Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

By PD Martin

This is another instalment in my research series and I’ve just realised I seem to be working backwards. The posts on my research into real-life vampires and cults (part 1 and part 2) all looked at research that happened for Kiss of Death (my fifth book) and today’s post is about Kung Fu’s Ten Killing Hands and dim-mak, which featured in my fourth book. Anyway…get ready to be wowed by the world of Kung Fu!

The Ten Killing Hands
The Ten Killing Hands, developed by Wong Fei Hung in China, are ten kung-fu strikes (or series of strikes) that are meant to either severely disable or kill your opponent, sometimes with one blow. It boils down to ten principles: strike the eyes; stop the breath; break the face; explode the ears; crush the groin; twist the tendons; break the fingers; dislocate the joints; break the elbow, and attack the nerve points. It’s nasty, but effective. And, in the hands of a trained practitioner, deadly.

I’ll give you a little taste. One of the strikes used to break the face is the Double Back-Fist targeted directly below the eyes – the aim is to blind your opponent by shattering their eye sockets so their eyeballs literally collapse over their face structure. Nice, huh?

While the Ten Killing Hands are fascinating, probably the most interesting research I did was on dim-mak. Dim-mak is often referred to as the death touch, and is based on the premise that striking certain acupoints can cause instant or delayed death.  It sounds like the stuff of fairytales — of legends and movies like Kill Bill — but it’s real. And in fact, Uma Thurman’s Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in Kill Bill is about five blows, in a specific order, which will stop blood flow to the heart.  And that is dim-mak.

There are multitudes of dimmak acupoints on the body, and strikes to different points cause different physical afflictions.  For example, one of dimmak’s strike points is on the side of a person’s neck. In Kung Fu it’s called Stomach Point 9, but it’s also directly on the carotid artery and vagus nerve. A strike to Stomach Point 9 is said to bring instant or delayed death and there is science behind the claim. The best book I found on this was Death Touch: The Science Behind the Legend of Dim-mak by Dr Michael Kelly. Dr Kelly is an MD who also happened to study Kung Fu and decided he wanted to explore dim-mak from a medical perspective.

The book is amazingly thorough and quite technical in places, talking about how the dim-mak strikes often target bundles and/or peripheral nerves, and attacking these points can cause changes in the autonomic nervous system — which controls important stuff like blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, breathing, and so on. The theory is that direct strikes can fool the nervous system into doing something it wouldn’t normally, like speeding up your heart rate or increasing your blood pressure.

Sometimes the explanation is more simple…back to Stomach Point 9. These days, many people have plaque build-up in their arteries, especially if they’re older, have a genetic predisposition or unhealthy eating habits. So, if you strike someone on their neck with enough force and in a particular manner they can have a heart attack or stroke instantly, or days later when the loosened plaque makes its way to their heart or brain. Plus, a hard strike, even on a healthy person, can cause degradation of the artery that may have lethal effects down the track.

Although other organs are targeted, the heart is often the focal point for dim-mak strikes. The pressure points attack the heart in one of three ways – heart attack, ventricular fibrillation or something called heart concussion. Again, Dr Kelly’s book came in handy! The medical, Latin term for heart concussion is commotio cordis. It’s not a common cause of death, not something you read about much in the newspaper, because it’s rare to have a strike directly to the heart that’s hard enough to cause it. Most reported cases involve sporting accidents, like trauma from a hockey puck, a baseball, a hockey stick, etc. But obviously if a trained Kung Fu practitioner can elicit enough force…

The dim-mak knockout
The dim-mak knockout, also called a pressure-point knockout, is famous in many circles. One, two or three strikes and the person drops to the ground. Many dim-mak experts use these strikes to demonstrate the power of dim-mak in workshops and seminars. According to the medical explanation it’s a vasovagal faint, caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Yin and  yang
Of course, the acupoints aren’t just about dim-mak and martial arts. The more commonly known use of these acupoints comes from Chinese healing — acupressure or acupuncture.  The points are struck to cause pain and death, but they can also be massaged or stimulated with acupuncture for healing purposes. They go hand in hand, for use as a weapon or as a healing tool. Yin and Yang.

