Elbow strikes one of the best self defense strikes

(See video on elbows also)Elbow strikes are one of the best strikes for self defense. But keep in mind the best strike is always the one that fits the situation which will be determined by your distance and available openings. To find the right striking area hold your palm facing your cheek, fingers pointed at the ceiling, if you feel your arm right above the elbow joint you will feel the edge of your arm bone this is what you strike with (you rarely will hit with the actual point of the elbow and only into soft areas if you do). This area is used for strikes from the same side as the elbow you are using (right elbow strikes from the middle or right side).  If striking from the left side (with right elbow) or striking backwards you would use bone right behind the joint (don’t hit your crazy bone hit in center).With either area always have your arm bent while striking. Elbow strikes will do more damage than a fist or palm strike with less chance of injury to yourself (fist strikes in particular have a fairly high risk of injury). I teach twelve different elbow strikes, all of them use those two striking areas mentioned before, just hitting at different angles such as horizontal, vertical, diagonal, forward, backward, up and down. I’ll do a video soon detailing the most common ones. Some of the best targets are the hinge at the back of the jaw (right below the ear) this can break the jaw and be a knockout. The solar plexus right below the ribs in the center (xiphiod process) painful and can cause shortness of breath. Right behind the elbow joint while arm is straight and held at the wrist this creates what is commonly called an arm break (it actually is a tear or breaking of the tendons and/or ligaments that attach the muscles and bones at the elbow). The opponents fist, this can break or bruise their hand or knuckles you are using a stronger/bigger  bone is why they will be the one to get injured and not you, the only exception is if your opponent is considerably bigger than you then this might not be the best technique. Using a downward elbow you can strike to the back of their hand when they throw a low punch, this is one of the exceptions where you can use the point of the elbow, just drop your front guard hand's elbow down and to the center(or to where their hand is) while also dropping your body but with no wind up(lifting). You can also use a downward elbow strike to the spine (back or neck) or the muscle next to the spine (for less of a chance of permanent injury to your opponent) if they are shooting for your legs or bent over. You can also stike above the kneecap if you catch a kick (the one arm hooked under ankle while other strikes) both of those last two you can lift up your elbow to increase the power of the strike if there is time. These are some of my favorites but there are many more, this only covers applications for three elbow strikes and even for those it wasn't all of them, think about your techniques and experiment with a partner and you can probably find more. Whenever doing any of these keep your motions as efficient as possible for most strikes staying within your own body frame, staying inside the distance between your shoulders, for example if standing in a hallway only as wide as your shoulders you should still be able to throw most of your strikes.
Two cautions first these are all very damaging strikes and because of the very short distance that the strike is moving it is hard to stop it if someone you are practicing with unexpectantly moves forward. For these reasons I would not recommend using these in sparring or when you’re just messing around the chance of injury is too great. Practice them in a controlled way with a partner and only use them in a serious self defense situation. Now the second caution  is something that I follow myself also but I don’t know for fact if it’s true (but it makes enough sense that I’ll side with caution). I read once from an old kung fu instructor that he thought it was unhealthy to do elbow strikes full force against heavy bags, I believe in taking everything you read with a grain of salt (because there’s a lot of bad information out there). But I’ll tell you why I think this might be true. Whenever you strike something the force has to go somewhere, when hitting a soft object it compresses but when you hit something harder the force gets sent back into you, this is why if you practice breaking boards it hurts more when you fail a break than when you succeed. If you make a fist and take your other hand and push on your knuckles (where you would be hitting something) you will see that your whole hand, wrist and forearm will compress back, this is acting like a shock absorber for any energy that’s rebounding back from a punch which is why if you hit something that’s too hard it’s easy to break or bruise your hand as it's absorbing a lot of force. If you push on the area of your elbow that you strike with using your other hand you will see there is a lot less give (shock absorbing). Now this isn’t a problem if you’re hitting something like focus mitts, a person, or even a light weight bag because the force will go into what you’re hitting. But a very dense or heavy bag particularly the Muay Thai ones that are heavier than the boxing ones and the ones that are filled with sand that are really dense will put more force back into you. So considering how much force an elbow strike can generate, coupled with the reduced shock absorbing (compared to a punch) and the close proximity of your elbow to your heart and organs if you spend years hitting a heavy bag with full force elbow strikes I believe it could add stress to your heart and organs (that might catch up to you as you age). Again I don’t know if this is actually true (judge for yourself) but to me it’s logical enough that to be safe when I  practice elbows I do them in the air, with training partners, against focus mitts, light weight targets or without full force if using a heavy bag. 

Whats it mean to have a black belt?

