To the Pain!

Ending Violence the Bartitsu Way 3 (click for part 2: The Knockout)

In my first post in this series, I introduced the exhaustive list of ways to stop an attacker:

  1. Knockout: they are rendered unconscious and cannot continue (The Knockout)
  2. Overwhelming pain: every movement (or any leg movement) causes such extreme pain that they cannot continue
  3. Inability to move or attack: whether you remove yourself, or lock them in a closet, they cannot attack 
  4. Inability to breathe or other life-threatening problem: most assailants will not cross a fire just to attack you, and they need to breathe to live. (Guarding the Mark)

And we’ve covered two of those ways already: A punch to the pit of the stomach or solar plexus (called the Mark) will compress the diaphragm and cause the assailant to gasp for air; and the punch to the side of the chin, which can lead to a knockout.

Today, we’re discussing pain as a discouraging factor.


I could write a book on the topic of righteous indignation as a cause of violence. I’ll try to keep this brief.

In sport fighting matches like boxing, commentators often use the phrase, “He can take a lot of punishment,” and that word is more appropriate than most realize.

Essentially, anger is an emotional response to a moral violation. If someone has done something ethically wrong and it harms you or your group, you become angry. The natural inclination is to punish the wrongdoer, which is also a convenient outlet for your anger. The rationalization is to “teach them a lesson,” but when moral outrage leads to physical rage, it is not punishment but retribution.

Most of us realize that revenge is not morally justifiable, so we try to avoid hitting people when they commit wrongful acts. We talk to the offender to convince them of their wrongdoing, or we talk to others and socially enforce our shared values by harming their reputation.

The trickiest situation is when you are physically attacked. That is both an ethical violation and a physical threat, so the response cannot be only vocal. Your body will naturally react with heightened heart rate and adrenaline, your face will flinch and your arms will cover where you are struck. The attacker must be stopped. But does he need to be physically punished?

Morally, the answer is no. However, two great forces conspire against your better judgment. The first is the aforementioned physical reaction which can overwhelm rational decision making, and your anger is part of that reaction. The other is the belief that overwhelming pain will discourage further attacks.

From Philosophy to Psychology

Is it true that pain can end a fight? The answer seems obvious, until one recognizes that pain is also a motivator to continue. If pain incites anger and the desire to attack and at the same time enervates the body’s fighting systems, how can pain be used for the opposite effect?


It may surprise you to learn that the limits of your flexibility (into the splits or touching your toes) is due to your nerves trying to protect your joints before you reach the actual limit. In other words, the pain prevents you from achieving your desired performance.

Anyone who has experienced a “charley horse” or painful leg cramp from a strike or exertion knows that it is extremely difficult to stand or use the muscle for anything. In my experience, the spasm of a leg cramp is painful enough to prevent me from thinking of anything other than massaging the limb for relief.

What techniques or tactics can elicit that level of response?

The Ground

In stage combat, it is well known that more injuries are incurred by the stage floor than by swords. In Bartitsu, we learn breakfalls before any throws because safely hitting the ground is critical to avoiding injury.


  • The ground is everywhere, and apart from the dojo, it is hard.
  • Gravity will help you
  • Falling hard on the middle of the back will knock the wind out, causing the same effects as hitting the Mark.
  • To prevent hitting one’s head during a fall, most people use their hands and elbows, and injuries to the arms can dissuade further punches and grabs
  • If you can remain standing while your attacker must recover their feet, you have either a head start in running away, breathing room to reassess the situation, or openings for further kicks.

Tactic 1: Throw your assailant forcefully so that the ground does the damage for you.

Pressure Points

In jujitsu, striking nerve clusters to cause intense pain or temporary paralysis is called Atemi.

As we discussed in the previous article about The Knockout, precise striking to small targets is not a reliable tactic. But when it works, it works like a charm.

The chin and the Mark are both considered targets for Atemi-waza. Other high-percentage targets include the point just below the nose (used primarily to push away from a bear-hug), the throat, the kidneys and the groin.

The kneecap and the shin are targets that are overlooked in traditional jujitsu. We use the low kicks of Savate to efficiently strike these sensitive regions. It has two associated effects:

  1. The natural reaction to a hit in the lower leg is to crouch or bend over, which can lead effectively to throws (see previous section on the Ground). Even avoiding a low kick by quickly moving the feet is destabilizing.
  2. If the knee is sufficiently damaged, the assailant cannot continue attacking because they cannot stand or pursue you. Walk away.

Tactic 2: Strike vital points.

Joint Locks

Twisting or extending joints beyond their normal range can be extremely painful. Every part of the body that articulates has a range of motion beyond which the nerves will scream to avoid further damage to ligaments and connective tissue. The body will often react spontaneously with motion in the direction of relief, even to the point of falling to the ground, since impact bruising heals more quickly than torn tendons.

The problem with joint locks is that you must maintain contact in order to maintain the pressure. Unless the joint is actually broken – easier said than done – the pain will subside quickly and the attacker will continue.

Furthermore, as we saw in the previous article, one does not want to maintain contact with an attacker in case their allies begin attacking.

Tactic 3: Manipulate joints past the point of pain.

One special warning: In jujitsu classes and our Bartitsu class, one “taps out” to indicate the pain threshhold so one isn’t injured in class. In a self-defence situation when your life is threatened, don’t let them go just because they tap.


Overall, the Bartitsu fighting strategy is to strike using weapons according to their range (walking stick, kicks and punches), especially toward the best targets: the chin, nose, throat, mark, knees and shins, until a throw becomes available.

Using this strategy, pain may end the fight, but it is also likely that a more effective tactic will prevail: knocking the wind out of them, or knocking them out.

If you’re attacked, your anger may tempt you to punish the offender. Remember that your goal is to end the violence and escape the situation, not revenge. The longer you stay in a fight to cause pain, the more your opponent will fight back and the more likely you are to tire or to fall prey to other attackers. Use pain as a tactic only.

(Go back to part 2: The Knockout)

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