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Pressure Points 1: Going to the Heart Of Pressure Points - What They Really Are

By Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C

Intermittently there is a lot of talk about pressure points in different chat rooms and magazine articles. And true to form, there are always those who believe in them (passionately) and those who do not (just as passionately). Both camps have their reasons why they believe as they do and both tend to flame the other.

However, if you actually look at what BOTH camps are saying, you will find that underneath all the rhetoric there is an element that is shared by both groups. That element is trying to find something that works for self-defense. That fact is the exact reason why many people study martial arts.

One of the main problems with martial arts is the fact that, by itself, studying martial arts does not give you superior strength, speed, or make you invincible. There is still the problem of dealing with an opponent who is bigger and stronger and faster that you. I will not discount the fact of your own strength or power here, and I will definitely give credit to a well-placed punch or kick, but sometimes the opponent is just too big.

Therefore, at times we all could use an advantage. An advantage which allows us to disable the opponent who is stronger, faster and just plain bigger than we are. We need that advantage when we are dealing with an opponent who could be high on drugs or mentally ill and thus does not feel pain.

The proponents of pressure points count on this advantage, but as I have said some people just don’t believe they work. Why don’t they believe? I am sure that the people who do not believe in them aren’t faking it. They don’t consciously want to keep something from the rest of us. Nor do they want to pass up on a legitimate tool that would help them. However, they (like all of us) have to be convinced that the tool is real before they would use it.

The fact is that some don’t believe pressure points work probably due to the fact pressure points have not worked for them. They have tried the explanation and the examples that have been given, but those examples simply did not work for them or the explanation made no sense to their logic flow. The real question here is, “Why?”

Now before you think this is simply going to be an article trying to convince you (or them) that pressure points do work, be aware that I hope for it to be far more than that. My hope is that this will be an article that goes to the heart of what pressure points really are AND how to use them. I think it will help everyone understand and use pressure points better. Therefore, in this article I will be trying to tell you about the types of pressure points and in the next article I will actually give you even more data on the types and examples of each type.

But back to why some people don’t think pressure points work. I personally believe the real reason that pressure points are not convincing to many people is that pressure points have not been defined and explained correctly. I agree with most people who claim that simply knowing pressure points is worthless. (Yes, you heard that from me correctly.)

Too many people think of the movie version when they think of pressure points. In the movies, every pressure point works - every time, and with staggering effects. Every pressure point is easy to get to and automatically disables the evil opponent with a simple touch of a finger at that magical point that only the hero knows. This, of course, would be our ideal pressure point. Unfortunately, as far as I know, they DO NOT EXIST.

If you want a simile, then it is sort of like looking at a bank of switches. Simply flipping switches may not get you anything. Or perhaps it may turn on light in another room or part of the building. Cute, but what good does that do you at the location you are right now. Not really helpful. Furthermore, it wastes time. And in a fight, that wasted time could be dangerous or worse.

Other (and maybe better) examples of why someone might believe that pressure points don’t work is that they have been given examples of these points, but without explanation of how to use them correctly, or they were told they would always work. For example, if you didn’t know that muscle pressure points are useless if the muscle is tightly contracted, then you would think the entire theory was wrong or worthless. However, if you understood the complete theory, then you would realize the muscle was not going to respond and simply use a different level of pressure point. [Please re-read the last sentence several times because this is very important.]

Think of it as if all you had were punches that were to be delivered against areas of the body that were prepared for it and you tried to convince someone that a punch was a good weapon. Based on their observations or even their own experiences, they may not believe a punch worked at all. In fact, they might be adamant that spending their effort learning to punch was a waste of time.

The same is exactly the case for pressure points. You use the type of pressure point that is the best for the circumstance. This of course requires a far deeper understanding of pressure points than the simplistic level 1 pain pressure points, which is why some people believe that pressure points don’t work

So again, I think the real problem here is one of not understanding the function of pressure points. This is very different from understanding where a pressure point is located. (Everyone knows an example of where a pressure point is located.)

I have gone back to the chat rooms and articles on pressure points that I have read (or written) and there is one question that should be asked, but it never seems to GET asked. Therefore the answer is never defined. That question is, “What exactly ARE pressure points?”

Let’s start with two of the common definitions that are out there.

