Unlike standard punches, elbows are not necessarily blasting shots. When an elbow is thrown correctly, the effect is like that of a knife, cutting across the opponents face and arms. Muay Thai was developed originally from Muay Boran, a martial art created for the battlefield. It was said that a great general who lost his sword was able to fight and survive an entire skirmish with the use of just his knees and elbows. However fantastic this account might be, there is no denying the efficacy of a well-placed elbow shot. Best thrown from within the clinch, today we examine some of the types of elbow strikes you need to be practicing in your Muay Thai gym.
1) Horizontal elbow
The horizontal elbow is usually the first type of elbow you are taught on your first day at a Muay Thai gym. Imagine drawing the shape of a cross in front of your face. A line goes from top to bottom, and another from right to left. The two most commonly seen elbow techniques follow these lines.
Firstly the horizontal strike. In a hooking motion, the elbow is raised so that the blade of the forearm is pointing at the opponent (this follows a line from the outward edge of the little finger all the way down the forearm), and then sliced across in a straight line with torque from the hips, just like a punch. Typical targets are the jaw, cheek, temple or even ear of the opposing fighter.
Any horizontal elbow strike carries enormous power, especially from the power hand. Since all the force is being generated into the blade of the elbow, the effect is magnified. Even if your opponent manages to block your attack, it won’t be too long before the repeated effect is shown. Many Muay Thai fighters break down their opponents guard with hard elbow strikes early, to open up opportunities later on.
2) Upward elbow
An upward elbow strike is thrown from underneath and then upwards. Bring your elbow to your middle line and slice upwards, almost brushing the hair on your the side of your head as you do. This elbow aims to strike the middle of the face, chin, nose, and forehead of the opponent.
One good way of delivering this strike is through your opponents guard. Try opening their guard using a hook to the side of the head. From here, throw the upward elbows straight up the middle between their forearms.
3) Diagonal elbow
Remember the cross shape you traced before? On top of this imagine an “X” shape as well. Elbows can also be thrown along diagonal lines.
The more common of these is an elbow that cuts diagonally downwards with the power arm. Raise your elbow higher than you would for the horizontal strike, cutting downwards and towards the higher points on the opponents head, forehead and temple.
Diagonal elbows come from unusual angles, and when timed well, can really catch the opponent off guard. Try throwing these quickly as stunning shots after adjusting your position in the clinch for maximum effect.
4) Reverse elbow
Not often seen in Muay Thai, these tricky elbows can be hard to master as they require some extra shoulder flexibility. We can use the example of the right elbow to explain how to throw a reverse strike. Instead of smashing the opponent from right to left, the elbow is first drawn completely across the face, before throwing it the opposite way, using the bottom portion of the elbow for impact, on the upper arm. These elbows often work quite well from very tight clinches where space is limited.
They also are quite effectively thrown when a standard elbow strike misses, as a returning shot. Most fighters expect some other type of shot once an elbow has been thrown, as it commits so much of the body’s movement into each strike. By using an elbow as a feint to set up the reverse elbow, you might just catch that knockout strike you’re looking for.
5) Downward spiking elbow
Perhaps most popularized by the famous “Ong Bak” film series, the spiking elbow is a devastating weapon aimed at the top of the opponents head. Try throwing it from a clinch position. Hold your opponents head with one hand and snap it downwards, pulling them forwards. Once their head drops low enough, maintain control of it and raise your hand high up in the air (much like you are asking a question in a classroom), then drive downwards with the point of the elbow into the opponents head. It’s also quite easy to throw many of these strikes in quick succession for an overwhelming barrage. Variations of this elbow can be seen with a jumping attack, or even climbing of the opponent to deliver the strike and ensure maximum effect!
6) Spinning elbow
Probably the most impressive of these strikes is the spinning elbow. This technique is synonymous with the Thai style of fighting. To throw any spinning technique, you must first step so that one leg crosses over the over. For example, to throw a right handed spinning elbow, first step your lead left leg towards the opponent and across to your right, causing your body to spin. As you turn, look where you’re attacking and twist the torso round hard, delivering a back spinning elbow strike. Once it lands, make sure to turn back the way you came as opposed to spinning all the way through to avoid throwing yourself off balance. This technique can be seen from within the clinch, or even performed after catching a kick by some of the top fighters in the world.
Practice all of these strikes on the bag first. That way you can develop power, accuracy, and speed with each strike. It’s worth noting that you can drill them with a partner (a good way to check your defense), but practically no gyms in the world will allow elbows to be used in sparring. Take your time, perfect your technique, and save them for the ring.