By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved
On my blog (www.schaferselfdefense.blogspot.com) I use a free service that lets me check the number of people coming to my site and lets me see how they got there and what keyword they searched for that took them there. I've been quite surprised as of late because I recently discovered that the vast majority of people who come to my blog get there because they searched for a topic relating to pressure points. My recent article, "The Use Of Pressure Points", is by far my most popular and it does make sense because in the martial arts pressure points are still seen by many as being one of the last mystical teachings left.
When I look at the list of keywords and phrases that people searched for I found that they were all pretty close to the same: "How to knock someone out with pressure points", "Pressure point knockout", "How to touch someone and knock them out with a pressure point", etc. What is very clear is that people are interested in how pressure points can render someone unconscious. So, after careful consideration, I have decided to give people what they want and to write an article explaining how pressure points can knock someone out and how to do it.
At first I was a little leery about writing this article but after some thought I realized that if people don't learn the truth behind pressure points then they'd probably keep searching until they found some really bad information and either hurt someone with it or got hurt by it. I think that putting this information out will most likely do far more good than harm, so why not give the people what they want?
A few of the searches that brought people to my blog asked how they could knock their friends out with pressure points. Please, DON'T PLAY AROUND WITH THIS STUFF. Most pressure points are just nerves that sit right underneath the skin and by pressing down on them you cause people pain, and it you want to use those on your buddies then you most likely won't do any harm, but making your buddies say "Oww" is the extent of what you can safely play around with.
One of the truths in the martial arts is that you never truly know what will happen when you touch someone, and therefore there is no such thing as "less-than-lethal techniques". If you press down on a buddy's fingernail you're going to cause him great pain and that could be fun, but if you go further and apply pressure to a point that affects an artery then you could potentially kill him.
The solar plexus is considered a "non-lethal" target and may young guys enjoy punching their friends there when they're not looking. Their friend gets winded and everyone laughs, but right behind the solar plexus is the abdominal aorta and if your friend has a heart condition it could send him into cardiac arrest and he could die. What about the groin? I know a lot of young guys that like slapping their friends in the testicles when they're not looking. Fun right? Most people don't know that when you strike the groin you also affect the respiratory system, and if your friend has asthma or another undiagnosed respiratory disorder then that little game of grab ass could potentially end up with a seriously injured or dead friend.
The point I'm trying to make is that there really is no way on knowing exactly how someone will react to even a small amount of trauma. A large number of the population walks around with undiagnosed disorders or diseases and something that wouldn't adversely affect another person would result in serious injury or death to them. Many people have even died from being slapped in the head. It sounds odd but certain people are born predisposed to brain aneurisms and any firm blow to the head will kill them. Thousands die every year from someone pushing, tripping, or punching them and when they fall they hit their head on the ground and that impact either kills them, causes brain damage, or puts them in a coma. Even a simple wrist lock could be fatal if it causes the subject to lose their balance and hit their head on the ground.
Pressure points are not something that should be played around with. They should only be practiced under the watch of a trained instructor and even then a first aid kit and a phone should be kept near in case of injury. No one wants to be responsible for the death of a friend so DON'T play around with what you'll learn here or any other martial art technique.
"Chi" In Perspective
When talking about pressure points you can't really ignore the topic of "chi" (internal energy). Many schools teach that you can use your chi, or disrupt someone else's chi, to render them unconscious. While I am a firm believer in the existence of chi, and have felt it's affects many times during Tai Chi or Chi Gung practice, there are a few problems with the idea of using chi to knock someone out.
Firstly, historically there have been several different definitions of what chi really is. While the term "chi" has been used to mean "internal energy" it has also been used to mean such things as "focus" and "correctly using body mechanics". Many Chinese historians believe that in the past hitting someone with "chi" didn't mean to use your life-giving internal force to hit an opponent, but rather to focus and use proper body mechanics. After a few years of studying Tai Chi Chuan I realized that often when they said "chi" they really meant "body weight". Many times I saw an instructor seemingly just touch someone and make them fly backwards, but upon examination you'd see that they just bent their knees to drop their bodyweight and used their arm to transfer that force into their partner.
