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About pressure points

What are pressure points?

Pressure points are areas of the body where nerve pathways are near the surface of the skin and thus may be affected by pressure or strikes applied to that area. The result of this pressure is pain at the area of application of the pressure or disruption of the body part that the nerve controls. You may use pressure or strikes to pressure points to:

  • Knockout. Effects may vary from stunning, to temporary unconsciousness, to comatose, to death. Examples are attacks to the chin for a knockout, to the base of neck to stun, or to the temple for death.
  • Control. Used to cause a person to release you or stop attacking you, to expose an attacker's more vulnerable points, or to cause a person to comply with your directions. Examples are pressure to the point just behind jaw hinge to make a person rise, or pressure in the web between the thumb and forefinger to make a person release what is being gripped
  • Restrain. Used to immobilize a person, cause temporary loss of control of a limb, or to hold a person down. Examples are pressure to nerves on inside or outside of the thigh to incapacitate a leg or pressure to the middle of the arm on the hollow of the triceps muscle to incapacitate the arm.

Do pressure point attacks work?

Yes, they work, but not very well. When you are grabbed, using pressure or strikes to pressure points may cause the attacker to release you. When attacking, it is better to strike pressure points and vital areas than it is to strike protected or padded (by fat or clothing) areas. It is more effective to strike the solar plexus than to strike the upper chest that is protected by the rib cage.

However, nerve centers are small areas and are difficult to strike solidly (try punching a tennis ball swinging from a hanging string). When opponents are moving, the point to strike is also moving and the angle of attack required to reach the point is constantly changing. Also, while you are determining the striking point and angle, you must also be constantly defending yourself against the opponent's attacks. In a life or death self-defense situation, would you rather take a chance on hitting a small nerve center at just the right place and angle, or just side kicking the person on the side of the knee and breaking it.

Another problem with nerve centers is that they are not in the same place on everyone. In some people, major organs are missing or are in the wrong location, such as a person born with one kidney or a person with his or her heart on the right of the chest rather than the left side. In other people, nerve centers are not in the right place. If you have tried using pressure to the nerve behind the jaw hinge on various people, you know that in some people the nerve is so deep that it cannot be effectively manipulated.

In a self-defense situation, it is difficult enough just getting to a pressure point area without having to poke around trying to find the nerve. At the first poke, the person will move away and not allow you to touch that area again. If you watch pressure point demonstrations, the opponent is always a student of the demonstrator or a willing believer; thus, the opponent is cooperative and does nothing that might disrupt the demonstration. Unless an opponent is restrained in some way, he or she will just twist or pull away from the pressure. If this is the purpose of the technique, such as to make an unruly demonstrator stand up, then the technique serves its purpose. However, it in no way prevents the demonstrator from counterattacking.

When free-sparring, you know how difficult it is to strike a person in the front of the torso. Imagine trying to hit just the solar plexus. If you only try to strike nerve centers, you will get your butt kicked before you ever strike one effectively. Demonstrations of pressure point attacks that use willing subjects who are not resisting or striking back are not for practical use; they are just for entertainment or to bolster the ego of the demonstrator. When under stress, fatigued, or stunned, one of the first abilities to weaken is your fine motor skills, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, to attack precise points.

When sparring, you are not afraid of serious injury or death because this is not the objective of the opponent's attacks. You are free to use risky techniques since their failure will not result in your possible death. When you are in a fight for your life, are you going to be thinking about what pressure point is best, is it open, and how to put pressure on it? If you do, it will be too late—you will be dead! When your life is at risk, you cannot rely on something that may work under some circumstances; you must rely on tried and true, instinctive techniques that work under all circumstances. When under stress, fatigued, or stunned, it is doubtful that you will be able to think cognitively about possible pressure point attacks. If your first pressure point attack does not work, you will not get a chance to apply another one since the opponent will now be prepared for this type of attack.

What about the demonstrations of knockouts that are made using only a slap?

These demonstrations are always used against students of the demonstrator. When the demonstrators are forced to use them on non-believers, they don’t work.

