Nerve Motor Points vs. Nerve Pressure Points

In some of my recent posts, I referred to nerve motor and pressure points. There were a few questions about the differences between them, which I will address in this post. In the style of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we teach the use of a pressure point system known as the Police Pressure Point System, which was developed by Professor Georges Sylvain, founder of our style.

After a great deal of research, Professor Sylvain selected what he believed were the most effective nerve points for police use, ones that he considered to be most effective on the greatest number of people. These nerve points are divided into ‘nerve motor points’ and ‘nerve pressure points.’

Nerve Motor Points

Nerve motor points are nerve points on the body that, when struck, cause some form of motor dysfunction. The solar plexus, causes motor dysfunction in the muscles that control breathing. The brachial plexus origin, located on the side of the neck, causes a disconnect to the brain resulting in motor dysfunction in the entire body, from a stunning effect to full unconsciousness. The lateral femoral located on the outside of the thigh causes motor dysfunction in the leg making it difficult to use or even stand on temporarily. Beyond motor dysfunction, most of these nerve points are also painful when struck.

Nerve Pressure Points

Nerve pressure points, on the other hand, cause pain as a result of pressure, but no motor dysfunction. The tip of the nose, for example, is made up of a series of sensitive criss-crossing nerves and when you apply pressure on it with a palm, the result is usually quite painful. The mandibular angle, located below the ear, behind the jaw bone, can cause extreme pain when you apply pressure with the tip of your thumb. The lateral thoracic comprises of a series of intercostal nerves located between each rib. When you compress these nerves against the ribs with a knuckle, kind of like playing the xylophone, it can cause a lot of pain.

Below is a couple of charts for reference. The points that are written in black are motor points while the ones written in grey are pressure points.

Some nerve motor and pressure points are easier to use than others, and not all the points are appropriate for use in all self-defense situations. But on the whole, the more your practice targeting them, the more effectively you’ll be able to use them in a real situation. That being said, as Professor Sylvain used to say, some people are just mutants and aren’t effected by certain points due to differences in their physiology. Also, people who are drunk or high are often less affected by nerve points.

This makes it that much more important to be able to use a variety of targets both within and outside the Police Pressure Point System. Nerve points are all well and good, but there are few people who can withstand a solid strike to the groin. And on the flip side, if all you know how to do is kick the groin, you are very much limited in your options if that first strike misses and your attacker starts protecting it.

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The Difference Between Fine & Gross Motor Striking Skills – Part 1

In Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we first emphasize the importance of gross motor skills in our core curriculum as it makes the techniques easier to learn and apply in a real self-defense situations. That being said, if all we ever trained in was gross motor skills, there would no long term development for us as martial artists.

It’s all well and good to learn to aim strikes for broader surfaces we you first start to train, like the head/neck areas or center body mass where there is a good chance of hitting a variety of potent targets. But as you train, you ultimately want to start aiming for specific target locations to increase the effects of your strikes. This is one aspect of striking that I consider to be a fine motor skill that we teach. (more…)

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The Importance of Contact for Developing Strike Targeting

I’ve been to lots of different dojos, some that were the same art (Jiu-jitsu) but a different styles, and some that were different martial arts altogether. One concept that I have come to appreciate in my own style is that of training strikes with light contact.

One of our training rules that we apply every time we’re on the mats, is that when we train with our ukes all strikes should be practices with light contact, about 2-5% power (to start with) depending on the person’s strength. There are several reasons why, which I would like to elaborate on in this post.

1) Targeting. A number of the targets we use are nerve motor points (i.e. brachial plexus origin, solar plexus, lateral femoral, anterior femoral, etc). These targets all have very specific locations and are by far more effective when accurately targeted. Anyone who has trained these targets knows that, in some cases, the difference between being on and off target can be as small as millimetres. The only way to develop an intuitive feel for the locations is to get feedback from your ukes all the time. Eventually, your muscle memory takes over and you don’t have to intellectualize it. And that’s when the use of those targets becomes really useful. This also applies to some targets that are not nerve motor points, like the groin. Of course, we wear cups so that we more safely practice our targeting, but even with the groin protection, it’s important not to use much more than 2-5% power for obvious reasons.

