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And if so how far into human anatomy should you go? I know obviously aim for the jaw or back of the ear, and know certain spots on the body like the liver and solar plexus for winding the person. Does it get much deeper than this?

In terms of the tradeoff between practical usefulness (once mastered so you could accurately hit a given pressure point) vs time to spend practising, what is the optimum amount of pressure point training you'd want to have to be confident you can defend yourself?

Is it good for multiple attackers?

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This is a debatable subject. Some discount it, some swear by it.

In the long run, it is important to know. If you want to knock someone out, you're supposed to know to hit them in the head. And there are specific places and angles which will optimally land the KO. Without such knowledge, your chances of achieving a KO are fairly slim.

Having said that, your adversary may not react to your striking those areas. Psychosis, drugs, alcohol, injury, physique, adrenaline, and your experience all play an important role in their efficacy. You generally don't train when your opponent is under psychosis, drugs, or alcohol; and when you and/or your training partner are fatigued or injured, you usually stop. As a result, your only real training experience with pressure points and vital areas is when you are under optimal situations favorable to YOU. This is where a lot of people stop - especially if they're just reading a book. And they stop because they think they've learned all that they need to know to use them, which could be dangerous if they don't have a full understanding of them.

So knowing where to attack is important, but knowing that the intended result of striking the pressure point may not be realized is just as important. Whether you realize it or not, you employ vital area / pressure point attacks all the time. Doesn't your instructor tell you what part of your leg/foot to strike, and where to strike the opponent? Isn't this something you work on all the time? Of course, it's because of the tiny targets (pressure points and vital areas).

Are you told to punch someone in the stomach, or is it better to slap them in the stomach? Why? It's because of the way that the vital areas work. The stomach is soft, and so the optimal weapon is hard - like a fist. (soft-to-hard, and hard-to-soft). Some pressure points and vital areas are engaged with a strike, some with a rub, some with a squeeze, and some with a cover. Squeezing the solar plexus isn't going to do much. Rubbing the forearm isn't going to secure a joint lock. Rubbing the eyes isn't nearly as useful as covering or poking the eyes. You can repeatedly strike or rub someone in the mouth without much effect, but cover their mouth and it's lights out fairly quickly.

So don't discount the science, and know that the effects are not 100% reliable. Always have a backup plan in case your opponent isn't affected by it.

Rest assured, this isn't something you learn in a few months or a few years. Studying and practicing pressure points takes a painstaking amount of time to understand and to get right, and training with different people who have different thresholds of pain and different physiques. If you short cut this process, you become the example that the detractors use to explain why the techniques are useless.

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  • Are there any "vital areas" where a slap would be more potent than a punch? I can't think of any. Also it's really, really hard to put anyone out by covering their mouth. The setup for that is incredibly difficult. The only person in my memory that ever pulled it off was Vagner Rocha – trallgorm Jul 31 '19 at 15:39
  • Covered mouth... I wasn't thinking of the hands particularly, only that covering the mouth/nose, such as with a pillow/clothing, or water, would be the more likely scenarios. It all depends on the environment, which is why you always need to have a backup plan. – Andrew Jennings Jul 31 '19 at 16:02
  • Slap v punch, that's another matter. I think in most cases a slap would not be as effective in the context of a vital area strike, the only possible exception might be a groin strike, and then viability might be determined by your positioning relative to the opponent. And the eyes. They're well protected from a punch, but not so much from a poke (which I agree is not a slap). But the point being that a punch is not the end-all-be-all. – Andrew Jennings Jul 31 '19 at 16:03
  • ah ok that makes sense – trallgorm Jul 31 '19 at 16:08
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    @TecHunter - yes, agreed. Also, a slap can be warranted when a punch isn't. If your intention is to slow someone down without injuring (eg, a physical confrontation with a drunk, or a family member), a slap can stun or distract, or can be a set up for something else. Sometimes, leaving a mark can get you in trouble (think, child protection services). A slap has less chance leaving a mark, and also, use of a light punch can still get you more legal trouble than it's worth. But in real combat, reach would be a good example; or to strike to the side where a punch couldn't reach – Andrew Jennings Sep 16 '19 at 21:26
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I have an answer that I wrote which goes over the pressure point "knock out" phenomenon:

How do you knock someone out using pressure points?

