This article was published in “Dux ryu Magazine” in 2014
The legend says that though hitting a specific point, an opponent might die weeks after; this is called Dimmak – Death touch or Poison hand. It exist multiple ancient stories about people being killed without being touched or barely touched. The concept of Dimmak is filled with myths and legends. The strange death of Bruce Lee in 1973 sparked the mystery in modern times. Let us look closer into the concept, and start with the existence of Dimmak in the Shaolin Temple.
Shaolin Temple and Dimmak
少林寺 The Shaolin temple is located in the Mount Song, Henan province, China. This monastery is known to be the cradle of martial arts in the world; with roots going back to the fifth century. The legend says that martial arts spread to the rest of the world from here; making this a nice place to start an investigation about Dimmak. Within the Shaolin kung fu we find a bransh that is called Shaolin Qinna. It consists of five principles, 五擒拿原则 (Wǔ Qínná Yuánzé). The first principle are 分筋 (fēn jīn), Muscle and Tendon Separation. Fen jin consist of two main aspects 抓紧 (zhuājǐn), Grasping; pinch to separate the muscles and tendons of the opponent. The second aspect is 捺穴 (nà xué) or 点穴 (Diǎnxué), Pressing cavities or attacking acupuncture points. The second principle are 扭骨 (niǔ gǔ), the classical Bone Misplacement. The third principle are 闭气 (bì qì), Breath Obstruction. The fourth principle are 点脉 (diǎn mài), Vein and Artery Pressing. Dimmak is actually an approximate written Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin word Dianmai; making Dimmak relate to pressing arteries. Dimmak does not exist as mysterious death touch, but is rather a mix between Dianxue and Dianmai. In the west we like to connect the word Dimmak to the worst outcome; death after a touch. In my periods in the temple I encountered no Dimmak training outside a Shaolin Qinna context.
Origen of Dimmak
The origin of Dimmak is unknown, but many claim its origin. In old times only the supreme masters knew the vital points, and only their supreme students were thought them; then often only Dianxue (acupuncture points). People who know often do not want to pass it to anybody except to the chosen one. At the same time today there are many fake masters within Dimmak. Most Sensei’s do not know about the Dimmak techniques. If you google Dimmak you will find several speaking of effective Dimmak. At first gland it looks stunning, but then you see a mixture of sugeration and badly located acupuncture points; some flirts with fiction and sorcery. It exist true Dimmak practitioners also, but they stay low. Dimmak most likely originates in China, and is often included in different Chinese martial arts styles. Many see the Chinese Dimmak as the mother of the Japanese Atemi; basically the same under another name. Most known styles are Kung fu, Tai chi and Wushu. The name used on Dimmak areas varies strongly from “no name” to vital points, acupuncture points and Kyusho points just to mention a few. Styles that builds around Dimmak are styles like Dianxue, Kyusho jitsu, Dimmak tai chi, Acudo ryu, International Kyusho, Atemi karate and Dillman karate. Some styles like Choy Li Fut have made specialized techniques for Dimmak. Example is the four principle hand techniques Phoenix Eye Fist, Fong-Ngan Chui, Crane Beak, Hok-Juei, Arrow Finger, Jin-Ji and Leopard Fist, Tsop-Chui. Other styles save Dimmak for senior students. Sometimes we also find Dimmak as an intergrated part of a martial arts styles like Dux ryu.
Years of bad publicity on the word Dimmak and exaggerated claims has created a reputation as a pseudo-martial art. Exaggerated claims like crippling and killing opponents through gentle taps, cheap DVDs, superficial crash courses and populistic seminars around have destroyed a lot for Dimmak. Some instructors even claime abilities of superhuman capacity; to incapacitate attackers without touching them at all; many of these had been falsified by TV and other martial artists. Still many feel attracted to the feeling of supernatural power. Some schools of Dimmak teach students to channel their qi into invisible lightning bolts of force and to project them to the opponent. These types of techniques have until today all failed to deliver in a controlled environment! In attempts of explaining why it did not work, they say the opponent were not a believer! This is potential fraudulent pseudo martial art abusing the name of an ancient tradition.