If you are like most people, then I bet you think that the question, “what are pressure points?” is a dumb question and the answer is obvious. It is a point that hurts, right? I am going to tell you that by my definition, that answer is wrong. The real answer is far more than that. Yes, some points do hurt, but the fact that they hurt is in itself worthless.

If you touch, strike, punch or kick a point, then you very well may cause pain. But in fact you should be able to cause pain if you touch, strike, punch or kick any point on the body hard enough. That only tells us that you can strike hard enough, it doesn’t give any special advantage. Pressure point HAVE to mean more than simply points that hurt to have any value! Otherwise those who say, “pressure points don’t work” have a valid point.

Okay, what about the concept of pressure points being acupuncture points? Well, maybe then the answer is that a pressure point is an acupuncture point? Many people use the acupuncture charts as maps to where pressure points are located. These have to be the official/legitimate pressure points, don’t they?

That answer, by my definition, is also wrong. And NO, the charts tell the locations of ACUPUNCTURE points NOT the location of pressure points.

Why is this wrong? Well, first off, as a person (clinician) who has been practicing acupuncture for almost thirty years, I can tell you that acupuncture points were designed to cause their effects WITHOUT causing a lot of pain. Also, if you measure out Cun and Fen (the actual Chinese acupuncture measurements) you will find that the points most people assume are pressure points are not the points listed on the charts. The points which hurt and that they assumed were the pressure points (shown on the chart) may be close to, but in fact are NOT, the exact points shown on the chart. Find a book that gives you the actual Cun and Fen measurements and check it out if you don’t believe me.

Secondly, while the MEDICAL effects of acupuncture are very real, they are not usually of such magnitude that a single point can stop a person who is attacking. The proof of this is not only in the observed effects but also by the fact that professional practitioners of acupuncture use a combination of points to create a healing effect. In almost all cases, a series of 3 to 5 points or more are used and the points have to be stimulated for 3 to 30 or more minutes to obtain their desired effects.

So, if professional practitioners of acupuncture need several points and sometime several treatments at these points to cause their effects, how do you expect to stop an attacking person with a single (or even a couple) of acupuncture point strikes? (NOTE: This in no way discounts acupuncture’s use in medicine. That is a completely different subject! You can find out more about the real effects and reasons why acupuncture DOES works in my book on acupuncture.)

So back to the main question. I ask you, then, how can it be said that pressure points work if they are not based on simply causing pain or acupuncture point theory? Personally, I cannot say they are valid for combat based on either of these explanations (pain or acupuncture).

NOTE: I will say that those who use Traditional Chinese Medicine as their basis for strikes and defense use a lot more than just simple acupuncture theory as their means of causing an effect. Please contact someone who can explain these theories in detail if you want to pursue that path.

Let’s go back to the basic question, “What is a pressure point?” Instead of saying that our definitions don’t work let’s, define a pressure point as a point that causes a known reaction. Based on that definition, I think you will shortly see that the realm of what is a pressure point and how to use pressure points effectively becomes far more useful for both combat and self-defense. Furthermore pressure points become far more objective because either it causes an observable effect or it does not!

But to make pressure points work (objectively) you have to understand some details.

The first thing you have to understand is that you can actually divide pressure points into three categories. ONLY one of these categories (the category called Reflex Pressure Points) is always going to work – every time, on everybody. The other two levels work sometimes based on rules. We are going to talk about the different levels here so that you can understand the differences, then we are going to give those rule and some concrete examples in the next article.

The first level or type we are going to study is a level 1 or Pain Type Pressure Points.

This type of pressure point is what most people think of when they think of a pressure point. This is the typical point, that when stimulated causes pain. These type of pressure points do work, sometimes! PLEASE note here that I said nothing what so ever about level 1 pressure point’s always causing a reaction. (See Miller’s book “Pressure Points: The Deadly Touch” for further details about the types of body structure, which can be stimulated and cause a pressure point reaction – available in FightingArts.com e-store under “Pressure Points” in the “Books” section).

If you stimulate a level 1 pressure point you may (if the person can feel it) cause pain but that may or may not cause a reaction. Let’s take the example of the classic kick to the groin. Now most people understand that this CAN be a very effective strike but they also understand that such is not always true. With the right training or certain drugs in your opponent’s system (more common), a kick to the groin will not drop the person. Examples of this are a person high on PCP.

