At the King's court, duels are sometimes used as a way of settling disputes. However to avoid too many injuries the king has decreed that combatants must use only one finger as a weapon. Any finger may be chosen.

This is the standard hand position.

enter image description here

Rules

  1. It's somewhat similar to fencing but with one finger.

  2. Armour is banned. Only light, modesty-preserving clothing may be worn.

  3. Nothing can be worn on or held in the hands. Fingernails must be short.

  4. Once you have chosen which finger to use, you must stick with it until the end of the fight.

  5. The loser is the first to submit or be fatally injured.

Question

Sir Barrard really wants to kill his opponent Sir Forgyle. Can he do it, even in theory? Can he do it with a single blow or would it take several? What are Sir Forgyle's best defence moves to preserve his life?

NOTE

These are normal humans in the sense that no magic or superpowers are involved.

You can strike any part of the opponent's body with your chosen finger but you cannot use any other part of your body as a weapon. If you get stuck in a clinch (as in boxing) the referee will separate you.

Note that honour and chivalry are very important in this society. Anyone who was seen to behave in an unsportsmanlike manner would be declared the loser and even ostracised. Referees enforce correct behaviour but the king's decision is final.

NOTES ON DEFENCE

You are allowed to block/parry the opponents finger with your finger as in fencing. You must not strike the opponent's finger with any other body-part.

New rule

You must keep your free hand flat on your body at all times. You can form a shield for any part of your body by sliding your hand there without lifting it off your skin. If in doing so, you push aside your opponent's finger as it is about to strike then that is allowed. In the event that your sliding hand damages the opponent's finger that is not counted as a blow and is allowed.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – L.Dutch Nov 14 at 20:24
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    No idea why this answer has been closed as it seems not to fit the criteria for the top answer here: worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3300/… and therefore should not have been closed in the first place - except on a whim...? – Duckisaduckisaduck Nov 14 at 22:09
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    I, too, am completely baffled why this HNQ question would be closed, since by every single definition on the linked "worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3300/…‌​too-story-based-and-how-do-i-get-it-opened", it is in no way story based. It's a clear "can"/"what is possible" question about the mechanics of a fighting in a world of one-finger martial arts. There are clear, unambiguous answers that aren't opinion-based. Voted to reopen. – Dewi Morgan Nov 14 at 22:28
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    @Duckisaduckisaduck Thanks for your link to that meta thread. I quote from the second most popular answer, "asking whether something is physically possible is on topic." In that case my asking if someone can be killed by a blow from a single finger is clearly on topic. – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 22:54
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    Why was this closed as too story-based? This isn't dependent on the circumstances of the story (at least, not too much) and edits have clarified that. Can a single figure be used in unarmored melee combat to kill someone? That's a physiology question, folks. Vote to reopen. – JBH Nov 15 at 0:01

13 Answers 13

Crush their throat. Just jab the finger into the front of the throat as hard as you can.

It's very easy to produce serious injury and death there although you can expect your opponent to try and protect the area.

You may get better results by folding the finger and striking with the 2nd joint rather than using the finger fully extended. You will get a slightly larger striking surface but a much stronger one. I suggest practicing on some disposable peasants before using it on a real target.

  • Yes, I was wondering about that. However the obvious defence is simply to keep your other hand over your throat. – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 17:35
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    You can also stab at eyes. Can't guard both throat and eyes. While eye injury is not fatal, it is distracting enough to hit the throat – Bald Bear Nov 14 at 17:37
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    @chaslyfromUK put your hand over your throat and start dancing and bobbing and poking with your other hand. It's not so easy to do gracefully. – RonJohn Nov 14 at 20:08
  • To add to your point on technque, the rules only require that you touch the opponent with a single finger. They do not stop you from using the other fingers to brace it, whether that's in a similar manner to a "crane beak strike" or an "extended knuckle strike". – Graham Nov 15 at 14:24
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    @JeopardyTempest There are blood vessels at the side of the neck towards the front and windpipe at the front. Behind the blood vessels are tendons and muscles which tend to be strong, in theory at the very back there is the spine but I doubt you could generate enough force there with a single finger, especially while reaching around. – Tim B Nov 16 at 9:29

Hard training of single digits

Take inspiration from this fella from Malaysia. He trained (and often broke) his right index finger to the point where he is able to pierce coconuts. Such a blow to a human torso could result in lethal injuries. I imagine, that upon passing of this law, many nobles start training one of their fingers to this extent. No magic or superpowers required.