In summary, the pressure point knock-out stuff is either over-hyped or outright nonsense. There are only a few areas on the body which when hit will produce a knock-out. But all of the complicated TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) / acupuncture / kyusho-jitsu / dim-mak theory is a useless waste of time trying to understand. And getting a KO from these points isn't easy or reliable, as I explained in my answer at the link above.

Of course there are more sensitive places (so called "weak points") on the body that hurt a lot more when you hit there. So you'll target those areas when boxing, kick-boxing, doing karate, etc. There's nothing mystical about it. They're places like the floating ribs, the solar plexus, the groin, the back of the knee, the jaw, the nose, etc. These targets are completely incorporated into most percussive martial arts.

Pressure points are also used in "pain compliance techniques". For example, you can jam your thumb in the hollow behind the ear near the jawbone. It causes pain, which can make someone stop what they're doing and switch to something else. Same with wrist locks, whereby you can press on sensitive areas in the wrist to cause them to release their grip.

Pain compliance techniques are, like percussive martial arts, built into the techniques in grappling based arts. They aren't often the focus of the technique, and so you might not even be told to target these points. There are more important mechanical things you have to be doing correctly first before you can refine it so that you're also getting the pressure points along with it.

I will say this about pain compliance techniques, though: You really can't rely on them one bit. When you're in class with a partner, they work well. But when fighting for real with people that are experiencing adrenaline rushes as a result of the fight-or-flight physiological reaction, it doesn't generally work at all. The reason is that people in this state often don't feel pain. Or it might be very reduced.

Not to mention that in class, people let you do these pain compliance techniques on them, but in real life people don't sit there letting you do stuff to them. They're going to flail around. And while you're trying to crank with one hand on their wrist's pressure points and the other hand on their hand, they have one hand free to pop you in the nose.

The focus, therefore, can't be on those pressure points. What you're doing has to work by itself anyway. The pain compliance stuff comes in only as a refinement if it doesn't jeopardize the original technique in any way. That way, if it works, great. If it doesn't, nothing is lost.

But to answer the question of how much time you should spend in your martial arts practice on studying and targeting pressure points, the answer is zero. That's because your martial art already targets those areas. And so you don't have to spend any extra time isolating that aspect of your training and really drilling it. It should already be a part of it.

Don't go down the wrong path of thinking you're going to go out and learn pressure point striking more seriously so that you'll have some kind of advantage over everyone else in your style. You might be thinking that if you could just pull these techniques out of your tool chest in sparring, you'll be unstoppable. The reality is that if your martial art doesn't already focus on this and doesn't already give you these tools, it's probably because those tools aren't important. Or I should say, they aren't the most important thing you should be learning right now.

The topic of what works for self-defense is much more broad. Targeting weak points on the body is part of the full picture, but a small part, and one of many. Primarily, what works for self-defense is to train in such a way that you are able to test what you know on live, non-compliant partners that are trying all they can to resist you.

It's called "pressure testing", and a good example of this is how MMA people train. If you can make that way of training your foundation, you'll be able to see that targeting pressure points / weak points is more of a refinement of existing methods rather than a supplemental thing you have to go out and learn separately.

And if by some chance you practice a martial art that really doesn't address weak points on the body, they probably have a reason for that. For example, in Judo you don't see a lot of people doing an uchi-mata nage, for example, with the intent of smashing their opponent's groin "by accident" as they're doing it. They're not landing people on the back of their heads to get a knock-out, either. Getting knock-outs and hurting people isn't the goal of Judo. Their goal is to unbalance while standing, to throw, and to control on the ground. If something isn't helping them achieve that goal, they don't spend any time on it.

But Judo does have chokes, they have techniques such as kesa-gatame that restrict breathing, some of their holds can snap the spine with the slightest pressure, etc. Those techniques actually rely on weak points on the body. So even in Judo, these weak areas of the body are incorporated into what they do. But they're not going to spend time isolating them and going over all the ways of utilizing them.