Personally I think that there are two kinds of chi. There is the universal force which supports life (and may be some type of electro-magnetism) and there is martial arts chi which is really just mental focus and the proper use of body mechanics and the application of bodyweight.
Secondly, the documented success of using chi to knock people out is extremely suspect. There are many people who teach pressure points for martial purposes, such as George Dillman, but when examined they have almost zero success when using their techniques on people who don't study their system and very sketchy success on people who do study their system. If you watch videos from these schools you'll see demonstrations where students strike their partner's pressure points to render them unconscious and then quickly rush over to revive him, however upon closer inspection it can clearly be seen that in the majority of the cases the person isn't unconscious. In most of the demonstrations that I've seen the supposedly unconscious person has their eyes open, is looking around the room, and moving their arms while their fellow students are trying to revive them.
I think that the George Dillman style of "chi" pressure point knockouts that is going around is pure crap. Time and time again it doesn't work when done against journalists and other people from outside their system, and when it does work against people inside their system I think it works the same way as a placebo. I also think that the people who teach this stuff know it doesn't work, but they also know that if they can get a group of people to rush over to the "unconscious" partner as soon as he falls down they can obstruct people's view enough where they won't see that he isn't really unconscious.
Many of the pressure points that the various styles use to knock people out actually work but not because of chi. If you closely examine the point you'll see that the point sits on top of a major nerve or artery which is the real cause of the unconsciousness.
Again, I am a big believer in chi but I have never seen a martial use of it that wasn't actually just an intelligent use of body dynamics. Chi is a wonderful thing, but I never seen any credible evidence that shows that it can be used as a weapon.
The Causes of Unconsciousness
Before we get to the actual pressure points we need to have an understanding of how unconsciousness happens. If you understand the causes of unconsciousness you'll be able to understand how the pressure points work and you'll be better able to judge the effectiveness of any technique that you may see in the future.
There are three things that will cause a person to pass out and become unconscious: 1.) A lack of oxygen, 2.) A sudden drop in blood pressure, and 3.) Trauma to the brain or when the brain gets overloaded with signals. Any time someone passes out the cause is one of these three reasons. So now that we know the reasons let's look at them a little closer and figure out some pressure points.
A lack of oxygen
When your body is deprived of oxygen your brain begins to shut down and unconsciousness usually occurs in around 30 seconds to one minute. How can we attack the body to affect a "respiratory knockout"? The most obvious way is to attack the windpipe, so the windpipe could be considered to be a pressure point.
There are a few ways to use the windpipe as a pressure point. The first is called a "one handed choke hold". To do this you place the webbing between your thumb and index finger on the windpipe and wrap your four fingers around the back on their neck. You then use your thumb to push the windpipe into your hand. The next is a "forearm choke hold" which can be done in several ways but all involve placing your forearm across the windpipe and pressing into it to cut off oxygen flow.
The second pressure point could be the nose and mouth. By using the palm of your hand to create a seal over someone's nose and mouth you can stop their breathing and cause unconsciousness in about 30 seconds to one minute. However, in terms of using the respiratory system to produce unconsciousness, that is about it. A hard blow to the groin, solar plexus, or diaphragm could alter someone's breathing enough to cause them to black out but there's no guarantee this will happen.
The third are the lungs themselves. It is not too hard to hit someone and knock the wind out of them but it is probably impossible to hit someone hard enough in the lungs to prevent them from inflating. The way you would use the lungs to knock someone out is to squeeze them so tight that they cannot inflate, and generally this is done by lying on someone’s chest. You need to be careful in attempting this because there have been many poorly trained security guards who have laid on a suspect’s chest without realizing it and ended up killing them because they couldn’t breathe.
A sudden drop in blood pressure
In all the cases where people faint or pass out and become unconscious the cause of the vast majority (probably in the high 90%) is a sudden drop in blood pressure. People who stand up too quickly and become light headed or pass out and people who undergo an emotional shock and pass out are examples of a person suffering from a sudden drop in blood pressure.
