Friday, March 27, 2009

Vital points for atemi

Karate-do is, to a large degree, learning how to hit and where to hit. You learn how to hit, including how to move your body to generate power, how to position your body to apply power, and what parts of your body to hit with. You also learn where to hit your opponent - vital points, anatomical weaknesses, and a touch of physiology so that you will understand the results and consequences of hitting a person a certain way.
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I teach vital targets in levels of increasing specificity and precision. At the basic level I teach people to mostly aim for center of mass - the vital points are intentionally vague as the student is learning the 'how to' of atemi. As the student progresses the kata become more and more specific and my teaching of vital point striking becomes more detailed as to location, direction, type of stimulation, etc...
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For the basic level of striking, imagine a human body with a 4" wide stripe painted vertically down the centerline, a 4" wide stripe painted horizontally across the solar plexus and lower ribs, and a 4" wide stripe painted horizontally across the pit of the stomach and the groin. These stripes describe the basics of vital point striking. At the basic level, all your major targets (except knees and kidneys) lie on these three lines, and getting within about 2" on either side of the specific point is precision enough. On these lines, your targets include:
  • facemask area
  • corner of chin
  • throat and neck
  • solar plexus
  • ribs
  • bladder
  • hip joints
  • groin
In closing, an excerpt from Man of the West's pretty good History of Karate article - (a history that agrees in large part with my understanding of the subject and with my opinions, but still gave me a couple of juicy points that I didn't already know - e.g. the Jigen-ryu connection). Here MotW basically agrees with me that learning the 'how to' along with very basic 'where to' is often good enough to git-r-dun.
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At any rate, [karate-do] is still often very effective! Of course, that may be partly because another modification took place, possibly apart from Funakoshi's intentions: his style, Shotokan, began to emphasize the development of power in the execution of techniques. What else could his students do? If you don't have the pressure point knowledge, you had better be able to hit hard. ... And if a practitioner somehow comes into possession of the pressure-point knowledge, then Shotokan becomes all about shockingly powerful strikes to vital points. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.

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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link! Kind words are always appreciated.

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  2. Good post. I'm also hoping to put up some diagrams of kyushu (vital points) and their Japanese soon on my blog.

    In training I often see students punching and kicking without really thinking about where they're striking - something we have to watch out for. In reality punching your attacker in the chest or bicep really isn't going to be the best option for self-defence.

    However, that said I think we also have to be careful not to place too much faith in nerve and pressure point strikes as they can be difficult to execute effectively and don't work on everybody.

    I like something Kane and Wilder said in their book The Way of Kata: "Nerve strikes are 'extra credit' - an excellent addition to your martial repertoire, but... you should not rely on them as single techniques alone".

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  3. I enjoyed Mr. Kane's and Mr. Wilder's book, too--but no matter who says something or what they say it about, there's always some point of disagreement somewhere. In this case, when they wrote, as you paraphrase:

    ...nerve and pressure point strikes...can be difficult to execute effectively and don't work on everybody.

    a couple of things went through my mind, to wit:

    Difficult to execute properly? Everything is difficult to execute properly until you've drilled it about--what? ten thousand times?

    It takes an awful lot of repetitions to get a certain variety of upset punch peculiar to our system to work properly--but once you get it, that sucker'll drop someone like a bad habit.

    In other words, nerve strikes are no more difficult to execute properly than many other techniques that people rely on.

    I found it almost ironic that in their book they talked about doing anatomical damage--blowing out knees and so forth--as being more reliable than using nerve strikes (shoot, even saying "strike" kind of clouds the issue, as just as often, you're rubbing or twisting instead of striking), when we find that a joint becomes much more vulnerable when nerves are attacked in the process. It's not really an either/or, it's more of a both/and.

    I'm not God, and obviously I haven't tried every technique on everybody, but I sometimes wonder at the idea that nerve techniques don't work on everybody. After all, how do I know whether it's nerve techniques don't work on everybody or I haven't been able to make nerve techniques work on everybody? They are not at all the same thing, yet obviously there are more than a few people that will never appreciate the difference.
    I sometimes think this is because people take for granted that a nerve technique will involve pain, but this is not at all the case.

    I recall a story that my instructor told: He was at a seminar with Taika Seiyu Oyata, and everyone was working a tuite technique that employed a nerve attack. My instructor was having trouble making the technique work correctly, and his partner tried to make him feel better, telling him, "Oh, I can't feel anything in my forearms; they've been broken so many times, there's no sensation left."

    Taika heard that, and proceeded to slam the guy to the ground using the exact same technique. "Pain no matter." In other words, though there is often, perhaps usually, pain, nerve techniques are by no means intrinsically pain-compliance techniques, and it can be a mistake to think that because the opponent doesn't feel pain, the technique won't work on him. It may just be that the technique works fine, and the practitioner needs more practice.

    I've had some of these techniques applied to me, and not felt pain so much as a complete inability to resist the completion of the technique.

    Just my opinion, worth what you paid for it. I don't mean to pose as an expert.

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