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
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
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
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
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
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.