Turning a Punch into an Elbow Strike

Motobu Choki (left) and Kano Jigoro (right)

Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo, once met with Motobu Choki to discuss martial arts. We don’t know a great deal about that conversation, except what Motobu told to his students. According to Motobu, they talked about many things, but “…about karate, he [Kano] asked me what I would do if my punch missed. I answered that I would immediately follow with an elbow strike from that motion.” For a long time, I found this statement to be hard to believe, because I certainly couldn’t turn a punch into an elbow strike! After working on it for a while, though, I discovered that it was definitely possible. In fact, it wasn’t just possible–it was a great idea!

In the animated GIF, above, you can see Paul Enfield Sensei–a senior student of Taira Masaji Sensei and former uchi-deshi (live-in student) of Higaonna Morio Sensei—using a makiwara to train a punch and elbow that flow together in one motion. I am nowhere near as smooth or powerful as Enfield Sensei, but I do work on this technique on the heavy bag and, to a lesser extent, the makiwara. It takes some work to get a feel for the flow, and it’s easy to lose the punch by being too focused on the elbow strike.

Turning a punch into a trap into an elbow during jiyu kumite (free sparring)

If you use this technique as an actual punch and elbow, it works best when your opponent has avoided your punch by moving to the outside of the attack. They could do this by moving their head, or parrying your punch. Either way, it leaves them lined up for the elbow strike. If they move to the inside, you can still catch them with an elbow, if they haven’t moved very far, but it isn’t as powerful. In the animated GIF, above, you can see that my partner blocks my telegraphed lead punch, pressing it to the outside, but I counter by trapping his hand down and following with the elbow. It’s essentially the same technique, but with a hand trap added in. If you miss with the elbow, you still have a strong backfist or hammerfist in the chamber, ready to fire.

In the video, above, I  show this technique on a punching bag, and then with a partner, so you can get an idea of how to practice it. If you plan to try it in sparring, it’s best to wear elbow pads–I use these Contender Fight Sports elbow pads, but any MMA elbow pads should work. Elbow strikes are something that don’t often get much attention in jiyu kumite (free sparring) because they are pretty hazardous. They have a tendency to cut the face, and they can impart a great deal of force, even when you’re trying to be careful. Pads take away the cutting factor, and dampen the impact, making it much safer and more reasonable to spar with elbows. That said, it still feels about like being kicked with shin pads on, so it’s important to use good control with your sparring partner.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.