This is an area that you will see debated from time to time with people for and against it. Some claim that pressure points make your techniques ultra effective, whilst others claim that in the heat of the moment you will not have the accuracy to find the point whilst somebody is trying to hit you at the same time.

So who’s right? Well in my humble opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and it depends on the circumstances and on your approach to training.

Starting Position Of Fight/Conflict Affects Chances Of Pressure Points Success

If you start a fight 6ft apart, close in, then exchanging blows with a capable opponent (like most sport fights); I believe that it would be difficult (but not impossible) to find pressure point targets. Just think when you are sparring against somebody of equal skill, it can be difficult landing a blow on their torso (which is a large target), never mind finding a very small pressure point to hit.

Furthermore, in a street situation when you have just had an adrenalin dump, your fine motor skills do not work as efficiently. For this reason, many people advocate concentrating on developing your techniques (regardless of style) so that you are fast and powerful and you will hurt your opponent wherever you hit them.

On the other side of the coin though, very few fights start 6ft apart. They usually start much closer with the antagonist making impolite enquires as to who the fornication are you visually observing! Or words to that effect! 🙂

In this kind of scenario, if you are genuinely convinced that you are going to be attacked and you are not able talk sense into your assailant, at some point you may take the decision that you will have to beat some sense into him instead. I’m not talking about somebody calling you names or jumping a queue; but a real threat of imminent violence. In this scenario a pre-emptive strike to a pressure point will be much more likely to succeed. If the opponent is still posturing, still psyching himself up; he’s preparing but he’s not actually ready yet. You don’t step back into a guard as that only warns him that you are a proficient martial artist and he’s likely to attack you even more vigorously.

The Fence & Pre-Emptive Strikes

You are better off using what many people call “the fence”, a posture with the hands open and facing down in a universal position of neutrality, feet apart in a solid stance (but not a martial arts stance), engaging his brain with some dialogue (anything at all - “isn’t it a shame about the polar bears!”), then hit him as fast and hard as you can on a vulnerable (pressure) point.

Now some traditionalist may get a bit hung up on this, as Funikoshi (founder of Shotokan Karate) stated that in Karate their is no first attack. This has been interpreted by many as you need to stand there and wait for the other person to throw the first punch. This is obviously not very practical. What he really meant was that we should not go looking for a fight. In other places, particularly talking about women’s self defence Funikoshi has described how to deal with an assailant by showing no sign of fighting, then when they’re least expecting it use a pre-emptive strike, then running away to get help.

And as I’ve heard Kevin O’Hagan say, “you don’t really want a fair fight do you”? After all, he started it not you.

There are of course legal considerations about striking somebody first, but I’ve covered that in another post.

Pain Resistant Assailants

There are of course other considerations. Firstly, if your assailant is drunk or high on drugs, they may not even feel very much as there senses are dulled, yet their aggression can be heightened.

Secondly, if your assailant is fully hyped up and adrenalized, they will feel less. Have you ever got hit hard in sparring and thought “ouch”, give it a quick rub and carry on. But the next day, it is throbbing like mad.

Why did you not feel it very much in sparring? Its because you were fully warmed up and your adrenalin was flowing. However, if you (or you assailant) are squaring up for a real confrontation, you both have an awful lot more adrenaline in your body than when you are sparring. You will absorb a lot more punishment without even thinking about it . . . . . and so will he! Kevin O’Hagan reports of a case in America where a guy attacked a cop with a knife. The cop shot the guy 4 times, yet the assailant still managed to get to the cop and stab him before collapsing. How well do you think your pressure point strikes would work against a knife wielding maniac who keeps going with 4 bullets in him.

Boxers have been known to break bones in their hand early in a fight, yet still finish the fight.

I witnessed an incident in a pub many years ago where a confrontation broke out between two lads. One obviously wanted to fight and the other one did not. Very quickly a friend of mine, Daren, intervened to calm it down. Now Daren is a very large, solidly built guy, who whilst having a very friendly disposition is not the type of guy you would want to get on the wrong side of.