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    I do not have the book to hand, but I recall a tale about a martial artist who delivered a kick with his big-toe into the arteries in his opponent's left armpit. The interior damage caused a blood clot, and over the next 3 days the resulting embolism worked its way from the armpit to the heart, leading to cardiac arrest and death. But, really - if Sir Forgyle dies 3 days after the fight, his family are less likely to come after Sir Barrad for revenge – Chronocidal Nov 15 at 12:07
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    Given that the scientist estimates that this guy could punch into someone's chest cavity, I think it's fairly conclusive he could kill someone. Mind you coconuts don't try to dodge! – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 19:13

To add on Ash's answer, Vagus nerve stimulation can lead to collapse and even to death, as consequence of induced bradycardia.

Parasympathetic innervation of the heart is partially controlled by the vagus nerve and is shared by the thoracic ganglia. Vagal and spinal ganglionic nerves mediate the lowering of the heart rate. The right vagus branch innervates the sinoatrial node. In healthy people, parasympathetic tone from these sources are well-matched to sympathetic tone. Hyperstimulation of parasympathetic influence promotes bradyarrhythmias. When hyperstimulated, the left vagal branch predisposes the heart to conduction block at the atrioventricular node.

Sometimes even a too tight necktie can achieve that result.

  • how would that be accomplished with a finger - jabbing? sustained pressure? – theRiley Nov 14 at 19:16
  • Interesting. I'm not clear on what part of the body the vagus nerve is vulnerable. Is near the surface in the neck region? – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 19:18
  • posterior to the carotid. check out the diagrams on the link in the answer. – theRiley Nov 14 at 19:43

Poison

I understand that there is a rather fatal exotic poison that can be applied to the fingertip.

The finger then may be either jabbed in the opponent's eye or his mouth, or if you're feeling like making a particular point, up his nose.

Carefull to not get cut during the fight though, the poison may find it's way into your bloodstream.

Maybe the mouth's not such a great idea as a target, there being teeth after all. The most suspicious and canny of opponents would wear a nasal insert with a downward facing pin - beware. No doubt the referees are wise to this.

The most dishonourable and disgraceful way to die is the old anal-finger-poisoning (familiar from Brazillian Ju-Jitsu), not for civilised opponents.

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    Wasn't this the end of Hamlet? :-) Sir Barrard could indeed try this but it would be considered unsporting of the first order. If he was discovered he would be sent into exile. – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 19:13
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    Up the nose!!!! I laughed more than I should have at that tragically farcical detail.. +1 – Joe Bloggs Nov 14 at 20:58
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    Probably this comment will be excommunicated as off-topic but, once I was walking along the High Street and a woman went to point out something to her friend. Her finger went straight up my nose. Luckily she had short finger-nails and I was uninjured but the woman was very embarrassed. – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 9:18
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    @chaslyfromUK Lucky she didn't broke your hyoid bone for a second time record! :) By the way, this answer deserves a badge for best lateral thinking. Special mention to anal-finger poisoning. +1 – Rekesoft Nov 15 at 9:57
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    The note about a downward-facing pin is the most hilarious thing I have seen on this site so far... – dalearn Nov 16 at 18:36

Sir Barrard probably could kill him with one blow, in theory at least. In particular the hyoid bone is surprisingly delicate and can be crushed with a sharp blow, a single finger could be sufficient to do the damage. It might also be possible to do enough damage to the carotid or better yet, because it's closer to the surface, the jugular to cause death after rather than during the fight due to internal hemorrhage. The brachial artery is also close enough to the surface that it may be vulnerable to such damage, not immediately but eventually deadly. Fragmentation of the nasal bones could also be lethal, but would almost certainly require multiple strikes as they are much stronger.

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    Interesting, I was hospitalised when I was 7 years old for a broken hyoid. I had an unbearable stabbing pain if I tried to move my head to the left. I was in plaster from the top of my head to my waist for several weeks. (Didn't kill me though! ;-) – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 17:45
  • Of course combatants would know of danger to the throat area and would presumably protect it with their free hand. However not all might know about the brachial artery or be able to protect it and fight at the same time. I think that might be the answer. – chasly from UK Nov 14 at 17:50
  • Don't forget the vagus nerve stimulation. – L.Dutch Nov 14 at 18:08
  • the problem w/ the carotid is, there are two of them. and either defended rather easily by an opposing finger, and/or body roll. – theRiley Nov 14 at 18:09
  • @L.Dutch Nope I totally did forget about that, you should put that in an answer. – Ash Nov 14 at 18:10

In my imagining, these are the sorts of disputatious nobles who wear ruffled shirts, powdered hair with little pig tails out the back, short breetches, shoes with buckles, codpieces, all that sort of finery. Think of a men writing with feathers mgm movie from the 30s, such as the scarlet pimpernel - only much, much worse.

In preparation for the finger fight, legs and non-participating arm are tightly bound, only the belligerent finger and arm left unrestrained. They are also blind-folded. A string quartet provides background music, claret is served to the spectators, who view from a raised balcony above the arena.