Medical research has found that using acupuncture for pain relief works, but only if the patient believes it will work. Experiments using false acupuncture techniques have shown that they work just as well as real acupuncture if the patient believes that they work. It called the placebo effect. If you believe something will make you feel better, it may actually make you feel better.

The only strike of this type that may work is a carotid sinus strike, and it does not always work. The strike is done with the knife edge of the hand striking the side of the neck, pushing back into the carotid sinus with the beginning of the strike, and then pushing sharply into the artery. A small sinus behind the carotid artery tells the brain when high or low blood pressure is occurring in the body so it can act to counter it. When struck, the sinus tells the brain that extremely high blood pressure is present, which causes it to cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which may lead to dizziness, fainting, or unconsciousness. Some "masters" strike the wrist before the neck slap in a supposedly secret combination that causes a blackout. The wrist strike is a useless distraction, only the neck strike can cause a blackout.

What about the other knockout strikes used by some masters?

It is mostly smoke and mirrors. Humans are strange creatures. In a group of similar people (age, gender, beliefs, etc.), what happens to one will sometimes affect all. Teachers have witnessed where one child in a classroom gets an upset stomach, and shortly afterward most of the other students start having the same symptoms. Many people read about the symptoms of a disease and start feeling the symptoms they are reading about. After it was reported that President Bill Clinton had chest pains caused by heart disease, doctors were flooded with patients with similar symptoms.

Some people are susceptible to subliminal suggestions. That is why television commercials exist. For some people, just seeing a Coke can setting on a table in a scene in a movie will make them thirsty for a Coke. Some people are like sheep; they will blindly follow their leader and do his or her bidding without question. Some of these people are highly intelligent but they are also gullible. In the case of Jim Jones' followers, Branch Dravidians, and Heaven's Gate followers, they even followed their masters into death.

Have you ever watched an evangelist that "heals" people that come forward from the audience? They touch the person on the forehead and the person collapses. Watch death touch "masters" perform Dim-mak demonstrations on their students by touching their foreheads and the students drop like flies. They do not necessarily drop because they are faking; they drop because that is what they know they are expected to do. They, just like the people in the evangelist's congregations, want to believe, so they do what they think a true believer should do. Watch people who collapse in these demonstrations; they slowly drop, and the neck is still under tension, which keeps it from striking the floor. If you have ever seen a person actually lose consciousness, you know that, since the person is unconscious, he or she will drop similar to a wet towel. There is little muscle control, so the person just suddenly drops; they do not slowly lower themselves to the floor, and they do not reach. Since there is little muscle control, the head bangs onto the floor and bounces.

Dim-mak "Master" Harry Thomas "Tom" Cameron, the "Human Stun Gun," a student of George Dillman (another master of Dim-mak), carries this effect even further when he stuns his students with "mental energy" from across a room without ever touching them. Fox News television in Chicago did a "Bottom Line" piece on Cameron. At his school of full of fat, out of shape students, Cameron, who is also fat and out of shape, was flawless in his ability to knockout his students with just a touch or with his mental energy. However, the same techniques did not work on the reporter, Danielle Serino. When the reporter had Cameron try the same techniques on Jujitsu students from the Fitplex in downtown Chicago, behold, the techniques had no effect on the students. Cameron's reason for the failures was that about 40% of people are unaffected (apparently, the other 60% seem to all attend his school) and that the students were athletes (I guess that means his students are not athletes) that are trained to dissipate the energy (Yea, right! We all train to dissipate mental energy attacks from idiots).

To see the actual video of the Cameron interview, do a search on YouTube. There are many other videos on the Internet that show what happens when pressure point "masters" demonstrate their techniques against their own students or willing believers. In these videos, the techniques always work. There are also videos on the Internet that show what happens when pressure point "masters" demonstrate their techniques against martial artists, or even non-martial artists, who are not their students or believers in their baloney. In these videos, the techniques do not work, and the "masters" have a multitude of excuses for why the techniques did not work. It appears that these techniques will be highly effective if you are ever attacked by your own or fellow students; just do not expect them to work against anyone else.

What is dim-mak?

