Anatomy of the Kill Zones

Discuss the medical implications and realities of close quarters combat as it relates to human anatomy and physiology.

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Anatomy of the Kill Zones

Postby San Soo Sifu » Tue Nov 06, 2007 2:37 pm

Dean Murray wrote:Inside Kung-Fu August 1988 [Volume 15, Number 8]

Anatomy of the Kill Zones: The question is not with what or how hard you hit, but whether it can stop a charging opponent.

Written by Dean Murray

Tales of the ancients and their awesome killing power have haunted us for years. That single trait of our martial forebears sits like a vein of gold at the bottom of a back-breaking mine of physical training. Yet in our zeal to punch faster and kick harder, we have lost half the formula to that equation of man-stopping power. For every weight lifted, every mile run, and every sit-up crunched, we forget the question is not just with what or how hard we hit, but where. Mirroring the concept of yin and yang, knowledge of the body fosters not only the methods that make our bodies stronger, but also the key to where the opponent's body is weak and vulnerable.

Understanding and applying deadly power in a combat situation is a mechanical process, devoid of the much-discussed mystical theories and philosophies. Rather than stumbling about listening for the sound of one hand clapping, ancient warriors were flesh-and-blood mechanics, meticulously scrutinizing the body in form and function to make their craft easier, and their survival more certain. The battleground presented an ideal place for anatomical studies; it was the great supermarket of broken, mutilated, and disemboweled bodies. Indeed, many major medical and surgical advancements throughout history came during times of war because of the abundance of specimens on which to study and experiment. And from that study sprang the logical, mechanical view of body systems a fighter desperately needs.

It is important to explain the underlying structure of the body and dispel some of the nonsensical ideas that have developed concerning function. The skeletal structure is one that would amaze any mechanical or structural engineer. The hip structure serves as the foundation, resting on top of the femurs with the cusps of the hips and joined together at the pubic bone (which is not really all bone, but is joined by cartilage. Cartilage allows the cusps of the hips to move when the body is in motion.). The outer edge of the cusps (the hip bones) point forward, creating a basket-like effect for the lower abdomen, where Chi is said to originate. Unsurprisingly, the lower abdomen also is the final site of physical stress conveyed from the limbs and upper torso.

The ribs and upper torso structure; however, is not constructed as protection for the internal organs. The liver and spleen stick out below the floating ribs, and the bladder and kidneys remain uncovered. The rib cage actually acts as a spring to dissipate stress over a wider girth of the body and down onto the hip structure. The collarbones sit on top of the cage and act much like a MacPherson strut in the suspension of an automobile. As stress is put onto the arms and shoulder structure (such as in grappling), the collarbones pull downward, compressing the ribs. As the ribs compress, the bottom of the rib cage pushes down and outward, spreading the pressure over a larger area. The stress, greatly dissipated by now, drops to the lower abdomen.

This balance is upset, for example, when a heavy load is incorrectly lifted (such as with the legs straight instead of bent). The body may try to reduce the stress, but without the correct angle on the rib cage, the pressure is not properly dissipated and the angle of pressure has changed the leverage spot from the Chi point (between the two hip bones, below the navel) to somewhere lower in the groin. Often, the result is a hernia.

True to its structural balance, the body has organs evenly and predictably distributed. The liver on the right side just at the base of the ribs is balanced by the spleen in the same place on the left. The bladder sits dead center, 45 degrees down and in from the Chi point on the front of the body.

What does all this mean? While the ancient masters had a more mechanical and integrated view of the body, how did they turn that knowledge into deadly technique? The best way to understand the functional structure of the body is to look at it in terms of an automobile. If someone wanted to keep a car from being driven, removing the air filter would be of no value. But if the distributor were disconnected the car would be worthless. Essentially, it would be dead.

When facing an opponent, punching someone in the nose would be like removing the air filter. Would it hurt? Yes. Would it bleed? Probably. Would it stop someone from attacking? No. Other than a little pain, a broken nose is no deterrent for a trained, determined fighter. But not so with a ruptured liver. The same is true for a broken collarbone, or a bruised or crushed trachea. In each case a major structure or function is being impaired. By distinguishing these vital areas, fighters can direct attacks that achieve maximum, even deadly results, with minimum effort.

