Muay Thai is unique in many ways. One of those ways is how it is one of the few single martial arts that includes elbows. Muay Thai elbow strikes (known as Sok in Thai) are cool to see and are a useful technique that makes them so effective and dangerous.
Why are Muay Thai elbows so dangerous
There are a few things that make Muay Thai elbows dangerous.
First, the elbow is one of the hardest and sharpest bone in the human body. That in itself makes it a dangerous weapon.
Elbow strikes are really close-range strike, probably the shortest-range strike you can throw. This means that they can come from places where you might think you are safe, like the clinch.
These shots look like weak little rabbit punches but you can still twist to get the maximum amount of body-weight possible into your elbows. Elbow strikes can be knockout shots from super close range.
Elbows being effective from close range isn’t the only reason they can be dangerous, in fact, the big reason they are considered dangerous is that they can cause cuts.
This might not sound so bad in comparison to the broken bones and concussions but you need to think about this in a more immediate sense.
Cuts caused by elbows can cause a massive amount of bleeding. This is bad wherever the cut opens up but it can be especially bad if it lands somewhere on the forehead or eyebrow.
This means that blood will begin to pour into the eyes of a fighter, which can really affect their vision. Cuts anywhere that bleed too much might just lead to a stoppage by the referee.
The worst-case scenario with elbows is that somebody can actually get so cut up that they end up having segments of skin actually peeling off of them.
There are some really gruesome examples of this, where even fighters’ ears are tearing off of them due to elbow strikes. Lip cuts are also common.
Types Of Muay Thai Elbow Strikes
There isn’t just one type of elbow strike in Muay Thai. In fact, there are many variations. Here are some of the most common Muay Thai elbow strikes used in competitions:
The most popular and commonly used elbow that you’ll see is the Horizontal Elbow. This technique travels in a similar trajectory to a hook punch. It’s very simple and straight forward. Horizontal elbows can knock out an opponent or inflict a cut.
Aside from that, there’s the upward elbow where you simply slash up elbow upward from your guard, making this a really safe option to throw.
There’s even a second kind of upward elbow, sometimes called the reverse elbow or the Ong Bak elbow. This is most famously seen in the film Ong Bak or when former UFC champion Anderson Silva used it to knock out an opponent in an early fight.
For this elbow you bring down your arm and pull up your elbow like your pulling the cord on a lawnmower, aiming to hit your opponent’s chin.
You also have a downward 12-6 elbow, also known as the Tomahawk elbow. The move is named as such because you chop downwards in a twelve-to-six (o’clock) motion.
The 12-6 elbow is an illegal move in many MMA promotions including the UFC.
There is one kind of elbow that is most loved by fans and fighters and that’s the spinning elbow. The spinning elbow is exactly as it sounds, you spring around and land an elbow, hopefully hitting your opponent’s chin or temple for the knockout.
When timed right, these techniques are perfect counters that can end a fight instantly.
The jump elbow is a spectacular technique that makes use of gravity for added impact.
This move involves a jump -as the name suggests- followed by a 12-6 or horizontal/diagonal elbow. The jump elbow can cause devastating damage with deep cuts or knockouts.
Jump elbows are elaborate techniques which are easily defended by opponents due to the obvious jump motion. They are more often used as a follow-up or finishing move when an opponent is already affected by a prior strike.
Elbow Strikes Under Modified Muay Thai Rules
Modified Muay Thai rules are usually practised in amateur or promotions outside of Thailand.
Elbow strikes are sometimes fully omitted from Muay Thai competitions. Other modified rules include allowing elbow strikes below the head, or the mandated use of elbow pads.
Modified Muay Thai rules may seem ironic by omitting the elbow or limiting its effectiveness. However, such rules are reasonable for the safety of young or amateur competitors.
Modified rules also offer athletes to gain ring experience before competing under full Muay Thai rules.
Fighters To Watch
If you want a few fighters to look at for examples of good elbow use, there’s a ton.
Yodkhunphon Sittraiphum and Karuhat Sor Supawan are both golden age masters of the elbows. Muangthai PKSaenchaimuaythaigym is modern-day Muay Sok who combines a forward-moving aggression with his sharp elbows to lethal effect.
If you want a western fighter as a better example, Gaston Balanos, who is a current Bellator Kickboxing and MMA fighter is a solid example. Look up some of his Muay Thai fights online for some of the best Spinning Elbows out there!
How To Improve your Muay Thai Elbow Strikes
After reading this, you probably want to improve your elbows, at least a little bit. Out of all 8 limbs of Muay Thai, elbows are hands down trained the least. So, if you want to improve yours, the best place to start is by throwing them.
Practicing elbows on Muay Thai pads is the best way to train. Padwork allows you to go full power and helps to train precision. It is most effective with the guidance of an experienced trainer as you get to throw elbows in different ranges.
You can also practice elbows on a heavy bag. Training with a heavy bag is a great alternative as you can do it alone and without restraint. Shadowboxing is another way to incorporate elbow training.
Only train elbows in sparring with elbow pads and always hold back. You never want to lose a sparring partner because you felt like trying out a technique you saw online.
Professional Muay Thai fighters practise elbows in clinching or sparring by throwing them softly and not following through.