First historically black belts and belt rankings are a recent invention as far as martial arts are concerned. The inventor is thought to be Kano Jigoro the founder of judo and the first to use a belt system in the 1880s. (many other styles didn't adopt belts till 1920s-1950s for Japan and Korea) originally their was only a black and a white belt (obi/sash at that time) colored belts were added in the 1930s, belts makes sense in a style like judo that is a competitive sport, because a belt allows you to easily match up people with similar rank in inter school competitions. Also the number of students at some of these schools are huge, at the kodokan (judo) they have thousands of students that come their to train. So a visual reference like a colored belt would work well so students and teachers can tell who is who. But traditionally martial arts was learned to help you defend yourself or to better your health often learned from a family or village system. In the same way the son of a blacksmith would learn his trade from his father he wouldn't receive any sort of ranking he would just train till he was proficient which would often take many years.
  Now in present times what does it mean if someone says they have a black belt? Unfortunately nothing if you don't know the school it came from, because their is no accepted standard for what being a black belt entails. Their are some schools where it might take ten or more years to achieve a black belt with rigorous testing. But there are other teachers even well known ones that if you pay them a set fee (and maybe take a seminar or two) they will make you a black belt, you can also get them from some schools by doing online courses and of course people can lie and say they're a black belt when they aren't (it's easy to download templates to print out black belt certificates and any martial arts store sells belts). The average time for most schools is about two to four years (though I've heard as little as 4 monthes from legit schools if you go every day). Belts are also used both as a motivator and as an extra way to make money for many schools by charging for each test and charging at higher rates the further you advance. Another thing some schools do is have students sign a black belt contract that locks them into paying tuition for a set number of years, some of these schools will pass anyone that shows up and pays their tuition. Also a black belt isn't an end, most schools that do use belts have ten degrees you can advance after getting your black belt, with the student not considered a teacher till reaching second or third degree black belt in many of them, (again no standardization) and the tenth degree is often reserved for the founder or highest ranked member of the style. Which is why a tenth degree black belt can mean less then a first degree (any of you reading this can create your own style and give yourself a tenth degree black belt as founder of the style).
  Particularly when you go outside of Japanese and Korean styles (the ones that use belts the most) you'll see most martial artists don't use belts at all or use completely different colors if they do. Styles that don't use belts can include (though some of these are adding them also) sport styles like MMA, boxing, kickboxing, combative systems like those used by soldiers, and police, styles practiced more for health like Tai Chi, styles that are trying to train in a traditional manner (remember any kung fu style such as shaolin, wing chun, bagua, or styles such as kali, penjak silat etc. don't traditionally use belts, though many in the U.S.A. and Western Europe are adding them in an attempt to compete with schools that do use them).
 Having said all that there is nothing wrong with using belts (I've considered adding them for kids classes myself) they have good and bad points. On the good side it can help in setting goals and motivating students, especially younger ones(my son's school even uses the black belt ranking system in their music class). On the other hand traditionally many masters would teach each student differently depending on their strengths and needs, but a belt system creates a standardized system of curriculum which just like in public schools this can bring up the quality of the worst teachers because it tells them what to teach but it can stifle creativity in both students and teachers of the best. Another problem with belts is it often causes the student and teacher to focus on moving on to the next level as fast as possible because the student wants that black belt but the most important thing in martial arts (and most things) isn't learning more advanced material but really perfecting the fundamentals (which even instructors should continue to work on). A common question people ask you when your a martial artist is are you a black belt? Unless you know the requirments of the system someones trained in, a better question would be how long have you been training? because that question would not be style specific. If someone does say they're a black belt again this on average would mean they've been studying about three years (for first degree) which for most people would still be a beginner or at most an intermediate level martial artist if they practiced really hard, unless the teacher or student (or better yet both) is really exceptional then they might be at an advanced level.


Don’t become overly attached to a drill, technique, or even a style. If you do then you will be reluctant to give something up even if you find something more effective.  Many people will have favorite techniques and because of this they will try to force these into situations even when they aren’t appropriate or the most effective. There is no one best technique you have to allow the situation to determine what is best at that time.


Be adaptable and don’t get locked into combinations because you can’t predict what your opponent is going to do. Always prepare for different possibilities. For example practice what you would do if in the middle of your combination they threw an attack, blocked what you were doing or stepped out of range. Once you can do the technique with your partner just standing there then have your partner try these or other variations. If need be stop and analyze what you should do and then practice it. Continue to do this trying as many possibilities as you can this way you become better prepared for anything that can happen.


