Dim mak, the “touch of death.” Kung fu hooey or lethal martial arts move?

Saturday, September 11th, 2004 @ 2:11 pm | Uncategorized

The “death touch,” or dim mak, is a mysterious and fatal technique that has been used in numerous martial arts films. The idea is that a strong blow to a critical spot on the body can be fatal within minutes. In the films, the recipient of the death touch walks around normally, only to suddenly collapse moments later.

Most recently, this concept has been utilized in Kill Bill 2 as the “five-point palm exploding heart technique,” and the dim mak has been theorized to be the cause of Bruce Lee’s death.

After seeing this dubious concept in several films, I set out to find any information I could on the validity of it. So the question is, is it possible to strike a fatal blow that will kill a target minutes later? Like much of what is portrayed in kung fu films, the dim mak technique is greatly exaggerated and fictionalized. But theoretically, it appears quite possible.

In the Chinese arts of acupuncture and acupressure, “pressure points” on the body are manipulated to produce healing effects. These pressure points correspond to various nerves in the body. The same pressure points, if struck forcefully, can cause great pain or even temporary incapacitation. (Writer Lori Ann White explores the connection between acupressure and dim mak in this article.) In fact, a form of Japanese karate called kyusho-jitsu is concerned solely with using pressure points to easily incapacitate an opponent.

There are examples in the medical literature of people who died shortly after receiving an apparently mild injury to a critical pressure point on the body. Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope recently answered a question on dim mak, and notes several cases in medical journals which confirm this.

But whether it is possible in actual practice to kill someone with dim mak techniques is still a mystery. Likely it would take years of training to become proficient at it. Techniques such as dim mak have been shrouded in mystery and disbelief due to the systematic withholding of advanced and lethal martial arts knowledge, especially from Westerners. Critical blows and techniques were stripped from the martial arts that are popularly taught today, for obvious reasons. Many martial arts techniques and styles have been lost over the years, and certain techniques, such as dim mak, have only recently been rediscovered.

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