Another classic example of level 1 pressure points not working is on the subset of people called non-responders. Approximately 10 to 15 % of the general population are partial non-responders and with training just about anyone can learn to be a partial non-responder to level 1 effects. (For more information see Miller’s book, “The Mental Warrior” in FightingArts.com e-store under “Pressure Points” in the “Book” section).

In both of the cases above we have caused pain but have not had an effect! Well that is the reality of level 1 pressure points. They cause pain but only work against those that feel the pain.

If you follow me then you are beginning to see why there can definitely be some confusion about whether pressure points work or not. Some people judge ALL pressure points by level 1 pressure points alone (because that is all they have been taught) and when they see that they do not always work, they discount pressure point theory.

If you are a pressure points believer then please do not discredit this viewpoint simply because you have experiences that prove to you that pressure points work. I can personally understand why someone would not want to put their faith in a system that works only part of the time.

In fact I would not waste my time on pressure points either if level 1 pressure points were all that there was to the system. Our original concept was that we need a tool that works. However like the punch it may not always work but it is a useful tool and a needed part of your arsenal. However unlike the punch there are levels of pressure points to learn and the other levels do have the ability to work sometimes even when level 1 points do not.

The second level of pressure points are Muscle Pressure Points. Muscle pressure points only work on muscles and are useful when you stimulate muscle to stretch in certain directions. Stimulated correctly muscle pressure points cause an extremity or the entire body to respond. The problem is that the muscle cannot be excessively tight when you try to apply the pressure or it won’t work. And it is important to note that (1) they don’t rely on pain to cause their reaction, but (2) as I said above they have the weakness of being able to be nullified.

Muscle pressure points are used a lot in Tai Chi and are very effective. The main reason why they are so effective using Tai Chi techniques are because of hidden principles in the techniques that cause the person to unlock or relax the muscle you are attacking. This is done with techniques that are beyond this article, but for those who understand the combat applications of Tai Chi, they can use these principles all the time.

The third type of pressure point is called Reflex Pressure Points. This type of pressure points is the most interesting subtype of pressure points to my way of looking at it.

Reflex pressure points are different from both level 1 and level 2 pressure points because pain is definitely not required for them to work. I call reflex pressure points Level 3 type pressure points.

Notice that I said that these reflex pressure points do not cause much if any pain when stimulated. That makes them different than the usual type of pressure points that most people think of when they think of a pressure point.

NOTE: I will freely admit that stimulation of a reflex pressure point most likely will cause an uncomfortable feeling, but the feeling is definitely not what one would call pain. However, the important thing is that stimulating these points causes a FIXED reaction that is hardwired into the body and the person thus HAS to respond. Thus there is no such thing as a non-responder. That includes people who are high on drug or mentally ill.

The fact is ONLY level 3 pressure points work all the time. Unlike level 2 pressure points they do not require pain to do their action and unlike level 2 pressure points they cannot be blocked.

Now before you think “well, why bother with level 1 and level 2 pressure points at all when level 3 works every time,” there is a fact you must know. That fact is that the number of available pressure points in the body decreases with each level. Thus there are far more level 1 pressure points available in the body than there are level 2 points. Unfortunately there are even fewer level 3 pressure points than there are level 2 pressure points.

There are some other limitations too, but we will cover those in the next article. However I will let you know that there are several different types of level 3 reflex pressure point that exist.

I hope this helps define what I see as some of the confusion in pressure points and why some people don’t believe that pressure points work. Furthermore I hope that you will be able to use this new definition to better understand and use pressure points on the street.

The second article in the series:
Pressure Points: Some Observations On Their Use


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About The Author:

Bruce Everett Miller, PA-C, is a 6th degree black belt in the style of Quan Li K'an and a teacher of Tai Chi which he combines with his Western medical training as a Physician's Assistant to provide his own unique perspective on the martial arts. He is a well known teacher, seminar leader and author who has produced thirteen books and four videos on various karate related subjects including freefighting, pressure points, the principles of kata, Acupuncture, and light force knockouts. For more information on his books, vidoes and seminars see: http://www.cloudnet.com/~bemiller/ . Miller is a frequent contributor to FightingArts.com and his books and videos on pressure points are available in FightingArts.com e-store under “Pressure Points” in the book section.


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

Pressure Points, Pain Type Pressure Points, Muscle Pressure Points, Reflex Pressure Points, Kyusho, vital points, self-defense, karate


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