Since the skeletal structure is so balanced, you can use it as map to pinpoint the vital organs. The soft skin over the trachea is located at the junction of the collarbones in the center of the body. The liver and spleen at the base of the ribs can easily be located by looking at the crook of the opponent's arms. The liver can be found at the bend of the right elbow; ditto with the left arm and the spleen. The bladder is at the centerline of the body on line between the hip bones. The kidneys are on a horizontal line between the elbow and the hip bones in the rear of the body.

The organs themselves are much more easily damaged than heavily boned areas such as the head (this is not to insinuate that deadly force cannot be delivered through head and neck areas). Facial blows; however, encounter a lot of bone in the brow ridges, cheekbones, and forehead, so while punching to the face may tear flesh and look terrible, it is not necessarily man-stopping. The liver, for example, is an easy target because it sits partially below the right-hand side of the rib cage. It can be reached with blows angled upward under the ribs (where the liver is hit directly) or through the bottom, floating ribs (so-called because they are attached to the cage by cartilage). The abdominal muscle wall inserts in a seam right over the liver so muscle thickness or strength has no deadening effect on the force of the blow. Since the liver also is a junction of anatomical systems (the circulatory system as well as energy meridians), the effect of trauma to the organ is immediately felt throughout the body. The legs immediately fold, the nervous system crackles with pain signals, breathing patterns disrupt, and energy flows are arrested. If the organ ruptures, the circulatory system begins to shut down because of shock and the result can be, if not quickly treated, fatal. Not a pretty sight.

The validity of the use of structural knowledge can be seen in how contact sports such as Boxing and full-contact Karate outlaw such attacks. The rules disallow strikes to the kidneys, bladder (below the belt), and base of the skull (rabbit punches). This is sport, not combat, and officials want to eliminate the likelihood of fatalities.

But the attack of specific areas also creates man-stopping power by increasing the actual force of the blow through the predictability of body movement. Here is how it works: Attacking specific, vulnerable areas always produces movement in that body. As a balance structure, the body always seeks equilibrium and will counterbalance wherever and whenever necessary to prevent the structure from collapsing. This counterbalance is predictably automatic, and happens regardless of and separate from the conscious mind. This can be demonstrated with any unsuspecting volunteer. By giving someone a slight nudge or bump to the torso, the delicate balance of the body is momentarily upset. Immediately the individual will tighten muscle groups to keep from falling. While such an innocuous little bump is not fatal, its principle can be.

Hitting a man in the groin is an excruciating, if not fatal occurrence. The blow, in every case, causes him to bend forward at the waist in direct proportion to the power and velocity in the blow. If a second blow were directed at the throat in a sequential fashion (right after the blow to the groin), its power is automatically doubled, as the victim is moving forward and into the blow. Without any additional effort this baseball-and-bat effect has at least doubled the effective force of the blow. Thus a fighter does not necessarily have to possess "crushing" power to attain crushing results. This example can be likened to the nuclear arms race and disarmament talks currently in political focus. It centers around the effective destruction of the opponent. If you can deliver all destructive force, why is there a need to do more? Technically there isn't, but we begin to get caught up in a tit-for-tat mentality that is not only counterproductive, but also unhealthy.

That same mentality has been seeping into the world of martial arts with alarming regularity. In many cases training has become the competition itself, the "baddest" being the one who trains more often, harder, or with greater frequency. The combative craft has become mired in commercial fads, dangerous to the practitioner rather than the opponent.

The blows described in this text can easily be made fatal, but their killing power is neither based on speed and strength nor upon intricate theatrical movements; rather it is on directing a precise attack. While we have touched upon a few areas of the body, there are many more that interrupt or impair the functioning of the nervous, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, or energy systems. Ancient warriors, always cognizant that their lives were on the line, stuck with methods that would immediately and permanently stop an attacker so there would be no second chance. In the equation of combative victory, they learned that to throw a hard punch was good, but throwing it precisely was better.

Footnote: Dean Murray was the Master of Ceremonies (MC) at the 1985 San Soo Exposition in Fullerton, California. Dean Murray was also a student of Master Chuck Cory.
Hit First...Hit Hard...Hit Often...and Finish Him Off!
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