I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.
In a situation where you need to defend yourself, save your own life, and prevent as much injury to yourself as possible, you want to do something that works and works quickly. The longer you’re in the fight, the longer the amount of time your life is in danger and that you risk serious injury. You want to do something that stops the attacker, so you want to do the most amount of damage in the easiest and safest way possible for you.
Reasoning dictates then that you’d want to attack targets on the adversary that are easily damaged but are easier to attack; targets that hurt him but don’t hurt your hand, foot, or limb when hit. This means, to a large extent, you want to attack soft targets that are easily injured while using a minimal amount of force on your part.
So, this list includes targets that are easily injured and require a minimal amount of effort on your part to injure them and will not cause you to be injured to hit them.
A relatively obvious soft target is the eye. It’s a sensitive organ, we use our eyes to see, and if it is even lightly brushed, we can lose our vision and be in an incredible amount of pain for quite awhile. I remember pillow fights when I was a kid. There seemed to be an inevitable brushing of the eyeball with a pillow that would put me out of commission. So you can imagine the pain of having the eyeball scratched with fingernails or having a thumb dug into the eye socket; pure panic could set in in such circumstances.
We need our windpipes to breathe. If the windpipe breaks, you can’t breathe and therefore only have seconds to live. Any little bit of a strike to the throat can stop an attack even momentarily. This can give you time to recoup and do something else, even run. A chop to the throat is quite the experience and most people instinctively protect their windpipe.
In the following video, you can see a demonstration of a self-defense technique with a chop to the throat.
Slapping someone right on the ear can cause the ear to ring and is painful. You could even rupture their eardrum doing it. It’s disorienting to get hit in the ear. The ears are used for balance, and getting popped in the ear disrupts balance and can buy you time to do whatever follow-up you need to do to defend yourself (again, this follow-up could include running).
For men, those organs on the outside are an easy target and are easily hurt. One good shot to the groin can put somebody out of commission, but even a decent slap to the groin can be painful.
The knee is a joint and all joints can potentially be dislocated. It is not only painful, but it is debilitating to have the knee joint dislocated or broken. In extreme circumstances, a strong thrust kick to the knee might be necessary to stop an attack.
So, those are the best of vital targets, but here is a list of some of the others and the effects of them being struck and/or injured.
- Bridge of the nose – very painful when hit, can cause eyes to tear up, nose may bleed and be broken
- Philtrum nerve – between the nose and upper lip – very painful when struck, lip may bleed
- Cheek nerves – pain ensues and cheek bones may break
- Temples – could cause knockout
- Jaw – can be dislocated, can cause knockout when struck
- Base of the skull – at the back of the head – can cause unconsciousness when struck
- Side of the neck – can spasm muscle and is painful – can disrupt flow of blood through carotid artery to brain
- Back of of the ear – injury to mastoid process can cause knockout and dizziness
- Clavicle – collar bone – painful when struck, easily broken
- Ribs – extreme pain when broken or struck hard, can cause collapse
- Abdomen, liver – can cause collapse if liver is struck or higher up getting hit in solar plexus can cause loss of breath and collapse
- Bladder – painful when struck
- Outer thigh nerve – three inches up from knee – very painful, numbness in leg can occur and collapse
- Shins – very painful , can be broken
- Instep, feet and toes (especially with a stomp) – very painful, breakage
- Kidneys (on lower back) – pain, possible spasm of organ and loss of function, causing collapse
- Spine – death could occur or paralysis
- Tailbone – very painful when struck, bone could be broken
- Achilles tendon – extremely painful when pressured or struck – ankle could be broken if area is stomped
The Karate Striking Points chart hangs on the wall at the dojo where I train. I've always found it to be a valuable chart because it is an illustration of a person, so it makes it easier to identify the targets on the body that can be struck to stop an attack. You can see where to strike or where the pressure needs to be applied on the body to subdue or damage an attacker. It's a more realistic, rather than abstract, representation of what targets can be hit to cause an aggressor to pause or to cause him pain or debilitation so that you can survive and escape a violent attack. It is also a constant reminder in the background to keep these targets in mind for purposes of self-defense.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Nathan Bernardo