Martial arts are embedded in the culture and folklore of human civilizations that exist today and those that prospered for many centuries and a few thousand years ago. In the past, man codified how to fight and physically subdue others in the name of self-defense and for its valuable use in the military as well as in law enforcement. However, beyond their practical uses, martial arts have also proven vital in mankind’s pursuit of mental development and spiritual enlightenment.
Given the long history of human combat practices and various fighting systems, it’s not all that surprising that there’s so much about these age-old fighting arts we have yet to fully understand. This is also the reason why they have been the subject of our interest and fascination. Some aspects of ancient martial arts are sometimes painted as mysterious and mystical because they teach certain skills that don’t always seem physically possible at first glance. These lethal techniques demand focus, determination and years of training in order to master them, and the secrets behind them are passed down to a very select few from one generation to the next.
The touch of death is among these ancient martial arts techniques that dance between fantasy and reality, and it will be the main topic of our discussion in this video.
WHAT IS THE “DIM MAK”?
The touch of death goes by many names. In China, it is known as the Dim Mak, while in Japan, a fighting style involving pressure point fighting is referred to as Kyushojutsu. Also called death-point striking, this deadly martial arts technique - when done right - could potentially kill an opponent by striking a specific area of the body with a seemingly gentle but devastatingly critical force.
The Chinese term “Dim Mak” literally translates in English to “press artery,” which suggests that this technique requires applying pressure to an artery in order to work. And according to martial artists who claim they know how to use this lethal move, this technique has a delayed effect when used. At first, the strike may seem harmless, but an individual could suddenly die from it without notice several weeks or a few months later.
ORIGIN OF THE DIM MAK
The use of the touch of death had been largely mentioned in Wuxia literature, which is a Chinese fiction genre that chronicles the life and adventures of warriors and master martial artists in ancient China. In these stories, the Dim Mak is painted as a highly-specialized fighting style which involves targeting the pressure points of enemies and disrupting the flow of their “qi” or life energy. In these literary works, those who were attacked with this method ended up paralyzed or dead, be it in an immediate or delayed fashion.
The history of Dim Mak can be traced back to traditional Chinese medicine, particularly acupuncture, though there are also suggestions that it was developed by the same person who created the Chinese martial art Taichi. It is also believed that the deadly art of Dim Mak largely influenced the philosophies and development of other Chinese martial arts and even those combat disciplines that originated in Korea and Japan.
Though the death-point striking move is noted by some people to have played a crucial role in the spread of martial arts across the globe, the knowledge of how to use this fighting style remains largely unknown. Only a few chosen martial artists are supposedly trusted by even fewer masters to learn this technique, which is why it has managed to remain a heavily guarded secret. However, in recent years, more and more self-proclaimed martial arts masters have stepped into the limelight, proclaiming their knowledge about the Dim Mak and their ability to use it.
DIM MAK IN MODERN MARTIAL ARTS
Among the numerous martial artists who revealed their intimate knowledge of the death touch technique is karate instructor George Dillman. Back in the 90s, he created a fighting style inspired by kyushojutsu. Not only did he claim that he knew how to use the touch of death in combat, he also revealed that he was able to develop qi-based techniques that did not require coming into contact with his opponents. A study of his fighting techniques by experts and skeptics, however, concluded that his proclamations were fraudulent.
Another martial artist who claimed to be a master on Dim Mak is Erle Montaigue. He even released books and videos about the technique around the 1980s. Heralding himself as the first Westerner master in the art of Taijiquan, he also disclosed that he learned from several Chinese martial arts masters on how to use the death-point striking technique as well as other fighting maneuvers that disrupt the qi inside the human body. Like Dillman, though, the majority of the public were not so inclined to believe him.
IS THE TOUCH OF DEATH REAL?
With individuals revealing themselves to be practitioners of this mysterious and controversial technique, one can’t help but wonder if the “touch of death” is indeed the real deal.
Those who believe in the existence and effectiveness of the Dim Mak use the death of Bruce Lee as an example of how lethal this martial arts technique truly is. The accomplished martial artist and film superstar was revealed to have perished from cerebral edema and his demise was officially classified as a “death by misadventure” due to a deadly reaction to combined medication. However, speculations suggest that his sudden death was a delayed effect of a Dim Mak strike from a fellow martial arts master who was ordered to eliminate him. There’s no proof of such rumors but even years after Lee’s untimely death, many still found it very suspicious that he died so suddenly and at a relatively young age. It was also widely known that he had his fair share of enemies within the martial arts community during his short life.
For now, though, we don’t have enough scientific and historical evidence to say with absolute certainty that the “touch of death” is indeed an effective and deadly technique. What can be confirmed is the fact that subjecting certain areas of the human body to immense pressure or trauma can result in an unexpected scale of damage or injury to the person attacked - sometimes even death.
A good example of this is a condition known as commotio cordis. It may seem like something plucked out of a movie but there are incredibly rare instances wherein a person can actually die after receiving a blow to the chest. If the strike lands at a critical moment while the heart is beating, the blow could disrupt its rhythm and result in cardiac arrest. Even with medical intervention, this lethal condition has a fatality rate of around 65 percent and more than 80 percent without it.
Another real-life medical example similar to how the Dim Mak strike works is by blocking the blood flow to the brain via the carotid artery. Applying pressure to this common artery will not only result in unconsciousness but it may also lead to brain damage. Doing so is also not that difficult considering that the carotid artery hides in plain sight - the neck.
Today, the touch of death remains a curious mystery and the truth behind it may one day be brought to light. Until then, the Dim Mak has found a comfortable place of relevance in the martial arts film genre and contemporary pop culture. You’ve already seen versions of this pressure point fighting style in memorable films and shows like the Vulcan nerve pinch in the “Star Trek” universe, Venusian aikido in “Doctor Who,” and Po’s Wuxi Finger Hold technique in “Kung Fu Panda.” And we can only expect this enigmatic combat method will continue to be featured in similar materials in the future.