Pressure points are points where nerves come to an end, cross, or fork into two separate directions. These nerves lie between muscle, tendons and bones, and are generally protected by muscle mass. By manipulating or attacking these points, you are intercepting the central nervous system, sending a signal up to the brain which is the governor of all bodily functions. Pressure points can be activated by rubbing, pressing, striking, or a combination thereof.
The human body is perfect in its design in that its muscle mass and body structure naturally protects the critical organs of the body together with the central nervous system, which in turn controls the signals between these organs and the brain.
In order to attack a pressure point or nerve, it is necessary to penetrate through the body’s protective muscle mass. This is one of the reasons why pressure points were not discovered during ordinary training. For instance, if you compare the muscle mass of a bodybuilder to that of a long distance athlete, it is easy to understand that penetrating the muscle mass of the athlete with a blow to the body would be far easier compared to the bodybuilder. Thus, the attacking tool used in pressure point attacks is of crucial importance. Small striking surfaces such as one or two knuckles on a fore fist punch, spear hand and finger are attacking tools used to penetrate muscle mass to attack specific pressure and vital points. By hitting the muscle mass with a broader attacking tool with force, you might cause a certain level of pain and dysfunction, but will not cause the assailant to drop to the floor, or lose consciousness. It should also be noted that none of the pressure points of the human body can be accessed in a direct straight line attack. In the articles to follow you will note that most vital and pressure point attacks and strikes are done at a forty-five degree angle.
As our physical strength fade with age, our ability to defend ourselves against a younger stronger aggressor becomes increasingly smaller. Also physically weaker females and children are generally no match for a strong aggressive male attacker. By knowing how to attack pressure points with the correct angle and direction of attack, you could incapacitate or even render your attacker unconscious with a single well directed strike, without the use of physical strength or force. Anyone with a basic level of training has the ability to cause dysfunction through the use of force, e.g. blunt force trauma knock outs. This is not what pressure point fighting is about. Through the proper application of pressure point attacks, you can render your attacker incapacitated or unconscious with minimal effort and force, without causing physical damage to the opponent. In our day and age, where the law tends to protect the attacker over the victim, this is invaluable. Not only have you protected yourself in self defence, but also in a court of law.
The art of pressure points is not a martial art system as some might believe. It is a study of the weaker anatomical structures of the human body. The application of these pressure point and vital point strikes already exist within the various martial art styles. The Art of pressure point striking is called Hyul du Bup in the Korean arts, and vital points are called kŭpso (pronounced Gupso). Pressure and vital points are summarised as follows:
Any sensitive or vulnerable spot of the body against attack is defined as a vital spot in most Martial Arts. These spots such as the philtrum, solar plexus, and temple are very difficult to toughen or forge, consequently the degree of pain or injury from the blow to these spots will be graver and more serious than to the other parts of the body; for instance, a blow of knife-hand against a normal part of the body, such as thigh or shoulder might give a little damage or injury; but the same blow to a vital spot, like neck artery, may cause serious injury or even out-right death.
It is essential both for the attacker and defender to familiarise themselves wit the various degrees of vulnerability of the vital spots, otherwise, neither can the attacker select the proper target to achieve the aimed injury, nor can the defender effectively against the seasoned blow.
This aforementioned extract paragraph from the ITF Encyclopedia perfectly explains the purpose of pressure point study. Without the proper knowledge and understanding of the human body, and its weaker anatomical structures, it is not possible to choose the most effective target for attack, nor know how to defend these weaker parts of your body. In the Taekwondo Encyclopedia General Choi identifies around 50 vital spots in the human body which he deemed applicable from a Taekwondo perspective. These points will form part of the next couple of articles as we investigate these points, and how they fit into the patterns and applications of Martial Arts.
History and influences
In the next section of this article I will briefly investigate the history of pressure and vital point arts, and possible links between this and the use of pressure and vital point striking in Martial Arts.
The history of the pressure point arts is an interesting but uncertain one. Most of the pressure point history seems to point back to the Chinese, who is believed to have developed Traditional Chinese Medicinal theories around these pressure points thousands of years ago. It was the Chinese who developed the acupuncture charts as we know them today, and we are all familiar with the healing arts of acupuncture and acupressure (massage). Myth has it that the various pressure points of the human body were needled on death row prisoners. The effect of the needling of these points on the human body and its related organs were well documented. It is further believed that pressure point arts dating back even further than the Chinese can be traced back to India. An extended explanation follows under the Bubishi section of this article.
Pressure point attacks in the Japanese Arts are called Atemi, Dim Mak in the Chinese Mandarin dialect, Kyusho Jitsu in the Chinese Cantonese Dialect as used in the Okinawan Arts, and Hyul du Bup in the Korean Arts. Even though these arts are from different countries and cultures, their basis is the same, and a definite link exists between them, although difficult to prove based on the limited history available. The art of pressure point fighting was once a well kept secret, which has only emerged in recent years. The true art of pressure and vital points were only passed down by these martial art masters within their own families or to selected students.
