Japanese kyūsho are specific areas or pressure points on the human body that send pain and other signals to the brain when stimulated in a certain way. Martial artists long ago mastered and integrated this knowledge with style and form, transmitting it’s secrets through the lineages of Japanese martial arts.
Martial artists in the know have heard about the mysterious Dim Mak or the “Death Touch”, at some point. The most famous was the final scene of Kill Bill Vol. 2 when the Black Mamba performed the “Five point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” on the Snake Charmer. Classic. He took a few steps then collapsed.
Budo schools of Ninjutsu also utilize a targeted method of striking these kyūsho, (kyū-vital, sho-point) in single and repetitive rapid strikes to quickly disable an opponent. Historically, Shinra Saburō Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1042–1132), also a sixth generational descendant of Emperor Seiwa (858-876), was known to use and teach the use of the vital kyūsho. Yoshimitsu is the soke of Daitō-ryū Jūjutsu, named after the town Daitō (modern day Shiga), which in turn gave birth to many Japanese styles as it was transmitted through the Minamoto and Takeda lineages into Judo, Aikido, Hapkido, and Brazilian Jiujitsu.
Minamoto no Yoshimitsu was also a master of Aiki, a principle in Japanese martial arts of “shadowing”, your opponent’s movement in order to advantageously strike the most vulnerable parts of the body at the right times, usually when the opponent is hyperextended or in full flexion. The spiritual and mental kamae of a budo taijutsu practitioner taken before receiving an attack is Aiki. In these moments, the attackers rhythm and intent are measured to determine the best counter measure. Kyūsho are also identified but factors such as height, weight, and muscle thickness will all play a role in effective striking.
Yoshimitsu was also an accomplished musician who observed the nature of good rhythm and smooth transition between movements as dancers flowed to the sound of his sho (wind instrument depicted in the photo). He also trapped and studied a female spider using methods of entrapment to catch it’s next meal. nature of good rhythm and smooth transition between movements.
Beneath the Surface of Kyūsho
Kyūsho are located along pathways of the central nervous system stemming from the brain and spinal chord branching out to every part of the human body. When these areas are struck, they release a pain signal to the brain, a withdraw reflex, which responds by moving the body away from the source or in more severe cases total shutdown. One example of a knockout is a temporary disruption of signals to the brain most commonly experienced when a crushing blow is accurately delivered to a kyūsho point. When someone gets hit in the jaw in just the right way, that slight disruption sends a signal to the brain to reboot.
These kyūsho areas extend beyond nerve points to include bone points, blood points, energy points, organ points, and muscle/tendon points. Each area and point has an effect on different areas of the body and are often used in combination. The effects of accurate kyūsho striking can include unconsciousness, total loss of energy, hysteria, uncontrolled outbursts and death. Please take every precaution when striking these areas during training as a lack of control can cause serious injury.
The carotid artery, or jugular vein, is pressure-sensitive, and one of it’s functions is to detect spikes in blood pressure to protect the system. Any irregularities or false signals sent will either lower or increase blood pressure depending on the signal. With this type of knockout, the blood pressure is lowered to account for the spike
created by pressure put on the carotid artery from either the head snapping or from the direct pressure of a choke that constricts the artery. The average diameter of a carotid artery is between 6.5 – 6.1 mm so training to intentionally strike kyūsho areas takes years of practice. An in depth study of the human anatomy is need to understand their location and deviation due to gender, build, and method of attack.
Other knockout areas of the body include the philtum, jinchu, (in between nose and top lip), the floating ribs, kinketsu, (middle to lower rear rib area), the back of the neck, and the chin or gankotsu. As far as strikes to the head are concerned, keep in mind that the brain is floating in cerebrospinal fluid that acts as a cushion to absorb the blow, but when the blow is significant and the brain dings the skull; knockout.
Kyūsho are often thought of in a destructive manner to immobilize or even neutralize and attacker but these points also have healing properties. The Japanese healing art of Reiki and Amatsu Tatara both use these points to restore the body’s energy points and even heal sickness. Deep tissue, Swedish, trigger point, shiatsu, thai and lomi lomi massage all stimulate these points with healing in mind to bring great relief and joy to body and mind .
Expanded Kyūsho Theory
Just as kamae cannot be thought of as only physical, the concept of kyūsho can be expanded to include the mental/spiritual attitude and even the surrounding space. With this in mind, kyūsho is also the vital point of the first interaction with the attacker. This is Aiki in practice.
The budo schools of Ninjutsu teach that when the attacker is overextended and has expended full force, this is one of the best times to counter. The need for force will be minimal because the attacker’s brain is already sending a signal of stress and exertion which makes any further disruption an overload to the system causing any of the reactions spoken of earlier. With this expanded view, the practitioner is now creating kyūsho or the vital point using an awareness of space, distancing, rhythm, and timing.
There are many factors that determine the effectiveness of striking Japanese kyūsho points. Striking combination, time of day, position of the body, striking force all play an important role in determining success.
For the martial artist, effective targeting of these areas can be the difference between victory or defeat. Since there is no proven method of victory but adaptation, the knowledge of Japanese kyūsho and Chinese meridians will not promise an advantage. In a real fight, striking one or more of these kyūsho points may not work, so it’s not a standalone method of combat but definitely worth integrating into your training.