A sudden drop in blood pressure can be caused by an event that happens either in the heart or the arteries. An event that happens in the heart that results in a sudden drop in blood pressure could be a heart attack, irregular heartbeat, trauma to the heart which causes it to pause or slow down, or the brain could stop sending the signal for the heart to beat, or the nervous system could stop sending it.
An event in the arteries generally refers to a situation where the person is bleeding and loses so much blood that blood pressure drops significantly. Another arterial event is caused by pinching an artery either with the hand or with a hard strike. If you press down on one of the body's major arteries you can cause the blood pressure to rise significantly. When the brain detects this rise it thinks that the body is in trouble so it acts to lower the blood pressure to bring it back down in normal levels. However, since the rise in blood pressure is caused by you pressing down on an artery and not a real bodily malfunction the blood pressure drops so suddenly that the person passes out.
In this context the heart itself could be considered to be a pressure point. Being fairly well protected you'll have to hit the heart very hard and instead of quickly retracting your fist like a traditional reverse punch you'll want to push all the way through and keep the fist in contact with the target for as long as you can. A hard punch or other blow to the heart can definitely cause unconsciousness.
The next pressure point to cause blood pressure to drop suddenly would be the carotid arteries in the neck. These arteries are large and serve as the brain's main blood supplier. The carotid arteries can be found in the front of the neck, on either sides of the windpipe, and right behind the jugular veins. There are a few ways you can apply pressure to the carotid arteries. First, you can grab the front of the throat and use your thumb to press into one artery on one side and the fingers into the other. By pinching down on the carotid arteries you can cause someone to get light headed in 2 or 3 seconds and pass out in 6 to 10. The bad part about this is that this is a very unsecure grip and it will be easy for an opponent to pull out of. It should also be mentioned that again this could be fatal and if you cause one of the arteries to tear, death is nearly certain.
Another method is known as either the"Japanese Stranglehold", the "Marine Stranglehold", or the "Thugee Stranglehold". From behind you wrap your left arm around their neck so that their windpipe sits in the crook of your elbow, and you place your left hand on the inside of your right elbow. You place your right hand on the back of their head and you use it to push their head forwards into your left arm while that arm squeezes in on the sides of the neck. This is a very dangerous technique and should never be applied for more than 10 seconds. The moment the body starts to go limp you should release the hold otherwise you may seriously injure or kill the person.
While the Japanese Stranglehold mainly works by cutting off blood flow to the brain, you can cause unconsciousness by striking into the carotid artery with the side of your hand or your forearm and you'll get that sudden drop in blood pressure that causes a knockout. Again, be very careful while doing this because in striking to this area you can also hit the throat and other nerves.
Another pressure point is the temple. If you place your finger on your temple, just above the outer edge of your eyebrow, you can feel your pulse. In this area your temporal artery carries blood just underneath the skin. By striking the temple you can pinch the artery and render the person unconscious. Striking too hard can easily result in death.
Perhaps considered a more traditional pressure point, the vegas nerve is one of the most vulnerable pressure points on the body. The vegas nerve connects the brain and the heart and a blow to this nerve will quickly render an individual unconscious. The vegas nerve is located on both sides of the neck about an inch below the base of the ear. It is not one little spot you have to hunt for but rather a long nerve that runs down the length of the neck and pressing down anywhere in that area affects the nerve.
If you press down firmly with your thumb you can cause immediate pain and lightheadedness. If you place your palm or forearm on the side of the neck and bounce a few times you can cause the person to pass out. The often cited "Judo Chop" that knocks people out, shown in many movies such as "Austin Powers", is a chop done with the side of the hand to the vegas nerve. Again, be very careful because if the person has a heart condition, or you hit them too hard, it can be fatal.
When someone gets struck in the vegas nerve they will roll their eyes up in the head, faint, and fall to the ground. They may be out for a few seconds or more than a minute. When they come to they will be lightheaded, have a horrorable headache, be nauseous, and will most likely have poor motor skills for a period of time. After a blow to the vegas nerve the person will feel horrorable and usually won't be able to walk, some have trouble crawling, and they'll usually want to vomit. The last thing that they'll want to do is to fight. These affects usually only last ten to twenty minutes, but the headache and nauseous feeling usually last all day.
Trauma to the brain and when the brain gets overloaded with signals
Trauma to the brain basically means a concussion. If you strike someone in the top of the skull with a stick the impact will cause the brain to shut down (the conscious brain anyway) and the person will pass out, if sufficient force is used. If someone suffers whiplash, or they're struck just right, it can cause their brain to strike against the inside of the skull and cause unconsciousness. In terms of causing someone to pass out due to brain trauma the only way you can get it is if you cause a concussion. The easiest way to cause a concussion is to either strike someone's head against a solid object or strike them in the jaw. By striking someone in the jaw you'll cause the head to rapidly twist slightly faster than the brain can move and you'll get your concussion.
Another way of causing unconsciousness is to cause the brain to get overloaded with signals. If the brain receives too many signals as once it will want to shut down and the person will pass out. To do this, called and "electrical knockout", you can either hit multiple spots at once or you can strike certain nerves located close to the brain.
An example of hitting someone multiple times would be to step into your opponent with a double punch (left hand going to the liver and right hand going to the spleen) while also doing a kick or knee to the groin. By striking three areas at the same time you cause the brain to get overloaded and passing out is a near certainty. The catch is that you can't hit someone lightly; you need to step in with your bodyweight and give 100% to all three strikes.
There are several nerves that are located in the head and neck and when struck they will fire rapidly causing an "electrical storm" inside the body which will overload the brain and cause the brain to shut down. The first set of nerves are located in what is called the "horse shoe". On both sides of your head you have nerves that run from your temples down the sides of your head, behind your jaw, and down your neck. From temple to temple you have a horse-shoe of nerves that can all produce unconsciousness. These nerves exit your brain at your temples and are another reason striking to the temples can produce a knockout. Then they run behind your jaw where they are especially vulnerable.
There are two reasons that striking someone in the jaw can cause lightheadness and unconsciousness. The first is that it can result in a concussion as discussed above and the second is that the jaw can be slammed back against the skull and pinch that bundle of nerves. You can strike the jaw straight back towards the skull or you can strike the jaw from the side and drive the other side into the nerves. It doesn’t have to be done as hard as you can but it does have to be done firmly to produce a knockout.
The other area where these nerves can be found is the back of the neck. The back of the neck is full of nerves and you need to be very careful because striking this area can be fatal. A firm blow anywhere on the back of the neck will cause lightheadedness and disorientation and a hard blow will cause unconscious. If you strike anywhere from the center of the back of the neck to the brainstem you can cause unconsciousness first and death second either by damaging the nerve that tells the diaphragm to contract and causing the person to asphyxiate while they're unconscious or by cutting into the spinal cord and causing the blood pressure to drop so rapidly that they die instantly (called "spinal shock"). If you strike anywhere from the center of the back of the neck to where the neck connects to the torso you can cause consciousness first and then permanent paralysis from the neck down.
As far as knocking people out goes that's basically it. Either you can deprive them of oxygen, get their blood pressure to drop suddenly, cause trauma to their brain, or cause an electrical knockout by overloading their brain with electrical signals. There really isn't any secret spot where you can press down and cause immediate unconsciousness. The closest to that is the carotid artery or the vegas nerve. The whole idea of hitting "gall bladder 3", then "triple warmer 6", and then "prostate 69" and knocking someone out doesn't hold up to science, and to be honest it is ridiculous. Instead of hunting and pecking for three tiny little spots on someone’s body and hitting them in the correct order why don't you just step in and drive your palm into their jaw? It's a lot easier and guaranteed to work.
One last note about hitting nerves, if you hit any nerve in the body enough times you can send the person into cardiac arrest and potentially kill them. For example, there was an instance at Guantanamo Bay where the US military hung up a prisoner and every time someone walked by him they'd knee him in the side of the leg in the common peroneal nerve causing extreme pain. This was an attempt to "break him" but it soon let to him having a heart attack. Any repeat trauma to the same nerve can be potentially fatal.
I thank you for reading this article and I hope you understand both pressure point and the martial arts better. If you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear them.