2) Time-On-Target (TOT). This concept makes strikes to nerve motor points even more effective. When we strike these types of targets, we emphasize leaving the striking surface (whether it’s your elbow, knee, fist, forearm, shin bone etc.) on the target location for 3/4 of a second. This allows the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into the target, increasing the effects. Think of it like hammering a nail. If you hammer a nail and pull the hammer back as it strikes, the nail doesn’t go in as far. Conversely, if you hammer the nail and leave on the nail head, the nail drives in much further.

3) Understanding the effects. If a student doesn’t understand the effects of their strikes from the uke’s perspective, they won’t be able to help other students with their targeting. Also, when a student knows what it feels like to receive blows to the various nerve motor points, it gives them respect for the power that comes from their use. Nerve motor points like the lateral femoral, anterior femoral, radial nerve, etc. can cause great pain. While points like the brachial plexus origin can knock a person out, and the solar plexus can leave a person winded and breathless. By training with contact, students will understand and respect how effective striking to nerve motor points can be and will not be as likely to “goof around” with them amongst their non-practicing friends and family.

I can understand many dojos’ reluctance to train with contact. They fear that it might get out of hand and that students will get hurt. And even if students don’t get hurt, they may find the process altogether intimidating and not want to train. But contact need not be injurious or intimidating. Students should start by doing very light contact at slow speeds, gradually increasing the speed and power levels as they come to understand the effects. I’ve used this method with even the meekest, mildest individuals with positive results.

Without any contact training… well, I’ve seen high level martial art practitioners doing strikes with little to no understanding of the targets that they, in theory, are trying to affect. And from watching these people strike targets, it’s easy to question whether they would be able to affect an attacker in a real situation in the way they intend.

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Medicine Ball Exercise: Standing Abdominal Drop

We like to use medicine ball exercises in our dojo for strength work-outs. One of my favourites is the standing abdominal drop featured in the video above (I’m the one on the floor.) This exercise will not give you the six-pack abs you may or may not be looking for. What it will help you do is take a blow to the gut. Allow me to explain.

The standing abdominal drop exercises the inner abdominal wall, the muscles that surround and protect all the important stuff contained in your belly. When the ball is dropped (or thrown down for a more advanced work-out), the person receiving the ball tenses their abs and breathes out in time with the blow. This not only strengthens the inner abdominal wall but also teaches you how to time the action for maximum protection with minimal effort.

To do this exercise, keep your knees bent and your head off the mat. If you’re wearing a belt, be sure to turn the knot over to the side. Centre your belt on your belly and have your partner aim the ball directly at your belt. Start by having your partner drop the ball from not too high. Most importantly, make sure you breathe out when the ball hits. If you don’t you’ll be get a winding effect that can be rather unpleasant. It doesn’t take very long, but your body does need to get used to the new exercise before you push yourself with higher drops or full-on throws.

The ball I’m using in this video weighs 5.5 kg (12 lbs.) but some people will need to start with a 4 kg ball (9 lbs.) or lighter. Be sure to use a ball that is leather bound, or at least bound with something soft. Rubber balls are too solid and will localize the blow too much in one spot. You want the blow to distribute over a wider surface.

In Can-Ryu Jiu-jitsu, we always practice self-defense combinations using light contact (5-10%) on nerve motor and pressure points. This includes blows to the solar plexus. And while a strong, well-aimed blow to the solar plexus will still have an effect even if you do have a strong inner abdominal wall, this exercise definitely helps minimize the effects.

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Pressure Point of the Day: Solar Plexus

A strike to the solar plexus, as demonstrated in this video by MMA fighter Megumi Fujii, is an effective way to subdue an attacker without causing injury. The solar plexus is a nerve motor point that, when struck, causes temporary motor dysfunction to the surrounding muscles, those which are used for breathing. It’s not simply a matter of having the wind knocked out of you. For a short period of time, you have trouble breathing both in and out.

