Touch of Death

Touch of Death
Chinese name
Chinese: Dim Mak
Traditional Chinese: 點脈 / 點穴
Simplified Chinese: 点脉 / 点穴
Japanese name
Kanji: 急所術
Hiragana: きゅうしょじゅつ

The Death Touch refers to any martial arts technique that can 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; literally "press artery"; Jyutping: dim2 mak6), alternatively diǎnxuè (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.[1]

The concept known as Quivering Palm originates with the Chinese martial arts Nei Jing ("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".[2]



Advertisement for Count Dante's 1968 World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets. The text reads "Black Dragon Fighting Society brings you the forbidden secrets of Dim Mak 'The Death Touch' in this exclusive book!"

The concept of Dim Mak (Dian Xue) appears among fictional kung fu styles in the novels of Jin Yong from the 1950s.

Although Dim Mak originates in Wuxia fiction, there have been a number of martial artists claiming to practice the technique in reality, beginning in the 1960s with American eccentric Count Dante, who gave it the English name "The Death Touch". However, the subject of the death touch in real life is in much debate and controversy.

There is a possible medically related condition called commotio cordis. Commotio cordis is reported as the second most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes after hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the United States. Commotio cordis is defined as an instantaneous cardiac arrest produced by a nonpenetrating blow to the chest occurring within a specific 10- to 30-ms portion of the cardiac cycle in the absence of preexisting heart disease or identifiable morphologic injury to the sternum, ribs, chest wall, or heart. This period occurs in the ascending phase of the T wave, when the ventricular myocardium is repolarizing. With the average cardiac cycle duration of 1000 ms, the probability of a mechanical trauma within the window of vulnerability is only 1-3%.

By the 1980s, Dim Mak was well known in American pop culture. 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, as well, have said the death of Bruce Lee may have been due to a "Quivering Palm technique" [3] (alongside an article about Cai li fo instructor Wong Doc-Fai) to the effect that "dim mak does actually exist and is still taught to a few select kung fu practitioners."[4] A 1986 book on qi identifies dim mak as "one of the secret specialities" of wing chun.[5] Dim Mak is referenced non-ironically 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 ca. 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.[6]

Also during the 1990s, Erle Montaigue (1949-2011[7]) published a number of books and instruction videos on Dim Mak. 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, though Montaigue has 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.[8]

Paladin Press has other titles on the topic of Dim-Mak, including Kelly (2001) and Bauer and Walker (2002), both with a foreword by Montaigue.

Dim mak is also used in Laura Joh Rowland's book "The Assasin's Touch" which is a sequel to "The Perfumed Sleave" in Rowland's Sano Ichiro mystery series. The story takes place in 17th century Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate where the Shogun's personal detective, Sano Ichiro, must investigate the death of a man who spontaneously died in the midst of a horse race. Sano concludes that dim mak was the cause of death and must track down and face a suspect with the formidable power to kill with the touch of a finger.

Cultural references

Acupuncture chart from Hua Shou (1340s, Ming Dynasty).

"Touch of Death" techniques appear in a number of kung fu films:

  • In Bloodsport (1988), Jean-Claude Van Damme's character proves that he was trained by Master Tanaka by demonstrating the Dim Mak attack to the judges. Though the demonstration was conducted on a stack of bricks instead of a human opponent, the film does refer to the move as a "Dim Mak" and "Death Touch".
  • In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Jade Fox uses a Dim Mak attack on Bo during a fight which paralyzed Bo and prevented him from moving and further attacking her. The effects were quickly reversed when Li Mu Bai applied a similar Dim Mak move to counter it.
  • In Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) the Bride learns the "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique" from her teacher Pai Mei. In the Shaw Brothers films Clan of the White Lotus and Executioners of Shaolin, the character Pai Mei/Bak Mei uses a Five Point Exploding Heart Technique as well as a "100-step soul catching" Dim Mak which allowed the victim to take a certain number of steps before dying.

