Pressure (Vital) Points:

A pressure point can be defined as:
1) an area of the body which is especially vulnerable to injury or
2) an area at which incapacitating pain develops when it is attacked.

Areas such as the windpipe, eyes, nose or the knees are sometimes identified as pressure points because of their vulnerability to injury (Tegner, 1986). They make ideal points for self defense because they are readily identifiable, easily reached, and exquisitely vulnerable. However, locations such as the eyes and the windpipe also represent high-risk-of-injury areas. These areas should only be attacked in life threatening situations because it is so easy to cause serious injury or even death by striking them.

There are also many areas of the body at which intense pain develops when they are attacked. At these points, energy can be transmitted into a nerve very effectively (Dillman, 1992). As a result, they are known as pressure points or nerve centers. Pressure points of this type occur where a nerve branch connects to a major nerve pathway or where several major nerves join together to form a nerve plexus. When such a point is stimulated by pressing or striking, the resulting pain registers on more than one nerve pathway. As a result, the brain receives signals from multiple nerves and the pain felt is amplified.

In Karate, nerve centers or pressure points are used to disable and to defeat our opponents. However, the same points are used in acupuncture and acupressure to heal the body and to restore balance to the body's systems. To the acupuncturist, a pressure point is a gate through which the body's healthful energies flow. By manipulating the gate, the flow of energy can be increased or decreased as required to restore the health and well-being of the patient. To the martial artist, these same points provide a means by which the body's flow of energy can be disrupted to quickly incapacitate an attacker.

Different pressure points respond to different kinds of stimulation. Some respond to striking, others to pressing or rubbing. In addition, the angle at which a pressure point is attacked is critical to proper activation. In many cases, the full effect of pressure point activation can only be felt if the angle of attack is such that the entire nerve plexus or connection is stimulated. Proper angles of attack together with specific method of stimulation must always be considered whenever a pressure point attack is undertaken.

The following are examples of some readily accessible pressure points:


These pressure points can be used to cause pain. Many neck points involve applying pressure to major arteries and blood vessels as well as nerve centers. Faintness and unconsciousness can result from attacking these points.

Location: Behind the jaw in the depression under the jaw.
Attack: Strike diagonally back to front.
Result: A strong blow can cause unconsciousness or dislocate the jaw. Grinding with the thumb or knuckle can cause intense pain.

Location: In depression behind the corner of the jaw.
Attack: Poke or press in and upward at a 45 degree angle toward the center of the head.
Result: Causes pain. Strong blow may dislocate jaw.

Location: Notch at bottom of jaw.
Attack: Hit on line 45 degrees toward the center of the head. Can use knuckle or fingertips to poke and roll inside the bone.
Result: Causes intense pain. Heel palm strike at correct angle can knock out attacker. Puts attacker off balance, jars head.


These pressure points can be used to control an attacker and to force him to the ground. They can also be used to control the hand and wrist to force an attacker to loosen his grip or to lose control of the fist.

Location: Front of arm, where the pulse is located on the thumb side of the wrist.
Attack: Press in toward the bone and up toward the wrist.
Result: Weakens the hand.

Location: On the little finger side of the front of the hand, approximately 1/2 inch below the wrist crease.
Attack: Press against the bone and toward the hand.
Result: Weakens the grip and the wrist.

Location: Inside of arm just below the inner knob of the elbow.
Attack: Strike or press.
Result: Causes the elbow to bend and the arm to go numb.

Location: Front of arm, 2 inches to 3 inches above the inside of the elbow.
Attack: Strike or grab.
Result: Causes the elbow to bend and pain to extend down the arm to the little finger.

Location: Back of arm, Mid-triceps.
Attack: Strike against bone to lock elbow and release shoulder.
Result: Combine strike with wrist grab to lock out shoulder and arm in control move to the ground.


These points can be used to immobilize an attacker, to distract an attacker, or, if required, to seriously damage the leg or knee.

Location: The back of the thigh just below the buttocks.
Attack: Kick.
Result: Immobilizes the leg.

Location: The middle of the inner thigh, halfway between the groin and the knee.
Attack: Kick with the toes or press hard with the knuckle.
Result: Pain can distract attacker. Hard strike can buckle the leg and force the opponent to the ground.

Location: The inside of the leg, halfway between the ankle bone and the lower edge of the calf muscle.
Attack: Kick from inside the leg with a rising motion.
Result: Causes the leg to become numb.

Location: Back of the leg just below the knee.
Attack: Stamping kick or toe kick.
Result: Forceful kicks cause extreme pain and may cause the muscle to spasm.

Location: The top of the foot where the 4th and 5th toe bones connect.
Attack: Stomp or, if the attacker is shoe less, strike with a single knuckle.
Result: Causes pain, distracts attacker, may fracture foot bones.

Location: Achilles Tendon at the back of the ankle.
Attack: Kick with edge of foot or shoe.
Result: Moderate kicks cause pain. Hard kicks may damage the tendon.

[For more details on specific pressure point locations and methods of attack, see books written by Dillman and Tegner on pressure points.]
  • Bruce Tegner, "Self-Defense, Nerve Centers & Pressure Points",
    Thor Publishing Company, Ventura, CA, 1986, ISBN 0-87407-029-5

  • George Dillman, "Humane Pressure Point Self-Defense",
    George Dillman Karate Int. United States, 2002, ISBN 1-889267-03-1

  • George Dillman, "Advaned Pressure Point Fighting of Ryukyu Kempo",
    George Dillman Karate Int., United States, 1994, ISBN 0-9631996-3-3
Nerve center pressure point attacks make very effective attack points in self defense situations. Some martial arts (Aikido, for instance) are built almost entirely upon the application of pressure point knowledge. These points are used to control or to quickly incapacitate an opponent. Activation of a pressure point can cause excruciating pain capable of making almost any adversary back down. When the pressure point is released, the pain subsides. Therefore, compliance can be gained without inflicting serious injury. That is one advantage of pressure point attacks.

However, there are also drawbacks. Pressure points are generally only the size of the tip of a ball-point pen - the area of activation may be the size of a quarter (Dillman, 1992). In the excitement of an attack, pressure points can be elusive. In addition, physical variations in size and musculature often make a specific pressure point on a specific individual difficult to locate. You must be knowledgeable as well as skillful to carry out a successful attack. An individual's sensitivity to pain or his level of intoxication (by alcohol and/or drugs) can also effect the efficacy of a pressure point attack. You may make an accurate, proper pressure point attack and your adversary may be unaffected. You need a back-up plan, just in case, whenever you rely on such an attack.

Knowledge of pressure points and pressure point techniques is a useful addition to one's self defense arsenal. When appropriately used, they provide an effective means of controlling an adversary without necessarily inflicting serious injury.