Dim Mak

Department of (Self)-Defense: Military Training and the Martial Arts

A military branch commissions an expert to create a high-tech weapon that uses an electronic pulse to wipe out the enemy’s computer chips and thus reduce the amount of deadly force needed—and blood shed—during combat. In addition, he’s asked to develop nanotechnology (tiny computers that can be injected into the body) and ultrasensitive lie-detection devices. Because he’s also a longtime military officer, his credentials open doors for him to investigate paranormal phenomena: fire walking, spoon bending, the death touch and using ki to influence physiological functions.

It’s easy to imagine that all this is fodder for an episode of The X-Files, but it’s very real. Welcome to the amazing world of Dr. John Alexander, cousin of Black Belt Hall of Fame member Gary Alexander. A black belt in his own right, the Nevada-based retired U.S. Army colonel is perhaps better-known for his commentary on modern warfare than his martial arts expertise, for in addition to being a technical consultant for the military, he has shared his vast knowledge with authors Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy. Yet John Alexander’s link to the fighting arts stretches back nearly half a century.

Black Belt: Were you exposed to the martial arts before you joined the Army in 1956?
John Alexander: I grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It’s a very small town, and I don’t think we had even heard of karate. It had not permeated American culture at that time. The Special Forces had just come into existence, and I had read about them. The recruiter said it would be good to jump out of airplanes first, so I joined the 101st Airborne Division. It was between wars, so getting promoted to sergeant was extremely difficult. One of the ways to move up was to go to Ranger school. When I returned to the 101st Airborne, I was under 21, but they needed instructors at jump school, so I was sent down to try out. I was selected as one of the black-hat guys.

While I was there at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the ground-training unit had a non-commissioned officer named Sgt. Maj. Henry Slomanski— or “Hammering Hank,” as he was affectionately known. He was one of the early forces in karate in the United States. He was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. He had spent a fair amount of time in Japan and acquired a chitoryu karate black belt. He rose up the chain and became a very good fighter. His biggest feat was defeating 119 Japanese karate experts in consecutive full-contact, no-pads matches over two days. Because of his size, he had a reach and could kick farther and use his weight in ways the Japanese couldn’t counter. He was later appointed as the commissioner for the Western hemisphere.

Black Belt: What exactly did he teach you?
John Alexander: Sgt. Maj. Henry Slomanski started a karate club and was teaching there. In the Rangers, we had American hand-to-hand combat, which was a derivative of jujutsu and American judo. His program also had a fair amount of traditional martial arts techniques. In addition to punches and very exacting kata, he also spent a lot of time learning about physiology and understanding how the body works and where to hit it to get a certain effect on joints and nerves. It was deep, far beyond “How hard can I hit the bag?”

Black Belt: Did you learn any other martial arts techniques during your military career?
John Alexander: Yes. The martial arts were part of all the military organizations I was with. For example, I was with Special Forces units for 10 years, and for my first tour in Asia, we teamed up with the Thai Special Forces. What they brought that was different from what we’d seen was Thai kickboxing. They used their feet differently from the way we did: They’d get in close and hold us and use their knees in ways that were not in traditional American fighting. I was there from 1966 to 1967, so there was plenty of time to train with them.

After a tour in Vietnam as a Special Forces A-Team commander, the Army gave me a year off to complete my bachelor’s degree [in Omaha], so I looked for some kind of martial arts training there. That’s where I first ran into taekwondo. In 1972 I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. I was an infantry company commander. The executive officer there, Rich Haake, was Hawaiian. His father was a police captain on Maui. There was a large group of ethnic Samoans living in Hawaii who were really big, and the Hawaiian police were looking for ways to physically control them without having to shoot. Aikido became their method of choice, and through Rich Haake, …

Dim Mak: Martial Arts Touch of Death

Nothing polarizes the martial arts world like dim mak. Whether you use its Chinese name, its Japanese name (kyusho-jutsu) or its American name (pressure-point fighting), the result the same: People who practice the controversial martial art technique affirm the effectiveness of their methods, which concentrate on attacking vulnerable areas of the body through acupuncture points, and claim their art is an invaluable link to the fighting skills of the past. Meanwhile, critics insist that dim mak points either do not exist or are ineffective in combat. They base their arguments on the assumption that there are no documented cases of injuries from blows delivered to the points, either accidentally or intentionally, during combat.

In reality, the arguments that decry the effectiveness of dim mak’s death touch are based on misinformation. Modern medical literature contains numerous articles and case studies that provide evidence that attacking the body’s vital points can result in serious injury and that such injuries can occur during real confrontations.

Dim Mak’s Pressure Cooker

Located directly over the location at which the carotid artery bifurcates into the internal and external carotid arteries, the stomach-9 point is reputed to be able to cause knockout, death and delayed death. This part of the artery contains a special sensory organ, the carotid sinus, which monitors the pressure of the blood that flows to the brain.

When the pressure is too high, it signals the vasomotor center in the brain to decrease the blood pressure by dilating the peripheral blood vessels and decreasing the heart rate. Physicians routinely exploit the heart- rate-lowering effect of carotid sinus stimulation to stop certain abnormal heart rhythms. However, medical science has found that excessive stimulation of this organ causes a drastic decrease in blood pressure that can lead to loss of consciousness or even cardiac arrest. Additionally, the carotid arteries are prone to a buildup of atherosclerotic plaques in the carotid sinus.

Blows to the carotid sinus via stomach- 9 can damage or cause small tears on the inside of the carotid artery, which can cause blood clots leading to occlusion and subsequent stroke or death. Medical science has found that the plaques develop during childhood, so even young people are at some risk, albeit small, if a blow breaks off a piece of plaque which then travels to the brain.

Some martial artists protest that stomach-9 is not really dangerous because there are no documented cases in which people were seriously injured from accidental or intentional blows to the carotid sinus or carotid artery. However, an abundance of medical literature describes serious injuries that resulted from blunt carotid artery trauma, including fainting, stroke and death. In fact, 80 percent of blunt carotid artery injuries result in death or severe neurological impairment.

There are even cases in which direct blows to the carotid artery (stomach-9 point) resulted in a stroke or death. The most dramatic example involves a young man who received a punch to the carotid artery during a karate class. He suffered a stroke and developed weakness on one side of his body one week later, secondary to occlusion of the carotid artery. It is not surprising that these symptoms were delayed because it is well-known that such trauma can cause delayed neurological deficits or death. Another study showed that these deficits could occur up to 10 years later. Perhaps this phenomenon is the etiology of the legendary “delayed death touch.”

Although some practitioners assume that a great deal of force is required for such damage to occur, evidence indicates that merely grabbing the carotid artery can lead to a stroke or death. In one documented case, a middle-aged karate expert developed sudden hemi paresis and was unable to speak after his carotid artery was grabbed during a practice session.

Dim Mak’s Death Touch

Located on the back of the neck at the base of the skull, the bladder-10 point is considered one of the most lethal dim mak points. This may seem outrageous to critics, but there is a documented case of a man who died suddenly after receiving a blow to this location. Although it was at first suspected that brain trauma was the cause of death, an autopsy showed only blunt trauma in the area of bladder-10. The mechanism of death was believed to have involved stimulation of the occipital nerves leading to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.

There are also many reports of sudden death resulting from low-energy impacts to the chest. The autopsy of a homicide victim—a young man who died after receiving blows to his chest, abdomen and solar plexus—showed no external or internal signs of injury. Consequently, his death was attributed to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system secondary to the solar plexus blows. 19 Another young martial artist suddenly died after he was …