Friday, September 25, 2009

Using Pressure Points

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Of all the subjects covered in martial arts schools I'd have to say that, after point sparring, "pressure points" is one of the ones that make me scratch my head the most. The term "pressure point" generally refers to an area of the body where a nerve sits just underneath the skin, and by pressing down on it you can cause sharp and sometimes severe pain. The term is broadened by the western medical community to mean any area of the body where applying direct pressure can result in some type of change within the body. For example, pressing down on an artery to slow bleeding is considered a use of a "pressure point". In Traditional Chinese Medicine the term is broadened even further to include areas where no nerves or arteries exist, but an invisible pathway (called a "meridian") of internal energy (called "chi" in Chinese, "ki" in Japanese, and "bio-energy" in the west) flows throughout the body.

In the west pressure points are pretty much divided into two types, one being points that cause pain and the other being points that cause light headedness or unconsciousness. A martial arts instructor will generally teach forms or sparring and then switch gears by sitting the class down and saying, "if you press here...the guy will scream. But, if you press here...the guy will dance for you", and then that's pretty much it. Most instructors only give instruction in pressure points to that degree, spots on the body that you can press down on and cause people pain.

Some other schools, mainly in the U.S., teach pressure points in a quite elaborate way. They talk about spots like "gallbladder 5" and a "triple warmer" and say that you can simply tap someone "here" and make them pass out, or you can strike them in a certain sequence you can make someone pass out. Unfortunately, if you hit them out of sequence or you're a 1/2 inch off on one of the points then it doesn't work. I know some people are really into this method, but if you think about that it's really a mess.

Thus far I've haven't been to a seminar on that type of pressure point use but I have seen it done on videos and spoken with people who have had first-hand training on it, and while I always try to keep an open mind, when I'm confronted with it the only thing I can think of is "how the hell are you going to pull this off when someone is trying to stab you to death?" If someone really does attack you and you're planning on locating and striking 3 tiny pressure points on his body in a certain order to incapacitate him the only thing I can say is, "good luck". When people are actually moving around and being aggressive you're not going to be able to access these tiny spots. You can find a tiny pressure point on someone's arm during class, but how are you going to find it when the guy's wearing a winter coat? And if you need to find and hit 3 or 4 points in a certain order to knock someone out while they're wearing street clothes and trying to seriously injure or kill you...well...if you can do it then you're the luckiest guy on Earth.

In the orient pressure points are taught a little differently than they are here. In China or Japan pressure points really aren't considered a separate part of your education. During your early stages of training an instructor might throw out a few pain inducing pressure points here and there mainly for fun, or as a possible way to make people comply with you. However, while these points, which are also points used in acupuncture, are very useful for medical purposes, their use for martial art purposes are mainly considered "tricks" or novelties. During the higher levels of training an instructor pretty much says, "here are the areas of the body where striking can cause the most hit them as hard as you can". The idea that you can gently press on pressure points or strike them lightly and make someone pass out or compels them to completely comply with you is for the most part a horrorably misguided western idea.

I saw a video on the internet awhile back where an old Japanese Kenpo Master was giving a demonstration on pressure points to a class of advanced students. He pointed out a point that causes unconsciousness and then told everyone to stand back because he was going to demonstrate its effects. Now, most people would think that he would gently press on the point or at most gently poke it and the guy would fall to the floor unconscious. I have to admit that is what I was expecting. However, what the old master did was to set his feet, and then he struck the guy so hard I thought he killed him. His partner came off of his feet and flew backward and into the floor. The old master then rushed over to revive him, and sure enough the guy was unconscious. The masters in the orient know very well that this "mamby-pamby" press or strike gently bullshit won't work.

