Below is a selection of my Part 1 of my 2nd private with the ferocious “Elbow Hunter of 100 Stitches” Yodkhunpon Sittripum, who happens to be a next door neighbor to my gym. He was an incredible fighter, simultaneously holding the 118 lb title at both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern, back in the Golden Age of Muay Thai. As good as he was as a fighter, he’s a sublime, thoughtful teacher, and it is exactly for instructors like him that my long form video Library was created – you have to see the training unfold. If you would like to view the full 37 minutes of part 1, and also have immediate access to over 6 hours of video, training with legends, with commentary, all it takes is a suggested pledge of $5. You can see everything in that Library here.
above, 5 minutes of my private with Yodkhunpon
My first instruction in the knee, many years ago, was to rock my hips forward and my chest upward, like a rocking chair, with the hips driving the knee forward in a stabbing manner. My knees are good. These knees are good. I’ve knocked many opponents out with them. But Yodkhunpon has a different approach and I can feel the difference in power and accuracy with his upright knees. Instead of the rocking chair motion, he’s more like a swivel chair.
Against some, I’d argue that against many, the lean back on the knee will work. Against Yodkhunpon, he says you’re open for an elbow and I believe him. He’s the “Elbow Hunter.” He knows when you’re open. It seemed to me that his argument was that the lean back opens up the chin and almost any kind of counter throws you off balance. I know this to be true enough with a flat palm against the chest of an advancing knee with a lean back, because this is my only hope against Pi Nu when he’s coming after me with knees. I just jab him in the chest and knock him backwards, because he leans back on knees and drives with his hips – he’s long. But I can also understand Khun’s approach (Khun is Yodkhunpon’s nickname), especially as a knee fighter, because my game is staying in close. At close range, being upright on the knee means greater stability and a much more solid guard up top, as well as the ability to put knees into an immediate combination, especially elbows. He keeps the hips open and often brings his body off-line by stepping with his standing leg outside the stance of his opponent. His foot is basically parked right next to the foot of his opponent and the knee comes slightly outside of their frame before arcing in for a center hit. He’s thrown them only gently on me and God Damn… no mas.
You can compare Yodkhunpon’s attack knee designed to fit with elbows, to Dieselnoi’s knee designed to attack in clinch:
There is more curve and puncturing trajectory to Yodkhunpon’s knees, but both have a characteristic upright attack, and a tendency towards the vertical shin which engages the hip. You read about and see Dieselnoi’s knee and my work with it here.
Why You Might Consider Switching To An Upright Knee
Keep in mind, there are ranges of attacks, and fighting styles which shape these things. There are also question of degree in lean back. A deep, spearing knee might work well for a retreating fighter up against the ropes, discouraging a charging puncher, or create a nice visual body shot for a long distance strike. The lean back is a visually dynamic knee. The Upright Knee is more of a forward moving, close range, combination or clinch style approach to the knee. It’s the “dern” style of walking in and not backing up.
Yodwicha, a dominant knee fighter, when instructing me emphasized the danger of a leaned back knee as well. He told me to stay upright. Dieselnoi, the King of Knees, foregoes the lean back in most positions and he swivels from the hip in the similar to the way that Yodkhunpon likes, though keeping the shin closer to vertical adding not as much curve, saving it for the very tail end. Yodkhunpon’s knee on the other hand has a kind of shiv quality, not far from the motions Sagat teaches, though Sagat is a puncher and favors a little lean. In these attacks the hip is open, so the knee acts a bit like a curve-ball, stabbing across toward the center of the body. Perhaps the most appealing thing to me about Khun’s knees over the lean-back knees are that found that I’m far more on balance coming off of them than I am leaning back. You have way more control from start to finish. I’ve heard from countless cornermen over my years, “knees and elbows work together.” They mean that I knee enough that I should be throwing elbows, too. In this case, Khun has devised a technique that allows knees and elbows to work together. You can alternate between the two almost seamlessly, especially because he keeps his head down and shoulders in guard all the while that he’s kneeing. He also shows me how to do this knee and elbow collaboration, like a game of Whack-a-Mole, throwing a knee when the head goes down and then slicing with an elbow when the head pops back up to protect from the knees. There is no safety, not anywhere.
The lean back knee is not incorrect. It’s a different technique for a different approach, and I’ve been taught the lean back from some very high level ex-fighters. Today as I was leaving the gym I got in a conversation with Khun, who was expressing disbelief in how many people teach the lean back knee. “On a soccer team you have 50 players,” he said, “and with that you’ll get 50 different kicks. Everyone is different. It’s the same with Muay Thai,” he reasoned. My old mentor Andy Thomson used to say, “the only ‘bad’ technique is the one you don’t train.” So if it works with your style, develop it. What’s interesting to me is that 99% of those teaching the lean back in the west or even otherwise will explain its benefits with a nod toward defense against counter punches. Get your head out of reach, makes sense. Yodkhunpon fights in very close proximity and will step just slightly to the side, into the blind spot, but is still close enough to elbow or hook at nearly every moment. For him, the lean back is putting your head precisely in his striking range with the chin tending to pop up. Also in our conversation today he said that every attack against you gives you a moment of opening. You wait for the opportunity, then you grab it. The lean back has its purpose and it’s a good, solid technique. Just don’t do it against a fighter like Yodkhunpon. In one sense you can decide which knee to use based on your opponent, different knees for different occasions, and not based on a singularity of what’s “correct.” But in another sense striking techniques fit into a system of fighting usually. Their weaknesses and strengths are meshed together with a family of attacks and defenses. For very long range fighters, the lean back makes sense. For the snuffing, suffocating fighter, it’s taking away even the breathing room between you and your opponent. I want to adopt Khun’s elbows, so I’m going to adopt the knees as well. They compose a frame of close quarters pressing attacks. His upright knee is quick, short and powerful, matching at the lower level what he wants to do up top.
