Bill Wallace on the Death Touch and Other Martial Arts Myths

Bill_Wallace_150pxby the Editors and Bill Wallace
Photo courtesy of Bill Wallace

The martial arts world is full of myths. They usually start when someone tells a factual story and, as the years pass and it’s retold, it becomes more and more distorted until it bears little resemblance to the original account.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of whether the myths were ever true, they do give us something to think about and add depth to the culture of the martial arts.

As long as there is a possibility that a spectacular event happened (or could happen), people have a reason to persevere in their training.
— Bill Wallace

The following are five of the most common martial arts myths, according to Bill Wallace — and, of course, Bill Wallace’s opinion regarding each one.

The reverse punch, when executed correctly, endows people with an almost superhuman “one punch, one kill” capability.

Bill Wallace: The reverse punch is just like a boxing punch, except it’s thrown from the hip. Instructors claim it’s the deadliest technique in the world, but when you throw it in a sparring match and nail your opponent in the ribs, he usually just bounces back and says, “Hey, good shot!” You didn’t kill him, and you have to come up with an excuse, so you blurt out, “I controlled that punch pretty well, didn’t I?”

The truth is, you threw it as hard as you could, and it didn’t do what it was supposed to.
I believe the reverse punch is less deadly than it used to be because peoples’ bodies change. The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans who used it centuries ago were not very physically powerful; somebody with big knuckles could throw a reverse punch and break a rib or puncture a lung, and the person might bleed to death.

Today, people are larger, and medical advances have almost eliminated the risk of fatality when such injuries occur.

The karate chop has magical power.

Bill Wallace: No way. This technique is definitely a powerful one, and when it’s thrown to the side of the neck, it can be very effective. But it’s not as deadly as many nonmartial artists think.

I remember witnessing a fight when I was in high school. One of the guys just stood there with his shuto (knifehand) held high, and alarmed bystanders whispered, “He knows karate. He’s gonna hit that guy and kill him.”

Needless to say, nobody was killed in the skirmish.

A martial arts expert can touch a certain part of a person’s body and kill him.

Bill Wallace: Many people say Bruce Lee died from a “death touch,” supposedly inflicted because he showed Westerners the secrets of kung fu.

That’s bull.

The people who believe stories like this also believe masters who say they can kill you if they want to — but they don’t want to, so they’re not going to. There is no spot on the human body that you can tap and kill a person.

A woman who has trained in the martial arts can beat a man who has not trained.

Bill Wallace: A woman can be victorious against a man only if she’s got the element of surprise on her side or she is significantly stronger than her opponent.

There are plenty of techniques a woman can use against a mugger who thinks she won’t fight back; the woman can hopefully buy a little extra time to escape.

But generally women are not as strong as men, and no matter what their game is — kicking, punching, grappling or whatever — if they hit a guy and don’t do any immediate damage, they’ll be in trouble.

If a person is a champion in the ring, he can easily knock out any opponent.

Bill Wallace: Not necessarily true. If you want to be a good fighter, you have to train the way you will fight. If you are going to fight full-contact, you have to learn to take the contact.

Before I was a kickboxer, I was a national champion in point fighting three years in a row. I thought I was a super fighter because I could kick or punch my opponent and he couldn’t hit me back. I never took into consideration the other guy’s ability to defend against or absorb my strikes.

That’s why when kickboxing was born, kickboxers kicked butt against point fighters. The kickboxers could take a shot, and we didn’t know what to do when we got hit. It takes a long time to psychologically and physically learn to take a punch.

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