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The Case For Vital Points

By Rick Clark

People join the martial arts for many reasons, and learning self-defense is one of the most important. But, is that what people are getting?

With the development of martial arts, both as a sport and a martial way, there appears to be a decrease in the combative applications found in the arts. Emphasis seems to be placed on safety, protective equipment, rules of competition, limiting striking areas, physical conditioning, personal development, or sport applications of technique. And competitions divide contestants into divisions by age, sex, rank and weight.

While it is still possible to teach and learn self-defense techniques from martial arts that have a sports or spiritual focus, more often than not effective street self-defense has been lost somewhere in the process. In addition, competitive divisions often isolate the student from facing opponents that are much larger, heavier or stronger.

Artificial divisions will not occur in real life. If a woman is assaulted, it will probably be done by a male who is taller, stronger, and heavier. If a child is abducted, it will be by an adult. In most situations, the attacker will attempt to have the advantage. Our job as martial arts instructors is to provide a tool for the smaller, younger, or weaker individual to use when faced with a determined attacker.

What will give the smaller person an advantage over the larger and stronger opponent? If you look at judo tournaments, you will see that the larger opponent has an advantage over the smaller judoka. Of course, the smaller judoka can throw and score on the larger opponent, but it requires a high degree of skill and ability to do so. This is one of the reasons you see weight divisions in judo tournaments. Weight does have an impact.

Skill level is another consideration in tournaments. You do not see black belts sparring against yellow or green belts. Can the lower ranks score points on a higher-ranked and experienced martial artist? Of course they can, but by and large the black belts should be able to beat the lower-ranked students. Do you see juniors competing against adults? Do you see senior students competing against juniors or younger adults? No, is it because the junior or senior could not win? Of course not, they could, but in the interest of being fair to the competitors, age divisions are set up to lay down a level playing field for them.

Therefore, we must train our students to defend themselves against older (or younger), stronger, bigger, faster, or more skilled opponents. It is imperative that we offer a way to equalize the advantages the aggressor may possess against our students. Everyone knows there are places on the human body that are vulnerable to attack. It is common knowledge that a punch to the stomach can cause a person to lose their breath. Yet, with training, you can learn to take a strong punch to the stomach. If delivered to the testicles, throat, or eyes, that same punch could be quite destructive.

So at one level, we understand there are targets on the human body that are more vulnerable than others. If we understand and accept that there are places on the body that are more susceptible, then it would seem logical we should look for these weaker places. Once we know where these weak points are located, it then becomes a matter of developing the skill to make use of these points under stress.

For centuries, Sunzi's The Art of War has been one of the treasured books of the literate warriors of the Orient. Even today, in the West, we can find words of sound advice. For example, Sunzi said, "to be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect." You might stop and ask, "how does that affect my practice of self-defense?"

To answer this, I would like to lay a little foundation. If you look in chapter six of Funakoshi Gichin's Karate-Do Kyohan, you will find a discussion of vital points (kyusho) and the results of strikes to various parts of the body.

In many cases, the places he describes to strike are quite obvious targets to attack. For example, some of the targets are ones that the man on the street would be aware of attacking. These are the eyes, nose, groin, and solar plexus. Yet, in this same section, he states that if you strike a specific point on the wrist, you will knock out your opponent. Funakoshi also details points on the arm, legs, back, chest, neck, and head that will cause an opponent to become unconscious or possibly fatal if struck.

It is not only Funakoshi or other Oriental authors that make such claims. In his Modern Judo series (1942), Charles Yerkow notes a number of points that would be used in self-defense, but not in practice, as they are very dangerous. For instance, he notes one point at the bottom of the foot that can be deadly when struck. You can find examples of places to strike in Professor H.H. Hunter's Super Ju-Jitsu (1938), in which he locates points on the arm and leg that will create "partial paralysis" if struck.

I would like to go back to the Sunzi quote, "to be certain to take what you attack is to attack a place the enemy does not protect." If we look at the comments of Hunter, Yerkow, and Funakoshi, they all state there are places on the extremities that can be struck to cause partial paralysis, unconsciousness, or even death. If a person is being attacked, what does the individual have to do to make contact with you? They must put out their arm or leg to attack. Once they place a part of their body near you, they are in effect giving you a target to attack. I am confident that individuals would not be overly concerned with a person attacking the arm or leg. Yet, they would be protective of their eyes, noes, ears, throat, groin, or solar plexus.

So, if you are aware of the results of attacking vital points on your opponent's arms and legs, it is possible to have a relatively clear shot at those targets. Once you have successfully struck these points, it will be too late for your opponent to adequately defend against further attacks to vital points. The normally harder to access points may now be seen as targets of opportunity and readily attacked.

A sound knowledge of the vital points located on the body's extremities can prove to be a valuable asset in any self-defense situation. This understanding offers you the door to enter should you wish to attack points on the head, neck, chest, or back, providing an equalizer for the serious student of self-defense.

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About The Author:

Rick Clark specializes in the study of vital point applications within traditional martial art techniques and teaches vital points seminars throughout the world. He has published numerous articles and books on the subject and has just published "Pressure Point Fighting: A guide To The Secret Heart Of Asian Martial Arts," published by Tuttle. He can be contacted at 3099 E. Dallas Rd., Terre Haute IN, 47802, or via e-mail at is

Editor's Note: This article is an edited rendition of one that was to appear in volume Bugeisha magazine, but the issue unfortunately never went to print. It is reprinted her with permission of Bugeisha and its Editor, Angle Lemus.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

vital points, kyusho, self-defense, martial arts, karate, kung fu, jujutsu, Funakoshi

Read more articles by Rick Clark

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