You can read more about Yodkhunpon here, in my first blog post on him, which contains great GIFs, and links to a full hour I shot for Nak Muay Nation.
Here is a highlight video of Yodkhunpon:
Here is a Playlist of Yodkhunpon’s fights:
As I’ve written above, this 5 minute video is part of a 37 minute video for my Patreon supporters. This is some of what I wrote in my Patreon Only post which you can jump to if you are already a member (or you can become a member in just a minute or so). In the full video he works a lot on his patented lead elbow attack.
“…The Petchrungruang gym where I train is encircled by small, one-room apartments. To the back is a chicken farm, where you can hear the roosters crowing at all hours and on weekends men will walk through the gym area holding fighting chickens under their arms. These things were noteable (and still are) when I first arrived, but they’ve become familiar. So, too, is the completely remarkable fact that a Muay Thai legend, Yodkhunpon, lives in one of these little one-room apartments with his brother on the other side of the gym wall. He isn’t really part of the gym, so much as adjunct to it, part of a loose circle of Thais that orbit a Thai family gym. Sometimes he just appears at the side of the ring and watches me on the bag or asks me about my upcoming fights, like he’s just anybody, or like I’m somebody. It’s awesome.
Khun, as he goes by, is very soft-spoken. His voice is quiet and everything he says is measured, as though he’s thinking as he speaks. In a conversation, there are longish pauses when he’s considering his answer or what he wants to ask next. And he’s quite small, a slim build and his head is always kind of bowed forward, although his back is upright and connotes a proud posture. It’s when he starts throwing his elbows, or demonstrating a knee, that you see the violence in him erupt. In training he doesn’t throw hard, but it’s scary as hell to be on the receiving end of his movements. Khun moves quickly, with a kind of looseness that’s incredible, he locks the top of your head and you feel like a fish caught on a hook, and his face (which you won’t see, but in video you can) is a perfect expression of his muscle memory of fighting. His technique isn’t because it looks good on a bag or is theoretically efficient; it’s practical, it’s meant for impact and maximum damage. In the way I described Karuhat’s tactic as creating tension in his opponent in order to be able to read them, everything Yodkhunpon does is creating fear in his opponents. His footwork is flawless as he moves through empty space, but he moves through you when he’s striking. It takes your breath away, even when you know he won’t hurt you…” read the rest here
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Yodkhunpon “The Elbow Hunter” pt 1 – Slicing Elbow (37 min) watch it here
Simultaneous Raja and Luminee title holder at 118 lbs, Yodkhunpon was one of the most feared elbow fighters in Thailand, and in this session he teaches the looseness and spacing that made his lead elbow such a viscious weapon. He also shuns the traditional rocking chair knee, and instead teaches a powerful stand-in crossing, open-hipped knee that compliments his elbows up top.
Karuhat Sor. Supawan – Be Like Sand (62 min) watch it here
2x Golden Age Lumpinee Champion (112 lb and 122 lbs), Karuhat is considered elite among the elites. Mixing an explosive style with constant off-balances, angling, and melting aways, he was nicknamed the Ultimate Wizard. I can only describe the things he’s teaching here as: Be like sand. This is very subtle, advanced stuff, far above combo techniques or specific defenses. It may take a few viewings to absorb what he is teaching. Everytime I watch this I learn something new.
Namkabuan Nongkipahuyut – Explosive Attack (28 min) watch it here
266 wins, 15 losses, 2 draws. Namkabuan may be the best fighter I’ve ever seen, and it was an intense privledge to train with him. I can honestly say that it changed me as a fighter, inspiring to become more. He combines Muay Khao fighting with technical precision and explosive energy. The knee he teaches in this session is really like no other I’ve seen, like it is shot out of a cannon.
Hippy Singmanee – Developing power (69 min) – watch it here
Two-time Lumpinee champion Golden Age legend Hippy Singmanee takes me though one of the most unique and valuable hours I’ve spent with a top trainer. He is building ground up how power and relaxation are related to each other. This session has been highly influential upon my own training. Learn how spacing+timing+relaxation produces dynamic power.
Yodwicha – Clinch and Muay Khao (Knee) Specialist (35 min) – watch it here
Yodwich shared the Fighter of the Year award as only a 16 year old, and his success in the Lumpinee ring made him one of the most feared clinch fighters in Thailand. In this session he goes through his favorite Muay Khao techniques, shows why he prefers side-attack locks, and turns.
Dieselnoi pt 2 – The King of Knees (54 min) – watch it here
Dieselnoi is the greatest knee fighter who ever lived, and it just wasn’t because of his height. Spending this hour with him lets you feel how much love and energy he pours into his Muay Thai, even at this age, the real secret to what make him dominant in the Golden Age of the sport. There is nobody like Dieselnoi. Nobody.
Joe Hongthong – Developing Muay Khao Style (87 min) – watch it here
This is nearly an hour and a half of straight on Muay Khao instruction. Joe was a top stadium fighter and he’s watched me fight for several years, so this is Advanced Level tweaking, as he teaches how to bring elbows and knees together, discussing the ways that dragging back can work for a forward fighter, and the differences with more technical (femur) approaches. Muay Khao is a technique unto itself.
Pi Earn – Head Trainer of PTT Petchrungruang (34 min) – watch it here
PTT is the rising star of my gym Petchrungruang. He was so sought after he turned down title fights at Lumpinee and Rajadamnern and instead signed with Thai Fight where promoters feel he’s going to become an International star. Pi Earn has been the trainer who has sculpted PTT’s methodical Muay Khao fighting style, and in this session he starts right away making the tiny changes in my technique that are necessary for the strong, forward fighting approach that he favors.