Lee, Won Kuk, a direct student of the late Master Gichin Funakoshi Sensei (1868- 1957). He is said to have attained a 2nd Dan in Shotokan Karate under him (some sources claim 1st Dan, other refer to an honorary 4th Dan he received). Funakoshi Sensei is widely known as the Father of modern day Karate, introducing the Art of Karate to the Japanese mainland in 1921.
Funakoshi Sensei was born in Okinawa, where he received the majority of his Karate training under YasutsuneItosu and Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura. Itosu, Matsumura and Funakoshi are all known to have had intimate knowledge of the Secret Bubishi document.
Funakoshi Sensei was a Master in the popular Okinawan Karate styles of his time, namely Shoreiryu and Shorinryu. When Gichin Funakoshi came to mainland Japan, he taught 16 kata: five Pinan, three Naihanchi, Kushanku Dai, Kushanku Sho, Seisan, Patsai, Wanshu, Chinto, Jutte and Jion.
In 1965, General Choi Hong Hi published the first edition of the Taekwondo Encyclopedia, called “Taekwondo – The Art of Self-Defence”. This book contains patterns from three main groups, namely the Sorim School, Soryŏng School and Ch’ang- Hŏn School.
The Ch’ang-Hŏn or “Gym of Blue Wave” is General Choi Hong Hi’s pseudonym. The patterns of this school are the 24 patterns as composed by General Choi, and are still used in ITF Taekwondo today.
The Shor-rin and Sho-rei Schools (Sho-rim mit So-ryŏng) schools are of Okinawan origin, as taught by Funakoshi Sensei. The Sho-Rin School is characterised by light and speedy movements and is suitable for a light person. The Hei-An, Bat-Sai, Kouh-Shang- Kouh, En-Bi and Ro-Hai are the typical pattern of the school.
The Sho-Rei School on the other hand, requires slow and forceful movements for the purpose of muscle development, and is favoured by a student of heavier frame. The Tet-Ki, Han-Getsu and Ji-On are the representative patterns of the school.
It is interesting to note the inclusion of the aforementioned Okinawan patterns in the first edition of the Taekwondo Encyclopedia. These eight additional patterns of which two are of White Crane Chinese Boxing origin, is known for their deadly pressure point applications hidden in the moves of these kata. Even though Funakoshi Sensei was proficient in the pressure point arts, he is believed to never have taught it in Japan, and therefore it seems unlikely that General Choi ever received any direct training in pressure and vital point striking under Funakoshi Sensei. (This does not however exclude the possibility that the General was able to derive pressure point applications from these kata. As a diligent scholar of the fighting arts and a composer of patterns himself, General Choi must have had a vast understanding of the kata applications.)
There is also another vehicle through which General Choi could have been exposed to pressure point theories. Korea had a fair amount of interaction with China, and I speculate that during these times the secret pressure point fighting arts were transferred to Korea, as explained later in this article.
In the study of pressure and vital points, reference is often made to an ancient secret document called the Bubishi. The Bubishi bears no author’s name, date, or place of publication, but it can be said with certainty that it existed on Okinawa prior to 1900. The Bubishi contained a compilation of White Crane Quan Fa (Kung Fu) history and philosophy, traditional Chinese medicines, vital points, and various fighting techniques. It is believed that the Bubishi was brought to Okinawa from China.
The Bubishi includes charts and diagrams that contain the core secrets of Okinawan Karate, and holding the key to vital and pressure point fighting. It is certain that many Karate masters knew of this book. Among them were Chojun Miyagi (foun-der of Goju Ryu), Gogen Yamaguchi (Japanese Goju Ryu), Kenwa Mabuni (foun-der of Shito Ryu) and Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan and teacher of General Choi Hong Hi). The various text of the Bubishi was passed on between these Karate masters and their selected students.
The Bubishi makes reference to 36 major vital points. These are divided into 9 death points, 9 neurological shut-down points, 9 pain points, and 9 paralyzing points. In the articles to follow we will further investigate the similarities between these points and those vital points as identified by General Choi in the ITF Encyclopedia.
In 1922 Funakoshi Sensei published the first book on Karate in Japan, "Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi." He included four chapters from the Bubishi at the end of the book. Interestingly the Bubishi itself was not named, nor was it translated from its original Chinese style of writing.
In Korea during an extensive period of war in the 6th Century C.E., the first highly formalised group of martial art practitioners came to be organised on the Korean Peninsula. They were known as the Hwa Rang (Flowering Youth). This aristocratic warrior group, born in Silla, was first envisioned by King Chin Hung of Silla in 576 C.E.
