The Power of Knee Strikes

Knee strikes — Useage in MMA, Close Quarter Combat, Weapons Considerations

Let’s take a look at one of the most powerful strikes to be found in all of martial arts, the knee strike. They are very often responsible for ending fights by knockout. Generally, because the leg is bent it’s used at the clinch distance, but it can be thrown from the outside with good timing and athleticism. Most of the time, your hands will have some kind of upper body or head control over the opponent. This allows you to use your opponent’s body as a pulling point to add force to the strikes. You can throw them from directly in front or slightly off one side or another. Imagine doing a narrow grip pullup on someone’s neck, and that should give you an idea of how much force can be applied from the top downwards, while at the same time the thigh and abdominal muscles are launching the knee strike upwards. In MMA of course the groin strike is not allowed, but in close quarters combat situations, we like to do all the stuff that is illegal in sport fighting. Still, the upper body control and arm positioning that allows you to control an opponent and keep them in position for knee strikes is pretty much the same for each. It is always better to be off to one side of your opponent, to limit counterattacks and to apply more of your force and leverage to a weaker point. This is a very common position that civilian defenders end up in after dealing with common grabbing or pulling type of attacks.

In sport fighting you may see a version of the Thai clinch where the striker has the defender directly in front of their body, both hands clasped behind the head and elbows trapping the head to the body. It is a devastating position to have your opponent in for sport fighting. The grip and position allows for a very strong downward pulling motion with the lats and biceps and is very hard for the opponent to counteract with their neck muscles alone. However in sport fighting, don’t forget that body weight is evenly matched. In close quarter combat on a battlefield or in the street, you may be bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker, armed or possibly unarmed against your opponent. I’m 165 lbs, and if I’m squared up on a 250 pounder and blast him in the package hard enough to stop or pause an attack, he could still fall on me and end up in a better position. Hopefully he doesn’t have a knife or a handgun to grab in spite of the previous blow. What’s worse is if he successfully defends the knee strike and is now taking me down on purpose. If I’m off to one side, I can stay out of the way of falling bodies and avoid getting grabbed or taken down while still being in line to throw the strikes. It’s ideal to be facing your opponent, while they are turned 45 to 90 degrees away from you.

When it comes to weapons you have to adjust your approach further. If an edged weapon or a gun is between you and your opponent, you’re not going to want to put your body in the line of fire or run into a blade or point. Blunt weapons like sticks and bats and even rifles sometimes are ok, if you are out of the line of fire, you have control over the weapon, and the weapon does not impede the knee strike. If you are off to the side, you have control over the weapon and are out the of the line of fire, knees are a great option because your hands will often be occupied. One hand may be controlling your attacker’s wrist, while the other is hooked around the neck or a twisting a collar to control the head, so what’s free to strike is the knee. You’ll want to use the leg that is closer to their center. You can often fire off several strong knees in a row before your opponent has a chance to escape, and then it becomes a lot easier to disarm them. Secondary weapons can potentially be a problem if the strikes do not cause a stopping reaction and your opponent can bring it to bear with the off side hand. We can’t be ready for absolutely everything or know what’s hidden, but by being in the best position, we can at least limit the effects of surprises like that.

Another major difference I should acknowledge between sport fighting and close quarter fighting in a self defense or a battle is that you do not want to waste time in close engagement with the enemy. The more time you spend tangling with one combatant, the more time there is for his buddy to nail you while your back is turned. That being said, if you have solid upper body control while throwing the knees, you can use your opponent as a shield, and put them between you and more attackers, as well as position yourself to see what else is going on around you. Once you have head and arm or shoulder control, you can push, pull, or what’s best, circle your opponent to keep them off balance while striking and still survey the surroundings.

If knee strikes are not in your repertoire yet, they should be. For pure power and leverage, they are one the strongest strikes a human can deliver. They have broad application and use in any close quarter combat situation. If you use them already, try adding nuances such as repositioning yourself in order to see what is going on in the immediate environment, or trying wrist control versus shoulder control, over hooks or under hooks, with a weapon in one hand or another of your opponent. The key to adding a new tool to your arsenal is to train the fundamentals, then try it in different situations. Then at the right time and in the right place, it will be there for you.



  1. tony says:

    Are you striking with the patella or just above the knee?

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