The Sweet Science of ‘Hellbows’ in MMA

“Hellbows are gods perfect little gifts of mass destruction. Perfectly at home whether targeting soft flesh or thin tissue. Angles, arc and hip rotation all play a role yet, none so important as proper range.”


The close quarter efficiency of the elbow long touted by exponents of SE Asian styles from Muay Thai to Tomoi, Kali to Lethwei is enjoying more ring time in recent years than ever before. I remember watching the deadly grace in which early UFC Fighter Orlando Weit wielded them thinking: “If this guy could just stay off his back, he would be unstoppable.”

While over the years, the sport has seen more than its share of hard hitting Muay Thai greats like Duane Ludwig and Anderson Silva, the prominence of the elbow has gained a whole new level of respect as fighters learn to add unorthodox angles, lead switch combinations and dirty bumps on the inside to create space all while avoiding the takedown. We are experiencing only the latest in a long line of evolutionary adaptations in the sport of MMA and it’s wonderful.

The How

Traditional Muay Thai is perhaps the most widely known for the “Sok” techniques contained within its Mae Mai curriculum and usage form and technique vary by camp, style or region. While mechanics vary, broad form across the board dictates a knife hand slash structure irrespective of the angle but all thrown with heavy power and ill intent.

Conversely, Silat and its Filipino cousins: Kali, Panantukan and Yaw Yan often favor a bent in at the wrist close quarter approach. MMA’s “New Age Exponents” like “Dream Killer” Bolanos, Yair Rodriguez and Jon Jones utilize every opportunity with great effect.

I would heavily recommend anyone seeking what is truly possible with the elbow arsenal to seek out Kru Jak Othman of Malaysia, who is a pillar of the Tomoi and Bersilat community there. He is a wealth of information and a library of martial arts knowledge.


The primary consideration not only throwing, but ultimately landing elbows to effect is the realization of range and timing. The largest mistake I see is trainers who close the distance too much in a session by swatting at the fighter, rather than an exponent learning that he needs to slide in and adjust the range to the appropriate tool. Yes, it helps to swat the pads and I have used this tactic for years, but attention to detail and range is the difference between landing or missing, overextending in close range to expose your back or your opponent meeting his demise at your hands.

Training with a defined purpose in each session rather than always just doing pads for the sake of memorization will take your game to another level. Welcome to the future ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to Hellbows.

You may also like: Muay Thai right elbow strike techniques.


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