The Price of Iron

If you wish to get stronger through the gym or the blade, the iron will demand its due.

It is inevitable. You must take every precaution you can to avoid unnecessary injuries, but if you want to grow you have to operate at the furthest reaches of your capability. You need to test and push your limits. Inevitably, error creeps in, muscles fail, and the iron bites.

I’ve practiced martial arts for the past three years. Followed a semiregular gym routine for the past five months. I’ve experienced blisters, blisters upon blisters, and calluses ripping off to expose naked flesh and nerves. I’ve been struck in the head, legs, fingers, wrist and groin more times than I cared for. I’ve bled upon my training grounds and my tools. As I type this freshly-torn skin on my left hand continues to remind me of its presence, as do the patches of battered flesh on my other right hand.

Pain for most people is one-dimensional. A tactile sensation, no more. For me, it combines with synaesthesia, flashing into two or three. The pain in my left palm is a curvy yellow lump, distant but insistent. When I touch my protocalluses, they are bubbles of white. I’ve experienced red pain, hot and, furious radiating down my limbs, cooling into gold and white as it poured out my fingertips and tongue. I’ve had pain that manifests as a solid white wall of sharp icy edges tearing into my brain, slamming into the entirety of my being, overriding sight and sound, smell and touch.

And compared to the other martial artists and warriors I’ve studied, this is nothing.

The iron is a cruel and uncaring teacher, but through pain it transforms you. To grow muscles, you must first tear them down with heavy labour. Repeated rough trauma hardens and toughens soft skin. Through familiarity with pain, the body learns its limits and the mind understands that an undefeated will can overcome pain. Endurance is developed through pushing through in spite of non-debilitating pain. If you are still functional, if nothing is broken or deranged or bleeding profusely, you are still good to go. When you are accustomed to minor hurts, you can face future ones with a smile and a laugh; when other pains come upon you, be they heartbreak or offense or rage or sorrow, you know in your bones that you have endured similar hurts and mastered heavier iron, and you can endure these too. And when the pains of training grow lesser, you know you are harder — and ready to take on greater weight.

But pain is not an excuse for self-destruction. It is a call for self-awareness. When training you have to be mindful of your movements and your capabilities. If you do not train with proper form, agony awaits. If you dare the iron more than your body can take, it will smash you. In the gym, this means pinched nerves, blown backs, broken bones. On the field, sticks and fists will find unprotected joints and flesh. On the street, you will to the hospital or the morgue. Sharp or throbbing pain is a sign that you’re doing something wrong. A sudden loss of sensation is a symptom of impending injury. Pain in your bones or joints and loss of range of movement requires immediate attention. In the gym, if you hit the weights with bad form you will hurt yourself; if you dare weights heavier than your body can handle, you will hurt yourself even more. If you keep getting hit during training, you must re-examine your defence and your footwork. If you do not correct your mistakes, you will destroy yourself.

The iron does not care about you. Only you can take care of yourself.

The iron is a harsh teacher, and its price is pain. Through the pain you become harder, tougher, stronger, more like iron in mind and body, better able to cope with the wounds and insults of life. The pain also teaches moderation and awareness, demanding you to perfect your form, keep yourself healthy and do only what you are capable of. If you want to grow stronger, more capable, better able to take the slings and arrows of life and return the favour tenfold, then pay the price of iron and be transformed.

The Price of Iron
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