I've seen a person being stabbed to death, and yet he wasn't in intolerable pain; he could actually stand up and walk normally despite his injuries (until he collapsed, 30 seconds later). I am assuming that the pain didn't stop him because of his high levels of adrenaline.

Also, needless to say, drugs (some of which are extremely powerful pain relievers) can reduce pain.

Finally, alcohol can increase pain tolerance a lot.

Assuming avoiding the fight and deescalation was not an option, and the attacker is determined to seriously injure or kill, which of the following could be ineffective:

  • neck chop
  • groin kick
  • solar plexus punch

Are there any other similar areas that can be effectively attacked despite the attacker's high pain tolerance?


I am not asking for a one-attack-solves-all-problems solution. I am asking specifically how effective the above attacks are against intoxicated attackers, and perhaps a few examples of attacks that are effective regardless of pain tolerance.

I avoided adding more context, to keep it focused on attack effectiveness against high pain tolerance attacker. Perhaps i should have. The scenario is a lethal attack by a junky with a knife or screwdriver while me being unarmed. The odds of escaping are very low, but if it ever should happen, I need to avoid doing things that will definitely fail, and instead do things that might succeed.

  • 1
    If the downvoter could explain what i can improve in my question, that would be great. Does my Q not show research effort? Is it unclear? Is it not useful despite the fact a huge part of martial arts rely on inflicting pain to stop an attacker? Please enlighten me, i am extremely curious!
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 9:05
  • Adding in a knife to the question changes the situation drastically. I'll set up a new answer.
    – Bankuei
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:28
  • @Bankuei I guess the "note" part of my Q should have been there in the first place; didn't do so in order to keep it more generalized. I apologize for the inconvenience. Perhaps, .. instead of deleting your A, we could do something like create a new Q and revert this one to its original form or something? If you think we could (or should) do that, let me know.
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:40
  • What do you think will better fit your needs? I'm currently trying to add an edit to my answer to give you the extra context now. It... makes my answer a little disjointed, but eh, I can live with that.
    – Bankuei
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:44
  • @Bankuei As long as effectiveness of mentioned attacks is mentioned (and perhaps other more effective alternatives), i m good (mechanical dmg is a good alternative). But it's not about me; i'm mostly interested in posts that won't confuse future visitors. If you think an edit will suffice (that is, not make it too confusing), go for it. (have to go, will be back in 1.5 hours)
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:49

3 Answers 3


Pain is an unreliable factor to depend upon in self defense. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Between natural pain tolerance and adrenaline alone, things that would hurt like hell normally might not even register, and that is before you get into chemical effects that may or may not be in play.

(In the case of your knife attack, many survivors of stabbings have reported feeling numbness or no pain, which makes it more a common mechanism of how knives work, and why most knife arts teach "overkill" because pain is not the stopping factor.)

So, broadly, what do folks use instead?

Positioning & Structural Control

Although most people focus on the pain compliance aspect of controlling locks and grappling, the main thing is structural control - putting yourself in a position where you can apply force efficiently and the person you are controlling cannot do so.

Sometimes this is using larger/more muscles vs. a small target, sometimes moving your center of mass and centerline to efficiently use force while pulling your opponent's arm or turning their spine off center, sometimes forcing end-of-range positions where people have little strength (hammerlocks, chicken wing locks). Usually it's a combination.

The fact that they either cannot bring enough muscle in play, work against your mass, and/or would have to tear their own tendons to make it work, is the factor, not pain.

Structural Damage

Break bone, tear muscle, destroy a joint. If it cannot mechanically perform the action, it simply doesn't work, and it doesn't matter if it hurts or not. Some strikes, grapples, takedowns, and obviously, weapons in general, aim to do this. Break a collarbone, and the arm on that side cannot lift up, regardless of whether it hurts or not.

Pretty much anything combative-focused aims to do these things, with differences in terms of what weapons are used, what level/speed of escalation is appropriate according to the situation (military vs. civilian, etc.).

Methodology, not a specific technique

So... you might read the two categories above and go, "Wait, don't MOST martial arts aim for these things?" and yes, that is correct. If you are pulling from a movement form to deal with actual fighting, you deal with positional control and/or structural damage, depending on how far the art has moved from the original goal.

Very few things are "pain only", and where they are used, they are small additions to the core fighting methodology, not a single reliance. The groin kick, "wiping" the eye with your thumb or fingers, pressing into soft tissue, are extras you add onto everything else, not things you plan on winning and escaping with.

So, obviously, the groin kick you list is unreliable in this situation. The other two techniques you list are unreliable for other reasons, and basically not the core of what I would want to depend on if someone comes at me with little or no pain registering in their head.

It's not a matter of "where is the magic off button to hit?" but rather, "What are the ways I need to move to keep myself safer, while doing the damage or restraining this person as needed?"

Utilize better positioning, control their structure appropriate to your methods, and decide what kind of damage is appropriate to the context and the quickest way to deliver it.

Edit for Knife Addition

Knives change the nature of a fight quickly. A link to an answer I had about defending against knives previously with mostly the same general principles. Knives are easy to use, but hard to defend against, which is why arts that deal with knives become very deep and complex at some level, because being "ok" at protecting yourself against them is hard.

