The Elbow Strike

  Here is a Tae Kwon Do riddle: what class of techniques have tremendous power, can blast through boards for dynamic breaks, are devastating for self defense, yet do not use the feet or hands? Tae Kwon Do has developed many surfaces of the body for blocks and strikes. Hand are used, such as the palm, knife edge, and backhand. Kicks are the trademark of Tae Kwon Do. But there is an under-represented yet highly effective set of blocks and strikes which are encoded into forms, three-step and one-step combinations, and self defense applications. The elbow can be trained to become a tough, strong, capable weapon for offense and defense. It offers special qualities of body dynamics and distance variation to surprise and overwhelm an opponent. With time and training, you can develop an iron elbow!

  Elbow Dynamics

The striking point for these powerful elbow techniques is not the tip of the elbow. This part of the body should not be used in this manner. A better striking point is about an inch from the elbow area to a few inches or so on the outside edge of the arm, either below or above the elbow tip, depending upon the type of elbow strike. Elbow strikes can be done from two positions of the arm: one with the arm bent, held parallel to the ground, and the other with the arm bent, held perpendicular to the ground. There are many other variations but these are two basic, useful positions. The parallel position strike can be performed either inward or outward. The perpendicular position can be performed up or down, in arcs forward or backwards. All of these possiblities give a full range of motion in all four directions. Many dynamic applications will suggest themselves. These motions can be applied with great power. Elbow strikes require coordination of the whole body when full power is to be delivered. Prepare with a solid right back stance. Bend your arm and hold it parallel to the floor, fist tight, elbow exposed, cocked back behind your shoulder-line. This is similar to chamber position for a punch. Swing your elbow around past your body to an imaginary target point. As your elbow swings around, tense your stomach muscles and allow your hips to pivot towards the target as your feet turn to slide into a left front stance. Focus your upper body muscles hard as you strike. This exercise will help you gain the feel for the sweeping motion of elbow strikes. You can learn to build tremendous power through proper coordination of body dynamics combined with training. Other techniques, such as reverse punch, will be positively affected as well.

Tae Kwon Do breaks down distance into ranges. You can think of kicks as long-range techniques, while punches and knife-edge strikes are medium range. Short-range includes low kicks, knee strikes and grappling. Elbows also fall into the short-range. With this in mind, remember to move in closer for the elbow strike than for a punch, since it must be delivered close to the opponent. It is important to learn to gauge your distance with the elbow. Stand close to a heavy bag or have a partner hold a pad for you. Bend your arm in the elbow position and swing toward the target. You should be close enough to penetrate through the target for hard contact. Step back a bit for light to no contact. Practice this until your responses are automatic.
  Types of Elbow Strikes

The elbow can be applied in more ways than one might think. The classic elbow strike, the forward inward elbow, comes across the body, parallel to the floor. This technique appears in many forms from all styles of Tae Kwon Do. One common move is to strike your own open hand with your elbow, simulating an upper- middle target strike. Pyong-An 4 & 5 include this technique as does Yol-Gok Hyung and others. This movement builds precision and focus of power. A specific self defense target for this elbow strike is the side of the neck, the ribs, or the solar plexus. Another powerful and effective elbow strike is backwards. The bent arm moves straight back to strike an assailant who approaches from the rear with the upper-arm section of the elbow. Variations include diagonal backward and raking motions. Elbows can also be performed upwards and downwards. The arm is held perpendicular to the ground. Drive the elbow forward and upwards. The back of the fist is pointed forward, towards the target, and extends over the shoulder as you strike with the elbow. It can be used to connect under the chin, striking upwards. Downward strikes are effective against a lunging opponent attempting to tackle, coming down on the arms if too close, or the back at the shoulderblade or the collarbone to disable the opponent as you step backwards to evade his attempt. Downward elbow can also be a finishing blow after a takedown.
  Training and Conditioning

Partners can train each other by taking turns with pads or focus mitts. One offers a target for the other to strike with elbow combinations on a pair of pads or focus mitts. If you do not have a partner for training, use a heavy bag. Another individual drill is to hang a piece of paper from a string attached to a hook in the ceiling. Let the paper hang at the height of your elbow. Mark the paper with an "X". From a solid stance, perform your elbow strikes repeatedly until you consistently hit the "X". If you are missing, move closer, but if you send the paper flying, you are too close. The best strikes tear the paper without tearing the string connection. Condition your elbow and body carefully and gradually to absorb the tremendous shock this technique sends back through your body. Contact against a training device will help to develop strong elbow techniques. Strike a makiwara, pad, or heavy bag regularly. Tissues and bones of the elbow and back of the arm should be progressively conditioned until the arm is strong enough to take the force, with skin thickened at the striking point. Do not overtrain or undertrain: there is a balance point where you do enough to get stronger but not so much that you bruise or injure yourself. Increase the intensity gradually. If you are injured you cannot train! The proper focus of the body is necessary. Focus fully, and tense the abdominal muscles during the strike, otherwise some power is lost between upper and lower body. There is a rebound effect on the neck and trapezius or upper shoulders and back as well. It can be very helpful to develop these areas with auxiliary exercises: swimming, weights, or drills with combinations from forms at various speeds or with dynamic tension.
  Breaking with the Standing Inward Elbow Strike

Elbow breaks are a dramatic display of the penetrating power of this technique. You must train for distance, speed, accuracy, balance, and power with your elbow. Before you do your first break, prepare over time with careful toughening. Follow the instructions in the training section. Begin with one board placed securely in a breaking rack or held firmly by a strong, preferably upper-belt practitioner. Build up to multiple board breaks gradually. If the board is not held rigidly, it becomes much more difficult to break. Measure your distance carefully and practice several full swings, stopping just at the center of the board. Aim your focal point all the way through the board. Beginners make the mistake of trying to aim just to the board, not realizing that the force must penetrate through it for a successful break. A strong stance is important for the transfer of power from your body into the target. When you apply a force to the target, the target applies a force back. If you are not in a strong stance, you will be rocked back from the impact of your own blow and unable to break. When winding up, shift your weight back into a backstance, then forward in delivery, all in one fluid motion. As you flow into the forward stance, keep the back leg straight. If you allow the back leg to bend, some of the effective force is lost. Don't hunch or raise your shoulders. Stay even. As in all breaks, you must not hold back: it hurts more to miss than to break! Holding back reduces the chances of a successful break. Concentrate fully on the break. Some people like to have a pre-break image where they picture themselves breaking successfully. The mind combined with proper technique will set you on the path to a dynamic break!
  Self Defense

Elbow strikes can be dangerous and therefore are usually not allowed in tournaments. The great power and speed which are possible with a well-trained elbow strike makes it ideally suited to self defense. Elbow strike can be applied to the opponent's "weapon": his arm or leg, to put it out of commission, and thereby prevent further attacks with it. These types of moves, though damaging to the opponent's limb, are not lethal, yet they can be very effective for discouraging or ending the encounter. Where possible, evade or sidestep as you move into position for the counterattack to the limb. Some practitioners leave their arm or leg out for a moment after an all-out strike. This presents an opportunity for a Tae Kwon Do elbow strike. Here is one application derived from forms. The opponent steps in to deliver a right-hand straight punch. Step diagonally toward and outside the punch into a right backstance. Perform a reverse hand (to forward foot) outward block, grab the opponent's arm, and twist so that his elbow points up. Pull sharply towards you, keeping it straight, close to your body. Pivot into front stance as you strike the back of the opponent's arm with your elbow. Elbows can be used as a devastating counterattack. Block the opponent's punch attack with a double-arm block, stepping back, deflecting inside outwards. Then, step forward and counter with the secondary arm by striking with the elbow horizontally forward. The ribcage or solar plexus is the target. Great force can be developed, assisted by the forward advance. Elbows can be used with a pull of the opponent, down or into position. The chin is the target, or the side of the head. In a life-threatening situation, the elbow strike can be applied to the head of the attacker. The defender reaches behind the opponent's head, and pulls the opponent in as he strikes. The force of the blow is increased by the trapping and pulling, which draws the target in as you strike. This adapts a combination demonstrated in many Tae Kwon Do forms such as Chul Gi I, Tae Kwon Do brown belt form, and Cheon-Kwon, a black belt hyung. There are many variations. Another forward application is to strike to the side or back of the opponent. An outward elbow strike with the back of the elbow follows an evading step and block with a single arm block. Then, shuffle inwards to deliver an elbow strike to the back ribs at the kidney level. A takedown can then be accomplished from this close-in position. Finally, elbows can be applied backwards to release from holds. This forceful strike is classically applied against a bearhug or choke attempt from behind. The defender shifts from side to side, striking backwards first with one elbow, then the other, until the opponent's grip is loosened. A breakaway escape is then possible, or else a quick turn towards the attacker allows a strong counter by a forward elbow strike, punch, or counterthrow.

  Elbows can be strong, fast, and effective. With proper training, which includes repetition and conditioning, you will find that your techniques improve. Then, when you add them to your repertoir you will have developed an iron elbow!
  Photograph Captions

1 & 2. Set your distance carefully for an elbow break. Then, swing your arm back, and arc in for a clean break. 3. Elbow breaks can also be performed downwards. Remember to drop lower in stance as you drive the elbow through the wood. 4. Elbow strike position used in many forms. This has direct self-defense applications. 5. The defender holds the opponent's head as he draws him into the elbow strike. 6, 7. 8, Elbows can be performed from many directions, such as downward to lock the opponent's arm, outwards to the inside of the neck, and inwards to the outside of the neck. 9. Elbows can be used to escape from a grab from behind. The defender twists each way as she strikes her attacker with her elbows to loosen the attacker's grip. 10, 11. The practitioner blocks the opponent's punch and then twists into an elbow strike to the arm. 12, 13, 14, 15. An elbow strike can be used to take the opponent down. Here the opponent punches and is blocked upwards. The practitioner steps in with an elbow to the neck which sends the attacker backwards. He uses his leg and the strike to send the opponent down for a finishing blow.


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