When practicing you should always take time to work on balance and be aware of it when doing techniques. Good balance is essential for doing effective striking combinations, footwork, throws and counters. When I say balance I mean in all of your actions and movemesnts not just while standing in a stance. One common way people lose their balance is over committing to an action. In fast footwork even if you need to come to a sudden stop or direction change, you should still maintain a balanced stance (this means weight centered between your feet or if on one foot directly over it don't let your momentum pull your weight over your toes or heels). Another example is that you should not commit to strikes so much that you lose your balance if you miss. Also practice on different surfaces, grass, rocks, hills it's easy moving across a gym floor and staying balanced but you need to be comfortable in any environment. 

Footwork and Distance

Controlling Distance
One of the many reasons footwork is important, is to control distance. In general, each type of fighting has its preferred range. Whether you're a grappler, boxer or kicker (close, middle and long range) you want to fight from your preferred range and not your opponents. For example, take a grappler who primarily works his ground fighting but neglects his footwork and entries. If he fights a boxer with better footwork, each time he tries to enter, the boxer will step back maintaining a middle range and hitting the whole time. This will ensure the fight never goes to the ground. On the other hand, if a boxer or kicker practices mostly strikes from a stationary position in front of a heavy bag or focus mitts, they will likely stand stationary during a fight. At this point if a grappler tries to enter on him, the boxer will throw strikes standing still. This means he will usually get only one strike off before he's in grappling range and possibly taken to the ground. Now if you add weapons, controlling distance becomes even more important and will be heavily dependent on your footwork. It's best not to neglect your footwork in favor of fancy techniques. Without good footwork you will have a hard time getting in position to use those techniques.

Judging Distance
It's very important to judge distance. Many schools teach their students to throw strikes with full extension that end a few inches from their partner for safety. The problem with this is the attacker learns to attack outside of range and the defender defends strikes that would never hit them. How I prefer to teach is to have the students go slow enough and use control to pull their strike a few inches short while being in range (not fully extending the strike). When sparring (this way) or fighting, if someone throws a strike fully extended out of range rather than just trying to be safe you know they are doing it for one of three reasons.

  • They misjudged distance in which case you can take advantage by counterattacking.
  • They’re trying to see your reactions (how you will block, evade or counter) to know how to best attack you next.
  • The attacker is trying to pull you out of position with a false attack getting you to open your guard by chasing an attack that isn’t real then stepping in with the real attack.

So it's best if you don't block any of these, as you are not in real danger until the attacker moves into range this way you maintain your guard and don't give your opponent any information. It is equally important for the attacker to know their range with all of their strikes and to use the appropriate strike for the range they are in and to not attack out of range as this can create an opening especially with weapons as an attack out of range might bring your attacking arm into range for a counterattack.

Multiple Attackers

When facing multiple attackers you need to keep moving so you don’t allow yourself to be surrounded. Use your attackers to block each other by positioning one attacker between yourself and the others, this way you actually only fight one person at a time. You can also use your environment to help keep attackers away from you or separate from each other by maneuvering around obstacles (could be a tree, car, chair anything). Against multiple attackers never go to the ground or do any technique that ties you up with one person this will allow the others to attack you while your busy. Aim for fast techniques that do maximum damage and that allows you to move on to the next person as quickly as possible preferably with the last person at least temporarily incapacitated. Try not to let people get to your back or sides stay aware of your environment and where all the attackers are at all times (easier said than done) knock down their numbers as quick as possible or of course if possible just get away.


Shadowboxing (see video on same subject for more info and demo)is just practicing your techniques in the air. You can do prearranged patterns or improvise your own. When you start out its best to do simple combinations that you've been taught (to make sure the combinations work together) but as you advance its best to start making up your own combinations and variations. At this point you will be improvising which is important to feel comfortable doing because if you ever do have to defend yourself real fights require you to improvise because like having a conversation with someone you can't plan out ahead everything that will be said because you don't know what the person your talking to is going to say, the same is true in a fight you need to constantly adapt to what your opponent is doing. When you do shadowbox it should be done at all levels of speed, power and exertion. For instance, if your max speed is throwing four strikes in a second, then most of your shadowboxing should be spent throwing one or two strikes a second. This way you can work on your combinations, balance, body mechanics, relaxation etc, to really perfect your technique. Only doing the three per second when you can do them perfectly and relaxed (if your making mistakes your going to fast) and only rarely doing the four per second. If you want to develop speed what will make you faster is good body mechanics, relaxation, clearing your mind and repetition. The risks of doing your max speed too much is greater chance of injury (pulled muscles, hyper extended joints.) Also at max speed it's easy to get sloppy and you will tire out quicker, not allowing as many repetitions (the repetitions is what you need to get faster). Learn to use all of your techniques. Don’t limit yourself to boxing techniques (unless you’re a boxer.) Shadowboxing should include strikes, joint locks, throws, sweeps, defensive actions, and footwork, everything in your style. At first you might visualize an opponent most of the time to make sure your combinations make sense, at other times you can work on not thinking and just clearing your mind and allowing techniques to flow this is more the mindset you want when actually fighting or sparring (this creates a form of moving meditation the same as practiced by shaolin monks)


