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Wushu Watch: A Concession to the Men In Black Pajamas

There are a great many reasons to laugh at pressure point fighting systems, but not all of the arguments put forth by believers are completely absurd. We take a look at what professional fighters can learn from pressure point nonsense.
June 10, 2016, 5:05pm

Pressure points do not exist beyond their role as a mildly painful party trick. Energy meridians do not, as far as science can tell, course through your body and render you immobile with a light tap in the right place. Kyusho-jutsu, Dim Mak or frankly any other system or philosophy that teaches you how to incapacitate people exclusively by practicing on a stationary target, is a hoax. Worse yet, it is a cult where those who fall down best become part of the inner circle and earn the highest ranks. It is the hiding place of people who want to feel as though they can defend themselves but don't actually want to struggle or suffer in learning to. In case my video proclaiming my love of the Kyusho Curriculum DVDs earlier this week threw you off, the above is my position.

I am still working on my review of Kyusho Sex Points but cannot make it through ten minutes of the DVD without needing to walk out of the room. The one technique which I tested on a live opponent only succeeded in garnering a "piss off, Jack" and then later giving said opponent explosive diarrhea. I do, however want to weigh in on one of the counter points I have seen raised regarding pressure points. And I will now surprise you: I am going to give some ground to the guys in the black pajamas.

Whenever you see pressure point systems denounced on the Internet there will be a believer who chimes in to say that countless knockouts have come in combat sports by striking the jawline, solar plexus or floating ribs, all vital points. But they will do this in between arguing that combat sports have banned all of the pressure point master's weapons. A convenient way to explain away hours spent poking at people's arms and clavicles when they should have been practicing landing those blows on the jawline of an opponent who wasn't simply going to let them. I will, however, grant that there are points on the body which, when hit, cause a much greater reaction than those around them.

Let's take a look at the simple diagram from the back of Gichin Funakoshi's Karate-do Kyohan. There's no chi or ki stuff here even though there is in the Bubishi, the supposed bible of Okinawan karate. Funakoshi lists the nerves running around these areas and justifies them with a reference to medicine that I am not qualified to argue against. Every one of these places hurts if you hit someone in them, but a lot of them aren't worth the effort and most of them are going to be completely unreachable on someone with their fists up, ready to fight. Furthermore, even without the magic of chi, Funakoshi drastically overestimates the effects of hitting these spots. For instance, striking the Gluteal Fold can cause "a loss of consciousness" due to "trauma to the sciatic nerve". I've not punched a whole heap of people in the ass, but that would have to be the absolute best-case scenario. I wouldn't want to rely on it.

Good targets are generally one of three things: sensory organs, areas of the body which are more sensitive to pain or harder to condition than others, or areas of the body which are naturally less muscled and a small bone or organ may be impacted more fully. In a fight against a competent opponent or frankly anyone who isn't just standing there and letting you poke them, there are very, very few points worth specifically aiming for. Eliminate the idea of 'set up points' from your mind. That is the idea of hitting a point on the arm or one of the foot and one on the leg to set up another point for a knockout shot. Even if that was how the human body worked, guys train their whole lives to score blows and land maybe one in three. If you work at more than fifty percent accuracy against an opponent with a pulse, you are something special.

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The Big Three

In the days of bareknuckle pugilism, which probably most resembled a street fight, there were three main targets which a fighter would aim his blows for. Accuracy was key because bareknuckle punches on the skull, forearms or shoulders would only lead to mangled hands.

Sensory organs are among the most effective targets: you have the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Getting hit in the mouth hurts but there are more valuable targets inches away. The ears make for good slapping when being clinched tight on the ground, a hurting strike in almost no space—you can see Shinya Aoki, Kazushi Sakuraba and Chael Sonnen do this to force movement. Crushing an opponent's nose is always a good intention on a counter jab because if you can get him to step onto a couple, you stand a good chance of troubling his breathing—and of course a broken nose can lead to swelling around the eyes. But it is the eyes that are by far the most important sensory organ because if you can't see (provided you are not chest to chest with someone), you can't fight. In my tribute to Muhammad Ali, I mentioned briefly that his backhanded jab allowed him to attack his opponent's left eye where most fighters' jabs were straight and thus were naturally suited to striking the right eye. Ali's jab closed his opponent's left eye and concealed his right hand.

A good jab or elbow landed in the eye is just as effective as a thumb in the eye but it's totally legal. Here's a great example from Michael Bisping which Cung Le was convinced had been an illegal blow.

Alternatively you can watch Jon Jones, Chuck Liddell, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields and numerous others damage the eyes of their opponents with their splayed, extended fingers. You pretty much cannot watch an MMA event without saying "Hmm, they should really do something about those gloves!"

The Temples

Then there are the temples, which in the bareknuckle days were the primary target. Supposedly it was John L. Sullivan who made the jawline a popular target after conversing with a physician who explained to him the nerves of the jaw, convincing old John L. that it was worth a whack. The whole jaw area is solid hitting—behind the jaw and under the ear, on the point of the chin, from underneath the chin. But moving into the modern era you have to find a shot at an opponent's jawline and he will do his best to hide it. Where Ali was focused on the eyes, Sugar Ray Robinson insisted that the temples were far easier to strike than the jaw.

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The temple was also a popular target because of the importance of the cross counter (the looping right hand across the top of the opponent's jab) in early days of boxing. You will see men who love the cross counter in the modern era like Mauricio Rua and Glover Teixeira frequently connect on the temple because the opponent's shoulder should be shielding their jaw as they jab.

The Mark

Along with the temples and the eyes, the last part of the bareknuckle generation's holy trinity was the solar plexus. Occasionally called "Broughton's Mark" or "Mendoza's Mark". The solar plexus is significant because it is a region which even in a well-muscled man is considerably less muscled than the surrounding area. A good shot to the solar plexus will take a man out, but even a short one is a huge annoyance. The aforementioned Ray Robinson excelled with the jab to the solar plexus. It was Floyd Mayweather's best offensive nutcracker, forcing adjustments and opening the opponent to other blows. And Junior dos Santos has for years been surprising heavyweights who reckon they'll be fine taking a few jabs to the body.

Henry Armstrong's short left uppercut to the solar plexus carried his fighting career. Many of the best Thai boxers in the world such as Saenchai excel with push kicks. The beauty of the teep and the neb are that they can be put in hard as pushing kicks or just jabbed into the solar plexus. The true value of the solar plexus is that in any standard guard, it is still there to poke at where every other valuable body shot is shielded by the elbows.

Secondary Body Work

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The most well known of body blows is still the liver shot which serves as good evidence for the value of aiming because the body is not symmetrical. The liver is the largest gland in the body and it hangs as a sensitive mass in the right side of your torso. It's a little harder to reach as you have to get under the opponent's right elbow to hit it, but a blow to the liver can incapacitate a man who is not ready for it.

The floating ribs, my personal favorite to see a fighter go for, are massively under appreciated in combat sports. If you are going to break a bone by hitting someone, the last ribs are the ones you stand a good chance at doing in. Just like the liver, however, they take some timing to do. You have to get the opponent's elbows away from his body. Roy Jones' rib breaking right hook underneath Virgil Hill's jab is one of the best examples of this in fighting history.

And that's about it. Those are the good targets you'll get to in a fight. There are the nerves down the outside and inside of the thigh, but the thigh is a tender mess anyway which is only toughened up through abuse. Pretty much anything else you can think of is either pretty impractical (the kidneys are an awesome target but so rarely will you see the opponent's back) or unlikely. There are heaps of specialist pressure points that just don't work when the opponent has a bit of will or tension in them, or is happy to move or hit you while you're trying them.

Temples, eyes, solar plexus. Liver, floating ribs, jaw. Legs wherever you can catch them. That's all you need. If that were what was being taught in kyusho classes and DVDs, and they focused on ways to get to these targets, that would be awesome but that would also just be kickboxing. Instead time is wasted on points on the arms, wrists, feet. Hit a guy in the arm and yes you can give him a dead arm, but I would hazard that I could spend a week teaching a guy to kick or punch hard enough to give a dead arm against someone's guard and it would be a hundred times more useful than teaching him the location of a specific point on the inside of the arm for when the opponent throws a slow as molasses round house swing.

And that, I suppose is where I can come to agreement with the men in the black pajamas. There is a lack of aiming and setting up going on in MMA. It seems like everyone is swinging for the head a lot of the time. When you watch someone like Nieky Holzken his set ups and accuracy are what make him remarkable. He doesn't hit with a ton of force when he gets his man's liver because he's already done the job of getting the elbows up and he's in on a vulnerable part of the body. But there is accuracy as needed for a fight and then there is practicing for pinpoint accuracy on a compliant training partner.

Pick up Jack's new kindle book, Finding the Art, or find him at his blog, Fights Gone By.