12 October 2011

Targeting Plexuses

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Like many martial artists, I have an interest in pressure points. There are some problems, however, with targeting pressure points during a fight. Pressure points are best activated at very specific angles. For instance, some pressure points are only activated when the force applied to them presses at a 45 degree. Not to mention how small pressure points tend to be. If you are two centimetres of target, the pressure point is hardly affected. Further more, pressure points do not react the same to the same stimuli. Some are best activated through direct continuous pressure—being pressed, others are activated through a pulse—being hit, and others are activated through friction—being rubbed. These variables make pressure point attacks quite difficult.

For this reason I like to target pressure points that are easy to access; in other words, the target area is relatively big. Therefore I like to target plexuses. A “plexus” is a cluster of intersection nerves; in other words, a group of nerves that come together in a type of nerve knot.

Celiac Plexus with Surrounding Organs
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Probably the most famous plexus for martial artists is the solar plexus. Better known in academic circles as the celiac plexus, the solar plexus is situated vertically roughly a little below the bottom of the sternum (xyphoid process), but embedded deep into the trunk. In Taekwon-Do it is generally reached with a penetrating punch, rear elbow thrust, turning kick or side-piercing kick. Because the solar plexus contain nerves that link to most of the internal organs, trauma to this plexus can shock a person's whole system. However, the celiac plexus is seated deeper into the torso than most people imagine, so actually striking the “solar plexus” is not that easy. The adverse affects achieved by attacking the “solar plexus” are most likely a result of other vulnerable targets in the same area, for instance the highly fragile xyphoid process, which is a cartridge bone that breaks quite easily; the diaphragm that goes numb when struck and makes it difficult to breath—being “winded”; the stomache, which, when full, can cause nausea if struck; and so on. Some people, especially large (i.e. overweight) people, may not be adversely affected when the “solar plexus” is targeted, purely because of the layer of protective blubber. While the celiac plexus is in theory a great target, it is not always as easy to reach.

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One of the plexus that I believe is the easiest to access is the brachial plexus, a group of nerves that runs from the spine through the side-front of the neck, disappears under the clavicle (collarbone) into the axilla (armpit) and then disperse into the arm. What I like about this plexus is that a good amount of trauma will severely affect the whole arm because the brachial plexus contains the arm's major nerves: ulna nerve, radial nerve and medial nerve. Other nerves, like some of the pectoral nerves and scapular nerves, also make up part of the brachial plexus. The place to reach it is just above the clavicle (collarbone) on the side-front of the neck. The nerves lie relatively shallow, so they are easy to strike. An efficient attack for this target is the inward knife-hand strike travelling at a somewhat downward angle, like the inward knife-hand strike in movement #2 in the pattern Won-Hyo. You can also use a side-fist strike to hammer into this target. A less easy place to target the brachial plexus, but one that is also highly effective, is in the armpit. Were your attacker swinging towards you with a hay maker punch, you could possibly duck-and-weave, while striking the armpit with your first, preferably a middle-knuckle fist for most penetration. Breaking the clavicle will also affect the brachial plexus. Trauma to the brachial plexus results in severe pain and possible (temporary) loss of motor control much of the arm or even complete (temporary) paralysis of the arm.

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In close proximity of the brachial plexus is the cervical plexus, which is also relatively easy to access. The “superficial cervical plexus” is located vertically in line with the Angle of Mandible (the point behind the earlobe), down towards the middle of the neck. Because this plexus have nerves going up into the skull, trauma to it causes an unnerving affect on the side of the face and head. It can also lead to possible unconsciousness. An easy attack to the cervical plexus is a knife-hand or side-fist strike. Turning kicks (aka roundhouse kicks) to the plexus have also caused many a knock-out in Taekwon-Do, Muay Thai boxing, MMA and similar tournaments. (Honestly, I'm not sure if the knock-outs we most often see with kicks to this plexus is truly because of trauma to the cervical plexus itself, or merely because of the trauma caused to the head, i.e. brain, in general.) It is an easily accessible plexus and is not necessarily that dangerous if activated with care by a professional; however, it's close proximity to the brain makes this a dangerous vital spot to target, especially with kicks which are less precise, so only train it under the instruction of a professional instructor.

In summary, plexuses are clusters of nerves. Unlike a single pressure point that requires very precise activation, a plexus is bigger and therefore easier to activate. The solar plexus is probably the most famous plexus in the martial arts, but it is actually quite difficult to reach as it is embedded deep into the torso. Much more attainable plexuses are the brachial plexus and the cervical plexus, both situated in the neck area. When training to attack these targets make sure to do so under the supervision of a professional.

5 comments:

Joao Armenta said...

I grew up all my life in Tae Kwon Do. My father was an instructor many years before I was born. Pressure point were kind of beyond what most professionals can do. I've only see them effective in ground combat.

SooShimKwan said...

Dear Joao,

Thank you for visiting and for your contribution.

Ymar Sakar said...

One of the goals of accessing the solar plexus as a target from what I was taught is to destroy the diaphragm and make a person unable to use it for breathing. This level of internal damage would also tend to affect the CNS and contributing blood vessels/nerves. It takes a lot of external training to be able to do that with a hand strike, but there's a shortcut which borrows elements from internal power generation.

Once a person's balance is off with their head forward of their pelvis due to even an inaccurate hit, many more targets open up as a consequence. Where one does not succeed, try try again.

SooShimKwan said...

"One of the goals of accessing the solar plexus as a target from what I was taught is to destroy the diaphragm"

Yes, the diaphragm is the likely target.

And disrupting someone's balance is one of the main strategic goals of (traditional) martial arts, I think.

Ymar Sakar said...

I've seen some work done by Shaolin monks to harden muscles for striking and the internal strike that is required to penetrate that kind of conditioning. But so far, I have yet to see much research or data on what kind of strike penetrates... blubber as you described it. Which is a bit curious and troublesome for me. I suppose the Ancients didn't have to worry about that issue. Either you were an excellently trained warrior with muscles or you were a starving sack of bones. The fat lazy nobles and what not, were neither but then you would normally kill them with spear, fire, arrow, or sword.

One personal test that I just happened by was with a 240+ pound East European. We were hitting the stomach for conditioning, like the Kyokushin guys do. He had a rather substantial belly, though not as huge as those suffering from obesity or lack of exercise. It was enough that my fist would have to penetrate a few inches though since we were hitting at stomach or belt level. I did a normal speed punch from bow stance but calculated the range so that I only barely touched the fat. The punch had almost no penetration in terms of distance. My partner said, after about 3 hits, that it was too much so I dampened it down even further. I never felt my fist hit the muscles or the fat underneath the muscles. We didn't do much experimentation after that point, since the drill was ended, so I couldn't tell what the cause of that was. Was I able to send energy through the fat like a shockwave and he felt it? Did he just have low tolerance for pain and has never gone light or full contact in training? Shrugs

I don't see youtube videos testing this out either.... Maybe it's not a real issue at all, but until I have concrete certified independent data from 3 sources, it's hard to make assumptions given the risks involved.