In this article, we will discuss ways in which you may cause significant bodily harm or pain to an assailant. These methods will be quite graphic. They are not intended to discuss how you should behave toward an attacker. They are intended to explore ways in which you may need to act to save your life or that of another. These actions should not be considered “normal”, but rather as skills or strategies to be employed only when you fear they represent your only viable option.
The methods described below can all lead to severe injuries that are likely to require medical attention. These injuries might result in death, a permanent disability, or life-long chronic pain. This level of injury is warranted only in the most extreme circumstances. Law enforcement officials will be required to arrest you and prosecute you if they feel you acted unjustifiably. It is the duty and responsibility of your local prosecutor to seek criminal charges if you cause unnecessary harm to another. Your victim (yes, they will be the victim if you harm them without justifiable cause) or the victim’s family is quite likely to seek civil damages and compensation for medical costs and reasonable pain and suffering.
Because you know how to harm someone severely it is your responsibility to ensure that knowledge is not put to inappropriate use. Acquiring a skill does not come with a license to use that skill indiscriminately. You alone are responsible for your actions. Never harm someone unnecessarily.
Breaking an Arm
When we refer to breaking an arm we are generally talking about four possibilities. These are:
- Breaking the upper arm (humerus bone)
- Breaking the radius bone in the lower arm
- Breaking the ulna bone in the lower arm
- Breaking the elbow joint
Breaking the three bones in the arm generally requires direct impact force of some kind. Such force might be generated from something like a Tettsui Uchi, a Hiza Geri, or from use of a weapon. These bones are generally hard to break and, without a weapon of some kind, they are very difficult to break as an intentional act. Any force you apply to break these bones may be sufficient to break one of your bones instead.
The ulna and radius bones in the forearm are not of uniform size. One end of each bone is thicker than its opposite end. The radius bone is thickest near the wrist while the ulna is thickest near the elbow. This means a strike near the wrist is more likely to break a bone if it impacts the ulna, while a strike to the upper forearm is more likely to break a bone if it strikes the radius.
This explains why we do not like to block an incoming Ken Tsuki with our forearm. This would cause our relatively smaller ulna to strike the opponent’s larger radius bone near the wrist. The bone most likely to break would be our ulna. If you must block a Ken Tsuki use the side of your tightly closed fist or your open palm to contact the opponent’s lower forearm.
The elbow joint is a relatively complex structure in which the humerus, radius, and ulna bones come together, along with various ligaments, tendons, and muscles to enable proper support and movement of the lower arm. Breaking an elbow could involve breaking one or more of the three bones. This type of injury often occurs in accidental falls or as a result of major impact trauma such as that which occurs in an automobile accident or from weapons impact.
Martial arts injuries to the elbow joint usually involve dislocations of the joint and/or tearing of softer tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles. These are very painful injuries, even though no bones may be broken. A broken bone might result from a powerful strike to the elbow joint. Usually, these breaks occur as a result of forcing a dislocation. A bone is pressed into another bone as the dislocation forces are employed, causing it to break as a result. Such breaks are very difficult to repair and can cause long term or even permanent disability for the injured party.
Injuring an elbow is commonly done by restraining the lower arm somehow (commonly by restraining the wrist) and then forcing the back of the elbow to suddenly move inward. Sometimes the wrist is moved in one direction as the elbow is forced in the opposite direction. The result is painful whether or not a serious injury has been caused. With sufficient force, the opponent’s arm may be rendered completely unusable. This could result in permanent disability or even a life-threatening injury (if for example, a major artery has been severed).
Injuring a Knee
The knee is in many ways analogous to the elbow joint. A force that is applied directly in opposition to the normal bending of the knee will likely result in similar injuries as well. This is commonly initiated by causing an opponent to somehow straighten their leg and then utilizing something like a Yoko Kekomi Geri, Shovel Kick, or Otoshi Empi Uchi to apply a sudden force directly into the front of the knee joint.
