The Secret to a Devastating Elbow Strike

The Secret to a Devastating Elbow Strike

One of the most devastating strikes you can use in close quarters combat is the elbow strike.

However, many people don’t understand the dynamics of this powerful move and end up getting it completely wrong, resulting in a missed target and insufficient power at the point of impact.

Let me explain…

Striking someone with your elbow requires you to be very close to their body because you don’t have as long of a reach as you do with throwing a regular punch. Because of this shorter range, the farther away you are from your attacker, the more your whole body has to move in order to hit your target (in this example, the head).

Many people who try to throw an elbow strike from “punching range” (about 3′ from your attacker) therefore end up signaling their intentions too early as the person they’re trying to hit picks up their movement with their eyes and instantaneously flinches backward.

This creates a “moving target” for you that’s harder to hit and because their head is moving back in the same direction as your elbow strike, less force is generated at impact.

Does that mean that you can’t take advantage of the elbow strike unless you’re right up in someone’s face?

Not at all. Here’s the secret to overcoming this obstacle and still be able to land a devastating elbow strike at further distances…

The answer is in your “lead hand”, or the hand that is closest to your attacker.

Assuming that you’re going to strike with your right elbow, you would first bring your left hand up, under your attacker’s line of sight, and grab the back of the neck/​head.

At the same time as delivering your elbow strike, you’re going to pull his head, trying to get your left hand to meet halfway with your right elbow.

This accomplishes several things…

1. Your lead hand is closer and quicker so you can control your attacker much faster and easier by quickly grabbing on and pulling him in.

2. By pulling and striking at the same time, you shorten the distance it takes for your elbow strike to hit it’s target by 50%.

3. Because his head and your elbow strike are traveling toward each other, you greatly increase the amount of force at the point of impact (think about a head-​​on collision in your car vs. rear ending a car going in the same direction as you)

Learn to use your lead hand to your advantage and you’ll quickly master the elbow strike.



  1. Brett Heenan says:

    My Dad taught me to walk away from a fight, run away from a fight; But, if you have to fight, you had better know how. Elbows hurt!!

  2. Em Braga says:

    In general, the single best technique in a street fight is really fast running shoes…

    As my gunny taught me, all this stuff is good, but if you can get away without either being hurt or hurting someone else (yes, even the bad guy), you’re better off. For one thing, you never know if the bad guy has a friend just up the street, and the friend has a Glock… Elbow strikes don’t work worth a darn against 9mm rounds.

  3. divine gerald says:

    I need help with taking the asvab and the per test, can some one help me?

  4. Nick says:

    Em, in a way that’s slightly debatable. While at a distance guns are obviously superior to hand-​​to-​​hand fighting, at point blank hand-​​to-​​hand can be utilized to disarm your opponent if you know the right technique. You also have to be very fast.

  5. Yes…definitely run away if you can! No matter how big and bad you think you are, you ALWAYS have to take into account the “unknown” factor:

    Unknown: Will his buddies jump in to give him a hand as you’re “winning” the fight?

    Unknown: Is he armed?

    Unknown: Is his buddy armed? (Thanks Em Braga!)

    I’ve seen a LOT of guys puff out their chest to defend their “manhood”…only to find themselves unconcious from any number of “unknowns” about 3 minutes later.

    But sometimes you don’t have the option to run away. You’d better know what to do when you can’t!

    Great posts y’all! Keep the discussion going and I have vids on the way!

  6. Seth Teti says:

    Well this looks great, I never thought to use my lead hand for more leverage. Hi Jeff and thank you for this video, I am joining the Special Forces “Green Berets” and I am trying to learn as much as possible before Basic. I appreciate this video i learned a lot.

  7. Br.Phil says:

    Very good effective defensive/​offensive technique!! The elbow strike has been used since the beginning of time…Always remember that a low offensive can also be activated simultaneously!!!

  8. RAVEN346 says:

    If you’ve already gotten yourself into the squared off stance.. Why run? Once youre committed you had better take the advice of this elbow blow. Great advice to get the weak hand to control his head.

  9. Fat Hairy Biker says:

    This technique is ok. My resume is no where near as bad ass as this guys! However, I’ve been in alot of bar room brawls. I have the arrest record to prove it! The elbow is great, my personal favorite. Yet thier are many effective ways to deliver it. All of them very devistating.

  10. Karol says:

    The first thing: effective elbows are delivered almost solely in clinch. It takes years of practice to hit someone with an elbow from a distance.

    The secret of a good elbow… is actually good body rotation. Making sure that your hips are accelerating your elbow.

