to the point of experiencing a certain amount of pain? Always? Never? Just playing devil´s advocate here

Pain is an interesting subject!

pain is inherent in life. In an ideal situation we would not experience pain at all! Unfortunately we all know that is not the case. Interesting is that buddhism is really centered around reducing or removing suffering in life (pain). Anyway, you are talking about physical pain, but I think they are related as pain is really about perception of cause and effect!

So, I think pain can be important in martial arts as it gives us experiences upon which to learn. We can develop skills to reduce it, resolve it, or reframe it. Ignoring pain, IMO, is not the answer. To me this equates philosophically to ignoring conflict. It doesn't go away...it just festers. Ignoring physical pain, or "being tough" doesn't do anything either other than cause further damage. It may mean a torn muscle or ligament...or it may cause emotional damage as well!

So, we must recognize pain, accept it, embrace it, use it as a tool to develop our skills. That, however, is not the same thing as causing pain, or "sucking it up", or "toughing it out".

06-07-2006, 06:36 PM
As we see, people have different points of view on pain in aikido. Most of the time, it is dictated by the way they are trained in their dojos. I would say, that our training should picture a real life situation, where we are not willing to hurt our opponent. It also means not to cause any pain. It is a little paradox, isn't it? Yes, in aikido we are using ikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo and yonkyo which can be very painful if they are performed in a certain way. Let's think about it. For instance, sankyo. Using Dirk Hanss's citation: "when uke is on his toes" - we do not need to add anything more. Just to throw him. This is the key. Uke raised his body without feeling any pain, just imagining what would happend if he resisted. Not only uke, but your opponent would act in the same way.

Mark Freeman
06-08-2006, 05:53 AM
Moving before the 'pain comes on' is an inherent skill in aikido ukemi. It took me a while to understand this :D
Of course most aikido techniques have pain inherent in them, and inducing pain is a motivator to further movement/immobilisation.
A non aikido trained assailant will not instinctively move the same way as a skilled aikido, so are lible to 'feel' more pain if a technique is applied properly. However it is up to the aikidoka to 'regulate' the intensity of the technique so as not to cause damage ( unless absolutely neccessary ;) ).

just a few thoughts



Mark Uttech
06-08-2006, 06:19 AM
There are many levels of training in aikido, and the level of pain is one of the lower ones. Do not get me wrong here, a lower level is not an unnecessary one; it is a real part of the path.

Steve Mullen
06-08-2006, 07:12 AM
Training last night was only the second time i had been taught by one of the sensei in our organisation, and both times were in small groups. I was lucky enough to be used as uki several times by him, his technique is exceptionally powerfull and does cause a fair amount of pain. I jokingly noted whilst we were getting changed that there was a distinct correlation between his teaching a class, and me feeling sore the next day.

His reply sums up this question for me, it was along the lines of;

"its Troi's job to find that fine line between physical discomfort and serious injury, and to make sure uki stays close to the first one without getting into the second one"

06-20-2006, 10:08 AM
I am sorry that my user name is disrespectful (cant change it) but on the subject, We regularly practice some variations of many waza (list long) and sensei always points out painful style then no pain style and sometimes an equalibrium between. (check spelling you grammar freaks). My point from my belittled point of view is that some waza has ways of being executed painfully and then with no or little pain and again with a medium.But hey I am nothing to comment.

06-20-2006, 10:25 AM
In a nutshell, I believe that pain-compliance is a poor substitute for kuzushi.

Practicing against martial artists that are not aikido practitioners, but are giving relaxed, focused intent, I've found it frequently that attempting to crank or force a technique through pain creates a force-on-force conflict that often gives them the time to momentarily recover and try to do something unpleasant to me (punch, kick, throw, choke . . . *gurgle*).

At the same time, when you're primary objective is kuzushi/off-balancing from your initial entry/blend, then you're less likely to be looking for an ikkyo or nikkyo and more likely to maintain your body's proper structure to achieve the off-balancing of the other person with whatever you fall into. I believe also that you train this skill through the taking of ukemi, by giving focused, relaxed attacks that have intent (not an oxymoron).

In other words, as uke, you're not off-balancing yourself in the attack, but while training the form, creating the platform for nage to off-balance you, which leads to increased sensitivity to balance and structural integrity during application drills and randori.

06-20-2006, 12:17 PM
First, I differentiate "pain" and "discomfort;" pain is the experience of bodily harm, discomfort the absence of comfort. Pain is related to bodily damage and signifies that our body is injured. Discomfort is related to the body reacting to stimulus that is not desirable.

I believe discomfort is a component of any activity that is physically demanding including exercise, athletics, martial arts, and recreation. The experience of stretching muscles, straining ligaments, and falling are naturally uncomfortable, through repetition and conditioning our bodies become accustomed to the discomfort and cease to "complain" about them. Aikido is no exception, and aikido training should realize discomfort as an intense level of training that will positively affect the body. What would happen if a runner simply stopped after they got tired? or a body builder stopped lifting weights that were too heavy? of an athlete stop competing because they were worn out? Yet we make decisions all of the time to avoid a "hard" class, or "get intense," or "work up a sweat." My old baseball coach would scream, "if you ain't tired, you ain't training hard enough!" I agree.