The concept has entered pop culture to the point where it has been referenced in diverse media, including the following:

  • The martial art Hokuto Shinken from Fist of the North Star is based on this touch of death concept
  • An episode of Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995) titled "Day of the Samurai" was themed around the touch of death.
  • An episode of The Simpsons involves Bart lying about having learned the Touch of Death in karate class.
  • A third-season episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues centers on an assassin who uses this method to kill his victims, touching them with his middle finger which has a snake branded onto it.
  • 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
  • DJ and producer Steve Aoki is founder and owner of the music recording label called Dim Mak Records
  • There is a death metal band, featuring former Ripping Corpse members, called Dim Mak.
  • In the series Quincy, M.E. (Season 3, 1977) an episode entitled Touch of Death was about a martial arts movie star that mysteriously died while making a new film. Jack Klugman as Dr. Quincy discovers that he died because he had received the dim mak 10 days earlier.[9]
  • In the Brentford Trilogy series of books by Robert Rankin many characters (e.g. Archroy) and the author himself (in one of his various Details about the Author sections) states that they are masters of Dim Mak.
  • In The Men Who Stare at Goats, Larry Hooper purportedly uses the Dim Mak on Lyn Cassady, before he leaves the New Earth Army. Lyn Cassady has a terminal case of cancer, and he blames Hooper's touch of death on it. Jon Ronson goes to meet Guy Savelli and oversees snapshots of a soldier karate chopping a goat to death with the "Quivering Palm."
  • The film Kung Fu Panda makes an early reference to the Wuxi Finger Hold, a technique which appears to be a method of holding an opponent's finger between one's thumb and forefinger with the pinky lifted. Flexing the pinky down is accepted to bring destruction to one's enemy (with the hard part, according to Shifu, being cleaning up afterwards). Later in the film, the protagonist Po uses the Wuxi Finger Hold to defeat the antagonist Tai Lung, with extremely destructive results.
  • The American heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch stated in a radio interview that they derived their name from the movie Kill Bill in which Uma Thurman's character uses a similarly named Dim Mak technique.
  • The Sci-Fi based MMORPG Anarchy Online has a line of skills built for the class of players who use Martial Arts skill called Dimach. The effect of the Dimach is one time massive damage hit capable of killing an enemy in pvp, pve, pvm if done correctly at the proper time. This is an homage to the Dim Mak.
  • In multiple versions of Dungeons and Dragons the class monk is built around these types of attacks with one in specific being named "quivering palm".

See also


  1. ^ Adams, Cecil (May 21, 2004). "The Straight Dope: Is the "ninja death touch" real?". Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  2. ^ Pickens, Ricky (1991), "the Mysterious Vibration Palm", Inside Kung Fu (magazine) 
  3. ^ Bruce, Thomas (1994). Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit : A Biography (first ed.). Frog Ltd. ISBN 978-1883319113. 
  4. ^ Jane Hallander, "The Death Touch" in Black Belt ISSN 0277-3066, Vol. 23, No. 6 June 1985, pp. 43ff.
  5. ^ William Cheung, Mike Lee, How to Develop Chi Power, Black Belt Communications, 1986, p. 23. ISBN 9780897501101
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ < "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."
  9. ^ episode list

Further reading

  • Michael Kelly, Death Touch: The Science Behind the Legend of Dim Mak, Paladin Press (2001), ISBN 9781581602814.
  • George A. Dillman, Kyusho-Jitsu: The Dillman Method of Pressure Point Fighting, Dillman Karate Intl (1993), ISBN 9780963199614.
  • Erle Montaigue, Dim-Mak: Death Point Striking, Paladin Press (1993), ISBN 9780873647182
  • Erle Montaigue and Wally Simpson, The Encyclopedia of Dim-Mak, Paladin Press (1997), ISBN 9781581605372.
  • Rick Bauer and Flane Walker, The Ancient Art of Life and Death: The Complete Book of Dim-Mak, Paladin Press (2002), ISBN 9781581605747.
  • Art Mason, Novice Kyusho Jitshu Certification Workbook [2]
  • Jin Jing Zhong. Authentic Shaolin Heritage: Dian Xue Shu (Dim Mak) - Skill of Acting on Acupoints /Tanjin, 1934/ [3]

Dim Mak

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