Kyushojutsu: Basic Theory
By Joe Swift (Mushinkan Dojo, Kanazawa, Japan)
In recent years, karataka all over the world have begun
to reexamine and study their classical Okinawan kata. Practical
applications have been a major focus of much of this research, and one
of the key components of practical applications is the science of well-placed
blows to vital areas, pressure points or acupuncture points. This study
is called kyushojutsu in Japanese.
The first article in this series examined the historical
development of this art in Okinawa and Japan. This article continues the
examination by focusing on the basic theories behind the art.
Kyushojutsu can be, and often is, explained in terms of
two different medical paradigms: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and
Modern Western Medicine (MWM). More
often than not, the two camps seem to be at odds with each other as to
which approach is more valid. However, in this author's opinion, either
is fine, and people can probably "pick their poison" so to speak.
What To Call The Vital Points
As much of the original theory behind kyushojutsu lies in
the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) paradigm, many proponents in the
West use the international acu-point code as nomenclature. Others utilize
terminology that is more in line with Modern Western Medicine (MWM), citing
nerves and muscles, etc.Still others prefer to use different Asian medical
or martial arts terms (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc.) to describe the
locations of the points. Adding to the confusion is the fact that while
Traditional Chinese Medicine acu-points and Western Medicine's neurological
points are often the located on the same body point, other times they
In Terms Of Traditional Chinese Medicine
The TCM paradigm makes use of the principles of acupuncture
(qi flow, balance and interrelationships) to describe its methods and
effects. Perhaps a short description of the meridians may be in order
ago in China, doctors discovered "passageways" of energy flow,
which are called meridians (a geographical term) in English (McCarthy,
1995). There are 12 major bilateral meridians, for various internal organs.
They are: Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small Intestine,
Bladder, Kidneys, Pericardium, Liver, Gall Bladder, and the Triple Warmer.
In addition, there are other important meridians not associated
with organs (often called Extra Meridians, or Extraordinary Vessels),
two of which run vertically along the frontal and posterior center-line,
the Conception Vessel (or meridian) and the Governing Vessel (or meridian),
respectively.Along these meridians are numerous points or "holes"
(Sato, 1996) through which energy can be transferred, or the flow of energy
can be modified, through needles, fingertips, or heat in medical application,
or though trauma in defensive application. These meridians can be broken
down into either yin (negative) or yang (positive).
TCM for health to be maintained, yin energy and yang energy must be balanced
within the body (Sato, 1996). The medical arts such as acupuncture, shiatsu,
and kikoo (qi gong in Chinese) seek to restore this balance. In contrast,
kyushojutsu, in simple terms, can
be viewed as attacking this balance, or the flow of energy, within the
body to cause bodily damage to the opponent.
One method of using vital point or acu-point strikes employs
The Five Element Theory. Some schools of TCM categorize the body's organ
meridians into five separate but interrelated elements, namely Fire, Water,
Earth, Metal and Wood (Sato, 1996). This is known as the Five Element
Theory (FET) which is used to understand how energies related to these
elements, which are associated with organs, interrelate, balance, nurture
or regulate each other.
The simplistic method of utilizing the FET in kyushojutsu
is to follow what is known as the Destructive Cycle. This,is done by attacking
the meridians in a specific order to inflict damage upon the opponent
by disrupting the flow of energy that regulates (destroys or absorbs)
the succeeding or related meridian in the cycle. The Destructive Cycle
can be easily remembered by the following formula: Metal cuts Wood; Wood
drains nutrition from Earth; Earth absorbs Water; Water puts out Fire;
and Fire melts Metal (Sato, 1996; Nakayama, 1998).
Yet another way to apply the kyushojutsu is to attack the
meridians during specific time frames, known as shichen in Chinese (McCarthy,1995).
theory states that the energy and blood flow through the meridians is
strongest during a specific time of day, corresponding the 12 meridians
with 12 two hour periods of the old Chinese clock (McCarthy, 1995; Sato,
1996; Nakayama, 1998). The shichen are broken down into the hours of the
Rat, Bull, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Bird, Dog,
and Boar, respectively (McCarthy, 1995; Sato, 1996; Nakayama, 1998).