Pain is not part of routine training in aikido, but at some point we all experience pain. Pain is your body's way of saying, "that is not good, please stop what is causing the pain." Aikido people have a problem confusing discomfort for pain. On one hand, we will avoid rolling because we have a problem with ukemi causing "pain," but we'll hunker down and grimace while our partner applies nikyo, refusing to yield to the sensation. Usually, this translates as an aversion to ukemi's discomfort and ignorance of nikyo pain. Good training does not need pain, but good training relies on the consession that the technique's application is correct.

Most of my understanding of techique does not rely on pain, only the aversion to pain. I should not need to hit your face to make your head tilt backwards, the threat of my hand in your face should trigger an aversion to pain that materializes as your head tilting backwards. This methodology is independent of your partner's action, but also compassionate to provide an outlet to avoid pain.

06-21-2006, 01:47 AM
I completely agree with you, Jon.
Maybe I should have said "discomfort" and not pain in my original post. That was what I was thinking of.

06-22-2006, 02:57 PM
A lot of the differences here are based on perception. Perception of physical stimuli as pain has a lot to do with whether or not we feel in control. I've been through an impressive amount of pain.

I have removed fish hooks deeply imbedded in my fingers and not screamed - I was in control.

One of my physical therapists said "Pain comes from resistance." Read this in context please - she did not have Nikyo in mind when she said it, but my resistance to changes she was trying to effect in the postural structure of my body.

In a healthy Uke - Nage interaction the poster above wisely distinguishes between discomfort and pain. Sensitivity and communication help us avoid pain from injury and train in a healthy, compassionate way. Oh, sometimes nose bleeds happen! It's ok.


06-22-2006, 10:41 PM
There is old saying from Shingen Buddism, Himalaya:

Everything that doesnt kill you, will reinforce you.

Not for nothing O sensei practiced exercises from Shingen Buddism.

06-22-2006, 10:48 PM
they hijacked it from my man Friedrich Nietzsche.
"Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker" (That which does not kill me, makes me stronger) - Nietzsche <The Twilight of the Idols, 1899>

Karen Wolek
06-22-2006, 10:54 PM
Or my bumper sticker that says:

What doesn't kill me will only require brief hospitalization.


06-22-2006, 11:13 PM
There is old saying from Shingen Buddism, Himalaya:

Everything that doesnt kill you, will reinforce you.

Not for nothing O sensei practiced exercises from Shingen Buddism.

Do you mean Shingon Buddhism? Could not find a Shingen Buddhism.
Shingon Buddhism is an Japanese esoteric form of Buddhism. O'Sensei study Shingon Buddhism in his early years.

06-23-2006, 08:21 AM
I was actually thinking about the pain vs discomfort thing last night. A few says ago I was working with a guy in bjj. He was trying to drive his forarm into my throat as a crude attempt at a choke. I was calm and worked my position and caught him in an armbar. Afterwards he asked me "Didnt' that hurt?". My response was "Yea, it was actually very painful, but I knew I wasn't in any danger of getting hurt by it.".

That got me thinking. New people tap to pain. Experianced people learn to listen to their bodies and learn the difference between pain and damage. There are positions that just plain hurt, and those which are going to hurt you. Another example would be an attempted rear nakid choke done on me last week. It wasn't sunk deeply enough and I was in no danger of actually getting choked. While I was working my defense my partner (Who seems to think sparing is competition) slid his arm up and tried to choke out my nose and mouth. His goal was to apply enough pain to get me to tap vs choking me. There was a significate amount of pain, but I knew he wasn't in position to break my nose and he wasn't twisting in a way that was dangerous to my jaw. So I just kept fighting it half heartedly until he gassed from using all his muscle to 'choke my face'. Then I turned into him and got the tap. It was a huge amount of pain (the insides of my lips were cut and it sucked to eat that night), but I knew there was no danger so it was easy to push though. When I was just starting out I would of tapped 2 or 3 seconds into that 'choke'.

Ron Tisdale
06-23-2006, 08:30 AM

06-23-2006, 09:37 AM
IThere was a significate amount of pain, but I knew he wasn't in position to break my nose and he wasn't twisting in a way that was dangerous to my jaw. So I just kept fighting it half heartedly until he gassed from using all his muscle to 'choke my face'. Then I turned into him and got the tap. It was a huge amount of pain (the insides of my lips were cut and it sucked to eat that night), but I knew there was no danger so it was easy to push though. When I was just starting out I would of tapped 2 or 3 seconds into that 'choke'.

I've experienced very similar thing when training in a jujitsu dojo while working away from home.

The pain from the ulcers that set in to my cut mouth in the next couple of days was far worse than anything at the time.

In a dojo situation I'll definitely tap next time...it just wasn't worth the pain every time I ate anything with salt in in it.

Different if its not the dojo of course.

But your right , experience enable you to recognise the difference between unpleasantness or dangerous.



06-23-2006, 10:07 AM
I would normally just tap. But in this case I was trying to make a point to my partner that using 'jerk' moves wont cut it in competition against someone who knows whats going on. Sadly, he still hasn't learned that slams, face chokes, and other crappy techniques just dont work in competition.

Dirk Hünniger
12-16-2009, 03:58 PM
endorphine addiction

12-17-2009, 01:45 AM
After not having been active on Aikiweb for probably more than two years I came back to this thread today since Dirk wrote me a quick mail in regards to the issue of pain in aikido practice. And to my own amazement I found that my idea of what aikido practice should be and of how pain fits in with that idea has changed completely :) Funny. :rolleyes: