Friday, April 3, 2015


By Phillip Starr

Oftentimes, in the practice of basic three-step, one-step, or freestyle sparring, we focus our blows at what I call “general areas” instead of directing them at specific vital points. Some martial arts enthusiasts believe that training to strike the enemy's weak points is unnecessary; that a strong punch or kick is all that is needed to do the job, regardless of where it lands. I disagree.

Surely, the teachers of times long passed wouldn't have held them in such high regard if they weren't important. Numerous ancient Chinese martial arts texts illustrate various weak points in the anatomy and the so-called “Bible of karate”, the Bubishi, likewise emphasizes the importance of striking the enemy's weak points. My own teacher, Master W.C. Chen (a disciple of the renowned master, Zhang-Zhaodong, often spoke of using one's strongest weapon(s) against an opponent's weakest point(s). I remember him telling me, “If you fail to strike the enemy's vital point, you might as well just slap him across the face.”

Moreover, some of the old forms (kata) – just SOME of them, not ALL of them - have odd movements that indicate WHERE (on which vital point) a particular technique(s) should be focused! Yes, they're that important.

In so far as vital points are concerned, there's no need to try to remember a large number of them. One old text focuses on 36 points, which is more than adequate. I may teach student about a considerable number of point, but that's primarily for their overall education; in actual practice, we focus on much fewer.

Now, there are those “combat experts” who argue that striking small points under high-stress conditions such as a life and death struggle is next to impossible due to the concept affectionately known as “lizard brain.” They allege that due to extreme stress, one' s fine motor functions become seriously impaired such that striking small points on a moving target is more than extremely difficult and subsequently, dangerous.

Certainly, the phenomenon of the “lizard brain” exists. I know from firsthand experience, having served in various capacities as a peace officer. However, this condition can be overcome by a process known as TRAINING. It is not a process that can be hurried; it requires time and a great deal of arduous, repetitive practice that should be frequently bolstered by executing the proper movements under various stressful conditions. Peace officers and military personnel undergo this kind of training regularly. Martial arts devotees should, too.

A fine way to learn to strike vital points is to ALWAYS direct your technique(s) at them, whether you're practicing basic 3-step or 1-step fight (both as the attacker or receiver!), freestyle 1-step, or freestyle sparring. And I mean ALWAYS. It goes without syaing that this will require that you exercise a considerable measure of control with your blows, lest you injure your practice partner. Your partner may consider himself to be very fit and strong and perhaps he is; he may sport very solid, developed muscles...but those of of little benefit if you should strike him in certain points. Remember, vital points are the WEAK points of his anatomy; points that generally cannot be protected by layers of muscle and regardless of how big or strong he is, if you strike one...he's going down. This is why a small women (and a small woman is about the size of the average Asian of a couple of generations past) can easily take down a large man.

Surely, if you can learn to fire a modern handgun at a distance of several yards and hit “center mass” every time, you can learn to hit a smaller target at a much closer distance! Learn where the points are located. They're not tiny spots; most of them are about the size of your palm or even larger. Yes, some are rather small (about the size of a 50-cent piece or a bit larger)... but you CAN and you MUST learn to hit them! Your life may well depend on it.