Tradtional Chinese Medicine Versus Modern Western Medicine
Theories of applying kyushojitsu through understanding Traditional
Chinese Medicine are not without their detractors, most notably groups
of practitioners who research kyushojutsu through Modern Western Medicine
(MWM). The MWM approach is useful in providing specific, concrete, scientific
examples as to why kyushojutsu works, referring to nerve plexi, tendons,
Proponents of the MWM approach state that the body's neurological
and other systems are well understood and verified scientifically. They
point out that meridians have never been scientifically verified (to their
satisfaction) and that the whole concept of qi (or chi in Chinese) flies
in the face of MWM biochemical concept of the body and its systems. Furthermore,
since most acu-points are the same or closely located to neurological
points, MWM adherents suggest that a MWM approach makes more sense.
On the other hand, Traditional Chinese medicine appears to be more "descriptive"
(for lack of a better word) in its application, preferring to cite "natural"
phenomenon such as the Yin-Yang and Five Element Theory. Supporters also
point out that recent scientific investigation of acupuncture has confirmed
that stimulation of certain acu-points has produced certain organ and
brain reactions that can not be explained in terms of Modern Western Medicine.
Even in Asian circles, however, some disagreement exists about some of
the TCM theories and principles. In Japan, for example, the Yin-Yang theory
has been accepted in the Eastern medical circles, but there seems to be
some apprehension about the Five Element Theory. As far back as the Edo
period (1603-1867), the scholar Kaihara said that the Five Element Theoryjust
makes things "too complicated" (Sato, 1996).
In China, the quanfa master He Yushan stated that the striking of vital
areas in terms of the shichen (12 two hour time periods) is preposterous,
and later research showed that the blood flow cannot be broken down into
12 equal time periods through the 12 meridians (Jin, 1928).
Rather than bickering about which medical paradigm is more correct, however,
some suggest that a better approach might be to combine the two and come
up with a concise yet comprehensive explanation (Rench, 1999).
Numerology and Kyushojutsu
If things weren't confusing enough, another aspect of the study of kata
and its relation to kyushojutsu is the seeming fascination with numerology.
Many tradtional kata (as Gojushiho meaning 54 steps,Nijushiho or 24 steps,Seipai
or 18 hands and Senseryu or 36 hands) are named after numbers.
While many seem to think this might be a Chinese phenomenon, it may have
actually been imported from India (Zarrilli, 1992). While they are not
the only numbers associated with the fighting traditions, some of the
more prominent ones are 18, 36, 54, 72, and 108. These numbers can be
seen in Indian, Chinese, and Japanese martial arts literature (Jin, 1928;
Zarrilli, 1992; McCarthy, 1995; Sato, 1996) and within the names of kata.
One of the most common explanation of the use of these numbers is that
there are 108 effective vital points on the human body (used in the martial
arts), 36 of which are fatal (Jin, 1928). Another school of thought is
that there are 36 vital points, and 72 variations in attacking methodology,
making a total of 108 (McCarthy, 1995). Yet another theory lists 36 fatal
vital points and 18 non-fatal points (Sato, 1996).
While the exact mechanism of the numerological aspects of the fighting
traditions may be lost to antiquity, we are left with several reminders
of this ancient heritage in the form of kata names and the number of effective
About The Author:
Joe Swift, native of New York State (USA) has lived in Japan since 1994.
He holds a dan-rank in Isshinryu Karatedo, and also currently acts as
assistant instructor at the Mushinkan Shoreiryu Karate Kobudo Dojo in
Kanazawa, Japan. He is also a member of the International Ryukyu Karate
Research Society and the Okinawa Isshinryu Karate Kobudo Association.
He currently works as a translator/interpreter for the Ishikawa International
Cooperation Research Centre in Kanazawa. He is also on the Board of Advisors
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section on Vital Points, tr. P. and Y. McCarthy, 1994).
2. McCarthy, P. (1995) Bubishi: The Bible of Karate. Tokyo: C.E.
3. Nakayama T. (1998). Kassatsu Jizai ni Naru (To Heal or Harm
at Will). Tokyo: BAB Japan Inc.
4. Rench, A. (1999). Classical Okinawan/Japanese Pressure Points.
5. Sato K. (1996). Seiden Jissen Tenketsu-jutsu. (Orthodox Dim
Xue for Real Fighting) Tokyo: Baseball Magazine.
6. Zarrilli, P. (1992) "To heal and/or harm: The vital spots
(marmmam/varmam) in two south Indian martial traditions." Journal
of Asian Martial Arts. Vol. 1:1 and 1:2.