Types of Dimmak
It exist a type of Dimmak that only give the opponent pain, this is called DarMak. DarMak is normally used to inflict a sudden sharp pain to interrupt an attack or to create a time lapse to get into a more advantageous position. Traditionally we divide into two levels of Dimmak: a physical – and mental touch. Physical: You do something with the body of an opponent. Mental: You do something toward an opponent’s mind. Both methods aim to create an imbalance in the body. The mental Dimmak is closely related to suggeration, and is normally observed among the disciples of a Dimmak master. When their master makes a special movement they might faint as if they were knocked out, but the master often fails to replicate this on external persons. Research has shown that it is possible to predict the outcome of 85% of boxing matches simply through observing the competitors before the match. The strongest will project failure onto the loser – mental Dimmak. The knock out modus is a mental state that occurs when a person feel inferior; perhaps due to an adrenaline dump.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture points
All Martial Arts focusing on 穴位 (xuéwèi) or acupuncture points will share Dimmak roots. 针灸 (zhēnjiǔ) or acupuncture is a part of 中医 (Zhōngyī), traditional Chinese Medicine. The idea are to manipulate the energy called 气 Qi. Qi circulate along specific pathways called meridians in the human body. The hundreds of acupuncture points are located on the meridians. Through pressing, seizing or striking these points using combinations of points in certain angles the qi circulation in the body can be manipulated. By manipulating qi in the body the opponent will react with everything from pain to death.
Your body has about 365 standard – and 50 extraordinary acupuncture points. Most points might be used, and some works better than others. Making us understand that not all acupuncture points are used in Dimmak; many of the points are actually totally useless. Normally a practitioner of Dimmak know about 50 – 100 acupuncture points. Some persons are resistant to acupuncture point induced pain of genetically reasons, and others might have a temporal chemical resistance due to high levels of adrenaline or drugs.
Use of Dimmak
To use Dimmak we need to know the location of acupuncture points or perhaps more correctly the vital points/ – areas. The dangerous Dimmak are commonly located over acupuncture points, major nerves and blood vessels. Most are found on the chest, close to vital organs and in the most vulnerable parts of the neck and skull. Knowledge about Dimmak opens for manipulating vital points in opponents or defending your own. The applied force and speed will vary with the selected target. Always remember that the vital points are the weakest and most fragile areas of the body. If we tempers with these areas something will happen. In a 2006 Dimmak investigation conducted in Beijing on Pigs at China Academy of Chinese Medical Siences made some interesting information come forward. The research showed that after hitting 腎俞 (shèn shū) UB23 (located: close to the kidneys) the pig did not show any problems at all! But after 15 minutes the pig got problems with standing on his legs, he fell to the ground and died shortly after. The conclusion was that the combination of acupuncture point and the closeness of a major internal organ are of importance when doing Dimmak. Dimmak is manipulating acupuncture points and arteries to cause disorientation, collapse, pain, weakness, paralysis, unconsciousness, delayed reaction or death. Some branches of Dimmak emphasize the time flow of qi in the body. All according to what time it is qi flow through different acupuncture points on specific organ related meridians. That exact point is a Dimmak. Well, even hardcore acupuncturists do not believe deeply in this theory. There are many persons that try to explain Dimmak, but unfortunately most does not carry any faculty and often the story ends in pure fiction of ignorance.
All that it takes to master Dimmak is to know the location of some acupuncture points, the direction of the strike: up, down, left or right and the rotations of the strike, clockwise or anti clockwise, and some basic anatomical structures.
Example of an Acupuncture point in Dimmak
人迎 (rén yíng) Stomach 9 is located beside the Adams apple, on the top of three important structures of the neck: the vagus nerve, the carotid artery and the carotid sinus. If a soft strike lands at Renying it will cause a knock out, and it might result in a delayed death. The explanation is that the carotid sinus reflex controls the blood pressure to the brain. Hitting the carotid sinus, creates a very strong signal to the heart (via the vagus nerve), and makes it slow down. As a result blood pressure drops dramatically and the opponent faint; making Renying knock out people. If Renying is hitted very quickly and hard, the heart gets problems with the signals, develop tachycardia and might stop beating; the person will die. Knocking out opponents with Renying is extremely dangerous. This vital point has other fatal aspects. The stroke to Renying might create a traumatic injury on a small section of the interior wall of the carotid artery. This injury might cause a blood clot to develop that eventually might detach itself from the artery wall, and flow to the brain where it will result in a stroke. The time prospect of this process can be everything from days to weeks. A more esoterically explanation are an interruption of the qi flow to the brain. Renying can therefore cause knock out, paralysis and death. It is better not to play with Renying.