Stay relaxed as this allows you to move faster, with more coordination, power and endurance. This is why professional athletes often say they just have to go out and have fun playing. This way they play relaxed and don’t put too much pressure on themselves. You often see in championship games when a team comes out tight, they don't perform up to their potential. Staying relaxed means using your muscles to their full potential but keep those not in use relaxed. As an example, contracting your bicep bends your arm, while contracting your triceps straightens your arm. Therefore if you want to bend your arm you should contract your bicep fully while keeping your triceps relaxed. Otherwise the muscles will work in opposition to each other. This isn’t something you should actively think about however. Instead if you remain relaxed overall, your body will naturally use the muscles in an efficient manner. Often if you think to much you just create more tension. For overall relaxation work on relaxing your shoulders neck and upper back, many people hold tension in these areas. By relaxing these areas you can often relax the rest of your body as well. Even when not doing martial arts, try to feel when your shoulders are rising up and (if you aren’t doing an action that requires this) try to allow them to just hang naturally without tension. Also look at your hand if fingers are fully extended your usually holding tension in a relaxed state there should be a slight bend. Keep an eye on your elbows also, the points should hang down pointed at the ground (unless an action requires raising them) if you feel them lifting to the sides this shows held tension and also exposes your ribs and centerline to attacks. When practicing try to do so in a smooth flowing manner with relaxed breathing.


I want you to think not just about physical efficiency but also using tactics and timing. For tactics as a general rule, so long as you achieve the same end, look for the simplest and quickest means to that goal (most efficient). When I say goal this can mean different things if you’re in a fight it may be to restrain, strike or incapacitate your opponent. It may also be to just run away. Whatever the goal make sure each action serves a purpose and takes you closer to that end. Don't waste time showing off or sparring with your opponent if possible finish in a few seconds not minutes.

 Physical efficiency is usually defined as moving the shortest distance between two points, which when attacking is considered to be a straight-line. This is true, but then you have to take your opponent into consideration. If they’re protecting the straight line target by blocking your path with a hand, shield, knee, etc. then a circular attack going around their defense might be the most efficient attack, or it may be best to attack another line altogether. You can also use a feint, a clearing action or distraction to open the straight line and then attack it.

 Another example of using the shortest distance for an action is if you’re attacking or defending use the part of your body that’s closest to where you want to attack or defend. For example, a kick comes at your knee. Instead of bending over and using hands to defend, use your leg either lifting it or moving it. However if the kick comes at your ribs, your hand or elbow is probably closest. Having said that blocking usually isn’t tactically the most efficient response since your goal in a fight isn't usually to block but to finish the fight. A block can help set up a counterstrike, joint lock, unbalancing your opponent, trap, or just getting better positioning. At minimum a block stops you from being hit, unfortunately if thats all it accomplishes your opponent will keep trying to hit you and you will have to keep blocking getting no closer to ending the fight. One way to prevent this is having efficient Timing when doing defensive actions.It is not uncommon to have a defensive action done in a two-count rhythm. First count, a person starts an attack and the defender blocks. The second count would be the counterattack. Sometimes people will practice in a three count if the defender pauses or adds other actions before the counterattack. In this case, if your goal is to counterattack without being hit, the most efficient method would be to counter on the first count. This can be achieved by either blocking and striking simultaneously, not blocking by avoiding the strike and countering, meeting their attack with something that will hurt your opponent (for example an elbow to their hand or foot), using a jam or stop-hitting action. All of these can be completed before the attacker finishes their attack on the first count.

 If attacking in combination, do not pause between techniques. Keep the momentum going if you strike with one hand as that retracts replace it with a strike from the other hand (or foot, elbow, knee, etc.) to keep a constant flow.The end of one technique should be the beginning of the next. If using the same body part to throw multiple strikes, use combinations that don’t require you to pull back and restart between strikes. These can be combinations such as punch rolled to an elbow strike or elbow strike to a chop, etc, If someone attempts to block your strike switch lines while continuing forward the whole time if possible not even letting their block touch your attack or if it does bounce or roll off their block not to lose momentum, this will help to keep your opponent physically and mentally off balance. Be like water it will flow to wherever a crack is till it moves through a barrier.