So Striking is Love, Huh?

When I began martial arts training, heck before I began martial arts training, I was astute enough to know that being hit wasn’t much fun–from first-hand experience. That’s exactly WHY I started learning martial arts, because getting hit hurt and was not the kind of thing I trolled the streets as a kid asking people to help me out with.  I was usually running in the opposite direction.

The logic was sound.  If strikes hurt me, they’d sure hurt the bullies too.  Learn how to strike–and avoid getting struck–made sense.  It still makes sense on the surface.

Enter Systema.

A bunch of guys standing around letting their instructor punch them until they puke.

Oh, and it’s LOVE.

What gives?

I started writing an answer, then put this aside because this is a topic both broad and deep, almost too much for one little article.  I’ll try to get to the main discussion I had about “striking=love” that prompted me to put fingers to keyboard.

Why would you stand there and let someone cause you intense physical pain and think it was because the person loved you.  Outside of Systema, if you said this to someone they might recommend a good therapist.  Battered wives sometimes need their abusive husbands to hit them because to them they learn to equate the beatings with attention and affection.    I’ve even had students who thought I didn’t like them if I didn’t punch them.  Somehow this strikes me as a tad dysfunctional, but I could be wrong.

Back to my youth.  Why didn’t I want to be hit?  Because of the PAIN I knew striking caused–from direct experience.

I recently saw an episode of Human Impossible by National Geographic that sheds some light into the “dynamics of striking.”  One portion of the episode featured a woman who had hooks inserted under the skin of her upper back and swung around the room by the chains.  She reported that it initially hurt to put the hooks in…but then she said that the experience became intensely enjoyable and even exhilarating.

However…after about 10 minutes the pain returned to the point of becoming unbearable.  Here’s their scientific explanation:

In response to the pain her body released its load of endorphins to counteract the pain.  This accounted for her feelings of ecstasy.  Then, after about 10 minutes her endorphin supply depleted itself.  This lead back to the considerable pain.


So, the body reacts to the pain of being struck with its own homemade morphine, killing the pain and making you feel great so you can go on and survive the encounter.  An interesting implication is that it is not the strike so much as it is your body’s physiological response to the strike.  Your response is the benefit.

I remember back to sparring “pre-Systema” and having the same feelings of elation and the sparring-high from all the give and take of strikes, regardless of the intention of the other person.  I was having fun myself and welcomed the contact.

Watch someone being struck by a deep Systema punch.  Does the contorted grimace look like love to you?  It’s only what the body does to save itself that makes you feel better.

So is that love or are we all just endorphin junkies?

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