Attacks to the knee may be done by holding the ankle joint like the way the wrist joint is held when attacking the elbow joint. This might be the method employed when striking with an Otoshi Empi Uchi, say as the result of having trapped an opponent’s kicking leg. However, the knee is often unique in that the ankle may be held in place because the foot is rooted on the ground. Rooting a foot and straightening the knee make this joint susceptible to an alternate injury scenario.
One way in which this can be used is to place your foot directly behind the opponent’s foot while your shin presses into the front of the opponent’s shin. Pressing forward with your shin causes a couple of things to occur. The first is that his or her leg is forced to straighten. The second is that the hip is pressed back, further rooting the attacker and dramatically impacting their structure.
At this point, the opponent will normally fall backward. If you wish to injure the knee then grasp the opponent’s upper torso to prevent the fall. Additional pressure from your shin will likely cause the tearing of tissues in the knee. This is unlikely to cause breakage of bones in the knee joint but the pressure may be sufficient to cause a significant dislocation and/or associated tissue injuries. If this is not the result then the opponent may still suffer pain and be forced to fall backward.
The patella (knee cap) is a bone present in the knee that does not have a similar structure in the elbow. Striking directly into the knee may break the patella. This can result in severe pain, an inability to straighten the knee, and potentially impair the inability to walk. The injury may require surgery to repair but mighty be allowed to heal in place (depending on the nature of the fracture). A martial arts strike sufficient to break the patella has probably also caused other damage to the knee joint.
Forcing an opponent to land firmly on their knee (as perhaps the result of a throw) may also break the patella. In that case, there may be limited or no additional injury to the underlying structures of the knee joint.
Striking the knee joint from the side is another way to cause serious injury to this joint. This often injures the medial collateral ligament (MCL) which could, with severe injuries, impair or prevent usage of the knee. In some cases, the knee may buckle and collapse when attempting to support the weight. The injury could require surgical intervention, but is often allowed to heal on its own (albeit, with crutches).
A Yoko Kekomi Geri is likely to cause major injury when striking any aspect of the knee. This might be used to prevent someone from ultimately chasing you or to stop their aggression, but you will likely cause your foe to undergo reconstructive knee surgery or a long period of rehabilitation. So again, this is strictly a trade-off between their safety and yours. Don’t do any unnecessary harm.
Injuring a Rib
It is not easy to injure a rib. A strike such as Yoko Kekomi Geri or Mawashi Geri where a focused impact from a heel or the ball of the foot is driven into a focused area of the ribs may produce a bruised or fractured rib. If the kick lands near the sternum then a rib might suffer a dislocation.
If a focused strike has sufficient power it might cause a broken portion of a rib to function a lung. This is a serious and possibly life-threatening injury. While not impossible, it may be difficult to derive sufficient power to cause this level of injury using common martial arts skills. Nonetheless, if you have suffered a strong impact on your ribs and then watch for symptoms involving difficulty breathing, your skin turning blue, sudden fatigue, and a rapid heart rate. If you have any symptoms such as these or others that might be related to internal bleeding or lack of oxygen, seek immediate medical attention.
Most rib injuries (we are talking about those that do not result in a lung injury) are extremely painful. The pain lasts for weeks and often does not diminish during the full period of healing. This means the pain might remain intense for up to six weeks. Laughing, turning over in bed, and taking a deep breath will probably make you wince in pain.
The problem with using a rib injury for any tactical advantage is that the pain often does not develop until several hours later. So creating a rib injury in the heat of a conflict does little to benefit you during the struggle.
Injuring a Vital Organ
Deliberately injuring a vital organ is a terrible thing to do to someone. If the injury is sufficiently severe it may result in the person’s death. In most cases (excluding the heart), the death may take from several hours to multiple days. So the injury does not provide any tangible benefit to you during a conflict. If the person dies because of an injury you inflicted, you will likely face severe legal and financial penalties.
