Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

September 23, 2016


Pressure point techniques, or kyushojitsu (key-you-show-jeet-sew), are an essential field of study in martial arts. Rather than rely on brute force, multiple strikes, and luck to neutralize an aggressor, specific vulnerable points on the human body can be utilized with no more force than what is needed to clap two hands together in polite applause.  By striking specific pressure points, one can better choose the desired outcome of the encounter, rather than leave it to luck, and a hostile engagement could be concluded with as little as a single blow.  Utilization of pressure points as a conscious component of one’s martial arts will not only allow one to be highly effective and efficient, but  in so doing, the decreased need for significant exertion will also extend one’s endurance allowing longer engagements prior to succumbing to fatigue.

Kyushojitsu finds its origins in Indian as well as Chinese medicine and relates to the study of the relationship of vital points to health. In martial arts the focus is on how these vital points can be engaged not to heal but to generate pain or other effects that would lead to defeating an aggressor.  Varma adi, or pressure point striking, is possibly one of the oldest martial arts systems, reportedly older than 500 BCE, that focuses on striking vital points with empty hands or a staff to affect nerves, veins, tendons, joints, and organs. Varma adi identifies 107 vital points with 64 of those points being considered as associated with lethal effects. 

While most people will think of pain points and death points as the totality of pressure points, there are multiple types of pressure points.  While we will not address the 107 vital points here, we will examine each type of pressure point:


Pain points produce an intense sensory signal when struck, pressed, or rubbed and can cause mental distraction, physical immobilization, or a rapid “pain withdrawal” reflex. Pain points represent a large portion of the vital points.  The activation of pain points can be accomplished with minimal effort.


Under the jaw – directly under and behind the point of the jaw is a “V” shaped area. Place one’s thumb in the inside of the V area and one’s fingers on the outside surface of the jaw and then squeeze and push up with one’s thumb against the bone.


Break points are the specific points on joints, bones, and tendons that if activated effectively will dislocate the joint, break the bone, or rip a tendon in half. In some cases, pain points are break points that generate pain when minimal force is applied to them; pain serving as a warning that if greater force is applied, a dislocation, break, or rip will occur.  Break points are only activated with a significant degree of force.


Floating ribs, collar bone, side of knee


Communication points are involved with nervous system communication. Activation of communication points can cause specific involuntary actions, or reflexes, such as causing hand grip to weaken, a joint to relax, knees to buckle, an arm to straighten, etc.  Triggering of these reflexes is often done strategically as part of a combination of strikes where activation of a communication point makes the aggressor more vulnerable to the technique that follows. When communication points are activated in this manner, they are often referred to as “reflex” points. The activation of reflex points can be accomplished with minimal effort.


Gag reflex – strike to base of the throat can cause a sensation of choking

Tendon reflex – a strike along a muscle tendon in a limb will cause the limb to extend such as with the knee-jerk reflex commonly used in Western medicine physical exams.

Golgi tendon organ reflex – a strike at the Golgi tendon organ, located at the junction between a tendon and muscle, will cause the tendon to essentially relax its current tension on a tendon so as to avoid tearing. This would allow for a hyperextension of the joint and make is significant vulnerable to over-extension and dislocation of the joint.

Protective reflex – a strike to any part of the body will usually result in the aggressor’s hands moving automatically to cover the part of the body that was just struck. In addition, the body will attempt to curl so that the struck section moves away from the perceived source of force which often results in previously distal regions of the body moving toward the source of the force.  For example, if one strikes an aggressor in the face, the aggressor’s hands will likely move to cover their face. And while the head moves backward, the waist and groin will move forward.

Fencing reflex – following a strike to the side of the head, the arm on that side of the head will flex and the fist will cock and move toward being just under the jaw; the arm on the opposite side of the strike will extend.  This can be less dramatically triggered by turning the head of the aggressor to face a side of the body.

Tenodesis Effect – By flexing or extending a tendon over two joints, the associated muscle(s) become weakest as any muscle and tendon that goes across two joints is maximally strong when flexed at one joint but extended at the other.  This effect can be used against a weapon hand for disarming purposes.  Pushing on the back of the hand will cause the hand’s grip to become its weakest.  The tenodesis effect is also why a support leg for a kick will be strongest when it is bent instead of being straight.

Activation of communication points can also be done so as to block communication. This will result in either numbness or paralysis in specific areas of the body depending on the communication point that is engaged. When communication points are activated in this manner, they are referred to as “paralysis” points.


Unconsciousness points generate a response of the body to induce unconsciousness. This could be due to loss of blood flow or due to overstimulation of the CNS. The activation of unconsciousness points can be accomplished with minimal to significant force.

In addition, while correct activation of a single unconsciousness point will result in unconsciousness, it is important to note that striking three or more pressure points of any type will overstimulate the CNS and precipitate unconsciousness.  Care must be taken as while activation of three points can result in unconsciousness, chaining pressure point activations beyond three points could be lethal.


It is undisputable that there are several vulnerable points on the human body that when sufficient force is applied would have lethal consequences for an aggressor.  But the existence of true death points, specific points where minimal force can be applied and death will result, is controversial.  For the purposes of this article, death points should be thought of as referring to vulnerable points on the body that can cause death when significant force is applied.  Also, similar to the precipitation of unconsciousness, activation of multiple pressure points of any type, five or more, can potentially overstimulate the body to the point where death occurs.

In closing, due to the potential for traumatic injury and even lethal consequences, caution must be taken in the exploration of the activation of pressure points and such exploration should be conducted under the supervision of an identified expert instructor who also holds some knowledge of qigong techniques. If you note or your training partner complains of dizziness, nausea, or other suddenly present physical complaints, stop training immediately and either utilize qigong techniques yourself or seek assistance from your instructor.