Knees are arguably the most iconic and versatile strikes in Muay Thai.
They are powerful, and high-scoring under traditional Thai rules, so they’re essential for winning a fight.
Like punches, kicks, and elbows, you can use knees to break your opponents down or knock them out with one blow.
Plus, you can use them at any range – whether you’re thrusting forward from the outside or you’re getting up close and personal.
That means they’re also good for any kind of fighter. Aggressive kickboxers can use their knees like spears to go on the attack, clinch fighters can hammer the body at close quarters, and counter-strikes can use perfectly-timed shots to stop their rivals in their tracks.
Just like your other weapons in the art of eight limbs, there are a ton of different knee variations you can use in a fight, and these are just a few of the most common.
● The straight knee (khao trong in Thai) is your classic technique for attacking your opponent’s body from short to mid-range. The long variation (khao yao) can be used from further away.
● Diagonal knees (khao chiang) sneak through gaps in your rivals’ defense to target the most vulnerable parts of their midsection.
● You need to have good hip flexibility for horizontal knees (khao tat), which are very useful for immediately turning attack into defense.
● You’ll see a lot of curved knees (khao khong) when fighters are going tit-for-tat in the clinch.
● Small knees (khao noi) in the clinch won’t deliver a KO blow, but they can help to sap your opponent’s strength.
● The most spectacular strikes in Muay Thai are flying knees (khao loi), but they’re not for beginners. They are high-percentage moves, so you’ve got to make sure you land them, otherwise, you could end up in a world of trouble.
The Perfect Straight Knee
Of all the knees you can throw, you’ll probably learn the straight knee first, and it’s probably the most useful variety.
However, just because it can be seen as your ‘basic’ variety of knee, that does not mean there’s not a lot to it.
It’s important to know how to throw it properly for maximum effect, so remember the following when you’re practicing toward perfection.
- Take a small step forward and slightly out with your front leg.
- Push on the ball of your lead foot to help you drive your knee up and forward.
- Flex your back foot to create a straight line from your shin down through your instep.
- Bring your heel up toward your backside to flex your knee, so you land with the hardest part of it.
- Drive your hips forward to generate maximum force.
- Lean back to keep your head away from danger.
- Use your rear arm as a long guard. You can also grab the back of your opponent’s head for stability and to break their posture if you’re in range.
- Protect your head with your lead hand.
- Step back into your stance.
With all that said, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Different coaches teach different methods, and every fighter has their own way of doing things.
For example, some athletes can generate a huge amount of power even when they throw their knees while flat-footed.
Also, you may be more comfortable keeping both hands high to keep your defense tight. Others prefer to swing their arms as they would with a roundhouse kick to help with balance and momentum.
There are a few things you should definitely try and avoid to make sure you can stay safe, on target, and effective.
● Don’t step out too far with your lead leg. You can’t drive forward as well if you’re moving laterally.
● Don’t knee upward. Your knee needs to rise to land above your opponent’s waist, but unless you’re at close range and pulling your opponent into you, the way to do maximum damage is to drive it forward like a spear.
● Don’t lean forward. You won’t generate as much power with your hips, and your head will be in range to be countered. Plus, you’ll find it harder to return to your stance, and if your rival has slipped your strike, you’ll be in a sitting duck for their next attack.
Even if you can knee with perfect technique, it can still be tricky to land one perfectly in a fight.
However, if your technique is on point, you’ll have a much better chance of success.
Knees In The Clinch
Casual fans (particularly those who are only used to watching MMA) may think knees in the clinch come down to grabbing a double collar tie, and going nuts with strikes until the fight ends.
The fact is that getting into that position is extremely difficult against any opponent who has a solid grasp of clinching technique. Otherwise, everyone would look like Anderson Silva in his prime.
Of course, if you can get a dominant position, it will be far easier to get the space of leverage to throw knees with impunity and take advantage of big gaps in your opponent’s guard.
If that’s the case, it’s still important to maximize your damage output by using your hips to generate power and pulling your opponent toward you onto your strikes.
However, more often than not, when fighters grab hold of each other in a Muay Thai match, they’ll be very evenly matched in the clinch – constantly swimming their arms to take a neutral position whenever their rival tries to gain dominance.
In this kind of situation, you might see rivals counter any knee that’s thrown at them with the same kind of technique.
Take this approach, and you’ll only succeed in matching them on the scorecards. The key clinch dominance is to secure a dominant hand position, or turn or move your opponent off-balance.
Once they’re out of position or their equilibrium is disrupted, there should be a gap in their defense that allows you to attack with a big strike.
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