"There’s only one basic principle of self-defense: you must apply the most effective weapon, as soon as possible, to the most vulnerable target."
There strong opinions about pressure points in self defense, martial arts and even medicine. Some would have you believe through the power of Chi that they can perform a no touch knock out from across the room. The Dim Muk is a term for the killing touch that can allegedly kill the advisory days or even years after the initial touch (Although whats the point in that if if doesn't get you out of the immediate situation).
There's a theory going around the internet that Bruce Lee was killed by the infamous Dim Muk strike which activated some time later. Then again I've also heard that he was killed by a curse put on him by the Chinese triads. (His cause of death was officially an allergic reaction with a painkiller he took causing a brain swelling.)
Others disagree about pressure points and say that it would be impossible to hit a pressure point in a “real” situation even if pressure points where real. And if it was hit it would be a fleeting pain at most.
And others still recon it's just a marketing ploy that entices in the lazy with the promise of greatness without any hard work and indeed at the cost of a lot of money.
I lay somewhere in between and I think the huge differences in opinion stem from people's definitions of what a pressure point even is. Terminology is just splitting hairs right?
I agree that what you call something is more or less irrelevant, use Japanese, Chinese, Korean or English as long as the technique works it shouldn't matter. But it does mater if nobody actually knows what the other mean when they say “pressure point”. If I say “A” but you think I said “B” that's when the disagreements occur.
So, what is a pressure point?
The oxford definition of a pressure point is 2 fold, firstly is:
“A point on the surface of the body sensitive to pressure.”
This is the most general term of the word pressure point, when the Chinese use acupuncture and talk about meridian lines and pressure points this is the definition they would use. It is also the umbrella term for the other terms I'll mention later, hence the confusion.
The second definition is:
"A point where an artery can be pressed against a bone to inhibit bleeding.”
This is the more specific and medical definition. One of these points could be used in first aid for example to slow bleeding to a part of the body. (Although this is no longer taught in first aid courses). Notice how the definition specifies “artery” rather than blood vessel of any kind. Arteries are the vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body rather than taking it back. Constructing one of these arteries doesn't cause a particular amount of pain but has other effects such as slowing the blood to the brain in the case of the carotid artery in the side of the neck.
This definition is the one I prefer and will be using from now on.
Remember Dim Muk from earlier? This literally translates as “press artery” from Chinese.
I'm not saying the ancient Chinese Monks couldn't perform a 1 touch kill technique, one strike is easily enough to kill an opponent, I just doubt it was as how legends suggest. I do think they had some idea of pressure points and the use of arteries to cause pain. I'm just fairly sure that like all good legends, it has been exaggerated over the years of story telling.
Side note: I am pretty certain a no touch kill is impossible, possibly coming from a trick or poison assassination.
What about “pressure points” that don't stop the blood
These are equally valid in self defense and martial arts and come under the umbrella term of pressure points. But for clarity we will name them something else. I've come to like the term “nerve point”. There's no scientific basis upon this, just seemed like a good term to use given my definition.
“A point on the body where a nerve is located near the surface and supported by a muscle or bone”
An example of this would be the point in the flesh of the thumb between the bones of the thumb and index finger. Pressure here pinches the median nerve against the muscle causing significant pain in relation to the amount of pressure which is applied.
So what is a “vital point”?
Again, I couldn't find a medical or scientific definition of this phrase but I am going to use the first definition of a pressure point for this term. From what I understand it, a vital point is used synonymously with the first pressure point definition. Another way I saw it described was that the reaction is out of proportion to the force given. So a poke wouldn't cause a big reaction from most people but a poke in the eye would be a different story!
So to sum up the terminology I like to use
Vital point: all encompassing term for an area on the body which is sensitive to pressure or may cause another effect.
Pressure Point: a vital point which restricts the blood flow of an artery.
Nerve Point: a vital point which pinches a nerve against a muscle or bone.
How to use vital points in martial arts and self defense
I've found that on the most part there are 2 effects of attacking a vital point. Either technique ends in the incapacitation of the opponent or the technique causes a reaction in the opponent.
“Knockout” vital points
The first type sometimes coined “knockout” pressure points though not strictly true, are almost exclusively in the head and neck. Again they can be split into techniques achieved via a strike or a compression. I will write another post regarding specific points to aim for but an example of both of these could include the Carotid arteries. The ones on the side of the neck which are compressed during a rear naked choke.
This pressure point causes a knockout by mimicking high blood pressure, your body will lower the blood pressure in response to this, combined with the already restricted blood flow to the brain, results in too little blood reaching the brain and it shutting down. Restricting this further and death is seconds away.
I would also consider eye gauges in this section as they would result in the incapacitation of the opponent but without knocking them out. I would also suggest reading the self defense law post I wrote about considering proportionate and reasonable force!
Pain reliant vital points
The second type are used to gain a reaction or distraction. These are sometimes called pain reliant techniques, which is a fairly accurate description. These work to allow other techniques to be used or to move an opponent off balance etc. An example could be a slap to the groin prior to a throw or compressing the femoral nerve to deaden the thigh.
The femoral nerve vital point works by compressing the nerve against the muscles of the thigh causing intense pain in the leg. While standing a knee or kick would be suitable striking methods, on the ground an elbow can also be used effectively.
The issue with pain reliant techniques or all types is that if the opponent has become desensitised the effect will be reduced. Desensitisation can come from drink, drugs, training, adrenaline and natural pain tolerance.
I intend to write another article outlining some of the common and useful vital points along with other striking areas, it's on my list. (Actually its already half written, will be ready next week)
I think a big part of pressure points and nerve points in martial arts and self defense is that you can't rely on them alone. They aren't a short cut to becoming proficient in self defense or martial arts. They are valid but should be used to assist in the effectiveness of your current training and another option you have.
Now I would say that a killing touch is impossible but it is agreed that some areas of the body are weaker than others and are completely viable to manipulate in both a self defense setting (as long as you abide by the law) and a martial arts setting (as long as you abide by the rules).
Keep an eye out for my next post, identifying the particular points and striking areas to be used!
Read about pressure point applications here:
And Striking Areas here: