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Urban legends


Urban legends, or myths, are stories that are thought to be factual by those circulating them; however, while they are usually based upon some fact, over time they have often been distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized.

The term, “urban legend” does not necessarily mean that it takes place in an urban setting. The term is used to differentiate modern legends from traditional folklore; urban legends should more accurately be called contemporary legends.

Martial arts urban legends

The martial arts have their share of urban legends. Many of them relate to the stories about the deadly techniques used by mysterious “martial art masters.” Most of the legends started during the last half of the last century and 70s the martial arts were becoming more widely known by the public; mostly through television and the movies.

One thing about urban legends is that the more unbelievable they are, the more people believe them. While many people would not believe an urban legend involving an ordinary person, if the person involved is said to be a “martial art master,” then they tend to believe it. If I said an old man jumped from the ground straight up onto the roof of a house, people would not believe it; however, if I said the old man was a kung-fu master, then they would tend to believe it and pass the legend on to others. The following are few examples of martial art urban legends.

Nose in brain

Legend: If you thrust your palm heel upward into the nose, you can break the nose and drive its bones into the brain, killing the person.

Fact: If you examine a human skull, you notice there is only a small bit of bone at the bridge of the nose. This would be extremely difficult to break using any part of the human body, and it is certainly not large enough to reach the brain even if it were broken. If you feel your own nose, you will notice it maintains its shape due to a pliable tissue, called cartilage. The cartilage may be broken or displaced, which happens a lot to professional fighters, but the pieces will not reach into the brain.

Thin temple

Legend: The temple is the thinnest part of the skull so a strike to it will break the skull.

Fact: Again, if you examine the human skull, you will notice the temples are not significantly thinner than the rest of the skull, and that they are surrounded by the rounded cranium. The temple area is not any more susceptible to breakage than any other part of the skull.

However, the temples do have nerve centers and blood vessels in the area that make strikes there more painful. In addition, since the temple area is relatively flat, more force from a strike is apt to be transmitted to the brain than would be transmitted if one struck a rounded area. The strike most recommended to be used to the temple is a back fist that impacts on the middle knuckle. However, rather than breaking the skull, the knuckle will more likely be broken.

Ancient martial arts

Legend: Martial arts are ancient.

Fact: There are ancient arts, such as the Indian art of varmannie, that may be traced back over 5,000 years; the Chinese art of kung-fu that may be traced back over 3,000 years; and the Japanese art of jujutsu that may be traced back over 1,000 years. However, most martial arts have been created within the few hundred years, after training in the martial arts became a popular pastime for the masses. Before that, everyone's time was spent just finding food and shelter.

Judo was founded in 1882. Aikido was founded in 1935. Taekwondo was founded in 1955. Many martial arts were founded just last year.

Finger into eye into brain

Legend: You can jab your first two fingers into the attacker’s eyes and into the brain, killing the person.

Fact: Once again, let us examine the human skill. If you look into the eye sockets, you will see they are surrounded by bone except for the small openings for the optic nerves. Although the bone at the back of the eye socket is thin, it is still bone and is both hard and somewhat pliable. To penetrate it with a finger, one must first thrust the finger deep into the skull, still have enough force to penetrate the bone, and then enough remaining force to thrust even further to the brain. Although a mere attempt would be enough to stop any attacker, you will not succeed in thrusting your fingers into the brain.

Tip of sternum into the heart

Legend: A straight punch to the solar plexus may break off the bottom tip of the sternum and drive it into the heart, killing the person.

Fact: The sternum itself is thick bone and would be difficult to break with a hand strike. The bottom tip of the sternum is called the xiphoid process. In younger people, the xiphoid is cartilaginous and pliable; in adults, it ossifies and gets harder. If it were broken off by a blow, it would require tremendous additional force to drive it into anything in the abdomen, especially the heart. In addition, only about 30% of the human populations even have a xiphoid process.

Death touch

Legend: A person may be rendered unconscious or killed (either immediately or later) by touching or lightly striking certain points on the person’s body.

Fact: Chi is a supposed life-force that flows through the body along certain meridians and some believe that this life force may be externally manipulated at certain points on the body. Acupuncturists manipulate these points to supposedly treat their clients. Some martial arts, such as dim-mak and combat ki, practice what is commonly known as the “death touch” or “poison finger” where a “master” touches a point on a chi meridian on a person’s body and supposedly affects the chi in a way that causes either immediate or delayed unconsciousness or death.

Scientists have known for ages about the mind’s influence over the physical body. If a person believes something will work, then, to some extent, it will probably work for them; it is called the “placebo effect” and must be accounted for when testing medical treatments. Most demonstrations of martial arts that use chi touching involve a “master” touching his or her students. When the art is demonstrated upon non-believers, it does not work.

Pressure upon or striking nerve centers may cause pain, maybe even incapacitating pain; however, pressing or striking the precise point on a complaint person is difficult enough, but hitting the precise point on a resisting person is nearly impossible, especially since the person is constantly moving and twisting, and not all people have the nerve centers in the normal places. While pressing on the pressure point may hurt the attacker, the attacker will not just let you keep pressing; he or she will counterattack. Pressure point attacks are only useful for releases, where the attacker’s momentary pain may give you an opportunity to escape.

Grab heart

Legend: A martial art master can thrust a hand into a person’s chest, grab the heart (or other organs), and pull it out of the body, killing the person.

Fact: It is impossible for a person to thrust his or her hand into the human body. Skin and flesh are relatively tough, but are also pliable and can stretch. To penetrate the body to any appreciable depth, an object must have a sharp point and be very stiff and hard, such as a dagger, strike with enough force to overcome the toughness, resistance, and flexibility of skin and flesh, and then not strike any bone directly, which would prevent penetration.

It is practically impossible for an attacker to thrust the rounded end of a broom handle into a person; therefore, thrusting the hand into a person would be even more difficult. The attempt would certainly injure the person, but it would not penetrate the body. An attacker cannot physically propel the broom handle or the hand with enough speed to penetrate the body. However, with enough speed, fragile objects may be thrust into hard objects. For example, small pieces of wood have been found driven into power poles by the force of a tornado.

As an experiment, take a paper drinking straw and try pushing it into a raw potato; the straw will crumble. Now, hold one end of the straw between the thumb and forefinger, squeeze and hold the end closed, and use a quick, snapping motion to thrust the straw into the potato. You can thrust the straw completely through the potato. If you try to thrust the straw into a balloon using the same procedure, you will not be able to penetrate the balloon and break it. Since the balloon is elastic, it will take tremendous speed for the straw to break the balloon; more speed than a human can generate.

Once an object is thrust into the body, it is difficult to remove the object since the body immediately closes around the object to prevent bleeding. Therefore, even if the hand was thrust into the body, it would be difficult to remove it, even without it grasping an organ. In addition, the entrance wound would have to be forcibly enlarged as the hand exits since the closed hand holding the organ cannot be pulled out through the small entrance wound easily. If the heart were grabbed, to rip it out, the attacker would have to pull with enough force to rip it from its moorings and then rip it loose from its arteries and veins. In addition to the above protections, other organs, such as the throat, are protected by cartilage and powerful muscles that make them difficult to even grab.

Martial arts are useless

Legend: Traditional martial arts are useless for self-defense.

Fact: Any martial art is only as effective as the martial artist who is using it. A seasoned street fighter with no formal martial art training is a better fighter than most martial arts of any discipline.

If a martial artist is not effective in his or her art, it is because the martial artist is a poor representative of his or her martial art. World championships change hands regularly, not because a certain art is better than another, but because on a particular day, another martial artist was better than the current champion. Anyone can make practically any martial art effective if they train hard enough in it.

Go for eyes or throat

Legend: In a fight for your life, go for the throat or the eyes.

Fact: Unless you are bigger and stronger than your attacker, grabbing the throat is useless. Punching or kicking the throat is very difficult since the target is small and a shrug of the shoulders or drop of the chin would block the strike. A knife hand or ridge hand strike has the best chance of getting to the target; however, you must be to the side of the attacker. A light strike may cause choking and a heavy strike may result in the blockage or swelling in the throat that may lead to suffocation but this will take time, time you may not have. It is best to attack a more accessible target.

If you attack the eyes, you had better be serious about the attack and make sure it works the first time you try. If it does not work, the attacker will be furious and will try to kill you, whether that was the original intention or not. Clawing at or scratching the eyes may be used as a distraction to set up a more effective attack or an escape but it will not stop an attacker. Jabbing at the eyes will be distracting, but it will be very difficult to hit the eyes with the attack; the target is small, and any slight turn of the head will close the target, and, as everyone knows, the body will react instinctively to anything it sees coming toward the eyes.

Slap ears

Legend: If you slap both your palms over an attacker’s ears simultaneously, the increased air pressure will rupture the eardrums and incapacitate the opponent or render him or her unconscious.

Fact: Try this on your own ears; start slowly and gradually increase the speed until you feel uncomfortable in doing it. As you will see you can slap your ears fairly hard with no effect. At best, if you have a perfect seal between the palm and the outer ear, the only air trapped will be that trapped in the inner ear, not enough to do serious damage to the eardrum or anything else.

Slapping harder and faster will not increase the amount of air trapped or appreciably increase the air pressure. At best, the ears may ring from the noise and the outer ears will be bruised and hurt. To be knocked unconscious the brain must be jarred hard enough to cause unconsciousness. Even the eardrums were to break; it would not cause unconsciousness.

Vulcan nerve pinch

Legend: The Star Trek “Vulcan nerve pinch” is real.

Fact: If you were to squeeze a weak person’s trapezius muscle tightly near where the shoulder connects to the neck, the person would probably wince in pain. If you have strong hands and could dig your fingertips into the brachial nerve, the arm on that side might even go numb. However, even a person with no martial art training would have no problem in twisting out of the grip, and no one would be rendered unconscious.

2.12 Stomp top of foot

Legend: When grabbed from behind, stomp the attacker’s foot and an attacker will let go.

Fact: How much pain a stomp would cause in the attacker depends upon what type of shoes you are wearing and what type of shoes the attacker is wearing. If you are wearing heavy shoes with hard soles, and the attacker is wearing low cut shoes, then it may be effective; otherwise, it will probably be a waste of time. When you use a weak defense against an attacker, it shows the attacker that you are willing to resist and may have some training, which will cause the attacker to be more cautious and to increase his or her attack.

Kick groin

Legend: A kick to an attacker’s groin will stop an attack.

Fact: Males know about groin kicks, so they expect them. Males react instinctively to block groin kicks. The testicles are small and protected by the thighs, making them a difficult target to hit. In addition, the target is constantly moving as the attacker twists and moves.

When the testicles are hit, there is usually a several seconds of delay before the pain is felt. In these few seconds, the enraged attacker could kill you. A groin strike is a valid technique, but do not rely on it to work, or work quickly enough for you to escape harm.

Jab thumbs into armpits

Legend: Jamming your thumbs into an attacker’s armpits will knock out the attacker.

Fact: There are blood vessels, lymph nodes, and nerve clusters in the armpits; however, a thumb jab into an armpit, while causing pain, would not cause unconsciousness.

Kick head

Legend: A spin heel kick/flying kick/etc. to the head will take out any attacker.

Fact: Unless the attacker has been stunned by another technique, is leaning forward, and is unable to defend him or herself, any attempt at using any high kick is suicidal. There are too many variables, such as the looseness of the clothes you are wearing, the type shoes you are wearing, the surface on which you are standing, objects laying on the surface, the closeness of some solid object you may hit, etc. In addition, a high kick is easy to block and counter. However, if a powerful spin heel kick does strike the head in the right place, it may stun, knock out, injure, or kill the attacker.


Legend: A headbutt will take out any attacker.

Fact: A headbutt is when your forehead or back of the head is snapped into the attacker’s face. It is not running into an attacker’s abdomen with your head; this is easily deflected and would cause little damage if not blocked and it may paralyze you.

If a headbutt is delivered properly, the attacker will be injured and you will receive only minor damage. It is an effective weapon, which is why is illegal to use in fighting sports. A headbutt to the attacker’s face may cause death to the attacker or cause the attacker’s lower teeth to be jammed into your skull. As with any other technique, head butts are only effective under the right conditions; therefore, do not rely on one to take out your attacker.

Snap the neck

Legend: It is easy to snap a person’s neck.

Fact: It is true that there are a few different ways to snap a person’s neck, with the likely result being paralysis or death, but most of these methods require a surprise attack from behind. Neck breaking techniques are best implemented by a very strong person versus a much weaker victim. Neck snaps are typically a "finishing move" used on a fallen opponent who is either unconscious or too exhausted to defend himself or herself. Performing a finishing move on a helpless person is punishable as murder.

Black belts must register with the government

Legend: Black belts must register themselves as deadly weapons.

Fact: No federal, state, or local government regulates the martial arts, other than as businesses. There are no government records of who trains in the martial arts or if they are black belts. No government requires you to register yourself, your knives, your hammers, or any other potentially deadly weapons, other than firearms.

As with other urban legends, this one is based on some facts. In Japan, for a few years after World War II, the martial arts were banned, and records of experienced practitioners were kept. Occupation forces in Japan knew about this ban and their memories of it stayed with them after their return to their home countries.

For many years after WWII, overseas military personnel, including those in Asian countries, were required to register their participation in off-base activities, including the martial arts. This was done to track military community involvement. However, the personnel were not registering themselves, only their participation.

In the early years of professional boxing, during a press conference, it was common to have the local police “register” the boxer as a deadly weapon. It was just a publicity stunt, but as usual, some people remembered it as fact.

Although a person who has obtained a black belt is not considered a dangerous weapon, his or her expertise does subject him or her to extra scrutiny when he or she uses this expertise to harm another. A black belt is assumed to be an expert at fighting and to know how to control a punch enough to make it a tap or a deadly blow. For example, in the case of Matter of the Welfare of DSF, 416 N.W.2d 772 (Minn. App. 1988), the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant, who had “substantial experience in karate,” was aware enough of the potential of his blows to deliberately break the plaintiff’s jaw.

Bruce Lee was assassinated

Legend: Bruce Lee was assassinated by Shaolin monks for teaching their secrets.

Fact: As with the death of any public figure, there are those who develop various conspiracy theories to explain the deaths, rather than accept the official causes of death.

In the case of Bruce Lee, while he was discussing the script of the never finished movie, Game of Death, with Betty Tingpei, an actress with whom he was co-starring, he had a severe pounding headache and took some Equagesic (meprobamate and aspirin), a painkiller given to him by Tingpei, and went into another room to lie down.

Lee was severely allergic to aspirin and unfortunately, the medication contained aspirin. The anaphylactic reaction caused his brain to swell and he lapsed into a coma during his nap. Dr. R.R. Lycette of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon, Hong Kong, cited a hypersensitivity to one or more of the compounds in the Equagesic tablet as the cause of death.

World Champion

Legend: There is a world champion of the fighting arts.

Fact: Just as with boxing, there are many governing organizations in the martial arts and each has many world champions, one for each weight class or other division. Therefore, there is no single world champion.


Legend: There are martial art deathmatches.

Fact: When was the last time you heard about a martial arts death match in the newspapers, on the world news, or on the Internet? They do not exist, except in movies and imaginations, and they probably have never existed in modern times.

Serene masters

Legend: Masters are always calm and serene.

Fact: Masters are people so they have the same emotions as other people. No matter, how they appear on the outside, inside they are still people and as such, they experience fear, anger, anxiety, and nervousness, as do other people. Masters are actors with a role to play; they play the role of a master. However, when stressed in real life, the true feelings come forth. For example, see how calm the master is when you stop paying your training fee as required by his or her long-term contract.

Fighting multiple attackers

Legend: A black belt can defend against a group of attackers.

Fact: As you may have experienced during training exercises in class, one person cannot effectively defend against more than one attacker, unless the attackers are idiots, such as seen in the movies, and wait their turn to attack one at a time.

The human brain cannot concentrate on two things at the same time; it can switch its attention from one thing to another and it may be aware of other things, but it cannot concentrate on more than one thing. You can concentrate on fighting one person and then on fighting another person, but you cannot concentrate on fighting two persons at the same time. When you concentrate on stopping the attacker with a knife, you will not be aware of the attacker that hits you with a club.

When fighting multiple attackers, you fight one attacker with deadly techniques that will incapacitate the attacker and take him or her out of the fight. Then you fight the next attacker the same way, etc. The order in which you take on the attackers depends on many factors, such as the closest attacker, the most dangerous attacker, the leader, the one with a weapon, or the one blocking your exit.

When you have multiple attackers, you can show no mercy. Each attacker may only intend to just hit you a few times to teach you a lesson, but the culmination of a few punches from many attackers can kill you, so you must fight like your life is in danger.

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