Dimmak on acupuncture points are often difficult to explain. For example an innocent accident results in death. A dangerous acupuncture point might have been stimulated and created a Dimmak. Most known among the lethal acupuncture points are 天柱 (Tiān zhù) – Bl10, 天牖 (Tiān yǒu) – SJ16, 天窗 (Tiān chuāng) – SI16, 天容 (Tiān róng) – SI17, 氣舍 (Qì shè) – St11, 膻中 (Shān zhōng) – Ren17 and 期門 (Qí mén) – Liv14. To induce death using these points you need to administrate a correct combination of four components: force, speed, angle and depth of impact. The two main effects of Dimmak with acupuncture points are neurological shutdown and hemorrhagic stroke by bleeding in the brain. The use of Dianxue or acupuncture points is regarded as Yang in comparison with Dianmai or Dimmak on arteries. I will not discuss that in this paper of obvious reasons.
Example of a physiological Dimmak
Commotio cordis, cardiac concussion is a syndrome in which a no penetrating impact to the chest causes a heart failure. Commotio cordis does not give any structural damage to the external body. By getting a hard blow to the chest you might provoke a ventricular fibrillation that makes the lower parts of the heart stop pumping blood, and you might die. Basically your heart faints or get knocked out for some limited time, but since your body depends on the heart you will simply die. To provoke a commotio cordis you need more speed than force. The essence is to strike within a 15-20 millisecond window in the heartbeat cycle. Death by this Dimmak will normally occur shortly. The core essence of the technique are to hit the chest above the heart just after the main beat. After a commotion cordis you will find no signs of injury; the heart simply stopped to beat and the person died.
The woundable spot in time
Example of an anatomical Dimmak
The carotid artery provide the brain with blood. This area is sensitive for manipulations like pressure and blows due to the carotid sinus. The artery divides into two branches beside the acupuncture point Rényíng; the best place is on the right side. Here the anatomical weak point on the artery is located a little higher than on the left side, and is therefore more easy to reach. To injure the blood vessel walls on this spot is relatively easy. Leading to conditions like: Stroke in hours to days after the blow to the artery, followed by partial left side paralysis, neurological problems and possible death. The carotid artery need to be hit fast, but the applied force might vary. Other arteries on the body might also be used for provoking the blood clotting effect. If deep veins on the legs are used we might expect a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The general rule for most impact are arteries to the brain, and veins to the heart. The main effect of anatomical Dimmak (Dianmai) are ischemia by blockage of a blood vessel.
The woundable spot at the Carotid artery
Dimmak is to manipulate vulnerable areas on the body. Often acupuncture points, arteries, nerves and internal organs. In the correct sense of the word it focuses on hitting arteries, and quite correctly we have the thrombosis effect that might give a delayed death or paralysis. Normally Dimmak includes both Dianxue and Dianmai; points and arteries. The areas are manipulated fast to provide the wished effect of interrupted function or regulation. If administrated properly we might expect to observe pain, changed physical mobility, blood clotting, interrupted heart beats, paralysis (temporal and permanent), and death. It is also directed to acupuncture points and not arteries. The name Dimmak should not be translated as death touch; since most frequent we just observe pain and not death. No martial artist applies Dimmak to kill, but rather to gain a momentum on his opponent through provoking pain. Perhaps “Vital point techniques” would have been a better translation or use of the word Dimmak.
Dimmak is a potential deadly technique, and what if you accidently killed somebody using it? It was a reason why the ancient masters did not teach this to all their students. Because the legend is true… Dimmak is a death touch – it kills!
Autor of article
Nils Volden (Norwegian)
Grandmaster Doshu 8. dan in Acudo ryu
President, World Personal Martial Arts Federation (WPMAF)
Lived in the Shaolin Temple in Henan China for periods. Disciple of Shi Xing Jun, 32th Generation Shaolin Warrior Disciple
Works as Acupuncturist in Mexico City