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Hapkido Knee Fighting
This article was originally published in Martial Art Masters Magazine, September 1994.

By Scott Shaw

Close contact fighting has always proven to be one of the most complicated situations a martial artist can find himself in. The reason it is difficult to rapidly and successfully defend yourself, once your opponent has moved closely in on you and possibly taken a hold of your clothing, is because in close proximity your available counter strike techniques become very limited. First of all, there is not enough distance between your body and that of your opponent’s to effectively kick him. And, with the exception of the uppercut punch, your punching defense is limited to wildly thrown roundhouse punches which at best will make contact with the side of your opponent’s head. There is, however, an effective method to close contact In-fighting which many martial artists do not fully investigate or develop. That method is the use of the knee as a powerful striking weapon.

The knee strike is an excellent close proximity fighting tool. This is because there is not much space needed to make its attack effective.

A knee strike takes no advanced training to perform. There is, however, certain limitations to the use of the knee. Therefore, we must fully explore the science of knee fighting to first gain knowledge of what not to do, before we can understand what the knee can effectively accomplish.

The knee is one of the most sensitive joints on the human body. It is quite easily damaged. When you strike with the knee, it is very important you do so in the proper manner. For if you perform a knee strike improperly, you stand the chance of injuring your knee instead of defending yourself successfully.

Your knee should always be bent when you attack with it. By bending your knee, you not only isolate its impact point but keep it from bending unnaturally against itself; tearing your ligaments, cartilage, or in more severe cases, breaking your knee altogether.

A knee strike should never be delivered in a side-to-side format. This is to say, never attempt to impact with the side of your knee. The side area of your knee joint is very sensitive and your lower leg can easily be sent in the opposite direction of your upper leg if you incorrectly attempt to strike with it in this fashion.

The part of your knee that should be used as a striking weapon is the upper part. Reach down to your thigh and follow your upper leg muscle to the point where it meets the knee bone; this is the ideal strike point for knee attacks.

A proper knee strike is accomplished by rapidly lifting your knee up and into its target. The power of the knee strike is initiated at the hip, and is driven forward with the muscles of the upper leg.

The first strike point most people think of when utilizing a knee attack is the opponent’s groin. This is, in fact, a good location to aim for, especially if your opponent has grabbed you in a straight forward choke hold or similar frontal attack. In this type of attack, your opponent’s groin region is easily accessible and a powerful knee strike can make instantaneous contact and lead you to victory in the confrontation.

Though the knee can virtually strike any location on your opponent’s body, given the right set of circumstances, there are several location which are ideal knee strike targets; they are: the groin, the ribs, the kidneys, under the opponent’s jaw, and to a lesser degree, the inside of the opponent’s upper leg. The time to strike at these various targets is only dominated by the type of encounter you find yourself in.

One of the most important thing to remember when using the knee as a weapon is, you should never use your knee to strike at a location on your opponent’s body where you have to travel to. This is to say that the knee strike is not an ideal long distance reaching weapon; as is the case with the various punching techniques and many of the traditional martial art kicks. This is due to the fact that the very elements that make the knee an ideal close contact weapon, makes it inefficient in distance applications.

The knee cannot reach out as does the arm or leg. As well, if you leave the knee in a “Cocked-to-strike” position and attempt to launch yourself, at a distance, in towards your opponent with the momentum you can gain from jumping off of your non-knee kicking leg, you not only leave yourself in an off balance position, but you will be leaving your body open and exposed to powerful attacks from your opponent, as well. Therefore, the use of the knee as a striking weapon should be limited to close quarter “in-fighting.”

A well placed knee strike is dominated by two factors; one, is it an easily reachable target and the second, will the strike you make with your knee have the debilitating affect on our opponent you desire? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then that is the time to perform a powerful knee strike.

Now that we understand the basics of the science of knee fighting, we can investigate the best knee fighting tactics in order that we may efficiently and effectively knee strike our opponent in each applicable situation.

As previously mentioned, when grabbed in a forward hold, a knee to your opponent’s groin is a very effective defensive measure. But, what can you do in the few seconds before your opponent has actually taken a hold of you; especially if his intentions are obviously violent and he is moving quickly in your direction?

First of all, it is never a good idea to allow an opponent to grab a hold of you, if you have the option. Therefore, when an opponent is rapidly moving towards you, this affords you an ideal opportunity to use his momentum to your own advantage. This is accomplished in one of two ways. The first method of achieving momentum advantage over your adversary, as he closes in on you, is by deflecting his arms outward, with an in-to-out knife hand block, once he is close enough. After this deflection has been performed, you can maintain substantial control over his movements by grabbing a hold of his elbow region, once his arm has been blocked. By first deflecting his arms outward, while allowing his momentum to continue forward, you have opened his body up for you to easily attack him with a powerful knee strike.