In my classes I do teach pressure points as a separate subject because using pressure points has little use in real self-defense. Most people would say that the temple is a pressure point and the solar plexus is another pressure point but I call them "targets". To me, "targets" are areas of the body that are especially susceptible to impact trauma and I have my students train to hit them as hard as they can. In my class "pressure points" are spots on the body that you can press on and cause people pain. I regard them as sort of parlor tricks. Not really useful in real violence but if you're goofing around with your buddies, or you're in a social situation and you need to send someone a message via pain then they're great.

The idea of being in a violent attack and hunting and pecking for tiny little spots on your attacker's body is ridiculous, but there are some pressure points that are easy to find and do their job quite well. In an effort to simplify the topic of pressure points I'm going to discuss the ones that are most useful, from a purely functional standpoint. I've rated these points from one to eight, with one besting the most useful. The standard I used to rate them was 1.) Accessibility, 2.) Amount of pain resulting, 3.) Ease in locating the point, and 4.) Ease of applying pressure and being able to keep there while the other person tries to get away from you.

Pressure Point #1: The Eyes

Most people don't consider the eyes to be pressure points but I think that they're the best one on the body. If your goal is injury then the eyes are one of the easiest places on the body to injure. If your goal is pain compliance then the eyes are still number one. If you want to make someone stop what they're doing and dance for you then slowly press down on their eye. Just make sure that you use your other hand to hold their head because as soon as you'll do they'll fight rather violently to get away.

I understand that most people don't like the idea of using the eyes as pressure points and that is fine, but you still have to admit that functionally they do the job very well. They are large so they are easy to find. There are two of them so if you miss one you can come back and get the other. They are filled with nerves so applying pressure results in a great deal of pain. Also, the body goes to great lengths to protect them so by controlling the eyes you can take control of the entire body.

If I had someone standing in front of me and I wanted to drop them to their knees in pain and control them with a pressure point my first thought would be a thumb to the eye.

Pressure Point #2: The Testicles

Like the eyes, the testicles are usually easy to find and filled with very sensitive nerves. If you're goal is to press on something and force compliance through pain then a testicle is your good buddy. However, I do prefer the eyes over the testicles since the eyes are usually much easier to get at, after all the eyes are at eye level and not covered by denim. Generally if you can't get at the eyes then you can get at the groin, and if you can't get at the groin then you can get at the eyes.

The way to use the testicles as pressure points is to simply push your hand into the other person's groin and make a tight fist. You should be able to feel the testicles in your hand but if you aren't sure that you've got them just check to see if the other person is trying to curl into the fetal position.

You do need to be very careful with the testicles because you can cause them to rupture which would move the situation from pain compliance to actual injury. If you're goal is just pain compliance then grab them and squeeze gently, you only need a little pressure, and gauge the pressure needed on the other person's reaction.

Pressure Point #3: The Ribs

A person's ribs, especially the lower ones, are very vulnerable and there are plenty of nerves. If someone is grabbing you and you want to make them jump back and let go, just dig your fingers into their ribs. The reason that I like the ribs is because they're not something you have to hunt and peck for. They are large areas on the body and very easy to locate and get to, and when you dig your fingers into them people immediately try to get away.

There are four ways I teach people to press on the ribs. First is with the tip of your thumb. You simply make a tight fist and press the pad of your thumb against the side of the index finger, then dig the tip of the thumb in the ribs and try to push it right between two of them in a twisting motion. The second is with a knuckle. To do this you make a tight fist but put the knuckle of your index finger out a little bit and then press on the ribs in the same way. Third is using four knuckles instead of just one. You make a tight fist and use all four knuckles to dig and twist into the ribs.

Pressure Point #4: The Saphenous Nerve

The saphenous nerve runs down the inside of the leg and is very sensitive. The best way to use it is to reach between their legs, place your hand on their upper thigh, and use an eagle claw to grab as much meat as you can. If you put your hand on your own thigh and then firmly grab a big handful you'll realize how painful this is. This, as well as the groin, is great points to use when someone grabs you from behind.

I've rated this "point" after the ribs simply because the ribs are usually easier to get to then the thighs.

