Vital Organs

The Vital Organs

The definition of a vital organ is any organ of the body that, if severely damaged, interrupted, or removed, will eventually cause death. The following are all considered to be vital organs:

  1. Heart
  2. Lungs
  3. Kidneys
  4. Liver
  5. Brain
  6. Large Intestines
  7. Small Intestines
  8. Pancreas
  9. Stomach
  10. Skin

You will study each of these organs in more detail in this and future curriculum courses. We have provided a brief overview of the vital organs in the sections below. See if you can identify the various organs in the image at the top of this article.


The heart is located behind the sternum (breastbone) and portions of the ribs on the left side of the chest. It occupies an area behind the third and seventh ribs. The heart functions to pump deoxygenated blood to the lungs and oxygenated blood throughout the body. A heart is about the size of a clenched fist.


The lungs receive deoxygenated blood from the heart and disperse the blood through ever smaller vessels and capillaries until carbon dioxide can leave the blood. At the same time, oxygen is absorbed by the blood cells. The blood cells then travel through a network of increasingly larger vessels until they leave the lungs and travel back to the heart as oxygenated blood.

The lungs are located on the left and right sides of the chest. They sit behind the ribs and on either side of the heart. Each lung begins near the collar bone and descends to about the seventh rib.


The kidneys function to remove waste products from the bloodstream, help regulate blood pressure, and maintain body fluid levels. It also helps maintain acid levels and can promote the production of red blood cells.

Most people have two kidneys, and at least one must be functional. The kidneys are located on either side of the spinal column in the area of the lower back. They are partially protected by the lower back rib. They sit about half-way between the lower portion of your shoulder blades and your hips.


Your liver performs a multitude of functions (over 500) that help you stay healthy. It stores vital minerals, vitamins, and sugars, protects against certain pathogens, maintains proper glucose levels, produces bile that is essential to fat digestion, filters the blood, and breaks down harmful chemicals into byproducts the body can secrete as waste.

The liver is the second largest organ in the body and plays a vital role in digestion and body chemistry. There are to lobes to the liver. The two lobes are separated into left and right portions. The left portion of the liver is larger than the right portion.

This vital organ is located on your right side partially under the lower right ribs and extending down into the upper abdomen. In a typical adult, the liver is about the size of an American football.


Few people do not know that the brain is found in the head, specifically inside the cranium. It functions to produce conscious thought, instinctive reactions, muscle movements, autonomous bodily functions such as digestion and blood pressure regulation and processes information from the eyes, ears, and other sensory organs.

Large Intestines

The large intestines represent the final stages of the digestive process. They remove water and essential vitamins from the waste products before they are eliminated from the body. This organ is about five feet (1.5 m) in length and 2.5 inches (6.7 cm) in diameter.

The large intestines begin at your appendix on the lower right side of your abdomen. The large intestines then rise to the level of the lower right ribs before extending across the front of the abdomen toward the left ribs. On the left side of the body, the large intestines descend downward before ultimately connecting with the colon.

Small Intestines

Most of the digesting processes occur within the small intestines. They are responsible for converting nutrients into forms that can be further processed or utilized by other organs of the body.

The small intestines occupy most of the volume of the abdomen and sit within the boundary established by the large intestines. The length of the small intestines varies in individuals between about ten and fifteen feet (3-5 m). The diameter is one inch (2.5 cm) in a typical adult.


The Pancreas produces critical enzymes that aid the digestion process performed by the small intestines. These enzymes mix with the stomach contents as they enter the small intestines.

Another essential function of the pancreas involves the production of hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels in the body. These enzymes do not enter the small intestine but are deposited into the bloodstream instead.

The pancreas is a six-inch-long (15 cm) oblong organ in the abdomen. It sits behind the stomach in the upper abdomen and is surrounded by the liver, stomach, small intestines, and spleen.


Your stomach is responsible for using acids and enzymes to begin the digestion of many food products. It breaks down foods into a form that can be further processed by the small intestines.

The stomach is located in the central part of the abdomen below the lower ribs. Its size can vary depending on the size of the individual and the amount of food it contains, but a typical size is about twelve inches (30 cm) long (from top to bottom) and six inches (15 cm) across.


The largest organ in the body is the skin. It is also a vital organ that acts as a barrier against ultraviolet radiation, external pathogens, and physical impacts. Sweat glands in the skin provide us with a means of controlling body temperature. Embedded nerve cells also provide us with our sense of touch. The skin also is instrumental in the synthesis of vitamin D.

Vital Organ Damage

If any vital organ suffers severe damage to the point where it no longer functions or functions sufficiently, then a person will die. Some organ failures may lead to death quickly, while death could take days with some other organ failures. But overall you will not survive for long if you do not have all ten of these vital organs functioning correctly.

A damaged organ is not the only way in which a person might die, but it is a certainty that if a vital organ is damaged and not sufficiently repaired in time then the individual will die.

For your ranking examination, you should be able to name each of the ten vital organs, indicate the organ location, and provide a brief description of the organ’s purpose.

An easy way to remember their order is to start at the brain and list them as you descend downward from there. The order would typically be brain, lungs, heart, stomach, pancreas, liver, large intestines, small intestines, kidney, and skin (which of course, could be listed first since it is present at the top of the head). We do not care about which order you name these organs, but you should be able to name all ten. We can count at least that high.

As you progress through the belt rankings in Tensoku Ryu you will frequently encounter these organs in various anatomical studies. Within the Purple Belt curriculum, you will study the Circulatory System which in one way or another impacts all of these organs. But the heart plays a central role in this system. Each anatomical system you study will involve one or more of these vital organs in some manner.

Artificial Support

Some of you may be saying, “But wait, you can live without kidneys if you get dialysis treatments.” The same argument could be made for artificial lungs or an artificial heart. Yes, you can live (with significant limitations) without one (and I suppose several) of these organs, but you cannot live without the function of that organ being provided in some manner. Artificial means can be used to support life in many, but not all circumstances. For example, there is not yet (though I imagine they’re working on it) an artificial brain. And of course, no sane person would wish to undergo dialysis if it can be avoided. To a person, those who are in this situation would, I’m sure, prefer to have the organ rather than its artificial replacement.

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