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Bill Wallace on the Death Touch and Other Martial Arts Myths

Kickboxing and full-contact-karate legend 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?”


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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.


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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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12 Responses

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  1. JOHNROBERT says

    You mean to tell ME…That I wasted my time & money on all those,
    “DIM MAK,” lessons…And that there’s no way I can become a
    “HOLY TERROR INVINCIBLE,” Martial Artist?!… :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  2. JOHNROBERT says

    PS – Feel free to put the above comment in your next issue, with my full name, John Robert Cruz…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  3. Nyai says

    He has somewhat of a more balanced attitude compared to some people, but for one, I don’t know who ever really said the reverse punch was deadly. That isn’t a MA myth, that would perhaps been some schools that wanted to Hype. Same with the knife hand strike. With hard bone conditioning these strikes could become more destructive than usual. Dim Mak isn’t touching someone and they die. It is striking to where the trauma could be absorbed by inner organs, which may or may not lead to death. That isn’t a martial art myth, it is a martial art misunderstanding.

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  4. Nyai says

    As far as the women ideas, I chalk that up to his being from that older generation.
    And maybe having no consistent training in internal martial arts.

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  5. Kai says

    obviously Mr. Wallace has not much experience in Grappling. A women who has trained 2-3 Yeas could clearly beat the crap out of a untrained man who is 70 lbs heavier than her. For example Ronda Rousey is beating TRAINED guy. But yes a woman who trains a MA that rely a lot on strength like Karate (MA of the author) has it more difficult to win

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  6. Dmitriy says

    With due respect to Bill Wallace, I disagree about his assessment of two techniques: Shuto Uchi (chop strike) and Vital Point strikes (Dim Mak).

    All traditional Okinawa Karate styles hold Shuto Uchi in a high regard as being an effective and lethal strike to the neck from the side to disrupt caratid arthery blood supply to brain and dislocate the c-spine thus incapacitating opponent. To condition one’s hand a Mahiwara board is used. Shuto Uchi is plenty deadly if employed properly.

    Now as far as “death touch” goes, as all previous posters have said that it is a unique skill and Dim Mak is not just a touch but a strike to the vital point based on the time of the day. Bill Wallace needs to read a book titled Bubishi to understand why this is not a myth but a rare and difficult to master art form.

    Lastly, Bill Wallace denigrades a reverse punch for being just a punch. A reverse punch if executed properly with a semi-canted fist where two nuckles are the main striking points can break the sternum and stop the heart from beating. Powerful as it is linear and the power to deliver the punch is generated from leg stance, hips, shoulders and the arm.

    Boxing by contrast has mostly angular, sweeping and hooking punches. They are powerful but can be stopped with most blocks and joint locks. Kick boxers don’t train to employ powerful linear strikes but could benefit by learning them.

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  7. ken says

    I agree with most of what he states, for the most part. I think he should have included the crap that George Dillman likes to toss around. Many of his claims maybe true but his credibility is overturned by his crap. Most martial arts claim to be “deadly” and are depending on where you hit. General Choi Hong Hi made the same dumb claims in his encyclopedia of TKD. Others do the same with the locks and throws in hkd or aikido. Sad that there is a need to sensationalize to try to market something.

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  8. Jesse says

    Q:A woman who has trained in the martial arts can beat a man who has not trained.
    Bill Wallace’s answer: “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.”
    To this a can both agree and disagree: i agree with “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.” cause physically men gain muscle and strength based on habit from thousand of years ago, but that is changing i mean have you seen them cross-fit girls, like whoa damn.
    i disagree with “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.” cause generally speaking any one can be victorious if they have element of surprise. In fact element of surprise in in EVERY MARTIAL ART. we call it a tell tell sign(or at-least i do) and if you over animate a punch the opponent can do any from block the counter or even just evade. strength is not the only thing to be taken into a fight. one must never forget tactics cause while one may over power another, everybody has same weakpoints(minus the few who have nerve damage) called pressure points.

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  9. Nyai says

    Isn’t this a retread? I guess so, I posted on it a year ago. I look at this again, and I get kind of weary of seeing how uninformed a lot of these famous people are that practiced martial arts. Oh that is bull! People just make up these stories. Sounds like something a kid would say. But adults somehow take that as a valid argument, when he didn’t articulate anything, except that he doesn’t know about acupressure. They really got to stop asking sports fighters and MMA people about what they don’t know.

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  10. Cecil says

    I’ve seen a woman beat a man using her training, after he hit her with a car. Adrenaline is a beast

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  11. Russell says

    The School of Chung Moo Quan now known as Oom Yung Doe claimed for years that Bruce Lee was a follower who divulged the schools secrets. They claimed that one of their higher belts from Asia killed Lee by injure without touch. I am a former Assistant Instructor and heard these stories.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. 4 Martial Arts Myths That Aren't True - MMA Fitness Fanatic linked to this post on October 18, 2013

    [...] Bill Wallace states that this isn’t the case; 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! [...]

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