Stomach Point 9 also has a healing purpose in Western medicine. The site of the carotid sinus and vagus nerve is an extremely sensitive area and when someone’s suffering from an arrhythmia, doctors will often use ‘vagal maneuvers’ as a treatment. A simple massage along the vagus nerve has been shown to decrease the chances of a fatal ventricular fibrillation.

Now, I’m afraid I do feel it necessary to take this chance for a bit of BSP (blatant self-promotion) in terms of my book trailer for The Killing Hands. But it IS very relevant!

At this point I should also mention that I hold a black belt in Kung Fu. I’m very much out of practice (haven’t trained for about five years) but when I did study it my lessons were tax-deductible. Gotta love an author’s tax deductions! 

So, who out there studies Kung Fu or has heard of dim-mak before? And feel free to share any amazing tax deductions too!

16 thoughts on “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

  1. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hi PD

    This is my kind of post – fascinating stuff. I've studied pressure-point techniques, and particularly kyushu-jitsu. Charlie has used strikes to the vagus nerves before now, and I shall be looking out a copy of Dr Kelly's book. (Which will be tax deductible, of course…)

    Between photographic props and research there isn't much that doesn't go through my books.

  2. Reine

    Hi PD,

    It is fascinating. But oh god is it scary shit.

    I never had too many tax deductions for my work, because I usually had my employer pay for everything and wrote grants for the other stuff. Some of those grants, most really, were awarded by my employer and school. My best tax deduction was my rent. No wait, it wasn't a deduction really. It was that my employer provided me with an apartment at school. Because I was required to live there for my job, I did not have to pay income tax on its value. If I'd had a choice, and a free apartment was a nice benefit had I chosen to live there, I would have had to declare it as income, along with all the other stuff that came with it that they specifically required and provided.

    My Internet service, for example, had to be theirs for security reasons and access to student records, and the telephone had to be similar with special connections with the students and hospitals, and it had to be unlimited international. I really had no choice. And I needed my own study carrel in the stacks. I needed to entertain as well. I mean it was tough, y'know? So, even though all of that was forced on me, it wasn't all bad, but I didn't exactly get a tax deduction for any of it.

    And every now and then I'd have to go over to Oxford and discuss world theologies, so I could better counsel our international students, especially after 9/11. They have that wonderful new Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS) there. http://www.oxcis.ac.uk/ And the school paid for a good portion of those trips . . . and . . . um . . . until I graduated work-study grants paid the rest. So that was pretty good.

  3. PD Martin

    Zoe – The pressure point stuff is great. Don't know much about kyushu-jitsu but I'm sure it's all the same points. And do look up Dr Kelly's book. It's a great read if you're into that kind of thing!

    Reine – It definitely sounds like you had some good 'bonuses'. Sounds like a great set up πŸ™‚


  4. Jake Nantz

    I've heard of dim-mak before, though I never studied kung-fu. A lot of people in the states, at least as I was growing up, went to either karate or tae kwon do. Both seemed really cool to me, but complicated, so I never enrolled in any classes. I wasn't disciplined enough for either, nor did I feel I had the quickness you need to be effective in either, especially tae kwon do.
    Then, when I was in college, I read about muay thai (thai kickboxing) and liked the simplicity of it…no forms or kata or belt structure to worry about. So I have studied muay thai off and on for most of my life since, and it's a big reason why the protag in my current WIP is a former semi-pro thai boxer. I like muay thai because it doesn't matter how strong or fast you are, there is SOMETHING that can be real-world applicable. I talked to a girl I trained with who studied both TKD and Thai, and she said if she were ever attacked she would immediately resort to muay thai because it didn't matter if she was weaker than her attacker, elbows and knees always hurt, and are more practical in close fighting/grappling (like a guy trying to take advantage of a woman). That always stuck with me. Maybe if I can get published and generate a teeny bit of additional income from my writing, I can start writing off my kickboxing. I never would have thought of that. Thanks!!