When the magistrate sounds action, the disputants are free to bound around the place, flinging their fingers furiously, un a d'autre (that's french).

Each combatant has a receptor implanted somewhere upon their person which when actuated with a firm jab, will release a dose of immediately fatal poison.

And so, the spectacle becomes a series of furious jabbing exchanges where, as with the gladiators of old, points are awarded for style. The woman play the closest attention.

If, after a suitable interval of say 20 minutes or so, no one is yet dead, the survivors are both lauded as the best of all posible men, all trivial injury forgiven, any serious injury recompensed, and the wine flows freely.

If one is killed, the wine still flows freely, with perhaps a tear for the vanquished, or perhaps not, depending.

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    Nice scene setting, cumulative poisoning upon each jab might work better, that said: +1 – Duckisaduckisaduck Nov 14 at 21:48
  • that would be "l'un à l'autre" though – Mathieu Guindon Nov 15 at 17:28
  • bad french is one of my talents. – theRiley Nov 15 at 17:34
  • historical note - most duels of the 18th-19th century weren't fatal. if they had been, the practice would have died out a lot sooner. it was mainly assuming the hazard of death which answered the question of honor. – theRiley Nov 15 at 17:52
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    The king hasn't necessarily thought it through! But who's going to argue? – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 22:45

He could possible fatally wound another person but i would suggest that instead of his index finger he use his thumb. By curling his fist and placing his thumb along the top of his index finger like this picture below enter image description here

In Karate I believe this is called a Boshiken or thumb strike. I believe it can be used to dig into various pressure points around the head and the throat and can even be used to gouge out eyes it also has the effect of allowing you the thumb to hit even a hardened part of the body with out touch much damage and does not require some of the more long term ruinous contact conditioning that say training something like the Nukite or spear hand can cause. in this instance the contact point will still be a single digit just not a finger.

  • I modified the question to show a picture of the standard hand position. Unfortunately thumbs aren't allowed although if your first finger was missing you could ask approval to use a different one. – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 22:48

Other answers already suggested attacking the throat area, which indeed has a number of fatal vulnerabilities. However, even inexperienced duelist would know to keep his throat protected, and attacker would more likely just break his finger trying to push through defensive blocks.

Martial arts like Kyusho Jitsu can provide an idea on how finder-fighting duels can unfold. An attacker can strike a number of vulnerable points in the body, which would cause the defender to drop his defense, at least momentarily.

More experienced defenders would try to break attacker's finger with powerful elbow or forehead blocks.

  • I've edited to clarify the allowed defence moves. – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 13:10

There are many places on the body where a single finger can produce fatal injuries and it is impossible to cover them all simultaneously.

Everyone has already mentioned the throat, there are a number of sensitive spots there that are easily damaged.

The solar plexus is a nerve cluster that can cause fatal paralysis of the diaphragm if struck with sufficient force.

Near the solar plexus is the xiphoid process; a little tab of bone which, if broken off, often punctures the liver and results in fatal internal bleeding.

The temple is another potential soft spot, being the thinnest point in the skull. Most techniques strike at it with an elbow, but a sufficiently sturdy finger could easily do the job as well.

And finally, if he wants to go for maximal vomiting amongst the audience, just put an infectious agent under the fingernail and jab straight through the eye. There's a decent chance he can damage the blood vessels behind the eye and cause them to bleed into the brain causing eventual death, and if not the infection is likely to be fatal anyway unless their doctors are really good and have antibiotics. Even if he doesn't kill his opponent he will have permanently disfigured him.

Additionally, a sufficiently skilled martial artist could make the killing blow look like an accident. Stumble, trip, everyone lands really hard and whoops, somehow there's a broken neck. What are the odds?

  • Hands have to be thoroughly checked and washed to avoid cheating. Violating fair play would involve serious punishment and the fighter's family would be shamed. Blinding is allowed provided the rules are adhered to. Thanks for listing the vulnerable spots. – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 22:53
  • @chaslyfromUK Germs are invisible. Unless they're taking swabs and culturing them and have the capability to tell the dangerous ones from the symbiotic ones, there are lots of ways to sneak an infectious agent or mild toxin past even scrupulous visual inspections, and as long as it's subtle enough it will seem like just bad luck. Without antibiotics a badly mangled eye could easily result in death even without sabotage. "Accidentally" breaking a neck would take an extremely high level of tumbling skill, but even with safety gear people occasionally die that way even in modern sporting events. – Perkins Nov 17 at 9:24

Sir Barrard uses his pinky finger.

Considered as the weakest finger of all, using the pinky will surprise or even destabilize his opponent: Sir Barrard surely is strong to have confidence in this finger! But the trick is there: the pinky finger is in the direct continuity of the side palm of the hand, and if it is not a good thrusting weapon, it can reveal a great slashing weapon.

enter image description here

Now, with all his might, Sir Barrard must wait for an oppurtunity to deliver a slashing uppercut with his little finger upward the nose of his opponent, the idea being breaking his nose and sending pieces of the cartilage directly into the skull.

