108 Vital Points
This is a serious article for martial arts training at one of its deepest levels - it does not include any vistas of China - and do not try this at home.
Just submitted for your consideration.
The metaphors of 108 in Asian culture are too numerous to list here and can be found elsewhere. In mantis, it is the single teaching of vital spots (not necessarily taught in the single or two man set of 108, but has been).
The concept of attacking vital spots is commonplace in Asian folk culture, especially, Chinese. Cheap popular paperbacks and martial art novels common in bookstalls on every corner, espouse the martial master's miraculous powers of supposedly attacking vital spots by simply pointing or looking at them, as well as his psychic ability to control people, tame animals and change the weather.
At the core of such fantastic stories lies a martial practice thas has been well documented by various Oriental cultures and their antiquated medical texts. And, although, the principles and practice of striking the vital spots remain constant, the actual location of the spots vary from tradition to tradition.
Chopping, thrusting, slapping, hitting and seizing the flesh, bones, tendons, veins, arteries and joints to defeat an opponent produces an immediate effect - it either stops the opponent or not. But, esoterically, that channels of subtle energy circulate through vital spots on the body in a fixed pattern and may be attacked at various times to injure, maim or take life, seems to require a "doubtless mentality". Something akin to the mentality between the faithful and the faith healer.
It is said that this tradition is rarely transmitted to any except those most devout and pure of heart with complete trust in the 'master'. Others say that "knowing the vital spots" is not a knowledge that can be taught, but only "intuited" by those who through long martial training with meditation and spiritual enlightenment can "see" the whole mechanism and inner movements of the body.
The entire body and all its movements become crystal clear. One "intuits" the subtle energy body and its vital points. This "inward eye" experience is said to be wonderful. One needs not grope for a vital center of spot, he can touch it at any given time.
In most Chinese martial traditions, 108 spots are discussed as 36 lethal and 72 paralyzing or less severe, although some traditions indicate 51 spots that lead to immediate death, death with 24 hours, or within one month. Star time, or seasonal rotations and the monthly lunar cycles, are usually an important element in the "108 - four seasons" teaching. Some say the "life force" is located only in one specific vital spot at a time and it moves around the body according to the new and full moon cycles.
To be successful in attacking the vital spots therefore requires the "inward eye" of self-realization, knowledge of star time and most importantly the practical techniques of fighting applications necessary to locate and attack the particular spots vulnerable. Some also state that one must have first developed the ability to channel his own "vital energy" in order to effectively strike the vital spots.
One tradition enumerates the 108 points as 14 on the arms, 14 on the legs, 9 on the stomach, 46 on the chest and back and 25 on the neck and head. Some points may be symmetrical...double spots. Yet, variations and multiple interpretations in the knowledge and teaching of the vital spots exists today because older martial traditions have (usually or) always been relatively closed and secretive.
Variations in locating the points also exist. Using the distance of one's finger width, each spot may be located and marked with rice paste or some other marker. Or simply by carefully touching / probing the body to feel the precise locations. Some say from the head to the toe about every one inch contains a large spot and every 10th of an inch a small spot. Chinese kungfu usually at it's deepest level, speaks of these 36 large spots and 72 small spots ---108.
Its said that some large spots occur when the vital wind passes closer to the skin surface and are therefore more exposed to stoppage. Small spots occur as the vital wind goes deeper or circles around the large spots.
Symptoms of injury can be categorized by locations attacked. An example is a point below the chest described as "liquid in nature" and a bit tilted to the right --- when struck properly the result is thick blood flowing, breathing difficulty and consequently worse. Don't search too hard!
When striking vital spots with sharp objects that cause open wounds the person expires as a result of the vital energy going out through the wound. When a spot is penetrated with a blunt object or blow the vital energy or wind is stopped at the point of penetration and the entire subtle energy structure may collapse and death result.
When using natural weapons such as various fists, fingers, palms, elbows, etc. it is said that the opponents body posture as well as the direction of the attack must be considered. Some spots can only be struck when the opponents body posture is in the right position and open to that spot. Straight strikes, striking on a forty five degree angle, catching inside and pulling out all depend on the opponents position. Similarily, breathing patterns or rhythms of respiration may allow access to specific points - striking the opponent between exhalation and inhalation, etc.
Pulling or stretching the opponent while striking in a certain way may allow further access to some points. The second or middle finger is sometimes called the "finger of death" and when the index and middle finger are used together death is avoided as you will only penetrate half way. The five fingers may also be used to attack continuously and one may see what appears to be the master "playing a piano" in a continuous keystroke movement of fingers over the body. But make sure you have "steel fingers" or as sometimes translated "steal fingers". They steal, cheat, and borrow your power. Make sure to ask for it back!
The philosopy of "Som Dot's" praying mantis is that one should never strike first. The practical techniques of attack, defense and counter application are said to be "pre-measured" in the correct practice of his108 two man set and/or the direct application of 36/72. That's to say, It is either taught by charts according to seasons with 1, 2, 3 applications and / or the two man 108 set. Imagine a set that takes two people through 108 points considering all the above requirements.
Since this type of training is often considered taboo, (like shen gong - spiritual gong - if you use it, karma will come back to you in the form of a great loss), it is no surprise that it requires the opposite skill of healing the injured opponent. You must understand each of the 108 points results when attacked and be able to apply their recovery.
A master's reluctance to impart this type of information is usually due to either his genuine desire or commitment to follow a tradition of secrecy or to hide the fact that he really doesn't have full knowledge of vital spots. Hence, the kungfu proverb, "those who have attained self-realization" will not exhibit it and those who have not attained are those who exhibit it".
I always thought to follow my mantis uncle, Harry Sun, who said, "if you have the power and skill, any spot you hit is a vital spot. A gentleman never hits anyone."
(c) copyright 1995, Roger D. Hagood
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