The Thread That Binds
By Rick Clark
Contemporary martial arts such as
judo, aikido and karate-do seem very different. However,
if you look for those things that are held in common
you might be surprised by their many similarities.
Let's look at some of the techniques taught today
in a basic judo or jujutsu class. The new white belt
is taught break falls, basic throws, and rudimentary
ground fighting. As these skills become more developed,
advanced techniques are introduced into the curriculum.
With good instruction and some determined practice
the student can reach a substantial degree of proficiency
in his or her art. In most jujutsu systems punching
and kicking is taught as part of the system's responses
to various attacks or grabs.
In judo, punching and kicking skills, however, are
considered ancillary to the primary art. And while
these techniques are a natural complement to throwing,
joint locks, and grappling skills, today they are
only taught to the most senior students. This was
not always the case. The
1924 book, "The Complete Kano Jui-Jitsu,"
did illustrate a variety of knee strikes, foot kicks
and head pushes or strikes. But, as judo became more
sports oriented, these techniques were no longer taught
to most students.
In other arts such as karate, kempo, or tae kwon
do, the foundation skills consist mainly of punching,
kicking, and blocks. As in the example above, when
the student advances in skill and ability, advanced
techniques that are representative of judo or jujutsu
may be incorporated into the training curriculum --
throws, takedowns, arm bars and other joint manipulations.
These same techniques are also found within the more
In Gichen Funakoshi's early
20th century karate books, for example, photos
illustrate not only a variety of throws similar
to those in judo, but jujutsu type joint techniques
In aikido too, striking techniques were originally
considered a critical element to help set up many
techniques by distracting or momentarily stunning
an opponent. In
fact, aikido's founder, Morihei Useshiba, is credited
with saying that striking is a critical part of setting
up many techniques. In the 1933 first published account
of aikido, "Budo Training In Aikido," there
are many illustrations of these initial strikes (see
first photo in this article). In later years, however,
Ueshiba tended to stress movement and the flow of
technique, especially in his films, and in recent
years the initial striking aspect of the art disappeared
from the curriculum of many schools.
As you may have noticed similar techniques are often
taught as basic techniques in one system and advanced
techniques in the second. It is a matter of the priority
that each martial art puts on the techniques that
determines at which point they are introduced. Each
art has its own strategy of combat with different
emphasis and priorities -- striking and kicking, throwing,
grappling, joint manipulations, etc.
Judo, jujutsu and aikido tend to deal with attacks
at a grappling or close range. Arts such as karate
will best handle attacks from a medium range. Tae
Kwon Do, which is known for its kicking techniques,
deals best with the longer range attacks. Of course
each art can deal with attacks from other ranges,
but it seems that they tend to emphasize particular
ranges of techniques.
Prior to the modern era warriors, such as the samurai,
needed to be well rounded in their combative techniques
in order to survive in battle. Thus, they were skilled
in the use of various weapons and un-armed combative
techniques. Today many martial arts do not train with
combat effectiveness in mind. Most teach with emphasis
on sport, physical fitness, or mental development.
There is, however, a strategic relationship between
the various arts. At the basic level of any martial
art that is being used in a life or death struggle,
the intent and purpose of the art is the rapid destruction
of the opponent, or in the case of aikido, the neutralization
of the opponent. Remember we are not talking about
the sporting or the character building aspect of martial
arts. I am talking about martial arts that are being
practiced as self-defense methods. Here, most martial
arts seek to cause injury, or at least incapacitate,
the attacker -- by breaking, knocking out (by a punch,
kick or strike), choking, or throwing.
While various arts, such as karate, judo, tae kwon
do, jujutsu, silat, aikido, etc., each have their
own strategies and priorities of techniques, each
also shares deeper body of knowledge that bridges
their art, style or country of origin.
What is it? Pick up just about any older martial
arts book in English published in the 20th century
and you can flip to the back and find diagrams showing
the vital points on the body. Many older texts in
Chinese and Japanese dating from the 1600's and before
also include these vital point charts. These charts
may vary in the number of points shown, the locations
shown, or the amount of information given about them,
but the vital points shown were incorporated in some
form in each art. These points represent places on
the body that can be attacked and manipulated within
that system to cause varying degrees of damage.
The use of vital points has not been the exclusive
domain of any particular art. Before the introduction
of Karate into Japan in 1922 by Gichin Funakoshi,
vital points were being written about in the English
language. In 1913 Koyama and Minami published Jiu-Jitsu
(jujutsu): The Effective Japanese Mode of Self Defense
in which they state:
"There are some Jiu-jitsu
(jujutsu) maneuvers that have never been explained
to Europeans or Americans - and probably they never
will be. These death blows are remarkable. Some
are delivered on the spine, others on the neck and
head, and two on the face. There are almost numberless
maneuvers that temporarily paralyze nerves and nerve
centers, and others that stop the circulation of
the blood in various parts of the body." (p.
Jujutsu thus made use of percussive techniques to
incapacitate their opponents. Textbooks on judo from
that time also describe the location and use of vital
points in that art.
An early work on Karate by Gichin Funakoshi has a
chart of vital points and their reactions. Choi Hong
Hi in his first work tae kwon do (1965) has a chart
and list of points to attack. This list could go on
and on, but to what purpose? Without question the
use of vital points can be found to one degree or
another in all martial arts whatever country of origin
and is the thread that ties them together.
Here is a crudely hand drawn
vital point chart from the Bubushi, a once
secret text owned by many early 20th Century
Okinawa and Japanese karate masters including
Gichen Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan karate),
his teacher, Anko Itosu, Gogen Yamaguchi (founder
of Japanese Goju ryu karate) and Kenwa Mabuni
(founder of Shito ryu karate).
Compare this with a similar, modern anatomical
rendition printed in the 1924 judo text, "The
Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu."
Even though vital points have been shown in many
older texts, however, there seems to be limited knowledge
among the martial arts community today on their use.
Their use has also been the subject of controversy.
The reason is that traditionally their study was reserved
for only the most trusted students of an instructor.
As far back as 1915 Yokoyama, Oshima, and Horiguchi
stated in their book Judo (1915) that the use of striking
vital points were considered secret techniques, something
to be keep away from students.
Moreover this knowledge was never taught to the many
foreign students who first studied various arts in
Japan, Okinawa and elsewhere overseas following W.W.II.
They returned home to teach their arts as they had
learned them. Also, with the emergence of various
martial arts as a sport, the combative nature of such
arts as judo and karate has been relegated to a secondary
position. In aikido and some karate systems emphasis
has been on mental, spiritual and physical training.
Thus, the unique knowledge of vital points and how
to strike them has been neglected, or forgotten. In
most karate, kempo or tae kwon do classes, for example,
if strikes are indicated, students are instructed
only in the most general of terms -- hit the face,
or side of the head, or neck. No specific information
about exactly where to hit and from what angle is
In similar fashion all too many aikido students neglect
an initial atemi or strike as part of their techniques.
They are also not aware of how vital points can be
used as part of their standard techniques to maximize
their effectiveness. And in judo only the most advanced
judo students are taught knowledge about vital points
and how to use them while performing techniques, or
where to aim if punching or kicking.
The result is that teachers in many arts have never
been trained in the use of vital points and do not
have the skill or knowledge to teach that portion
of the art to their students. It has taken only one
or two generations of teachers for this unique information
to be cleansed from the curriculum of most arts and
Today we are seeing renewed interest in this esoteric
aspect of the martial arts. All over the world students
are researching their arts, studying anatomy, neurology
and Chinese acupuncture points, theory of energy flow,
and seeking out older, knowledgeable teachers in order
to rediscover this knowledge.
I would like to make an observation: all of the martial
arts recorded the vital points of the body to attack.
Each martial art, and/or styles within various arts,
place varying degrees of emphasis on vital point techniques
as well as various methods of utilizing these points.
I find it very interesting that the use of vital
points was considered so important that it is incorporated
into every system of martial arts. To me this indicates
how significant these techniques are to the martial
arts, and how much respect they must command. Thus,
I believe we should re-incorporate knowledge of vital
points back into the study of various arts and systems
to preserve this unique aspect of the martial arts.
About the Author:
Rick Clark specializes in the study of vital point
applications within traditional martial art techniques
and teaches vital points seminars throughout the
world. He has published numerous articles and books
on the subject and has just published "Pressure
Point Fighting: A guide To The Secret Heart Of Asian
Martial Arts," published by Tuttle. He can
be contacted at 3099 E. Dallas Rd., Terre Haute
IN, 47802, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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