This is a subject that, as martial artists, most of us are familiar with, yet because of the vast amount of information out there (in the form of books, DVDs, youtube demos, etc), it has become almost impossible to decipher what actually qualifies as Kyusho Jutsu.  Although many people are well intentioned when they write about this aspect of the warrior traditions, rather than clarify the subject, they only succeed in further mystifying it. With that said, here’s my understanding of Kyusho Jutsu, which I hope doesn’t end up being just another well intentioned blog that further distorts your understanding.

Kyu and Sho translate as vital point, and Jutsu, as art. Therefore, the Japanese term Kyusho jutsu translates as vital point art. The Kyusho are generally classified as vital points, or targets, on the human anatomy, which, when struck or manipulated, cause specific reactions in the body and mind of the victim. These reactions range from natural pain reflexes and spontaneous, uncontrolled movements of the body, to psychotic episodes, hysteria, unconsciousness, coma and death. Generally the points that cause these reactions are broken down into the following categories:

  • Bone Points
  • Muscle/Tendon points
  • Blood points
  • Organ points
  • Nerve Points
  • Energy points

Although the vital points, when related to vulnerable areas on the human anatomy, can be broken down into these categories, each point will generally have an effect on more than one body system. For example, a properly executed strike to the eye will obviously do physical damage to the eyeball, putting it into the category of an organ point strike. But when we look at the other effects such a strike has, we see that it also falls into the categories of blood point, bone point and nerve point. It becomes a blood point because of the internal reflex action generated on the heart, known as the oculovagal reflex. This is where pressure exerted on the eye causes a drop in heart beat and blood pressure. It becomes a bone and nerve point because of the jarring action it has on the head. This causes neurological disruption in the frontal lobes of the brain and damage to the neck (cervical vertebrae), creating a type of whiplash injury.

From the above description, it is clear that this understanding of the term Kyusho, describing it as vulnerable points on the human anatomy, has a valid place in the warrior traditions. However, at this point in our training and understanding most of us stop and become stagnant. And because we get so bogged down in learning lists of points and in trying to decipher pseudo-scientific explanations that usually accompany them, we completely miss the real “point”, and the deeper meaning of this art. But for those of us that don’t stop, and decide to dig a little deeper, there is a treasure trove of information awaiting our discovery.

CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

Rather than going down the usual rout of describing lists of points and the affects they have when struck or manipulated in a specific way, let’s change our perspective for a moment and attempt to redefine our understanding of kyusho. If, instead of seeing the kyusho as points on the body, we define them as points that exist in space and time, points that are all around us, all of the time, our understanding changes completely. In fact, our definition of kyusho jutsu now takes on a completely new meaning. Let me try to simplify what I mean by a point in space and time.

Using the concept of space and time, we can describe the kyusho as the vital point of an interaction, rather than a vulnerable point on the body. In a martial sense this means a kyusho is the vital point, during combat, which, if used at the right time, will lead you to victory. For example, if you are attacked by someone swinging their fist towards your head, with full commitment to their attack, the kyusho occurs at the point where your aggressor has overextended his/her reach, unbalanced him/her self, and expended all of the force of his/her attack. If, at this point, you change your position in space, alter your distance at the correct moment in time, or apply a light touch to your aggressor’s body, you will disrupt his/her balance, train of thought and attacking intention.

Viewing Kyusho in this way completely changes our approach to the subject. Now Kyusho Jutsu, rather than only being an art of manipulating physical points on the body, becomes an art of creating a point in the space around us, the space where combat takes place. And leading our opponent to that point, we are able to grasp the victory in every interaction we have. So kyusho now becomes a study, not only of points on the body (although this is still a part of the art), but of timing, distancing, space, rhythm, leading the mind, combat psychology, and awareness.

Regardless of whether you see kyusho jutsu as a purely physical art of manipulating points on the body, or as an art that encompasses the other elements I have mentioned above, this aspect of the warrior traditions should not be used as a complete system of combat. Kyusho Jutsu is and always has been practiced alongside other fully formed systems of combat. So rather than being a combat system in and of itself, it is a tool, a very useful tool, that can be integrated into striking, grappling, throwing and psychological combat systems.

I hope you have fun playing around with the idea of space and time, seeing how you can affect your opponent’s movements and thought processes by changing your position, timing, distance, etc., so that he/she is led to the vital point. Happy training.

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