What is a Pressure Point?
A pressure point (Japanese: kyūsho) derives from the meridian points in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in the field of martial arts, and refers to an area on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effects when manipulated in a specific manner.
The concept of pressure points is present in old school Japanese martial arts; in a 1942 article in the Shin Budo magazine, Takuma Hisa asserted the existence of a tradition attributing the first development of pressure-point attacks to Shinra Saburō Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1045–1127).
Hancock and Higashi (1905) published a book which pointed out a number of vital points in Japanese martial arts. Exaggerated accounts of pressure-point fighting appeared in Chinese Wuxia fiction and became known by the name of Dim Mak, or “Death Touch”, in western popular culture in the 1960s. While it is undisputed that there are sensitive points on the human body where even comparatively weak pressure may induce significant pain or serious injury, the association of kyūsho with notions of Death is controversial.
There are several types of pressure points — each is applied differently and each creates a different effect. “Pain points”, for example, use tendons, ligaments, and muscles; the goal is to temporarily immobilize the target, or, at the very least, to distract them. “Reflex points” produce involuntary movements, for example, causing the hand to release its grip, the knees to buckle, the target to gag, or even for the person to be knocked unconscious. Most pressure points are located on pathways on the nervous system.
Some pressure points produce pain when struck, pressed, or rubbed, depending on the point itself. These points are also referred to as nerve centers. While the distraction of pain might offer sufficient advantage in a fight or escape, the body has a pain withdrawal reflex, whereby it reacts to pain by moving away from the source. Martial artists can use this reflex with minimal effort.
Blood and blood pressure
The baroreceptors in the carotid artery are pressure-sensitive, supplying the brain with information to control systemic blood pressure. Pressure against this region will send signals that indicate that blood pressure is too high, leading to a lowering of blood pressure.
There are certain areas that are likely to lead to a break if struck effectively, such as the “floating ribs”, the philtrum, and the side of the knee.
There are joints that, when struck, can be hyper-extended and even tear. The striking of these joints can permanently damage one’s opponent as well as cause shock damage. There are two types, as follows:
- Brute force takes advantage of the vulnerability of the strike point, usually a joint, thereby causing damage.
- Golgi organ strike, a relatively gentle strike to the Golgi tendon at the back of the elbow, which triggers a reflex that immediately relaxes the tendon, allowing the elbow to bend more easily in the wrong direction. If this is directly followed by a solid strike to the elbow joint, the elbow can be broken with significantly less effort than it could through brute force.
The brain is a sensitive organ which floats in cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid is a safety mechanism that allows the head to take substantial impact without resulting in concussion, although such an impact could still cause permanent brain damage. However, it is possible to deliver a blow using artful techniques so that even these protections can be effectively eliminated, causing disorientation or instantaneous knockout. The most commonly taught technique involves a strike just below the occipital ridge, at the correct angle, in the correct direction. Another well-known point with this effect is the chin or lower jaw, giving rise to the boxing expression a “glass jaw”.
(Chinese: 穴位; 急所 “vital point, tender spot”; Telugu: మర్మ స్థానం Marma Sthanam; Malayalam: മര്മ്മം marmam; Tamil: வர்மம் varmam)