    I find grabbing guy’s head very dangerous. You just expose yourself too much for “lucky shots”. However gaining the momentum from the hands’ pull is very effective when we talk about knees in clinch. Devastating technique in Muay Thai.

    It might seem I’m expertising too much, while you are an expert. Well, I admire your work, you’re doing a great job writing all sorts of articles, it’s just that I specialise in Muay Thai and therefore feel I may share my thoughts with others.

  11. Josh says:

    I agree with Karol, using hips to generate power, using knees, and that I also find grabbing a guy’s head dangerous. If I were to use this technique, the only place I could use it with confidence is if I’d already worked the guy over, my best, and I’m getting tired. Maybe he’s still standing, but I need to try something to make sure he’s going down so that I can get away and catch my breath. I still think I’d use my knee though, and save the elbows for close quarters like when some idiot wraps up on me. It is great advice though, its better to use your leading hand to bring his head to your elbow, instead of trying to make the distance with just your elbow.

  12. JohnUSMC says:

    The elbow strike is extremely effective. I have busted a knuckle twice trying to throw a punch when someone was pinned to a solid object, like a brick wall! I quickly learned that an elbow strike to the temple in close quarters is far more effective than a hand strike. A temple strike, however, can kill. So aim well.

  13. DEVGRU_RED says:

    Great video and instruction. The elbow strike is indeed a very devastating method to use in a variety of CQ situations, be it in CQB/​CQC or plain street fighting. I personally have used (almost exactly as demonstrated here) this in a defensive posture against an ARMED opponent.

    My case: the recipient of my well placed elbow strike was holding (gangsta style!) a PT1911 .45 ACP by Taurus. He held it with is right hand and had it aimed in the vicinity of my head. The weapon was approximately 4 to 5 inches from my face, I could see that his trigger finger was resting along the slide — above the trigger assembly. He was running his mouth about how he was going to enjoy my immediate demise, while I remained silent and observant. When he started to lower his finger from the slide, I reacted without hesitation.

    I had my arms raised already, in a left hand lead boxing style or basic position. As I quickly snapped my left arm up and forward, I stepped in towards the “tough guy”. Bumping his gun welding hand and arm left and outward. I “wrapped” my left arm over his right forearm and grasped him just above the elbow from behind and pulled him forward. My right elbow was in motion and as I pivoted my hips (right hip towards him) with my right elbow making point of contact at his left temple area.

    His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud and I quickly gathered his weapon. It was in the cocked and locked position, so I brought the weapon to a ready to fire state. Being familiar with this weapon; I knew straight away that it was in fact, fully loaded. In a very short matter of time (about the time it takes to exhale after having witnessed something that shocks you), his partners in crime began to advance towards me. I shot six rounds resulting in 2 men dead, one man with wounds to his knee and thigh and another fell with a nasty wound in his groin region.

    This was a combat situation wherein, I was on a “Hunting OP” and had simply “run” into the HVT’s hired goons. I do believe that had it not been for the POWER of the ELBOW STRIKE and the KNOWLEDGE and TRAINING of PROPERLY executing this maneuver; I would not be keying this in now.

    I can not stress the importance of PROPER TRAINING and TECHNIQUE PRACTICE, enough in this area. I am sure that Jeff will tell you all; you can not simply watch his video or any other like it and become properly and adequately trained in such a manner to use this in a life or death situation. I would not even suggest you use this in a simple street fight without proper training and practice — unless you are very pain tolerant and have no one in your life that would demand an explanation regarding the source and circumstances that resulted in all the bruises, bumps, scrapes and cuts that now adorn your body.

    Great job Jeff, HOOAH and HOOYAH!


  14. skeptic says:

    nice story devgru.… you are the toughest guy in here. and you are so familiar with that colt but sounds like you are a pretty bad shot with it

  15. Karnack says:

    I noticed that if you are right-​​handed, you can master this better with some experience in Kendo or Aikido because your right hand is your “steering wheel” while your power arm is your left. This means you have better ability to quickly maneuver your opponent’s head into an optimum position while delivering a better forward directed motion with your power-​​arm. You can learn to do the whole thing off-​​handed (if you are a lefty.) I’m ambidexterous, but the muscle memory of kendo makes this better if I start right forward. Its an awkward way to enter a fight, but its definately disorienting and you apply your pre-​​programmed muscle movements.

    The other thing about practice (particularly in Kendo) is speed of decision, targeting, and swiftness of action. Its not a “butt-​​kicking” martial art, but its a good one to have in your repetoire for developing reflexes and focus.