Pressure Point #5: The Jugular Notch

The Jugular Notch is the tender hollow area where your lower windpipe meets your sternum. It is very sensitive and there are two ways to utilize this as a pressure point. First, you can push anyone away from you by simply inserting two fingers there and pushing as hard as you can. This a great move to show young girls because with this a small female can push any size guy off of her.

The second way to use the jugular notch as a pressure point is to insert two fingers into it and then press in and down towards the ground. This variation is more of a controlling maneuver than the first. I like to grab the back of their head with my left hand to make sure they can't go anywhere and use my right to dig down into their jugular notch. It is a great way to make someone sit down.

Pressure Point #6: The Side of the Neck

The side of the neck is very easy to get to and there are a lot of nerves there which makes it very easy to get pain compliance. You simply place your thumb on the side of the neck, either side, a few inches down from the bottom of the ear and press. It can be anywhere in that area, it doesn't have to be that exact spot.

This is a great move for the law enforcement community to use when trying to cuff a resisting suspect. Instead of 4 officers trying to hold the person down, or use other means, they can apply force of the side of the person's neck and they will quickly become compliant. If they don't become compliant because of the pain then they'll soon become lightheaded and lose their strength enabling the officers to cuff them with little problem.

Pressure Point #7: Under the Nose

While some points are more painful for some people than others, this point is horrorable for pretty much everyone. This point is located between the bottom of the nose and top of the upper lip. To use this point you place the side of your index finger underneath their nose and then press in and up. It only takes a few seconds to make the eyes water profusely. Another version for when someone is standing in front of you is to grab the back of their head with your left hand and place the side of your right hand under their nose and use the side of your hand to apply pressure.

Pressure Point #8: The Back of the Arm

On the back of the arm just below the armpit there is a large bundle of nerves that are very sensitive. By grabbing the back of the arm with an eagle claw you can cause a lot of pain. However, it is often not too hard for them to be able to pull their arm away from you and out of your grasp.

While I teach using a lot of different areas of the body for striking, these eight areas are the only ones I teach to be used as pressure points. There are a few other points that are widely taught but I chose not to include them for functionality reasons. While these points, and others, do create a lot of pain when force is applied, they require you to look for them, which can make it almost impossible to find them during a violent altercation, and are quite small. For a pressure point to be really useful during a violent altercation it should be a fairly large area and not some tiny little spot. If the point is some tiny little spot then you won't have sufficient control over that area and someone can jerk away from you and suddenly your finger has moved 1/2 an inch and you've lost the spot. The spots discussed above are bigger areas (the ribs, back of arm, under the nose) instead of tiny spots.

Here are my four "honorable mentions" in no particular order.

Honorable Mention #1: Behind the Ear

This is a very popular pressure point. Right behind the bottom of the ear there is a hollow spot between the jaw and the neck where applying pressure can result in quite a bit of pain. I say "can result" because I know many people who are so receptive to this point that they almost live in fear of it, and I know many people don't find this very painful at all. To best stimulate this point insert the tip of your thumb in the hollow and press down hard while you twist your hand back and forth.

Honorable Mention #2: Under the jaw

If you feel underneath the jaw you'll find that the edges of the jaw are made of bone but everything in between them is soft tissue. To find the pressure point move up the jaw bone about half way between the tip of the jaw and the hinge where it connects to the skull. Put two fingers, or better yet the tip of your thumb, on that spot and then push it up under the bone into the soft tissue of the jaw's underbelly. This point exists on both sides of the jaw and most people find this incredibly painful.

The reason that I put this as an "honorable mention" and did not list it under the points that I teach is because, given it's location, there are just other points that are easier to get to and use. You can generally find this point easily and use it to cause severe pain but if someone jerks away from you, you generally lose the spot.

