Subtle Elbow Techniques – One Hour With the Elbow Hunter Yodkhunpon
The Nak Muay Nation Sessions with Greatness Series I’m filming is focused on long-form instruction with elite trainers and former fighters of Thailand. The idea is to find the very best and capture something of the essence of their fighting approach, their philosophy. So far I’ve filmed Sitmonchai’s Kru Dam, who is a low-kick, combination genius, and WKO’s Robert “Sifu” McInnes, whose Shorin Kempo Karate based system combines dynamic balance and bare knuckle training. This is the third session in the series, and the full hour of video with commentary is available only for Nak Muay Nation members, though this post includes the first 10 minutes of the training and lots of detail in breakdown. In this session I learn the subtle elbow techniques of Yodkhunpon Sittripum, once one of the most feared elbow fighters in Thailand and the best 118 lb fighter in the land (simultaneously holding the Rajadamnern and Lumpinee belts at that weight). His relentless, slashing style made him unique – his nickname was “Elbow Hunter of 100 Stitches,” ’cause that’s what you’d get by fighting with him. But even though he was a vicious forward fighter – you can see a playlist of his fights at article bottom – he used subtle deception and lulling in his elbows. Below I talk about some of the things I learned in this special hour, which has already changed my fighting.
The Hour With Yodkhunpon
the first 10 minutes of our session, above
The Lead Elbow Pivot
Pon likes the front elbow, but he doesn’t use the upward elbow which is so favored by many fighters who use it to come up between the arms as they’re in guard. Instead, he uses it from a great distance and treats it like a jab, or maybe a lead hook. He puts his front hand over the hand of the opponent, especially in lefty vs righty situations – you’ll see this glove-touch a lot in Thai fights as the two fighters are testing range – and then collapses and pivots to the outside of the opponent in order to deliver this elbow. The experience as the person being elbowed is that it comes out of nowhere. And Pon emphasized to me that you do not push the hand down with your lead hand. You keep it very light and gentle, to lull the opponent into thinking “that’s fine,” and then you just collapse the outstretched arm as you step forward, pivot, and dig the elbow into your opponent’s temple. It’s so beautiful.
the lead elbow step and turn, above
In the GIF above you can see how gently he touches that hand with his hand. He takes a huge step forward, to the outside of my lead foot, and then pivots with his back leg as he delivers the elbow. It’s all one movement. And he leans his shoulders in to put power behind the elbow, although in the GIF you see that he minimizes that part so that he doesn’t actually contact me with the elbow.
Pon is a natural Southpaw, so this is how he fought. But you can do this same move Orthodox against Orthodox, just touching the back hand instead of the outstretched lead hand. He told me that’s actually easier because you don’t have to cover as much distance.
Rear Elbow Out of Clinch
When using the back elbow, the distance has to be much closer. This is the opposite from what I’d always done, but it totally makes sense. Pon laughed at me and asked me to throw my back elbow the way that I like to do and then just took a tiny step backwards, causing me to miss by a mile. So for the back elbow, he uses the clinch as the set up. In the GIF below you see him demonstrating the “goom” position, which is bowing forward, and then coming across with the elbow. The deep twist and hinge movement of his elbow means it will cut, rather than a shortened elbow that will thud and maybe KO if you hit the right spot. A perfectly placed cut can end a fight.
the bow, twist and looseness of the rear slashing elbow, above
Pon likes to lock up with his left hand behind the head, kind of holding it in position but loose on the grip, not to alarm the opponent. Just enough that he can tighten it if you try to get out but he’s not yanking on the head with that hand. The right hand is also loose and resting on the bicep/shoulder of the opponent. It’s an outside position, which is not favored by most fighters or trainers – for lots of reasons. Because it’s an outside position it lowers the defenses of the opponent. It doesn’t feel dangerous. It’s the same concept as his gentle touch of that lead hand for the long elbow, basically it makes you feel, “hey, I’ve got a better position than this guy so I’m totally fine to stay here.” Then he rotates his right shoulder back or sometimes first gives a little push on the shoulder/bicep with the hand to create a little bit of space and then BAM! Elbow comes across and you are dead. Just look at it (below)!
This GIF is incredible. I feel like I should mention that he’s not actually hitting me with the elbow, but he pulls a mean face every time he throws a strike, even when he’s just playing. You’ll see it in the full training video as well, when he throws kicks and knees that aren’t hard but they’re scary as hell. A lot of Muay Thai in Thailand is about performance and you can’t take it out of Pon. Whether he’s pulling the shot or throwing with full power, he’s feeling it in his mind-bank and that’s one of the coolest things about him; something I’d like to steal, actually.
For this rear elbow from the clinch position, Pon explained that every person has the same natural reactions and they can’t help it. When they’re being kneed they will try to pop their head up in order to change position, and then you throw the elbow; when they get elbowed, they try to protect their head by putting it down but that makes their hips go back and then you can knee. It’s a game of Wack-a-Mole. So you want to knee with the opposite side as the elbow, attacking on alternating sides and up and down – it feels absolutely inescapable, and this was just him teaching me. I can’t imagine the panic felt by his opponents in an actual fight.
The Use of Lulling
Part of Yodkhunpon’s style is making his opponents believe they’re in a safe position. The lightness of the hand on the opponent’s hand for that long, collapsing elbow; the lightness of the hand on the shoulder for the short, rear elbow in the clinch. He told me that if you push that hand down from a distance, the way I’ve always learned to do it – to bat or parry the hand down and then punch or elbow over it – is letting the opponent know what you’re doing and at that distance they’ll “go away.” So you just keep it light and make them think, “this is fine.” Kaensak taught me something similar, which is to deliver half-assed leg kicks a few times, which makes your opponent think, “I can take that, I won’t move,” and then you throw the real strike. It’s the same concept that Pon is going for with the lightness of his touch on the hand or on the shoulder. You think, “I’m totally able to handle this,” or “he’s too far,” or “I’ve got the better position,” and then you’re screwed. It lulls you into a state of feeling safe and then when it’s torn asunder by his elbows, you feel like nowhere is safe.
And then on top of that, Pon is a dern fighter, which literally means “to walk.” He’s just walking forward all the time. He doesn’t hop in and out, he doesn’t even evade much. He just tracks you down, like a hunter chasing down a deer or something. By letting you think that standing just outside of striking range is safe and then collapsing that space, you’ll just try to take more and more space to run away from him. And the more you run away from him, the more you’re just going straight back and his ability to cover distance and strike becomes easier for him; everything is simplified. But because he’s a tracking, walking and relentlessly forward fighter, he has to cut angles. That’s why the huge step forward and pivot on that lead elbow is so important. He can’t come straight in unless you’re running backwards. If you’re just standing there, he’s got to pivot. But the more he does that, the more you’ll start going straight back. And then he just walks after you.
If you enjoyed this part of the session there are lots of additional details and strategies in the rest of it. It’s available to Nak Muay Nation members after the 60th day of membership.
The Greatness of Yodkhunpon – Elbow Hunter of 100 Stitches
The best 118 lb fighter of his day, most feared for his elbows.
Six Fights of Yodkhunpon in a Playlist
You can see all my Nak Muay Nation 1 Hour Session Feature Posts Here.
And if you are already a 60 day Nak Muay Nation member you can find the full hour here.