We do not suggest you should never strike a vital organ. If your life depends on that course of action then it might be justified. We do suggest you should not decide to injure a vital organ simply because you know how to do it.
We have suggested in the past that you might target a kidney to cause immediate pay and perhaps put an end to hostilities. This is because it is unlikely (not impossible) that your strike will not cause sufficient injury to severely bruise or damage a kidney. But why take that risk if you have other options available?
You should also consider where you strike someone in the torso. A firm strike to the ribcage in the vicinity of the heart might cause arrhythmia or cause the heart to stop altogether. This puts the recipient of your strike at risk of severe medical distress or death.
This is true even when working with a training or sparring partner. A focused strike to the left middle ribs could cause your partner to suffer immediate heart problems. This is why we advocate not striking hard to this area of the body. Most people will not be affected by such strikes, but a person with an underlying heart condition may have an immediate major medical event.
The brain is a vital organ susceptible to potential injury. A hard punch or powerful kick to the head may cause your opponent to lose consciousness. If you are involved in a sparring match you might feel joyous about your sudden victory. You should temper your joy with the realization that your opponent has just suffered a brain injury.
Yes, you might end a fight by knocking your opponent out. A powerful strike to this vital organ can result in the immediate cessation of a fight. But the resulting injury may not be innocuous.
We discuss brain injuries in detail elsewhere but they may be serious and can result in death for several hours (or less). Any strike to the head can result in a brain injury. If you or your training partner suffers cognitive, vision, balance, consciousness, memory, vomiting, headaches, or other unusual problems or symptoms following a blow to the head, immediate medical consultation at an emergency room is mandated. Any delay might result in a fatality.
We suggest that Tensoku Ryu practitioners should not deliberately attempt to injury any vital organ. By definition, a person cannot live without these organs. Injuring a vital organ may put a person in a life-threatening situation that may not become apparent for some time. We submit that the only time it is justified to deliberately target a vital organ is when your life depends upon that action.
Soft targets refer to areas of the body that can be struck with limited force or with parts of your body that might not withstand a highly percussive impact. They also are locations where an impact is likely to be very painful. Many of these will be pretty obvious, but we’ll cover a number of these areas of the body. Here’s a list of the most common soft targets:
- Neck and throat
- Solar plexus
There are also areas of the body that are not soft but that are nonetheless quite painful when struck. Here is a quick list of some of these points:
- Front of the tibia (shin bone)
- Bridge of the Nose
- Chin or jaw (mandible)
- Back of the hand
- Top of the foot
- Either side of the ankle
- Protruding hip bone
- The knee cap (patella)
- Individual ribs or the intercostal muscles between two ribs.
Pinching is a technique few martial artists consider when thinking about inflicting pain on an opponent. Some areas of the body are more susceptible to this pain than are others. This pain can often be induced by a simple pinch, but sometimes the pain is more intense if a twisting motion is also applied. Here are some of the effective areas where pinching can cause a powerful pain response.
- Inside the upper arm, below the bicep
- Inside the thigh, about midway between the knee and the groin
- Immediately forward of the armpit
- A nipple
- Top of the forearm
- Inside of the forearm just forward of the elbow
- On the outside chest wall just forward of where the bicep would be located if the arm were down
- The very bottom of the earlobe
You might also be able to pull or twist a body part to cause pain. This can be effective if you find yourself in close quarters with an opponent. You can often pull or twist the following parts of the body to cause pain.
- Hair (head, facial, chest, armpit, etc.)
- The nose
- An ear
- Any single finger
- Any exposed skin area
- The spinal column
Utilizing some of these pain points may lead to serious injuries. In most cases, they result in moderate to intense pain with little or no lasting effects. The primary purpose of using a pain point is to distract the opponent momentarily so they expose a weakness that you can subsequently exploit. Therefore it is not likely that you will try to cause constant pain to an individual using these pain locations. Instead, you will probably cause momentary pain so that some future movement will be easier and more beneficial.