  5. Jenni

    Thanks for sharing so much of your research! It's fascinating. I took karate for a few years, but never got very practiced at it. And great idea about the tax deductions. I would never have thought of that either. πŸ™‚

  6. Cornelia Read

    Oh, PD, I just LOVE THIS!! " It boils down to ten principles: strike the eyes; stop the breath; break the face; explode the ears; crush the groin; twist the tendons; break the fingers; dislocate the joints; break the elbow, and attack the nerve points. It’s nasty, but effective. And, in the hands of a trained practitioner, deadly."

    Seriously… I want to send you jewelry or something, just for writing that. You're my kind of woman…

  7. Louise Ure

    And you're a black belt! Sounds like you didn't need the extra research at all, but it's fascinating.

  8. David Corbett

    I think I now understand now why male friendships were problematic for you, Phillipa. Men thought you'd kill them.

    This is fascinating stuff. Must admit, I've never studied martial arts, except for Hand Over Wallet. (Bad guys tend to ignore me. I look like a monk.)

    As for tax write-offs: My protagonist eats in my next book, and I'm planning on deducting my grocery and restaurant expenses. Oh, and if I change the part about him being a nudist, I can deduct my clothing purchases. (I wonder how he'd look in plaid …)

    And and …

  9. Elektronika Devereux

    Hello PD,

    Elektronika here.

    I see my evil twin Reine has been leaving those godawful stupid comments again. Her gearbox must be rusty again. I see I've failed. But I will take care of it now. Hang on while I send her back for a recharge special.

    Oh. Love your blog. Good work. Consider Elektronik point system.

    From my perch at the Old Burial Hill

  10. KDJames

    Wow, PD. I agree, fascinating. And very scary. I know very little (okay, nothing) about this kind of fighting, but it does explain why you see participants going to such great lengths to block and protect their head from blows. Somewhat different from boxers, for instance. Although they usually wear head gear.

    And another very effective trailer.

  11. PD Martin

    Hi all!
    Jake: Yes, I've heard of Thai boxing but never seen much of it. Although Kung Fu does also use a lot of elbow strikes (and some knee strikes) for close-quarter combat. Interesting that your female friend found the Thai boxing a more useful self defence technique. Kind of off topic, but cops and law enforcement are a bit divided on self defence. Apparently there have been instances of women feeling confident and standing to fight instead of running…with bad consequences. One cop friend of mine said he was worried it could give women a false sense of confidence and that they're then more likely to walk down that dark street, because they feel they COULD defend themselves if anything happened. Of course, women SHOULD be able to walk anywhere we want, wear whatever we want, etc. but sometimes caution is a good thing.

    Jenni: Glad you liked the piece – including my tax deduction πŸ™‚


  12. PD Martin

    Cornelia: I'm not really a jewellery kind of girl! But hopefully one day we'll catch up and you can buy me a drink and vice versa. And we can talk about bad-ass, kick-ass Kung Fu moves.

    Louise: Yes, but it sounds better than it is. I'm so out of practice these days. Not to mention not very fit.

    David: Very funny, as usual! I have got one new male friend since I stopped Kung Fu. Maybe that IS why…no. Food and clothes as tax deductions…I like it!!! And really, alcohol should be too.

    Electronika: Glad you liked the blog. And I love Reine's comments!

    KD: Yes, Kung Fu is a wonderful world. And I'm glad you liked the trailer.

  13. Elektronika Devereux


    Reine thinks you are much too kind, despite all the Kung Fu fighting. And she says that a gun trumps. I think she should get the hell out of Tucson before the republicans raffle off that new Glock!

  14. Pari Noskin

    I went the Tae Kwon Do route. It was an incredibly powerful experience for me. Earning my black belt gave me such a sense of accomplishment in an area I wouldn't have thought I'd ever pursue.

    Kung Fu sounds fascinating. I'm very glad to learn more about it. Thank you for opening this world to all of us.

  15. Jake Nantz

    I agree with your cop friend, and I'm pretty sure this girl would too. I think what she meant was, despite being a TKD black belt, she felt like Thai would be more likely to give her enough of a chance to break free from an attacker and run like hell. I would hope that's what she would do, anyway.

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