Honorable Mention #3: Finger nails

The finger nails are another point that are horrorably painful and easy to find, but it is very easy for someone to pull away from you and cause you to lose your pressure point. To use the finger nail, or toe nail, as a pressure point you grab a hold of the finger and press down on the top of the nail with the tip of your thumb. You want to press down on the very bottom of the nail right next to the cuticle for maximum pain.

Honorable Mention #4: Median nerve

The median nerve is a point that causes a lot of pain in pretty much everyone but it can be hard to find, especially on someone who does not have well defined arms. To find the median nerve point look at your arm while holding your palm towards the floor. Bend your arm slightly and look at the crease created in your elbow. Place the thumb of your other hand on the edge of the crease and move your thumb down towards the hand about a 1/2 an inch and the towards you about an 1/8 of an inch. The tip of your thumb should be right on the median nerve. You might have to press down and move it around slightly to find it's exact spot. Again this point is very painful but it can be hard to find (especially if the individual is wearing long sleeves or a thick coat) and they can usually pull away from you rather easily. This is a point used quite a bit in Aikido.

Honorable Mention #5: The Love Handles

There are several nerves in love handles that exist very close to the skin that can be easily used to cause pain, regardless of how much body fat a person has.

To use the hand handles as a pressure point, lay your hand flatly on their love handle, between their hips and their ribs. Think of imitating a lobster’s claws and squeeze the hand and try to touch the tips of your four fingers to your thumb.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mindset vs. Action

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

A lot has been written about the "fighting mindset" or "combat mindset". Pretty much every self-defense course talks at length about how you have to think a certain way to defend yourself and how you need to develop a "killer instinct". To tell you the truth I think this is more of a gimmick than anything else. The "combat mindset" or a "killer instinct" are esoteric ideas that allow a guru to sell books and videos for big bucks. Normally they bring it up in a column they write or spend a few minutes talking about it during a seminar and then let you know that, luckily for you, they sell a course that will tell you exactly how to develop it for just 4 payments of $39.95.

In reality, the whole idea of a "combat mindset" is over-rated. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: it is what you DO that is important. You can think anyway you want, the only thing that is really going to matter when someone is dragging you into the back room of a convenient store at gunpoint is the physical action you take. You can be scared shitless and ready to pass out from the fear, but, regardless of the condition of your mental faculties, if you suddenly grab a telephone off a desk and the turn and strike the attacker in the head as hard as you can and then run like hell, you're alive. You didn't think the telephone into the man's skull, you physically put it there.

Don't get me wrong, a certain state of mind is beneficial but it is not absolutely necessary. The necessary part is physically acting when you have to. Adopting a certain state of mind or way of thinking can definitely increase your chances of being able to act when you have to, but all it really does is prepare you mentally for the occurrence of violence and it is certainly possible to act without preparing. The process of preparing your mind for an occurrence of violence is what we'll cover next.

If you want to mentally prepare yourself for violence and increase the chances that you'll be able to act when you have to then the first thing you have to do is to REALIZE and ACCEPT is the fact that violence CAN happen to you and your family. Not only that, you have to REALIZE and ACCEPT that violence probably WILL happen to you or your family. Until you accept this truth you won't be mentally prepared for a violent altercation. When violence does happen your brain will think, "Wait a minute...this isn't suppose to happen!" and you'll be standing there frozen trying to process the event while it is happening. This is one reason why criminals get away with so many crimes, because their victims think that it will never happen to them they freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Once you realize and accept the fact that violence probably will happen to you or a loved one you need to make the simple decision not to be a victim. This may sound kind of odd but one reason many people don't fight back, even when they're being murdered, is because they don't know if they should fight back or let themselves be victimized. There have been a lot of people that have actually just stood there and let themselves be choked to death because they couldn't make up their mind and decide whether or not to try to resist.

It is as simple as saying to yourself, "I am not going to allow myself to be victimized". Once the reality that violence can and probably will happen to you is accepted, you allow your mind to open up and deal with the possibility of it happening. Then once you decide not to be a victim you give your mind a direction to go in when it does happen.

