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The Japanese art of striking and attacking vital points on the human body.


In Japanese martial arts, the term Atemi designates blows or strikes to the body, as opposed to twisting of joints, strangleholds, holding techniques and throws.

Atemi can be delivered by any part of the body to any part of the opponent's body. They can be percussive or use "soft" power.

Karate is a typical martial art focusing on percussive atemi.

The location of nerve and pressure points, such as might be used for certain acupressure methods, also often informs the choice of targets for atemi.

Many Chinese Martial arts will use this ‘soft power’ approach or a mix of both.

Japanese jujutsu took its early striking influences from Chinese Kempo.

Early pre 17 th Century saw Jujutsu or Yawara as a grappling art due to warriors wearing armour. Striking techniques would not have been effective.

Certain Chinese open hand methods did work to small openings in the armour such as between the helmet and breastplate, chest plate and upper arm and lower torso and thigh.

Spear finger thrusts and knife hand blows would simulate a blade into these soft tissue areas and this is why these techniques are found in most striking systems.

As the armour became lighter then atemi became more prevalent. Unlike the later to come Karate the atemi was mainly used to stun and distract an attacker to then throw or lock as mainly they would be dealing with a bladed weapon attack.

This is where the old school jujutsu ‘blow before throw’ method came from.

Some strikes against vital parts of the body can kill or incapacitate the opponent: on the neck/throat, at the temple, under the nose, in the eyes, genitals, or under the chin or base of skull.

Traditional Japanese martial arts (the ancestors of judo, jujutsu, and aikido) did not as mentioned commonly practice atemi, since they were supposed to be used on the battlefield against armoured opponents. However, there are always certain exceptions, such as strikes and low line kicks used to break or destroy the elbows or knees to effectively subdue a weapon attack.

Joint breaks are for limb destruction, joint locks are for restraint and control.

Although one can also go into the other depending on the threat you are facing.

As the feudal era in Japan ended and the wearing of the sword abolished unarmed combat and hand to hand fighting became more prevalent so the art of Atemi waza flourished.

Japanese jujutsu usually will have atemi waza in their syllabus.

Most jujutsu that moved to combat sports eliminated atemi for safety and this become the evolution of judo and also most BJJ.

Many people today believe that jujutsu is just a grappling art but, in my experience, and background this was not the case.

My own system of Modern Combat Jujutsu will emphasis striking over grappling in most situations. A lock, choke or throw will almost always be preceded by an atemi strike.

On the ground I also advocate the ruling of position, control and strike.

Locks or chokes become secondary.

For street combat the strategy in general I believe should be to get back to your feet as quickly as possible and not roll around on the pavement.

There are no tap outs in a life-or-death struggle, also rarely is it a lone attacker.

Atemi can be complete techniques in themselves but are also often used to briefly break an opponent's balance or resolve.

There is the predominant usage of atemi in arts such as Aikijutsu.

A painful but non-fatal blow to an area such as the eyes, nose, knee or some vulnerable part of the abdomen can open the way for a throw or joint lock. Even if the blow does not land, the opponent can be distracted, and may instinctively flinch and then move their body (e.g., jerking their head back from a face strike) in such a way that they lose their balance or open themselves up.

Combative Jujutsu uses Atemi accordingly depending on the level of threat one faces. Not every situation encountered requires you to blind a person or rip out their throat.

I have taught low level atemi waza to many door staff, security and police when they are dealing with an over enthusiast drunk rather than a machete wielding psychopath.

(There is a difference in your response).

Understanding how the human body functions and how it is built goes a long way to knowing the different pressure points and vital areas and what the result of striking them achieves.

Also understanding how atemi waza fits into modern day self-defence and the law of the land will keep you out of prison.

Understanding the different between social violence and A social violence will determine your response (article to come on this topic).


Translates from Japanese as vital point. The human body is incredibly resilient but also has many weaknesses.

The vital points on the body can range from obvious ones such as the eyes or testicles to arteries and nerve centres such as the sciatic nerve, brachial artery and Mastoid process.

Some vital points can interfere with blood flow or oxygen, others can grind underlying points against the bone, others can cause numbness, balance breaking, or acute pain and others can cause unconsciousness or in some cases even death.

Back centuries ago, many Martial arts masters were also practitioners of medicine and healing and could literally kill or cure by manipulating the same vital points on the body.

Normally in Martial arts training especially the Japanese arts of jujutsu and traditional judo you would have to be a black belt before you learnt Atemi- waza and Kyushu- waza.

In modern times especially in the world of Karate, Kyushu and pressure points have received a lot of press. Many seeing it almost as a magical thing. Instructors are talking about topics such as meridians, chi, lungs and gallbladders, one touch knockouts and the Dim Mak death touch.

Most of it is highly speculative at the least and there is no overriding or compelling evidence to back up claims of points on the arms or legs for instance inducing terrible and agonising pain resulting in knockouts etc.

If a compliant and totally non adrenalized person stands and lets a ‘Kyushu Master’ thump his arms, legs or body it is going to hurt or have some effect but so would walking into a bedside table in the dark of the night and stubbing your big toe.

(No great mystery there).

My knowledge comes from more down to earth training in many forms of jujutsu and having road tested much of it under pressure in combative situations.

Many of my Instructors were from military backgrounds or security that took a more practical view of what pressure point striking can and can’t do rather than an esoteric view for sensationalism.

Pressure points striking or manipulation is a means to an end.

There is nothing magical about them as any good Doctor can easily outline the vulnerable points on the human body without much trouble or a black belt.

Having said that knowing the vital points and knowing how to hit them for maximum effect is a different subject.

Kyushu jutsu and Atemi Waza are incredibly fascinating subjects that are well worth exploring and training in. There are my favourite branch of Jujutsu and I have been fortunate enough to learn from some true Masters.

Enjoy the journey and keep it real.

On my DVD set Japanese Pressure points I give you my down to earth honest opinion on attacking vital points on the body and what they can and cannot achieve.

My knowledge is based on 45 years of training and pressure testing in the martial arts world from the street to the mat to the cage.

The set is on sale offer at present and ready for instant download at

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