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How to Use Elbows in Muay Thai and MMA

Updated on March 30, 2015
Well-timed elbow strikes can result in devastating knockouts in MMA or Muay Thai.
Well-timed elbow strikes can result in devastating knockouts in MMA or Muay Thai. | Source

Muay Thai includes a devastating arsenal of standing elbow strikes that you can land from all different and in all different situations, both in Thai boxing and in MMA. However, many inexperienced martial artists fall into several very common traps that hamper the effectiveness of their elbow strikes. Keeping these principles in mind will make any elbow technique far more dangerous and technical.

# 1: Relax

It is easy to forget that, when using your elbows, you are in a knife fight – you are not swinging a club! You do not need to muscle a knife for it to do its job, nor do you need to muscle an elbow strike – so relax. In many cases, the harder you try to throw an elbow, the slower and more inaccurate your attack, and the more off balance you find yourself when you miss. Your goal should be to land a quick, snappy elbow, not to throw it as hard as you possibly can.

An elbow strike should be thrown with a relaxed, snappy twitch of the hip and shoulder.
An elbow strike should be thrown with a relaxed, snappy twitch of the hip and shoulder. | Source

# 2: Use the Right Weapon

Many people believe they are throwing elbows, when in fact they are only landing clumsy forearm strikes. A Muay Thai elbow should be a precise, surgical blow. To ensure that you are landing your elbows correctly, curl one arm back and look at the tip of your elbow. You should see a slight hook or curve forward, right in front of the tip. That “spur” is where the impact of each elbow should be centered, rather than on the flat surface of the forearm. You will find that each elbow strike does far more damage with far less effort if you focus on landing it accurately.

Landing with with the sharp point of the elbow is more effective than the blunt, flat surface of the forearm when throwing elbow strikes.
Landing with with the sharp point of the elbow is more effective than the blunt, flat surface of the forearm when throwing elbow strikes. | Source

# 3: Monitor the Range

It is extremely easy to try to force an elbow strike to land from too far away by leaning forward at the waist. Unfortunately, this severely impairs your speed and power and leaves you very vulnerable to counters. Most elbows are designed to land from only a few inches away. For that reason, they are frequently easiest to land either as an entry into or exit from the clinch, or as a counter to an aggressive attack from your opponent. Regardless, stay centered over both feet and be aware of your range when you choose to unleash your elbows; if you repeatedly find yourself missing or overreaching to try to land them, you likely would be better off using a longer-range weapon like your punches or kicks instead.

Many elbow strikes are landed on the way in to or out of the clinch.
Many elbow strikes are landed on the way in to or out of the clinch. | Source

# 4: Modify Your Guard

Different Thai kickboxers use quite a few different types of guards depending on their background, their opponent and the specific situation. Many modern Thai boxers use a guard fairly standard “right hand on the chin, left hand on the forehead” type guard, which is a variation of one used by many Western boxers. However, while this guard will work well in many situations in Muay Thai and MMA, it can cause problems in elbow range. It allows you to slip, block and counter effectively from outside, but from extremely close range you will find it very difficult to block or avoid damage in time.

Instead, when in elbow range you should always use a higher, tighter guard to minimize damage. Keep both hands above your eyes and close to your forehead with your elbows in, looking between your forearms. This allows you to smoothly slice your elbows through your opponent’s guard while leaving him very few openings through which to fire back. Even if you do not see every strike coming in time to block – which is inevitable when fighting at extremely close range – you will deflect or absorb quite a few of them with your arms.

A high, tight guard is essential in the close range from which you can effectively throw elbows in Muay Thai and MMA.
A high, tight guard is essential in the close range from which you can effectively throw elbows in Muay Thai and MMA. | Source

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