Next you need to learn exactly what your threats are likely to be, how they are likely to come after you, and then you need to develop a workable plan for when they do come after you. The difference between being a victim and being someone who successfully survives violence is having a workable plan beforehand. The reason criminals are so successful in committing their crimes is because they have a plan and know exactly what they're going to do and their victims don't. The importance of having an actionable plan for what you will do in a violent situation, and for having it before you step foot out your front door, cannot be stressed enough.

The next step is to educate yourself about self-defense and then take proactive steps to avoid crime and be on the lookout for it. You have to know the places where you're at risk and the places where criminals are most likely to attack you and you have to try to avoid those areas, and if you can't you have to consciously be on the lookout of criminals and other attackers. But again, these are actionable steps and not a special "combat mindset".

After that you have to understand that action always beats reaction. Action is offensive and reaction is defensive. Action takes control of the situation, charges forwards, and gets the job done, while reaction waits to see what the other person is going to do, then it decides what it will do based on what the other person did. Reaction is always a step or two behind.

In any potentially dangerous situation you need to take control and the way that you do it is by acting. If someone confronts you, tells you he has a gun, and then he starts to reach for it you should be taking action. Reaction would be waiting to see exactly what they do, letting them pull the gun, and then trying to play catch-up. Action is stepping in and driving your forearm into the guy’s throat the second he reaches for it. In any potentially dangerous situation action is always better then reaction.

This is one of the reasons why you should generally resist an attacker and always resist someone who is trying to abduct you. There are many people who have had someone try to kidnap them and by taking some type of action, often just yelling, biting, hitting, kicking, or turning and running away, they have created a situation where they could get away.

So we know that when something happens we're going to take control of the situation by acting rather than reacting and we have a plan so we know what we'll do when something does happen. As far as the mental preparation part of self-defense goes, that's the majority of it. By realizing, accepting, and deciding you've told your brain, "when this happens, I'm going to fight back", and by being knowledgeable about criminals, aware of your surroundings, and having a plan for when violence does happen it becomes far more likely that you'll act instead of react. Everything else in self-defense has to do with physical actions.

The only other aspects of mental preparation are to practice with both mental rehearsal and physical practice. Of course you should hit the mats and get some training time in but you should also spend 5 or 10 minutes a day mentally rehearsing an assault and seeing yourself, as clearly as you can, be proactive and striking your targets to end the situation. By mentally rehearsing your encounter you are further giving instruction to your brain and telling it what to do when you are faced with violence.

Now what about the actual encounter? Let's say that you've already done everything I've talked about above so you've prepared yourself mentally, and now you have a man standing in front of you trapping you against your car and threatening you with a knife. So now what do you do mentally? The answer is pretty simple, you focus on targets. The only way that you're going to stop this man from hurting you is to physically injure him so he is physically unable to attack you. The way you get this done is by driving as much force as possible into the weakest areas of his body...or in other words: striking targets. Since what you need to do is to access targets, what you should do is focus on them. The only thing that is going to save your life is by accessing his throat, temple, carotid artery, liver, knee, etc., so they are what you should be focusing on.

It doesn't matter what that man plans to do with his knife, his plans won't save you. The only thing that matters is to be proactive and get to his temple with a hammer-fist strike and drive all of your bodyweight all the way through until he hits his head on the ground. That is the only thing that will save you, targets, so that is what you should be focusing on.

There is another benefit of making yourself focus on targets and that is by making your brain focus on targets it isn't free to panic. It is ok if you feel fear because fear is a natural feeling that we have little control over; it is panic that we need to avoid because panic can lead to freezing like a deer in the headlights. Panic happens when your brain has no direction and is free to do whatever it wants. By directing your brain to focus on targets you are giving it a task to do so it won't have the free time to make you freeze with fear.