Three Options?

The groin kick is now even worse of an idea, because not only is pain not going to do much, you cannot shift your position off-line from a rush while kicking, and if they catch your leg, they can cut that up too.

Both the punch and neck chop require getting past that knife to land. The solar plexus strike is unreliable in general, and now you're putting your arm in the danger zone for it. Neck chops have a shorter range than punches even, and tend to telegraph which is why they're usually part of a flurry, not an entry.

What Else?

Well, as mentioned in the linked answer - control & destroy. Some styles of combative arts focus more on one or the other, but you need to make sure you're not getting cut, and that the person can't keep trying.

Control can be achieve through: catching the arm at the beginning/end of a swing, where the momentum is low, jamming the elbow or forearm, looping & locking the arm, looping & locking with cloth, or a jacket, and so on. Control is always followed with a disarm or destruction. All of these methods? Positional & structural control, as mentioned above.

Destruction is usually either: using a weapon against the weapon arm, high powered attack (elbow, knee) against a specific target (bones in hand, bicep, collarbone) to destroy the weapon arm, or a tendon tear/bone break lock. All of this? Structural damage.

Some styles recommend pummeling the head to get the person on the defense, though, admittedly, if you think the person is less susceptible to pain, that seems iffy to me.

Unfortunately, the answer to "what to do if someone comes at me with a knife?" is "learn a whole methodology to deal with it and train hard" in the same way "What to do if someone has cancer?" requires years and years of medical school and lots of expensive equipment to make treatment happen.

  • I intentionally focused solely on the effectiveness of some attacks, without mentioning any details about the setup. E.g. a friend was interviewed by a 2m tall +100kg junky, that probably was holding a knife inside his pocket. Unfortunately, in that specific setup positioning and structural damage are rather impossible without receiving lethal blows (perhaps taking him off-balance might work). This is why I focused only on those specific attacks.
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 9:48
  • "Very few things are pain only" - Not sure about that. Perhaps most aren't "pain only" but when it comes to MMA fights or street fights (or fights where the enemy can feel pain), pain is a crucial factor, and can affect the outcome. E.g. low kicks or any kicks below neck level, will usually not cause any structural damage or control. They simply inflict pain; which makes them (probably) ineffective against intoxicated individuals.
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 10:07
  • 1. Pain is an unreliable, factor != never a factor. However, your question involves people who are resistant to pain. 2. "If you are pulling from a movement form to deal with actual fighting, you deal with positional control and/or structural damage, depending on how far the art has moved from the original goal." in combative practices, low kicks are set ups, not "fight finishers". 3. street fights often go to ground bc it's an easy way to gain stuctural control or break someone against the ground.
    – Bankuei
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:26
  • 1
    I've watched Marc MacYoung's vid regarding knife attack/defense. I ll look up the cloth-lock; sounds promising. A question solely about videos might be off-topic, and more suitable as answer or edit to other existing knife questions.
    – user
    Jan 21, 2017 at 18:02
  • 1
    Additionally, it depends on the drug they have taken (If they have). PCP is infamous among first responders for completely blanketing all pain. I've personally seen a man hopped on PCP with a broken arm cuffed to a cop he was dragging around, being beat on by other cops and still raging.
    – JohnP
    Feb 6, 2017 at 16:32

The foot sweep is an example of attacking in a manner the opponent cannot resist. It does not matter whether the opponent feels pain; they will still fall on the ground when their weight is unsupported by their feet. Presumably this gives you a sufficient advantage to escape or end the engagement decisively.

The key principle is to attack the opponent's foot while weight is changing there. There is a narrow timing window where weight is over the foot being swept but the foot is not planted. This can be as weight comes up off the foot, or as weight is coming down on the foot.

For the case where weight is leaving the foot being swept: if weight has not yet started to shift the sweep meets a planted leg, which feels like kicking a pole and is not effective. If the weight has completed transfer away from the foot you are sweeping, you end up with pushing the opponent around while they stand on the other foot. If you succeed in finding the timing window, the opponent falls because their weight is no longer supported.

To the person being swept, the sensation is similar to slipping on ice; you step and expect your weight to be supported normally, but suddenly it is not and you fall. Sweeps will work on opponents of unlimited weight as long as they are moving their feet (which may itself be difficult to force).

In this example, note that the person being swept is stepping away at the time they are swept. As weight starting to shift away from the right foot, the right foot is swept.

Here is an instructional example.


Short answer here:

Break something. If an assailant is resistant to pain, break something to incapacitate them. Kick out a knee, break an arm or two. As one of my instructors likes to say, "Make the crack heads crawl."

  • uhm...no. Try that against someone hopped up on PCP and you will be in a world of hurt unless you get very lucky. How does your answer improve at all upon the already accepted answer?
    – JohnP
    Mar 21, 2017 at 22:33
  • @JohnP It's only shorter than the already accepted one, and in my opinion simpler. What does it matter what someone is on? If they can't move, then they can't move. Mar 31, 2017 at 19:14

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