  16. combat ready says:

    The things the army teach you are only good if your opponent do not know how to defend himself. You need more than a know how, you need lots of experience in order for this to work to your advantage. A major key is for you to make the first move lol

  17. RC says:

    This is good stuff. A small person like me needs to know what can work if I need to defend others or myself. I hope it never has to be used but just in case, I’m going to build a “dummy” to practice this move.
    We old “jar heads” still have an obligation to protect when we can.
    Thank you, Jeff

  18. Drew says:

    This is all very good to know,when you just want to dance around and fist fight, seems to me that we should not take it with a grain of salt, someone attacks me and I am not going to fist fight for minutes, killing in defense of my life is much more easily done,his friends will think twice,guys with guns,depends on how close,use good judgement,like “DEVGRU_​RED” close enough to disarm and continue,go, to far,run for it chances are unless you picked a fight with a G.I. or a cop or a well trained civilian he will be a poor shot,run and duck man,but very good video, I want him to show us how to pick our sorry butts up off the ground after someone elbows us because of this video,LOL

  19. Just want to say that everyone’s posts are GREAT (whether I agree or not) and I look forward to your ongoing discussion! Keep up the great work y’all!

    • nivek111 says:

      Hi jeff i am in my teen years and i have been working out every other day and looking this website for new postes about muscle fittness and i just have one question, how soon will i see major results??

      • If you’re just starting out, you’re likely to see results rather quickly — usually within just 7 days. 12 weeks of smart training is a good time period to see very dramatic results.

        Train hard — eat right — you’ll grow. ;_​0

  20. Luke says:

    I hope nobody beleives the crap “DEVGRU_​RED” is shoveling. I can see right through it. Good story though.

  21. K.David Smith says:

    Loved the video. Used to teach Kenpo Karate … we called that technique “sandwiching” …

  22. peter says:

    Good point Jeff. With practice, speed and the ability to generate power by using the whole body, this technique can end the confrontation. Knees are also a valuable weapon especially using the a technique which pulls the opponent into the knee. I am sure you have techniques with this as well.

  23. gregory peter dupont says:

    good “old dirty boxing“variant…nothing like mauling them at clinch range.

  24. desert war dawg says:

    DEVGRU_​RED .….…. you gathered up his weapon?

    Can we say Harlequin reader?

    It was a good video for consideration.

    Do what you have to do to survive.

  25. paulito says:

    What the hell is a “hunting OP” and “HVT’s”????

  26. Ben says:

    I was taught get away if you can. If hes in your face and you cant disengage, “hit’em back first” make it hard and extremely violent then disengage if your able. If there is more than one move back keep moving, “stack” your oponents, try and put something between you and them i.e. a car. Just a thought.

  27. Adrenalized says:

    Jeff, I know the post is a year old, but I’ll wiegh in. If you are as you train, and train with the presence of mind for your body to remember, note that you can best and most completely control your opponents head by grabbing the crown.

  28. k9rico says:

    Karol.…THANK YOU

  29. nicolas says:

    elbow strike: use the hardest point of your elbow, not ur lower arm (as the vid describes). turn your wrist (and hand) DOWN, this lil twitch generates a faster movement of the arm (and your hand doesnt get in the way of your own face/​breast)

    • nicolas says:

      btw, turn on your toes (make ur hip move forward) so the movement carries your whole bodyweight

  30. Ian Jay says:

    In Wadu Ryu Karate, this technique is called Empi, and is nothing short of devastating. I\‘m not in the military but I am a student of Wadu Ryu and Kempo Ju Jitsu, under O-​​Sensei Grand Master Phil Milner\‘s club, the IBA. My advice would be to place your lead hand on the side of the attackers head, whilst instantaneously pulling your arm up, so that the top of your fist (where your thumb is) is facing you. Immediately as you\‘ve done this, drive the tip of your elbow into the head of the attacker. You must imagine that you are driving your elbow THROUGH your attacker, trying to reach the position of your lead hand. The moment you have landed the blow, \‘snap\’ your arm back. This actually makes the strike MUCH more powerful. No actual strength is needed, as the speed will do the damage. Aim below the jaw to injure, at the temple to kill. (As you will be in theatre combat). After performing the strike, move back if possible and maintain your attack/​defense stance.

    Hope this helps. =)

  31. Ian Jay says:

    Correction: — Aim below the CHEEK to injure. Under the Jaw would make you miss! My bad! =)

More from:

Jeff Anderson

Jeff Anderson is a 10 year veteran of the U.S. Army, a Master Fitness Trainer, and Master Instructor of Close Quarters Combat self defense. A full time fitness and self defense author, Jeff has trained thousands of men and women in the practical application of advanced military fitness methods as well as close combat tactics for "real life" self defense.

To see more from Jeff Anderson, check out the following websites: