Muay Thai's Devastating
Ti-Khao (Knee Strike)
and How to Survive Them
By Roberto Pedreira
While recently in Thailand (March 2--March 27, 2004), GTR had a chance to observe a very formidable appearing Brazilian kickboxer named Emmanual Depina working on his Muay Thai game. He was scheduled to fight amateur style at the Best Friend Boxing Bar on Beach Road in Pattaya against an opponent who, the Sityotdong trainers said, had no "heart" (by which they meant stamina) and had only one weapon--"ti-khao" (straight knees). I had seen him fight before so I knew they were right. After watching Emmanual train for three weeks, I couldn't imagine any way that he could lose. He did everything right and was in super shape. His opponent was skinny, though tall, and with a pot belly.
Unfortunately, the only weapon the Thai guy had, was the only weapon the Brazilian didn't have a defense for. He was knocked down three times by knees in the second round and survived only by dint of the referee's generous "long count" (he counted to 8 and then started over at 6 again). The Brazilian was knocked down once more in the third round and lost a lopsided decision. He had no answer for those straight knees.
I realized that I would have been in the same boat. I also had ignored knee defenses. Knees are so easy to do, they must be easy to defend, I thought. Well, yes and no. Yes if you know how. No if you don't.
I spent the next six days working on knee defenses. As almost always, to consistently defend against an attack, you need to understand the attack.
Devastating Knees [ตเขา]
Knees are put-away shots for any type of competition that allows them and are superlative tools for the street. The torso is a target rich environment. On one side you will find the liver and kidney, on the other the spleen and kidney and on both sides floating ribs (unattached to the sternum and therefore easy to break). In the front is the solar plexus and a little lower the bladder. Behind the sternum is the heart. If you happen to go wide, high, or low, you may encounter biceps or quads, and if you are lucky, chins. temples, and noses. For the street, the nads are also there. Anything you hit is going to cause pain and damage and will severely demoralize the recipient. Knees are virtually no-lose propositions.
Knees can be classified according to the angle of entry and to how close you are to the target. If you are very close, you will probably be "attached", either in an actual clinch, or at least grasping some part of his upper body, usually head or shoulders or both. The difference between the clinch and this position is in how much space there is between you and the opponent. If there is enough space, you can administer straight knees. Otherwise, punishing "rabbit" knees (khao khatai), sometimes referred to as "curve" knees can be applied. These arrive from the side and are not as damaging as straight knees, because the hip movement required to transfer the weight of the knee to the target is less efficient, and also because the striking surface is much larger and flatter. But rabbit knees will wear down an opponent in the clinch and make him want to get back outside where, in theory at least, you can brutally beat him down with your superior striking skills. This is a two-way street, of course..
Knees can also enter diagonally. The technique is identical to throwing a basic Thai round kick, except that you tuck the lower leg back and contact with the knee. This is typically used when a kick is intended, but the distance suddenly closes. But it can also be done intentionally from the clinch, if you have a little more space than required for a rabbit knee.
Unattached Knees (without clinching or holding oppoｎent)
One of the best things about spear knees is that they are extremely simple to throw. With your hands prudently in front of your face, lift your rear knee, thrust your hip forward and arch your upper body back. It will help if you raise your heel off the ground (although that will obviously make your position less stable). Your body should resemble a bow. Leaning back has a double purpose. First, it causes your hip to move forward. Second, it removes your face from the elbow that your opponent will certainly try to throw.
Attached Knees (while clinching or holding opponent)
If you are in a tight clinch, your option is to throw rabbit knees. There isn't much science to this. The skill lies in keeping good balance while doing it, because, obviously, when you are on one leg, your opponent can throw you to the floor. Timing is also important, because rabbit knees are relatively easy to scoop up. Getting thrown in Muay Thai is not a disaster, but it can be highly disadvantageous in Vale Tudo.
And if you are able to make space, by pulling the opponent's head down, while stepping back and thrusting your hip back, then you can deliver heavy straight knees to virtually any target in front of you. This is a very bad position for your opponent to be in. (Which is why you'll not often be able to pull a Thai boxer down like this. Thai boxers maintain a very upright posture to prevent being pulled down in this way. But that makes them somewhat vulnerable to crack-backs", technically illegal in Muay Thai, but permissible in Vale Tudo).
We asked one of the trainers how to block knees. His reply can be translated as "every way" (= many ways)". Knee defenses seem to fall into two categories. The first is to put something between yourself and the incoming knee. The second is to intercept the knee before it arrives--or to put it another way, to disable the delivery system by checking the hip. These are basically simple and the pictures below illustrate.
The lead shin is used for blocking. The rear shin can also be used, depending on how your weight happens to be distributed at the moment and the precise distance between his knee and your body. But obviously the lead shin is closer and will be where it needs to be sooner. It goes without saying that you need a slight "angle" in order to get your shin in. Otherwise, knees will collide. That will hurt, but it will also discourage your opponent from being too promiscuous with subsequent knee attacks. If possible, a direct spear knee to your opponents' inner thigh would be wonderful, but would also require more precise target acquisition and your trainer will not be eager to spend many rounds letting you work on it.--"jep mak" he will say (it hurts a lot!) Even iron-shinned hard-core Thai fighters do not like getting kneed in the inner thigh.
(Sometimes the best techniques in theory are not the best techniques in reality--for example, when they are too painful or dangerous (for either yourself or your trainer) to practice.)
5. Step and Elbow/Cross down the middle (not illustrated)
Side step and elbow to face, or step back and cross to the face. These are very effective. if the opponent does not properly have his arms and shoulders up. Occasionally, a short outside step followed by a looping hook (or swing) to the chin can be effective.
Do not under any circumstances reach down and try to block straight knees with your hands. This is suicide.
Why Knees Indeed?
For any combative purpose, knees have multiple merits. Unlike punches, it is almost impossible to hurt yourself throwing a knee. A direct knee on knee collision would be painful. but not crippling. In a contest between any other part of your opponent's anatomy and your knee, your knee is going to win. For self defense purposes in the United States and other places where beating people up is (supposedly) frowned on and likely to leave you deeply in debt to lawyers and bail bondsmen and possibly with a criminal record, knees somehow seem innocuous. A knee to the middle is much more likely to stop an opponent than a punch to the nose. You are less likely to injure yourself. And because there won't be blood all over the opponent, you are less likely to be assumed to be the aggressor. (hence get arrested). You could even almost plausibly claim that you merely leaned back to avoid a haymaker and your knee accidentally struck the aggressor's mid section. Knees also do not take a tremendous amount of time to maintain, as the JKD guru Paul Vunak once pointed out. Anyone can throw a hard knee and anything you hit is going to hurt..
That's all there is to it. Spend several hundred hours clinch sparring and you'll have offensive resources that will be hard to stop.
Now go train Muay Thai..
Where to Train? Check out Sityodtong.
More about Knees and Muay Thai? Check out Nikiema.
Need clinch skills? Here is the place: Clinch.
Want to learn Muay Thai in Pattaya? Here's what you need to know: Training Muay Thai in Pattaya 2013
(c) 2004, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Revised November 1, 2009