There is a a lot of fluff, fighting and puffery on the Internet about almost everything in the martial arts these days. Particularly, pressure points get a lot of attention. There seem to be two divergent camps with a lot of people in extremes on both sides: 1. pressure points are really effective, 2. Pressure points don’t work.

This post comes from my real-world experience of decades in the martial arts. Your experience may vary. But this is what I have objectively found:

  1. Pressure points exist: This, of course, depends on your definition. There are points of the human anatomy which are more vulnerable to attack. This includes the groin, eyes, throat, as well as places where the nerves are in bundles close to the surface of the body.
  2. Single strike knockouts exist: We’ve seen this in boxing and other martial arts. Correctly applied shots to certain anatomical targetsĀ  have the chance to knock someone out. Examples include a shot to “the button” (punching the chin), and strikes to the side of the neck (which affect the vagus nerve and can cause blackout).
  3. Acupuncture points can be attacked: but the effect is unpredictable: Many of the acupuncture points used in martial arts work because they effect nerves. The issue is that they work on some people and many can be conditioned against. I once showed a takedown technique to some federal law enforcement officers that relied on a pressure point explaining that it was (just a party trick). It worked beautifully on most of them, and on one guy - no effect. With another workout partner I had - you could pound on the guy’s acupuncture points all day and he didn’t even feel it. This stuff is too unpredictable to be a primary self defense tool.
  4. There is a tremendous amount of BS being sold today: as there was throughout the history of martial arts: I believe that some of these big name guys who get top dollar for seminars and show 1 touch or no touch knockouts are full of crap. There are a lot of stories of challengers who were unaffected because they “didn’t believe” - sounds a lot like the placebo effect. I can’t say that such things do not exist or that they can’t exist - just that I have never experienced them.

In my humble opinion, the extreme opinions on both sides of most issues are usually very far from the truth which can be found somewhere in the middle. For self defense, I believe it is imperative to study anatomical targets, and understand the effects of attacks against those targets.

If your self defense strategy involves triking a sries of setup points, each a few millimeters in width, I just don’t think that’s practical. In grappling, it can be helpful to understand how to grab and pinch nerve bundles, but you can’t rely on it. Think of it as icing on the cake.

Physics-driven effects, such as leverage-based takedowns, are very reliable, because the laws of physics and their effects don’t change. No matter how skillful, or conditioned you are - gravity still acts in predictable ways.

In an infinite and expanding universe, everything is statistically possible. I have seen a lot of things that I had previously believed impossible. I am a healthy skeptic, neither believing or disbelieving anything until I feel I have enough information. As a martial artist I believe we should investigate, and come to intelligent conclusions.

Category : martial arts / self defense