Though this deflection leading to a knee strike happens in a second, with the momentum the two of you have gained by moving towards one another, you can powerfully knee strike him either in his groin, solar plexus, or easily launch yourself upward and deliver a very debilitating knee strike under his jaw.

The second avenue we can take for an oncoming opponent, who is either attempting to grab or strike at us is to deflect his extending arm inwards, with an out-to-in forearm block. Once his arm has been deflected, you should maintain a controlling hand on his elbow, so he cannot perform a secondary strike at you with say a back fist. By performing this type of block, you allow your opponent to continue through with his own forward motion. Thus, leaving his forward ribs or back exposed to an easy counter attack with your knee.

In this case, if it is most effective for you to strike at his ribs, you simply allow his motion to continue as you guide him down by taking control of his extended arm, as your knee powerfully meets his ribs. If you choose to knee strike his kidneys you can simply deflect his arm and allow his developed momentum to continue him moving forward, slightly past you; thus, exposing his back to your powerful knee attack.

As the key to all successful defense is to strike your opponent before he has the opportunity to strike you, knee fighting is no different. Therefore, now that we understand how we can easily open our opponent’s body up for knee strikes, let’s evaluate how we can effectively maintain control over him, while we are accomplishing a debilitating knee attack.

Whenever you are going to use your knee as your initial form of self-defense, in close contact In-fighting, you must do two things. First of all, as we now understand, the knee is not a good weapon at a distance. For this reason we must keep our opponent from retreating or moving back out of the way of the effective knee strike range. The most efficient way to accomplish this is to take a hold of him in order to keep him from moving out of the range of your impending knee strike. Secondarily, once you have set yourself up to knee strike your opponent, you must keep him from powerfully counter striking you in the process of your knee attack. To do this, there are three areas of his body you must become very aware of; they are: his arms, legs, and head.

If you control an opponent’s elbows, you can effectively control his entire body. Thus, as we have learned in the previous examples of deflecting any grabbing or striking attack on the part of our opponent, we should either leave our block in place at his elbow level or grab his arm so we can keep him from launching any secondary hand strike.

As no rule holds undisputed for all fighting situations, maintaining an elbow block or grasp while continuing through with your knee assault may not always be possible. If elbow control is not feasible, the secondary locations that you should concentrate your attentions on to give you added control over your opponent is his shoulder or wrist region.

By grasping at or leaving your arm in ready position at your opponent’s shoulder level, you can quickly foil any oncoming fist attack while your knee strike is in progress. The same is true in the case of a grasp at or near your opponent’s wrist.

Not only by taking control of your opponent’s arm, once his initial attack has been deflected, do you control his ability to strike at you again, but by controlling his arms you also can effectively guide him to your desired knee strike location. This opponent guidance is accomplished either by using his own forward momentum and passively directing him to your desired knee strike or by forcefully pulling him downwards by his arms, powerfully onto your knee, once you have deflected his initial attack.

Commonly, in professional kickboxing, knee attacks are launched to the inside of an opponent’s leg. Though the legs of an opponent should always be monitored in a street altercation, there are two very serious problems with using your opponent’s legs as knee strike focal points. First of all, this type of attack does little debilitating damage to your opponent, so there is virtually no point in using it as an attack zone in a street confrontation. Secondarily, by moving in that close to your opponent, if you have not taken effective control of his arms, he has the ability to powerfully strike you with his fists or elbows. Therefore, this is not an ideal primary strike point for knee fighting.

Finally, in controlling your opponent in order to effectively knee strike him, there is no better source of control than his neck and head region. This region is easily accessible; especially in the case of close contact In-fighting as your two bodies are already in close proximity.

To effectively take control of your opponent’s motions is as easy as rapidly reaching in and grabbing him in a frontal grip by his throat. This type of grab will not only momentarily distract him as to your strategic intentions, but will allow you to maintain control over his movements long enough to powerfully knee strike him in the groin.

Controlling your opponent’s head is equally easily accomplished. You should go for head control immediately after you have deflected your opponent’s arm out of its forward aggressive motion. At this second, your opponent’s initial attack has been nullified and he is most prone for a rapid and unexpected counter defense. Once deflected, you can strongly grab a hold of your opponent’s head, with one or both of your hands, and shove it downward, in position, for a jumping knee strike to his face.

Traditionally, martial art schools have advised that once your opponent has moved in tight on your body, you should attempt to shove him back in order to effectively kick him or deliver a powerful punching technique. Attempting to utilize this type of defense promises limited results, however. This is especially the case if your opponent has already taken a powerful hold of your clothing or does so in the process of being shoved back. As we have learned with the use of the properly placed knee, there is not a need to expend unnecessary energy, attempting to shove or grapple with your opponent. Simply deliver a well-placed knee attack and your opponent will be instantly injured. At this point, if necessary, you can effortlessly continue with further counter attacks.

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