That's pretty much it, "combat mindset"/"killer instinct" in a nutshell. So save your 4 payments of $39.95 for something you really want...or if you really enjoyed this article you can always send them to me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Knives, Other Tools, and I Compare Jim Wagner To A Condom

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

The other day a friend informed me that he had made a decision. For the past six years he has studied the Japanese art of Jujitsu and he is very talented and extremely proud of his black belt. Save except a few instances, for those six years he has diligently attended class twice a week and always leaves drenched in sweat and every now and then he leaves with a small bit of blood on his uniform (usually not his own). However, now he feels that he's getting older (he's 56) and he can't take the punishment of going to class that much so for now on he's only going to attend classes every other week.

He said that the only reason he goes to class so much is that he wants to be prepared to defend himself and his wife should he ever need to, so he has to be able to keep up with the "young guys". After years of being thrown around and having his joints twisted in all sorts of odd shapes he now feels that its time to take it easier and for a few years he has wanted to cut down on is training. The reason that he hasn't until now is that he feels that if he isn't constantly practicing in the dojo if something was to happen he might not be in top form to take care of it.

"So, what's changed?" I asked him, "why are you now deciding to cut down on your training when you weren't comfortable doing that a year or two ago?"

He leaned towards me with a grin that made me just a little uncomfortable and said, "I'm going to cheat".

"Well that's between you and your wife, but what does that have to do with Jujitsu?" I asked

"No," he said with a pissed off grimace, "I'm going to start carrying a knife". He reached in his pocket and pulled out a black folding knife and handed it to me. "I figure if I start carrying a knife and use that as my first line of defense then I can back off on Jujitsu a little. If some teenage bastard tries something with me I'm going to cut him up first, and then if I lose my knife I'll use my Jujistu."

I did my best to try to bite my tounge, that was until I opened the knife. It was black and it looked like something you'd see in a futureistic military movie. Just looking at it you could tell that is was designed for stabbing someone to death, and to top it off on the blade it said in big letters: Jim Wagner Reality Based Blade.

"Saved by the Bell the College Years!" I shouted (I'm trying to stop swearing), "First of all you bought a Jim Wagner product? Really? That guy is a barnackle on the taint of the self-defense/martial arts industry. Learning from Jim Wagner is like getting your rapist to wear a condom, things might turn out a little better than they otherwise might be, but not much! And look at this knife! Do you honestly think that you're going to be able to carry this and not have it either taken away from you by the cops or end up in prison? If you ever have to use it against someone the prosecuter is going to take one look at it and infer your intent based on the kind of knife you're carrying."

I understand his thought process but it really doesn't work that way. Carring a weapon, any weapon, is not an excuse to cut back on your self-defense training. If you decide to carry a gun and you're smart enough to take a course in defensive shooting, your instructor, provided he's worth his salt, will tell you that chances are that you'll have to use your empty hand skills first.
If you can see a situation coming and draw your gun in advance then it's a good day, but chances are you'll end up having an attacker confront you at very close range, within a few feet, and you'll have to use your self-defense techniques to at the very least push your attacker back to give you time and room to get at your gun, pull it out, aquire your target, and effectively operate it. Most defensive shooting instructors will tell you that you're probably going to have to deal with the first attacker bare handed and then, provided you have time, you can deal with any additional attackers with your firearm. The knife is no different.

As far as the exact knife goes, DON'T buy some fancy fighting knife!! If you buy some fancy "Jim Wagner, I'm Going To Kill Somebody" knife then the cops and the district attorney are going to, at the very least, hold you to a higher standard, and, in the extreme, think that you went looking for trouble.

I do carry a knife with me but it is for utility purposes. I carry a simple pocket knife that is sharp, clipped to my pocket, and has a blade within the legal limits. If need be I could use my knife for self-defense, as I could any knife, so I simply don't need to spend a butt-load of money on some fancy "combat" knife that advertises to the world that you have a knife and you're looking for an opportunity to pull it.

Like everybody, I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six, but those twelve...they're a bitch.