Kyusho, dim-mak, and other pressure point fighting arts use strikes to pressure points to subdue or knockout opponents. Most are based on ancient Asian concepts of meridians.

The meridian theory asserts that the body is marked by channels of chi flow, each related to a specific organ. Each of these channels has either yin or yang energy and an associated "element" (wood, metal, earth, fire, water). The pressure points act as "gates" along the meridians, where the flow of energy can be manipulated. The meridians are assigned a quality which corresponds to one of five elements: earth, metal, water, wood, and fire. The five elements are interrelated in two cycles: a cycle of creation, and a cycle of destruction. In other words, each element has a creative and destructive side. For example, "metal" creates "water'" meaning that, by stimulating a point on a "metal" meridian (such as the lung meridian), you increase the energy of the "water" meridians (kidney and bladder). "Metal" also destroys "wood," so by stimulating a "metal" meridian point you decrease the energy in the "wood" meridians (liver and gall bladder). The elemental terms, such as "metal," "wood," etc., are not intended to be literal descriptions of organs or meridians. The term "metal" merely describes a quality that the lung meridian possesses in relation to other meridians.

Certain rules of attack predict the effects of attacks on pressure points associated with these channels. George Dillman's "Advanced Pressure point fighting of Ryuku Kempo" lists these attacks as: attacks on successive points on the same meridian, attacks by the cycle of destruction (water, fire, metal, wood, earth, water, etc.), attacks on yin and yang, and attacks on the diurnal cycle (chi flows along meridians in predictable ways and following the sequence causes more pain).

The system uses a mumbo jumbo collection of other "rules" that are supposed to help you choose a second point to attack after you have struck one point and the opponent has moved unpredictably. You are supposed to analyze the available targets and select one that follows a rule and then strike it. The pressure points are dime-sized or smaller and supposedly only respond only to striking in specific directions, so making such a careful decision would require more time and precision than exists between blows in a real fight.

Western students of these arts, looking for more scientific explanations, have tried using anatomy and physiology to explain the methods used by the arts, but have had little success. As with other hoaxes, these arts use a little science and a lot of bull to explain their techniques. They will use one effect that works, such as the carotid sinus strike, and then add a lot of superfluous hogwash that leads to the strike.

Other pressure point fighting arts are just as silly. In Jwing-Ming's "Shaolin Chin Na," attacks are said to "contract the nerves" and certain pressure points are said to affect organs. An attack on the web of the thumb will supposedly affect the heart, lung, and large intestine and death from organ failure will result. An attack on the armpit will cause a heart attack. A solar plexus strikes will cause death through heart failure. Erle Montaigue says attacks over vessels will cause "great arterial damage." Montaigue also suggests that some strikes will cause the central nervous system to stop sending signals to the brain.

Bottom Line

When evaluating pressure point fighting arts, ask yourself, "If these techniques really work, why do not professional fighters, such as MMA fighters, use the techniques?" The rules do not preclude these types of strikes, so why do not the professionals use the techniques since they would assure the fighters of championships and more money. Why do not armies, such as the United States Army or the United States Marines, use the techniques in the training of combat troops?

In the case of pressure point techniques, they are not used by these groups because the techniques are not effective in real fighting situations. The techniques require either precise aim and execution (being able to achieve or being able to maintain a firm grip for a few seconds, which is an eternity in a fighting situation), or they require the opponent to not counterattack with deadlier techniques. These conditions cannot be counted on occurring during the heat of a fight. The opponent will not hold still and let you find a pressure point and apply a technique. In the heat of a fight when adrenalin is flooding the body, pain is suppressed and even ignored, so, even if applied perfectly, the techniques may not have any effect. The winner of any fight is usually the first person to land a powerful strike to a vulnerable area, and then immediately follow up with many powerful strikes.

In a sporting fight, when a fighter is stunned by a blow and unable to defend him or herself, the referee steps in and halts the action. In a real fight, the attacker will not stop the attack until you are incapacitated or dead. In real fights, opponents will bite any body part in their reach and many times will bite off body parts or remove chunks of flesh.

