Combat>Physical aspects>Vital areas

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Vital areas


As a student of the martial arts, you should know some basic anatomy. In a simple self-defense situation, you need to know areas of the body to strike to cause painful results. In a life-or-death self-defense situation, you need to know areas of the body to strike to cause lethal results. 

Confusing the two situations may lead to serious consequences. Using too strong a counterattack in response to a simple attack may lead to your imprisonment or a lawsuit. Using too weak an attack in a life-or-death situation may lead to your death or serious injury. In each self-defense situation, you must correctly judge the amount of force required and on what areas of the body to apply the force. 

When making this judgment, you must consider the effect of adrenaline, on both you and your attacker. Increased adrenaline decreases the effects of pain and gives you greater strength. Also, remember that persons under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs are less sensitive to pain. All this means that martial artists should know where to strike and what the effects of a strike may be.

Defensive techniques and targets should be chosen with great care. They should be legal and ethical and usually should tend toward caution. As you gain martial arts experience, you will gain knowledge of the human body, its vital areas, and their relationship to self-defense techniques.

Major targets


Vital areas along the arms and legs are easy to reach and damage from strikes is usually minor. Wrist and elbow locks are the most common targets since most attackers try to grab you or strike you with their hands. However, be careful when applying joint locks. Only apply the amount of force needed to neutralize the attack since joint-locks can be very damaging. The use of excessive force, even in self-defense, is illegal! If you are forced to dislocate a joint, never reset it on the scene. Nerve fibers and/or blood vessels could be pinched or severed. This type of first aid should only be performed by medical personnel under controlled conditions.

Shoulders, as well as hips, are ball-and-socket joints that have a large range of movement, but they may be injured if overextended. The shoulders are highly susceptible to separations. Shoulder dislocations occur more frequently than in any other joint of the body. Even in the well-conditioned body, only a small amount of force is necessary to dislocate the shoulder.

Elbows, as well as the knees, are hinge joints that move primarily in only one direction. They are more susceptible to locking by hyperextension and twisting techniques than are the wrists. If you apply enough force against their direction of movement, it will cause extreme pain or possible separation of the joint. 

Wrists have a modified ball-and-socket joint. They are an important target of releases and come-alongs. Although wrist locks are effective, they require years of practice to apply correctly. They must be learned to near perfection because they are so easily broken and countered, especially if the opponent is strong. Wrists may also be a target for strikes. A strike to a wrist may numb and paralyze the entire arm.

Fingers may be targets for either strikes or grabs where they are pulled painfully backward. A sharp strike to the fingers may make an opponent drop his or her weapon and may cripple the hand so it cannot be used to continue an attack. 


Should the situation be serious, or the assailant is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, targets on the legs become your primary targets. It is easy to damage the knee with a kick to the front or side. When the knee is damaged, whether your attacker can feel the pain or not, he or she will not be able to stand or follow you as you make your escape. 

A strike or kick to the muscles of the inner thigh will not only cause pain but may cause a cramp which would make the leg useless and bring your assailant down. A sharp strike to the unprotected shin bone or a stomp to the instep of the foot will be extremely painful and could easily hobble an assailant. A stomp to the Achilles tendon could cripple an assailant. A kick to the calf could cause a painful cramp. A strike just above the knee and at the bottom of the thigh could tear the hamstring and cripple an assailant. These are all repairable injuries, but they will allow you an opportunity to escape.


Strikes to targets on the torso may cause serious injuries and thus are less desirable as defensive strikes but some situations call for drastic actions. In these situations, a downward strike may easily fracture or break the collarbone. An upward strike to the solar plexus may temporarily paralyze the diaphragm and restrict breathing. The lower set of floating ribs may be easily damaged by an upset punch. A sharp strike to the breastbone will be extremely painful due to the lack of cushioning fat or muscle. A downward strike to the top of the pelvic bone may disable an attacker. 

A strike to the groin, on a male or female, is painful and disabling. On a male, it may cause unconsciousness, however, sometimes any effect is delayed. If a gunman is kicked in the groin, he will be able to fire many times before the pain takes effect. A sharp strike to the kidneys may drop an opponent. A kick to the tailbone may incapacitate an attacker.

The solar plexus is the approximate center of body mass. Strikes to the front of the body below the solar plexus will cause the person to bend over, but not the person will not be knocked backward. Strikes to the front of the body above the solar plexus will probably knock the person backward, the higher on the body the strike, the more movement.

Each person, depending on many factors, such as physical conditioning, amount of body fat, and thickness of clothing, has vulnerable or invulnerable areas. Do not assume that because a target strike is effective on one person that the same strike will be effective on another person. A street fighter or a boxer is used to receiving head, rib, and abdomen strikes. Also, not all people react to pain in the same way. For some, pain is a pleasure and will only serve to encourage brutally. When in doubt, go for the most crippling strike possible and let a court of law prove that, as a victim, you were NOT in fear for your life.

When defending yourself remember to SING. Attack the Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, and Groin.


Strikes to the head should only be used in life-threatening situations. A blow to the head could prove fatal, however, the main reason for avoiding strikes to the head is because few people leave their head unguarded. Your opponent will most likely be expecting you to punch toward the head. However, if the opportunity presents itself and the situation demands it, do not hesitate to use head strikes.

Pulling the hair is an effective means of control and is the least damaging counterattack that you may use to the head. An upward palm-heel strike under the point of the chin may snap the head back and possibly cause serious damage to the spine or neck. Pinching the ear lobe, twisting the nose, or twisting the upper lip are also easy ways to control a person.

A strike to the hinge of the jaw, just below and in front of the ear, or slapping the ears with cupped hands may stun your opponent and end the confrontation. Almost any kind of strike to the nose will break the delicate cartilage, causing the eyes to tear, blinding the attacker. Use extreme caution when striking the nose since a broken or bleeding nose may hinder breathing and may cause suffocation. Only strike the throat when in mortal danger since the strike could crush the windpipe.

Pushing your thumbs into an attacker's eyes will temporarily blind him or her and allow you to run away. A flick of your fingertips in front of the eyes will cause an attacker to flinch and blink, permitting a powerful follow-up counterstrike.

Attacks to the vital areas of the torso may cause disruptive effects on the spinal cord and sympathetic nervous system, which may affect the cranial nerves leading to loss of consciousness caused by shock and loss of breathing. However, attacks to vital areas of the head do not always lead to loss of breathing despite the loss of sensory and motor function

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