These chosen men were trained in all forms of martial combat, as well as continuing their studies in Buddhism, Ki science, and the Arts. They trained in all forms of known hand-to-hand combat. The Hwa Rang are believed to have invented the martial art system of foot fighting named, Su Bak Gi. It is believed that this new dimension to combat was added by the Hwa Rang due to the extensive mountain running endurance training they practiced. As their leg muscles were developed to exceptional levels, they began to incorporate formalised kicking techniques into their overall system of handto- hand combat. Therefore, Su Bak Gi is believed to be the source of the advanced kicking arsenal the Korean martial arts possess. The Hwa Rang were additionally taught to use weapons unyieldingly. They were trained with the sword, the staff, the hook, the spear, and the bow and arrow.
It is widely believed that the Hwa Rang knew the secret art of pressure and vital point fighting.
Su Bak is the first documented martial arts system to have existed on the Korean Peninsula. Dating of its origination relies predominantly upon legend, which places its inception during the legendary rule of King Tan'gun, (2333 B.C.E.). However, there are historic records of Su Bak's existence in the 4th century C.E. Paintings in the Gak Je Tomb, geographically located in ancient Koguryo, depict two Su Bak practitioners sparring.
However, during the late Three Kingdom Period, Su Bak became fragmented and differing schools of martial arts came into existence.
During this period of fragmentation, a new system of Korean martial arts named Yu-Sul was formed. Yu-Sul was a softer grappling art, which historians believed to be the influence which began the Japanese system of Jujitsu.
With the birth of Yu-Sul there became two very different schools of martial thought on the Korean Peninsula. They were the hard, straight forward attacking methods of Su Bak, which possesses predominantly striking techniques and the softer, manipulative defences of Yu-Sul.
During this time frame Su Bak became known as T’ae-Kyǒn. T’ae-Kyǒn was written in the Chinese characters for, "Push Shoulder." The Hwa Rang warriors obviously embraced this martial art form and, as mentioned, created their own addition to it, known as Su Bak Gi or foot fighting.
T’ae-Kyǒn was born at a time when martial arts, on the now unified Korean Peninsula, went into a rapid decline. As peace came to the Korean Peninsula, there was little use for the practice of martial arts among the general public.
The martial art system of Yu-Sul declined and vanished from the Korean Peninsula almost as fast as it had developed. By the end of the 7th century there existed no sign of it. T’ae-Kyǒn, therefore, survived as the only fighting system with a link to the ancient Hwa Rang. The defensive techniques in T’ae-Kyǒn, which are soft-circular motions, may however be remnants of the soft-style Yu-Sul.
Throughout the Yi Dynasty (1392-1909), cultural interactions between China, Japan, and Korea increased. Martial art ideologies also came to be exchanged on a limited level. Various schools of Kung Fu from China and Karate from Japan existed in a tenuous manner in Korea during this dynasty. T’ae-Kyǒn, though obviously receiving some influences from these systems, maintained itself as a highly aggressive system of self defence, predominantly utilising assertive punching and kicking techniques. Though not practiced by the average civilian, T’ae-Kyǒn was the standard of the hand-to-hand combat for the Korean military. Through this arena, it was passed down from ancient to modern times.
As Korea entered the twentieth century, they were plagued by expansionist activity at the hands of the Japanese. The Yi Dynasty, which was considered Korea's, "Age of Enlightenment," came to an end in 1909 when Japan occupied the country. Thus, the transmission and advancement of T’ae-Kyǒn ended.
General Choi Hong Hi received training in the ancient art of T’ae-Kyǒn from a man called Han Il Dong. Han Il Dong is said to have been a veteran of T’ae-Kyǒn. The possibility exists that the pressure point fighting methods of the Hwa Rang Suk Bak fighting system might have been passed down by Han to General Choi during his training. This could have served as his basis later when writing the Taekwondo Encyclopedia and his reference to the approximate 50 vital spots deemed important from a Taekwondo perspective.
Taekwondo – The Art of Self-Defence by Choi Hong Hi (DAEHA Publications Company, Seoul, Korea, 1965)
Kyusho Jitsu: Vital Points of the Human Body in Martial Arts by Evan Pantazi (ISBN: 84-96492-00-1)
Kyusho International Forum (www.kyusho.com)
Patrick McCarthy: The Bible of Karate: Bubishi (Turtle Publishing, ISBN 0-8048-2015-5)
Scott Shaw – History of the Korean Martial Arts
Funakoshi demonstrates a kyshojitsu technique in his 1924 book “Rentan Goshin todejutsu”. Anon.
Diagrams from the Bubishi. Anon.
Su Bak mural in the Gak Je tomb. Anon