Martial arts throughout East Asia incorporate pressure points into their arsenals of fighting techniques. In China, the use of pressure points for martial arts purposes is called "dim mak," which means "death touch." In Japan it is called "kyusho jitsu," which means "one-second fighting." Pressure points can cause pain, disability or even death.
Pressure point theory is based on a traditional Chinese medical theory -- or TCM. This theory of medicine states that the body contains 14 main meridians. On these meridians are 360 main acupuncture points. Manipulating these points can cause changes not just at the site of the point but all along the meridian and also deep within the body. Of the 360 main points, 30 to 40 are commonly used by martial artists. Some points work best when they are struck, and some work best when they are pressed. TCM says that each point has an optimal time of the day when it works best. Each point also has setup points, which cause it to work better than it would if it were used alone.
Some points cause temporary shutdown of muscles or nerves, which results in physical disability that may last seconds, minutes or even hours. For example, if a martial artist blocks a kick by striking the leg, that block stops the kick. If the martial artist strikes one of several pressure points on the leg while doing the block, the strike not only stops the kick, it shuts down muscle function in the leg. Striking specific points on the leg will cause the muscles of the leg to become weak, sometimes to the point where they can no longer support the weight of the body. Some pressure points temporarily disable limbs. Some points can cause unconsciousness. Others can shut down breathing.
Other pressure points cause pain. Mike Young, author of "Martial Arts Techniques for Law Enforcement," describes a pressure point under the nose. The point is located at the base of the nose, where the nose meets the upper lip. When the point is pressed upward at a 45-degree angle, back toward the crown of the head, it causes pain. This pain can be used to manipulate the head, and where the head goes, the body follows. Pressure points that cause pain are useful when a martial artist is trying to control an attacker without permanently injuring him.
Pressure points are also part of the traditional Asian system of healing. Striking or pressing a point with force will cause pain and disability. Needling or lightly pressing the same point can cause healing. Tuina is the art of healing using pressure points. Unlike acupuncture, tuina doesn't use needles. Because tuina requires nothing more than finger pressure and a knowledge of Chinese anatomy and physiology, it is particularly useful for martial artists who sometimes have to fix injuries caused by training accidents. Most traditional martial arts that use pressure points in fighting teach pressure point healing as well.
- Death Touch: the Science Behind the Legend of Dim Mak; Michael Kelly
- Kysho Jitsu; George A. Dillman
- Advanced Pressure Point Grappling; George Dillman
- Martial Arts Techniques for Law Enforcement; Mike Young
- The Encyclopedia of Dim-Mak: The Main Meridians; Erle Montaigue and Wally Simpson
- Vital Point Strikes: The Art and Science of Striking Vital Targets for Self-defense and Combat Sports; Sang H. Kim
Susan Peterson is the author of five books, including "Western Herbs for Martial Artists and Contact Athletes" and "Clare: A Novel." She holds a Ph.D. in text theory from the University of Texas at Arlington and is an avid cook and gardener.