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!
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!
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!
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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