In conclusion, knowing how to utilize pressure points isn't going to give you much. You can study them intellectually, as that might interest you. But there are a lot of other things more important that you need to get first. And even after that, hitting on pressure points will never be your actual goal. You'll still use them, but only if it assists what you're already doing. And when you do use them, you won't even think about it, because it's already incorporated into your technique.

Hope that helps.

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It gets deeper... but the obvious ones are still the best.

I learn a style called Shorinji Kempo. This style is famous/notorious for it's use of 'vital point' techniques. We use 'vital points' in every single technique. But the thing about these is they are not exactly 'pressure points' more just weak points on the body.

Now when we teach a beginner we teach them a specialised flicking technique that uses the fingers in a whipping action called the maeuchi for hitting the eyes (or sometimes in grappling the testicles). Its very painful. Doesn't take long to learn, but is a basic technique for causing just enough pain to allow you to either:

  1. Get Away
  2. Hit them again
  3. Start a grapple with a significant advantage.

This technique is great. It's simple to learn, very effective and crucially it generally is unlikely to kill someone except in some kind of freak accident.

At the other extreme... I was once taught one of the dim-mak (delayed death touch techniques). It's really really simple. You hit the person in the temple, cause damage to the blood vessels and eventually they die (medical attention asside from a phenomenon known as 'cerebral compression).

So basically it's useless to most civilians. You have to hit a small target, from the side and it's likely to get you in a lot of legal trouble if you manage to pull it off whatever else was going on.

Needless to say it's also useless for the military or police. Far too unreliable.

For this reason, so far as striking for self defence is concerned... Just stick with the obvious ones. I see no reason to attempt anything too fancy: eye strikes, neck strikes and if you are able to cause a concussion so much the better. The solar plexus isn't a bad shout either...

Grappling however is where the advanced 'vital points' come in. This is really pressure point stuff. There are about 5 points on the arm that can be used for joint locks. This is not pain compliance. Rather you use these to cause a spinal reflex. (similar to if the doctor hits your knee with a hammer) Pain is entirely secondary to getting this hard wired 'flinch'. In shorinji kempo you use it to throw people... Breaking joints is more likely if you did it in any pressured situation but is frowned upon in training for obvious reasons.

Competitions wise...

It's possible to apply pressure to the carotid artery on one side of the neck for an effect similar to a strangle. I once did this in a judo class and got a tap out. The instructor wasn't familiar with this method and thought my opponent had tapped out for no reason so asked 'why did you tap out'? My opponent replied 'he was strangling me'.

In conclusion.

Vital points other than the obvious ones are little more than party tricks on their own. You have to use them in combination with an actual physical technique. They can enhance the effectiveness of both grappling and striking techniques... but you have to learn the technique with the use of the points built in otherwise you will waste time trying to use them.

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  • 1
    "You hit the person in the temple, cause damage to the blood vessels and eventually they die " -- Hmmm, in answers to my question martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/7259/… people discounted the lethality of this strike. – Amorphous Blob Jul 15 '19 at 13:25
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphenosquamosal_suture this is a suture they are weaker than other parts of the skull... I don't think the back hand strike would do it but a straight punch to the side might... Not that I recommend anyone actually trying this as I noted above – Huw Evans Jul 15 '19 at 14:47
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphenoparietal_suture actually it's where this suture joins the above one – Huw Evans Jul 15 '19 at 15:03
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    @HuwEvans Again, it would probably need such an amount of punctual pressure that a) it is nigh impossible to call it a proper technique for self-defense purposes since the chances for success are so low due to too many variables (angle, knuckles only, movement) and b) this kind of pressure would produce serious injuries regardless the actual locus of impact and needs some kind of weapon to be produced in like 99.9% of the cases. I probably could kill a pinned person with hitting their temple (head on the ground), but seriously: Why should I, given other options? – Philip Klöcking Jul 15 '19 at 17:06
  • Point being: If I am in a position to actually apply pressure point techniques in a street fight then my opponent is no real threat to me anyways because this is the only scenario in which I can reliably apply them. Therefore, I would find myself to be a bad martial artist (morally) and in a bad legal position if I actually applied them without actual need. Thus, they are not useful to learn for street fights. – Philip Klöcking Jul 15 '19 at 17:12

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