12 March 2013

Problems with using Pressure Points

If I had to point to one thing in fighting/combatives that people seem to like, practice, not use, and fails when used, it would be pain compliance and especially pressure points.

If you have ever been to any formalized training where they were covered, you will remember the time that was spent giggling while trying to find a point that worked on someone in class when another one failed, or even the guy that none seemed to work on.

Let's first look at it from a clinical standpoint (step into the MCS labs).  Everyone’s pressure points are hidden/protected by either fat or muscle.  Different people have different amounts of each in different places.  Points on the extremities can get moved around significantly because of anatomical position.  I said look at it from a clinical standpoint first because that is how I have most often seen pressure points practiced. 
There are basically three applications for using force against someone:  to move them, to control them, or to defend yourself against an attack.   The first two are usually in a professional situation like police officer, security, bouncer, or corrections.  Most of the real life use of pressure points comes from these folks who usually state that they are “another tool in the tool box”.  This should be a clear indication of the lack of confidence in their use.  So really what they are saying is that they don’t work all the time, but they might use them if something else is not working.  This is problematic since they are very low level of use of force and certainly not used after a higher level of force has failed.  Most professionals do a very poor job as working as a team when going hands on.  You can see this every time you see police take someone to the ground.  You see 2+ officers struggling with the suspect’s upper body to take them to the ground.  If one would only grab him by the ankles, they could take them to the ground as hard or as gently as needed (see Passive Restraint Tactics).  When one person makes contact with another, the point of contact becomes a natural hinge and the person being grabbed will naturally move violently away.  The natural response to the person making the contact is to squeeze harder since muscles contract under stress.  If you add into that grab the anticipation that it is going to have an acute effect on the person, you guarantee task fixation.  In the case of pressure points, they only work in a push/pull situation.  So either your counter pressure is their body weight because they are sitting or standing, or pressure against the wall or floor, or you have to commit your other hand to provide the counter pressure.  So if a professional does apply a pressure point and it is effective, they need to know what they want to do with it.  Do they want to use it to move the person?  If so, how far, because the longer a point is manipulated the less sensitive it becomes.  As previously mentioned, the subject will use the point of contact as a hinge (body mapping), so if it is going to be used for controlling for movement, there needs to be at least two people.  Since the person cannot move in a way to relieve the pain, they are more inclined to comply with verbal commands.  Many people, including law enforcement, give ineffective verbal commands because they are not sure what they want the person to do, or if the person can physically do it.  So, even if a pressure point tactic is being effective, you need to know what you are going to do next.  

So you can see that both the effectiveness and ineffectiveness can cause task fixation.
The #1 rule in MCS is to MOVE.  The #2 rule is to always work to the outside of your attacker.  The use of pressure points is not conducive to these two principles.  In both the case of the professional and the citizen, create a situation in which the user is likely to hang on to the bad guy with one or both hands, stand in front of them (ritualized combat), and limit their own movement.

These are not just concerns when using any pressure points, but when using any kind of pain compliance.

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