Touch of Death
|Traditional Chinese||點脈 / 點穴|
|Simplified Chinese||点脉 / 点穴|
The touch of death (or death-point striking) refers to any martial arts technique reputed to kill using seemingly less than lethal force targeted at specific areas of the body.
The concept known as dim mak (simplified Chinese: 点脉; traditional Chinese: 點脈; pinyin: diǎnmài; Jyutping: dim2 mak6; lit.: 'press artery'), alternatively diǎnxué (simplified Chinese: 点穴; traditional Chinese: 點穴) traces its history to traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture. Tales of its use are often found in the Wuxia genre of Chinese martial arts fiction. Dim mak is depicted as a secret body of knowledge with techniques that attack pressure points and meridians, said to incapacitate or sometimes cause immediate or even delayed death to an opponent. Little scientific or historical evidence exists for a martial arts "touch of death", although it has been confirmed that trauma may cause disproportionately catastrophic consequences when applied to known pressure points under specific circumstances. Commotio cordis, for example, is an often lethal disruption of heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the area directly over the heart (the precordial region), at a critical time during the cycle of a heart beat causing cardiac arrest.
The concept known as vibrating palm originates with the Chinese martial arts Neijing ("internal") energy techniques that deal with the qi energy and the type of force (jin) used. It is depicted as "a technique that is part psychic and part vibratory, this energy is then focused into a wave".
Claims of practicability
Numerous martial artists claim to practice the technique in reality, beginning in the 1960s, when the term was advertised alongside the English translation "The Death Touch" by American eccentric Count Dante.
In 1985, an article in Black Belt magazine speculated that the death of Bruce Lee in 1973 might have been caused by "a delayed reaction to a Dim-Mak strike he received several weeks prior to his collapse". Other authors have also said Lee's death may have been due to a "quivering palm technique" (alongside an article about Choy Li Fut instructor Wong Doc-Fai) to the effect that "dim mak does actually exist and is still taught to a few select kung fu practitioners." A 1986 book on qi identifies dim mak as "one of the secret specialities" of wing chun. However, this matter is not identified in the ving tsun kin kut and traditional practitioners of ving tsun (wing chun) take no stance in the matter.
During the late 1980s, Erle Montaigue (1949–2011) published a number of books and instruction videos on dim mak with Paladin Press. Montaigue claims to be "the first Westerner to be granted the degree of 'Master' in taijiquan", awarded by Master Wang Xin-Wu in 1985. According to Montaigue's own account, dim mak is an aspect of traditional old Yang style taji quan which he claims he began learning in 1978 from a master called Chiang Yiu-chun who died in the month of May. Montaigue stated this man was an illegal immigrant, making his existence difficult to verify. Erle subsequently learned the remaining "qi-disruptive" forms of wudang shan from Liang Shih-kan in 1995. Paladin Press has other titles on the topic of dim mak, including Kelly (2001) and Walker and Bauer (2002), both with a foreword by Montaigue.
Around 1990, Taika Seiyu Oyata founded the style of Ryū-te which involves "pressure point fighting" (Kyūshojutsu). In the 1990s, karate instructor George Dillman developed a style that involves kyūshojutsu, a term that he identifies with dim mak. Dillman eventually went as far as claiming to have developed qi-based attacks that work without physical contact ("no-touch knockout" techniques), a claim that did not stand up to third-party investigation and was consequently denounced as fraudulent.
In East Asian popular culture
A "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique" appears in both the Shaw Brothers films Clan of the White Lotus (1980) and Executioners of Shaolin (1977). It is used by the protagonist in the climax of Kill Bill: Volume 2. The "delayed action" of dim mak is depicted in Executioners of Shaolin (1977), where a "100-step Soul Catching" move allows the victim to take a certain number of steps before dying. A dim mak attack is used to paralyze a character in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
The manga Fist of the North Star centers around the fictional martial art school called Hokuto Shinken, whose practitioners are trained to kill or incapacitate opponents by striking the specific pressure points on an opponent's body. The protagonist of the story, Kenshiro, is the successor of this style and will often end a battle stating how much time the opponent has left to live after delivering a finishing move, or follow up with his famous catchphrase, "You are already dead", before his opponent dies, usually from violently exploding.
In contemporary western pop culture
Dim mak has become a kind of camp pop culture item which is recognized also outside the genre of martial arts films. In Thomas Pynchon's novel Vineland, one of the protagonists uses the "Quivering Palm Death Touch", which kills the opponent one year after it is used. In the TV series Quincy, M.E., a 1977 episode entitled "Touch of Death" features a martial-arts movie star whose mysterious death is found to be a result of a dim mak attack against him ten days earlier. The lead character of the British TV series Gangsters (1978) is murdered by hired assassin "The White Devil" using a similar attack, with death occurring four days after he is touched. Dan Brown's novel Inferno depicts a character incapacitating a guard by putting pressure on his wrist, explaining the technique as "Dim Mak". In the comedy film The Men Who Stare at Goats, George Clooney's character claims to have been hit with the Touch of Death, a "light tap" that causes death at an unknown point in the future, in one case "about eighteen years later".
In Doctor Who, the Third Doctor describes himself as a master of Venusian aikido on various occasions, accounting for his unique form of hand-to-hand combat, which allows him to immobilize opponents in a manner similar to the Vulcan nerve pinch. Later incarnations of the Doctor have shown varying degrees of expertise in hand-to-hand combat, although only some spin-off material explicitly identifies the later Doctors' combat skills as originating from Venusian aikido.
In the Kung Fu Panda movie series, the Wuxi Finger Hold technique used by Po is a form of Dim Mak. Likewise, the villain Tai Lung and the mentor Oogway both use a nerve-strike attack to paralyze the opponent.
In The Simpsons episode "When Flanders Failed", Bart Simpson claims to have learned the touch of death in his karate classes — having actually stolen the concept from an arcade game — and uses the threat of using it on Lisa to make her perform tasks.
In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Day of the Samurai", Kyodai Ken, Bruce Wayne's rival from his days training in Japan, forces Master Yoru to reveal his secret death touch. Wayne survives the technique by wearing a protective pad to absorb the force of the blow.
In the Robert Rankin stories Hugo Rune, and others, are credited as practitioners of "Dimac", described as the deadliest martial art known to man, capable of disfiguring and dismembering the opponent with the slightest touch, or condemning the victim "to forever walk sideways in the manner of a crab". Rune himself claims to have been taught by Count Dante, and the character of Archroy later becomes a Dimac master himself, although he is initially prevented from taking revenge on Omalley as he was not provided with the book on defensive strategy.
Although not mentioned as dim mak, the ability to kill with a mere touch is attributed to Chiun, the mentor of Remo Williams, who is the protagonist in the long-running The Destroyer novel series. The style of martial art practiced by Chiun is called Sinanju, which incorporates the idea of acupuncture meridians.
In the 1985 film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Chiun uses this knowledge to render a female Army major helpless, bringing her to over-heightened levels of sexual arousal and pleasure by simply tapping her wrist.
Dim mak is referenced in Bloodsport (1988), a film allegedly "based on true events in the life of Frank Dux", the founder of the first Neo-ninja school of "American Style Ninjutsu". In the film, Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) proves that he has been trained by Master Tanaka by demonstrating a move described as a dim mak or "death touch" attack to the judges as a means to gain entry into a full contact Kumite by striking a stack of five bricks with his hand and breaking only the bottom brick.
The monk class in Dungeons & Dragons has a high-level "Quivering Palm" ability that can mark an opponent for death and be activated later to kill them with lethal vibrations.
- Adams, Cecil (May 21, 2004). "The Straight Dope: Is the "commando death touch" real?". Retrieved 2009-07-14.
- Pickens, Ricky (1991), "the Mysterious Vibration Palm", Inside Kung Fu
- Bruce, Thomas (1998). Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit : A Biography (first ed.). Frog Ltd. ISBN 978-1-883319-11-3.
- Jane Hallander, "The Death Touch" in Black Belt ISSN 0277-3066, Vol. 23, No. 6 June 1985, pp. 43ff.
- William Cheung, Mike Lee, How to Develop Chi Power, Black Belt Communications, 1986, p. 23. ISBN 978-0-89750-110-1
- "Erle Montaigue". Taijiworld.com. Retrieved 2012-11-06.
- taijiworld.com Archived 2009-05-31 at the Wayback Machine "Erle stated he travelled back to Australia upon the death of his father in 1978 and [...] supposedly met Chiang Yiu-chun who became Erle's main internal arts teacher from whom he learnt Tai Chi, Wudang Arts and Dim-Mak. In 1981, Erle travelled to Hong Kong where he met and trained with both Yang Sau-chung (the son of Yang Cheng-fu) and also Ho Ho-choy, a Bagua master."
- Polidoro, M. Just like Jedi knights Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2008, p. 21; see also George Dillman explains Chi K.O. nullification. URL accessed on June 13, 2009.
- YouTube: Kill Bill - Five point palm exploding heart technique explained
- YouTube:Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) - The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique Scene
- Interview with series writer Philip Martin, who also played The White Devil (2003)
- Beissner, Florian (2009). Mu and Shu points vs. HEAD's maximum points: The Phenomenon of Dian Xue from the Viewpoints of Chinese Medicine and Modern Neuroscience.