As Daren tried to calm the aggressor down, he was met with a complete lack of reason or logic. Finally, Daren lost his temper and went for the lad who had started it all. It took 3 of us to hold Daren back, swearing and snarling in complete animal rage, with his sister trying to talk him out of it too. The lad who had started it all turned white (not surprising if you know Daren). My friend Keith (who you can see elsewhere on this blog demonstrating bunkai with me) tried applying a pressure point to calm Daren down. Daren in his complete rage did not even seem to notice.

After a while Daren calmed down and the other lad made a hasty (and wise) exit. When Keith met Daren a few days later and asked him what all that had been about, Daren gave a cheeky smile and said, “6 months stress all out in a few minutes”.

But the point is, Human beings are capable of taking an awful lot punishment when in a rage, adrenalised, or just plain determined enough to finish the job; so it does suggest that pressure points can be limited when against somebody in a rage or fully adrenalised.

That said, there are some points that no matter how drunk, high or adrenalized a person is; cannot be resisted. An attack to the airways so that they cannot breath will always work, be it a strike or a choke. However, much of a rage someone might be in, if they can’t breath, they can’t fight.

Attacking the carotid sinus (side of the neck where you feel the pulse), causes the blood pressure to the brain to drop and hence the assailant passes out. This can be done with strikes (especially knife hand) or strangles. Again, not enough oxygen to the brain, doesn’t matter if they’re pain resistant or not.

Also an upward blow to the chin or the side of the lower jaw line causes the brain to “bounce” against the back of skull, giving a higher than usual probability of causing unconsciousness .

These points (and a few others) should normally work under any conditions, though you are more likely to actually hit the target with a pre-emptive strike than in an all out fight.

Whilst I believe that pressure points are valuable and have there place, they should not be treated as a short cut, or as a replacement for perfecting your technique. Whilst most people recognise that technique may only be say 50% efficient when under pressure, 50% of a good technique is still much better than 50% of a bad technique. If you are not able to get in a pre-emptive strike, you may find yourself having to simply hit your assailant as hard as you can, wherever you can, until a good target becomes available. By then however, you may be too adrenalised to spot the opening, because one of the side effect of adrenalin is that blood goes from your brain to your muscles, slowing up your thought process.

Even if you are lucky enough to get in a good pre-emptive strike, that strike will need to fast and hard, which brings us back to good technique.


The best way to use pressure point techniques is with a pre-emptive strike, rather than in the middle of an all out fight. To take advantage of pressure points, you basically need to have good technique so that you are able to hit fast, hard and accurate. You should also have some fighting ability in case you’re not able to get in a pre-emptive strike.

Russell Stutely is recognised as Europe’s number one leading expert on pressure point fighting. I recall one of his newsletters where people had been writing in asking him why he spends so much time doing pressure points. However, his response was that he only does a small amount of training on pressure points, with most of his personal training being basics and power development. So if Europe’s number one expert on pressure points does not take short cuts and neglect his basics, then neither should we.

Although pressure point fighting can be highly effective when done right, it should not be seen as a short cut to effective self defence. All the other skills have to be in place too or your pressure point techniques will not work.

Want To Learn More About Pressure Point Fighting?

Russell Stutely does do a FREE on-line course which gives you an insight into his teachings. After that he has a selection of more detailed DVD’s, downloads & on line courses for anybody who is serious about pursing pressure points training.

Disclosure: The link above is an affiliate link, meaning, if you do purchase any products (beyond the FREE course), then at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission.

6 Comments In This Topic

  1. Nice post and I totally agree! Pressure point strikes or locks are not the be-all and end-all of fights. Nor, for that matter, are they worthless. I think they are a nice supplement to punches and kicks.

    In chin na my sifu constantly warned us that these techniques may not always work. When that happens he advised falling back on punching and kicking.

  2. Hi Bob.
    Glad you agree and thanks for your input
    Charlie 🙂

  3. Hi charlie,nice post mate,i agree with all you say.Personaly i feel that we should be very careful when it comes to nerve strikeing in our training….long term effect and the like.Asyou know i am agreat lover of reality,but we have areal duty of care[i cant believe i just said that i must be geting old]cheers mate paul

  4. Thanks Paul. Always nice to have the support of my Sensei 🙂

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