Don’t Get On My Nerves, I’m Under Pressure…

Don’t let the title fool you, it’s just a play on words. Today’s post is about pressure points. I recently had a conversation online with a friend who was suggesting potential posts I could write up in relation to this blog. During the exchange, the idea for discussing pressure points came into my head. Since I haven’t written a post in a while solely on martial arts (where I haven’t harped on Diabetes or included some other aspect), I thought that pressure points would be good topic to cover, especially since it’s used in karate a fair bit. Depending on one’s style, of course.

So, what is a pressure point? I guess I should start with the basics, since many people are unclear as to what exactly, is being referred to when one uses the term. First of all, it depends in what context it’s being used. In Chinese Medicine, such as acupuncture or acupressure, it refers to the meridians of the body where stimulation can promote healing and other effects, depending on the location and the source of stimuli.

From martial arts standpoint, a pressure point is typically a point where one can exert pressure (hence the name) or strike, causing pain, immobility in the limb and/or distraction or confusion in an opponent. I have to be extremely honest in the fact that I’ve seen a lot of hype surrounding pressure points. I’ve been training and using them for decades, but I’ve yet to find one that’s a happy medium that involves rendering a limb immobile. For the most part, they either inflict pain/confusion in an opponent or it straight up knocks them out.

But pressure points are extremely sensitive points on the body. Chances are good that at some point, you likely used a pressure point or had one used on you. For example, getting kicked in the nuts is a pressure point. I seriously wish I were kidding about that. But it genuinely is. And it’s one of the most painful (and easy to access) pressure points on the human body. It causes dozens of different responses in the body, which work well towards incapacitating one’s opponent.

You’ll notice that I said “human body” and not “male body,” because contrary to popular opinion, a groin kick is extremely effective against female opponents as well. Many of the same nerve endings are present in both genders, despite the difference in genitilia. My sincerest apologies to anyone who doesn’t identify by those two genders. I’m afraid my brain is hard-wired for binary.

But there are a number of areas on the human body that have pressure point locations that can be as obvious and effective as a groin strike. For example, there’s a nifty little lymph node where the jawline meets the base of the ear. If you jam a thumb or finger in there, it hurts like hell. That one would mostly be used when you’re caught in close quarters. But there are all sorts of other areas including the brachial plexus, solar plexus, the line of the bicep inside the arm and many more. Unlike the portrayal shown in movies and television shows, pressure points aren’t intended to be used a sole means of incapacitating your opponent but rather as a way of facilitating that incapacitation.

One good example comes from a television show I’ve been watching religiously and that’s taken me back to my childhood. I’m talking about Cobrai Kai, a Netflix series based on the 1980’s movie, The Karate Kid. It’s a fantastic series and features a lot of karate-based drama. In the 5th episode of the 3rd season, the protagonist visits Okinawa where he squares off against an old rival. During the sparring match, the rival strike the protagonist in a number of spots, rendering the limbs incapacitated. The protagonist basically sits there, helplessly at the mercy of the old rival. As much as I love the show, I consider this to be an exaggeration and have never seen an effective pressure point that will cause this level of specific disfunction.

But pressure points can be an effective way of maintaining a control over an opponent. I like to use them strictly as a distracting tactic during the initial defence. The brachial plexus is one of my favourites, as a well-placed knuckle strike to that location will cause pain in the general area, mixed with numbing of the associated arm, which distracts the opponent and allows the practitioner the time to formulate a defence, whether that means continued strikes or “tactically relocating” (running away).

There’s even a specific style of martial arts, called Kyusho Jitsu, dedicated to training and studying pressure points. Students of this style practice a variety of techniques using pressure points, as well as some of the healing aspects offered by pressure points. From a personal standpoint, Sensei used to teach dozens of different pressure points of varying effectiveness during drills. They can be effective, when properly applied. Can you get away with defeating an opponent simply through the use of a pressure point? In my opinion, not unless you’ve caught them by surprise or unaware. In which case, you’ve struck first and aren’t using it for self-defence. Shame, shame! Pressure points should be used in combination with effective striking techniques for maximum effectiveness.

At the end of the day, pressure points represent a balance of healing and pain, used by most forms of traditional medicine as well as the fighting arts. Like most things in life, there can some good or bad found in anything. The nature of a thing isn’t so much in the tool, but how the wielder uses it. Pressure points fall very much in this category since they can be used to inflict pain or to heal. Some pressure points can even be used for simple things, such as healing nausea or helping you fall asleep. But a good example of how pressure points aren’t “all encompassing,” is the fact that when they’re used to heal, you’ll likely need multiple visits to the ol’ acupuncturist in order for it to have the desired effect. You can’t just puncture as specific point and BAM! Healed! It just doesn’t work that way…

I named a few pressure point locations in this post. And I have to admit that these aren’t really anything that you wouldn’t find on the internet anyway. But I think it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t mention that no one should attempt the pressure points I’ve described, unless you’ve trained extensively with them alongside someone with experience. And they should only ever be used in self-defence, as incorrect use of pressure points can be harmful and dangerous to the recipient. Poking your co-worker’s lymph node as a prank likely won’t go over well. So train well and be safe, regardless of what techniques you train with. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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