One day I was sparring with a student of mine named Alec. He was the youngest in my class at 19 and oozed natural talent. That being said, on this particular day, he was keeping a very high guard to stop incoming blows to his head while ignoring any kicks I aimed at his body. After the first 2-minute round, we took a short break, giving me the chance to address the weakness in his guard.

“So Alec, I noticed that you’re not blocking any of my strikes to your body,” I put forward.

“Yeah, I just figure I’d rather take a shot to the body than a shot to the head,” he replied, with the cocksure attitude that goes hand in hand with youth and talent.

“You do realize I’m not striking with any power, right?” I queried. “And I’m aiming at your solar plexus.”

“I still think I can take a shot to solar plexus, even if you were hitting with full power.”

I looked at him, a tiny smirk playing across the corners of my mouth, betraying my intention. “Okay then. Let’s do the second round.”

In the second round, Alec came at me with a right cross for his first attack. I sidestepped the blow, snapping a quick roundhouse kick to his solar plexus, making solid contact. Alec grunted as he received the blow, pausing a moment before continuing the round.

Again, he came at me, leading with a couple of jabs, following with another right cross. And again, I do the same sidestep-roundhouse kick combo, hitting home on his solar plexus. He stopped, knees buckling as he ineffectively gasped for air. “I have to stop,” he croaked before crumpling to the ground.

I let him regain his composure for a couple of minutes and get back on his feet, after which I approached him. “So… what did we learn?” I asked him with an admittedly cheeky tone.

“I said I could take one shot to the solar plexus, not two!” he retorted sheepishly.

“And that wasn’t even full power. That was about 50% my full power.” I knew I wouldn’t need to use full power to make my point. I wanted to him to learn a lesson, not hate me.

His eyes widened in disbelief. “I think I’d rather take a shot to the head than your full power kick to the solar plexus.”

The second blow would have had even more effect than the first due to the overload principle. When striking nerve pressure or motor points, if you attack the same nerve point twice, you’ll notice a significant increase in effectiveness the second time around. That’s because the first blow weakens the nerves, causing them to be more sensitive when struck again.

After that sparring session, I never again saw Alec disregard incoming body shots.

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Pressure Point of the Day: Brachial Plexus Origin

This video demonstrates the full effectiveness of a strike to the brachial plexus origin (located on either side of the neck). We target this nerve motor point regularly in Can-Ryu Jiu-jitsu in self-defense techniques.

The first time I saw this video was on Professor Sylvain’s (founder of Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu) Police Pressure Points training video, for which I was used to demonstrate the application of various strikes. It continues to be the best example of the effects of a strike to the brachial plexus origin that I’ve ever seen.

We teach a number of striking methods to this area, employing elbows and forearms in a variety of ways. An important thing to remember when striking this location is the use of what we call T.O.T. (Time-On-Target). This involves leaving your strike on the targeted area for ¾ of a second to allow the fluid shock waves to transfer from your striking surface into your target. This greatly increases the effect of the strike to the brachial plexus origin or any other nerve motor point for that matter.

And what are the effects? Here’s a breakdown:

Light strike: Momentarily stuns the brain. (We call this a ‘brain burp’ in training.)

Moderate strike: Split-second knock-out. (I’ve experienced this myself a couple of times in training.)

Strong strike: Full knock-out with a stunning effect that can last for a period of time afterwards (as demonstrated in the video).

What makes a strike to the brachial plexus origin really useful for self-defense is the fact that it is easily court-defensible. This is because it is a non-injurious strike that is considered not to cause any long-term damage. It is therefore seen in the eyes of the courts as a “humane” way of incapacitating an attacker.

So sure, the pimp in the video was feeling the effects of the strike as he eventually walked away, but he was walking away.

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