In a real fight, broken bones and dislocated joints do not work even if the person feels no pain. Punctured eyes cannot see; missing noses and ears bleed profusely and interfere with sight, and concussions dull the mind or cause unconsciousness. Many techniques may appear to be effective when used in demonstrations, but in real fights, the opponents are not compliant students of the attacker. Remember, there is a difference between a person throwing a punch during a demonstration, while free-sparring for points, during a full-contact match, in anger, to hurt you, or to kill you. It is the intention of the attack that makes the difference.

Something that works in a demonstration may not work in any of the other situations. When a killer has both hands around your throat with the intention of killing you by popping your head like a pimple, do you really think a poke in the solar plexus or a jab to a pressure point will stop the attack? Whatever you do had better be very powerful and highly effective the first time you try it because you will not get a second try.

Some pressure point attacks may be useful in certain situations so they should be a part of any martial artist's arsenal of techniques. If there is an opening to an area of the opponent's body and you are attacking that area, and there is a pressure point in that area, then it may be advantageous for you to direct your attack to that point. However, waiting for a pressure point target to open or always trying to strike pressure points is dangerous, and, in a life or death situation, may end in a death—yours.

While pressure point strikes may be useful at times, many martial arts and "masters" make outlandish claims as to their usefulness and effectiveness. They develop entire systems of fighting based upon pressure point mumbo jumbo. The way for you to sort out the truth is to be skeptical, use science, logic, and reason, and not be led down a false path by charismatic hucksters.

So, are there any useful pressure points?

There are three methods of pressure point application:

  • Shallow pressure. From ½ to 2 pounds of pressure applied to pressure points for pain and distraction.
  • Deep pressure. From ½ to 2 pounds of penetration applied to pressure points for stunning and distraction.
  • Striking. Strikes to pressure points for motor dysfunction. Strike through the target for a fixed duration of about ¾ of a second.
Pressure points attacks that may be used effectively;
  • Mandibular angle. Apply shallow pressure at the base of the earlobe behind the mandible.
  • Tip of the nose. Apply shallow or deep pressure where the cartilage meets the nose bone.
  • Jugular notch.  Apply shallow or deep pressure directly above the manubrium, in the trachea area.
  • Brachial plexus region. Apply shallow or deep pressure or strikes to the middle side of the neck, between the two groups of the sternoceidomastiod muscles.
  • Brachial plexus (tie-in).Apply stikes to the front of the shoulder just inward of the joint.
  • Solar plexus. Apply strikes to the upper middle of the abdomen just below the sternum.
  • Lateral thoracic.  Apply shallow or deep pressure midway between the armpit and the waist on the lateral surface of the trunk.
  • Radial motor nerve. Apply strikes two inches below the elbow joint on top of the forearm.
  • Groin area.  Apply deep pressure or stikes to the groin.
  • Anterior femoral area. Apply strikes to four to six inches above the inside of the knee.
  • Lateral femoral area. Apply stikes six to eight inches above the outside of the knee.
  • Tibial nerve. Apply strikes two inches below the top part of the calf muscle.
Pressure points that have problems associated with their use:
  • Infraorbital nerve the at base of the nose. It is too close to the mouth so there is a danger of being bitten or being cut by the teeth
  • Hypoglossal nerve under the jawline. It is difficult to locate in stressful conditions.
  •  Brachial plexus nerve in the top clavicle notch. It is only effective when used on smaller people
  • Brachial plexus tie-in just in from the shoulder joint. It must be attacked with 3 or 4 strong punches to make it effective
  • Suprascapular nerve that runs around the cranial border of the scapula in the scapular notch. Attacks are only effective on 20% of people
  • Medial nerve in the lower inside of the arm. It is difficult to find in stressful conditions.
  • Common peroneal nerve four to six inches above the knee, toward the back of the leg. Athough attacks may effective, it is more effective to attack the lateral femoral nerve.


  • Gonzalez, R. (2004). The All-New Police Pressure Point System.
  • Wong, D. L. (1974). Shaolin Fighting. Theories and Concepts. Hollywood, California: Curtis Wong Enterprises.

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