Jab here to kill Source: Quora

Note that the blow must me delivered with a tremendous force, and this will likely result in Sir Barrard's finger and metacarpals being broken in the process.

In real life, delivering such a blow and kill even with a clenched fist is hard to manage. But this is fiction, and you can use artistic license as long as it fits the plot in a spectacular way...

Death yoga.

apan murda source

The chakras are yogic energy points within the body. The points govern and energize energy flows. One hears commonly about manipulating or otherwise focusing the various chakras, usually to achieve desired beneficial outcomes for the practitioner. Examples:

http://www.soulandspiritmagazine.com/13951-2/

Crown (Seventh) Chakra

Located on the top of the head, the crown chakra symbolises spirituality and your connection to a higher power...

Tapping point: top of the head

Third Eye or Brow (Sixth) Chakra

This chakra is located directly between the eyebrows. It represents intuition, imagination, reflection, and the ability to see things for what or how they are. ...

Tapping point: between the eyebrows (be extra gentle with this point)

Sacral (Second) Chakra

The sacral chakra, also referred to as the womb chakra, is located in the pelvis behind the navel. It relates to your creativity and feelings and is also linked to childlike joy...

Tapping point: just below the belly button

Root (First) Chakra

The root chakra is located at the base of the spine. It represents your feelings of safety and survival. It deals with issues of abandonment, unworthiness, and insecurity. Its focus is safety, security, and survival.

Tapping point: lower sacrum or top of your thighs.

There is more to these energies than this simple synopsis. The energy flows within the body can be and possibly must be connected to the larger world.

Energy is power: neither good not bad. Energy that can be used to heal can be used to harm. Your fingerfights are offensive yoga - the goal being to destructively manipulate your opponents energies in the context of the larger energy of the world.

Note:yogic manipulation of your opponents energy can kill, but it might not kill right away. The vibrations set in motion may take time to resolve into a pattern that causes death. Other things may be happening in your opponent over this time which he might be able to resolve on his own or with help - or which he might use to his own ends.

I did not make this up.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touch_of_Death

If you are willing to bend the rules a bit, you could take inspiration from Naruto vs Neji fight.

In the Naruto universe, every person has many Chakra/Pressure points throughout their body. The chakra points release chakra/energy that is essential for the body to function. If you close off a chakra point, then the corresponding body part stops functioning (or at least becomes much weaker). In this fight, Neji slowly closes off all of Naruto's chakra points, and as a result, Naruto's body becomes so weak that he can barely even stand.

In your world:

  • Maybe the knowledge about pressure points is not common and Sir Barrard incapacitates his baffled opponent one pressure point at a time.

  • Or it is common knowledge in dueling circles, and it comes down to the skill of the fighters -- who can close off more/important pressure points first and incapacitate/weaken the other.

Once the opponent is sufficiently incapacitated, and their defenses are weakened, a single powerful jab to the throat can be enough to finish them off.

Plus, the second method makes the fights a lot more interesting to watch than fighters just trying to poke each other in the eyes/throat/groin.

  • Do these pressure points exist in our universe or are they purely fictional? – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 22:55
  • No idea...that's why I said "If you are willing to bend the rules a bit". Although the Chinese medical practice of acupuncture and Ancient Indian medical texts do have mention of similar ideas. – Paresh Nov 16 at 3:22
  • A google search for "pressure points" does give some results. Linking Wikipedia - Pressure_point – Paresh Nov 16 at 3:23
  • I think I'll have to disallow then because this world is like our own. I note from the Wiki article that, "While it is undisputed that there are sensitive points on the human body where even comparatively weak pressure may induce significant pain or serious injury, the association of kyūsho with notions of Death have been disproven." It may be that the points in question are no different than the anatomically based ones suggested by others. Nice story device though! – chasly from UK Nov 16 at 9:34

Depending on how you define "unsportsmanlike" behaviour, I would say that the answer is probably a rabbit punch. As long as you are allowed to strike with the side of your finger and not just the tip, you can deliver a significant amount of force with a chop, either on the outer edge of the little finger or the edge of the thumb.

A rabbit punch is a sharp strike to the back of the neck/base of the skull. It is called a rabbit punch not because it's small or ineffectual, but because it's a quick and clean way to kill a rabbit. It can separate the brain from the spinal cord, which is certainly fatal.

  • I think somewhere in one of the comments I've indicated that the striking finger must be unsupported but I'll do so here as well. In particular see the photo of the standard hand position. With approval from the referees you could choose your little finger and strike with the side of it but it would have to be extended on its own with no support from other fingers. – chasly from UK Nov 15 at 23:08

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