07 December 2010

Well *that's* a vivid demonstration

In martial arts, there's a lot of talk about the "nerve clusters" as preferred striking points.  People refer to spots in the neck and the shoulders (most typically) as places where you can hit someone and temporarily paralyze them. I've always thought it was a bit of a crock: something dreamed up by people who have spent too much time watching Star Trek and convinced themselves that the Vulcan Death Grip was real. As a physician, I found the anatomy dubious -- sure, there are the brachial plexus and cervical plexus -- but the idea that you could strike them and paralyze someone, to me, seemed like so much magical thinking.

Which isn't to say that the neck isn't a great target. It is. It hurts like crazy when you strike it, it's a vital place where you can really injure someone, and if you control the neck you control the body. So I have tended to accept the nonsense talk about nerve clusters as just meaning "a good place to hit" while quietly not believing the hand-waving superstitious belief in "nerve clusters."

Then I saw this video off of the "Fail Blog:"


It's hard to watch that and not conclude that something funny neurologically just happened. The guy has an almost instantaneous total body spasm or convulsion, and drops as if poleaxed. It's not a centrally mediated reflex (like a vagal response); it's too fast. I'm not sure I can really explain it, medically, but damn.

I guess the old masters may have actually known a thing or two after all.

One thing about karate -- it does have a way of keeping you humble.


  1. Nice. I practiced a martial art like that when I was a teenager that focused on joint locks and pressure point stuff. I came to realize later (when I studied brazilian jujitsu) that that stuff seems to be a combination of the fact that you always let them do it and placebo effect (he told me this would knock me out so...).

    It's like the holy ghost on those crazy baptist shows :P I spent 3 or 4 years doing that and found that none of it really works. 6 months in BJJ did a lot more for me than years of hapkido.

  2. Although, he hit his neck... mechanoreceptors on aortic arch?

  3. This reminds me of the "no touch knockout" videos floating around out there. Funny how the only ones who fall down are the Master's students, who have "drunk the dojo kool-aid"

  4. Link to the "bullshido":


  5. It certainly doesn't look faked.

  6. Hey doc... different topic here - my step mom is 71 - in great shape - works out daily etc had a stress induced heart attack on Sunday - just walked into the gym and started to feel lightheaded - started sweating and had chest pain etc. She is okay and doing better but I don't get it - they call it the "broken heart" type of heart attack - but she is madly in love with my dad - having a great time with him in retirement and not stressed at all - can you write about this type of heart attack in the future and about what happens to these folks in the future after one of these... Thanks!

  7. Ive done a few martial arts over the past 15 years, and that looks pretty fake to me.

    CN X is going to be deep in the neck - it runs posterior inside the carotid sheath, and is pretty well protected.

    The carotid sinus couldnt cause that sort of reaction.

    The spinal cord is not on the side, and is well protected by the vertebrae.

    Also, the guy flops around as he lands, which is sort of strange if he was just suddenly paralyzed.

  8. Huh. We used that in law enforcement all the time (I say used bc I've been out of it for a while). It worked, esp when onlookers became a problem, such as removing a handcuffed subject from a bar or football game. It worked on those onlookers that tried to block your removal of the suspect from the group. Not always exactly as in the video, but certainly had an effect to clear the way, and the onlookers didn't want any part of getting in your way. No placebo effect in that case...

  9. "I came to realize later (when I studied brazilian jujitsu) that that stuff seems to be a combination of the fact that you always let them do it and placebo effect (he told me this would knock me out so...)."

    This is spot on, as far as I'm concerned. Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdrzBL2dHMI

    The guy claims that not only can he use pressure points to knock people out, he can do 'Ryu fireballs' and knock people out without touching him. In the video, the instructor actually fails to knock out the weak newscaster, and doesn't get any of the jiu-jitsu guys. In other words, he doesn't manage to knock out anyone skeptical of the technique. In my opinion, it's suggestions and the placebo effect.

  10. Ach!

    I just realized that Matlatzinca already linked to the video. Sorry for the double post.

  11. i've always wondered if the so-called "ichigeki-hissatsu" that karate strives for actually refers to commotio cordis. would be pretty badass if you could induce that at will.


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