Elbows are one of the most devastating weapons of Muay Thai. Although they are being used more in mixed martial arts in recent years, elbows are still greatly underutilized. Elbows are a versatile tool as well, allowing a grappler to apply pressure in the clinch or on the ground. Elbows can even be thrown from the bottom position, while the opponent is trapped in your guard. Today, Evolve University shares a beginner’s guide to elbows in MMA.
Smashing Vs Cutting Elbows
Elbow strikes are a versatile tool that can either cut or smash your opponent. You can cut your opponent by slashing your elbow across their forehead. This causes blood to drip down their eyes, impairing vision and possibly leading to a technical knockout via doctor stoppage. Smashing elbows can also cut, but their primary purpose is to deal damage and score a knockout. In contrast to a cutting elbow, a smashing elbow meets its target at a perpendicular angle, creating a devastating collision. Elbows are especially devastating considering they are the densest bones in the human body.
The horizontal elbow is named for the trajectory it takes towards its target. It comes straight across the jawline of your opponent. To throw a powerful elbow, rotate your hips and whirl your shoulders, much like a hook in boxing. If you are throwing a right elbow, your right hand should end up on the left side of your chest, your palm facing your target. Do not try to muscle power out of this strike. Relax your shoulders and wrists and generate power from the whirling motion of your hips and shoulders.
If your opponent consistently blocks the horizontal angle with their guard, change the angle of the strike to come down at a forty-five degree angle. Combine this with a step towards the inside, and your elbow will land flush between their guard. Yodkhunpon Sittraiphum, considered one of the greatest Muay Sok, or elbow fighters, demonstrates and explains his philosophy of elbows in the video above.
The up elbow is a powerful strike that can be used to catch an opponent that attempts to close distance. To throw the up elbow, put your lead hand on the side of your head, then make a motion as if you are slicking back your hair. This will bring your lead elbow to about eye level, creating a spike for an overly eager opponent to crash into. Combine this with a small step forward with your lead leg, to smother your opponent, to counter your opponent’s punches. Using your rear hand to parry your opponent’s punches into your lead elbow can also have a devastating effect and make your opponent hesitant to stand in the pocket.
After you interrupt your opponent’s attack with a well-timed up elbow, follow up with the horizontal elbow for a knockout combo. If your opponent is telegraphing a wild hook or overhand, use the up elbow to block the shot. You can jam the point of your elbow into your opponent’s attacking arm, aiming for the bicep or shoulder, to smother their power and deal damage to that limb.
Spinning Back Elbow
This elbow is a flashy move but can be used practically as a counter or following a missed strike. To land the spinning back elbow, throw a setup strike with the opposite hand. This can be either a punch or an elbow. The setup strike does not have to land. Its primary purpose is to keep your opponent’s guard occupied, while your feet move into position for the spinning elbow.
Reverse Up Elbow
Also called the lawnmower elbow, this technique is extremely sneaky and can land a knockout blow on a careless opponent. Anderson Silva famously used this elbow to score a knockout in his fight against Tony Frycklund. Samart Payakaroon would also throw the reverse up elbow against his opponents.
To throw the reverse up elbow, start in a position that resembles the Philly Shell from boxing. Your rear hand should be high with the palm against your cheek, while your lead arm lies across your body. Your lead shoulder should be protecting your chin in this stance. Drop your level by squatting halfway, then explode upwards, throwing the point of your elbow between your opponent’s guard. The motion made with your lead arm should resemble starting a stubborn lawnmower, hence its nickname as the lawnmower elbow.
In an MMA context, elbows can be useful in a variety of situations. Although elbows are primarily thrown in the clinch, a skilled fighter can use them defensively to shut down an opponent’s punches or kicks.
Every time you throw an elbow, your opposite hand should be covering your head with its palm facing your opponent. If done correctly, this forms a momentary shell, making it difficult for an opponent to hit vital parts of your body and head. Countering an opponent’s punches with a horizontal elbow can result in your opponent breaking their hand. One example of a fighter who does this is Dustin Poirier. His use of elbow blocks lets him absorb less damage and frustrate his opponents, who are often world-class fighters.
Elbows From Guard
Elbows are a dangerous weapon to add to your ground and pound, but they can also be effective from bottom position. Tony Ferguson would trap opponents in his rubber guard, then continuously throw tomahawk and side elbows to their head. His effective guard allowed him to isolate his opponent’s limbs, while keeping one of his free to strike.
You can also throw elbows to the body of the opponent, regardless of position. Aiming for organs such as the liver, spleen, or kidneys will help you land a knockout blow and end the fight. Give them a try and see how they help level-up your MMA game!
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