Elbows – Up and down?
With some possible opening of the rules for Amateur Muay Thai in the United States I had to wonder what would or would not be included in the new rules.
One of my linked sites leaked that California would possibly legalize elbow strikes for amateur Muay Thai. If you haven’t checked the other sites’ links on my site please do. They’re excellent reads and I am confident you’ll find them informative and entertaining. The possible passing of a rule allowing elbows would set a new precedent that hopefully the rest of the United States will adopt in their commission and regulation of amateur Muay Thai in America. I’ve also spent some time considering the rules of Amateur Muay Thai especially given the World Amateur Muay Thai Championship happenings in Thailand right now. But anyone who’s even got some passing knowledge of Muay Thai knows that Muay Thai without elbows really isn’t Muay Thai at all.
Why so much concern over the elbow strike? Because the elbow strike can be one of if not the most dangerous striking offense in a ring sport. In a review of basic physics: Force is found to be Mass X Acceleration. The elbow being the contact point accelerated along the torque of the body. Because of the relative sharpness and hardness of the point of contact the elbow strike is correctly regarded as the hardest hitting strike from the waist up in combat sports. As such the scrutiny and concern associated with elbow strikes among sports regulatory bodies is understandable. But the ignorance regarding elbow strikes needs clearing up as well.
A review of the rules set forth by the California Athletic State Commission shows that the downward elbow is illegal. How did this rule come to be and what’s the logic behind it? That requires some history review. It’s been said but never confirmed that one of the original authors of the rule witnessed a classical martial arts demonstration in which the demonstrator smashed through blocks of ice using the infamous downward (otherwise known as the 12-6) elbow strike.
What really did happen is at the time former New Jersey State Athletic Commissioner, Larry Hazzard and former Nevada State Commissioner and now UFC employee, Mark Ratner put together Unified Rules for MMA which would ultimately impact how Muay Thai is also competed in, in the United States. It should be noted this was at Larry Hazzard’s prompting to clarify rules after an incident involving downward elbow strikes at a seminal IFC show held in New Jersey. Apparently the appointed physician for the event was displeased at what he saw. And what the physician saw was downward elbow strikes to an opponent’s head. The significance is that Nevada and New Jersey generally set the precedents for most notable state athletic commissions and other states generally follow suit and currently downward elbow strikes are not allowed any where in any combat sport that I know of in the United States. New Jersey and Nevada could be considered the de facto standard any respectable state athletic commissions pattern themselves after.
Mixed Martial Arts popularity and growth seems to have most influence in elbow strikes regulation not only in California but in the United States as well. By no means would I downplay the efforts of dedicated Muay Thai competitors, coaches and teachers who have fought for full rules in America at all levels including at the professional level but its clear the better known entity of MMA is what truly pushed rules for combat sports in general being more open to the techniques of Muay Thai. While non 12-6 elbow strikes are allowed in MMA events in Nevada (the biggest example being the UFC) they aren’t in California (the biggest example being Strikeforce).
Most elbow strikes I’ve seen in MMA that are actually effective are from the ground where a top fighter strikes down towards a mounted opponent. Standing I find the majority of MMA fighters and quite a lot of western Thaiboxers as well throw an elbow out of range and almost always at way too wide of an arc to be effective nevermind damaging. But in regards to safety is a downward elbow strike that much more damaging than a crossing elbow? Or any other elbow strike? To be perfectly honest I wasn’t sure so I did what anyone else would do: I consulted a physician.
For the physician’s answer I found Dr.Johnny Benjamin. Dr.Benjamin is member of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ MMA Medical Subcommittee and consultant and a noted combat-sports specialist. This is Dr.Benjamin’s response when asked if a downward elbow is more dangerous than any other kind of elbow strike.
An elbow strike delivered by a grounded fighter from a 12-o’clock position is not significantly more or less dangerous than a blow delivered from an 11-o’clock position. Furthermore, with mounted fighters intelligently defending themselves by squirming, switching hips, covering up, etc., it is an extremely difficult rule to enforce properly . I emphasize the phrase intelligently defending because if a fighter is unable to do so, as per the rules, the fight should be halted.The theoretical concern from a medical viewpoint is the blow pinning the head to the ground, and therefore, not allowing the body/neck to effectively dissipate the force.I believe that all elbows to legal areas of the head of a grounded opponent should be considered legal. It could then be more uniformly enforced by the referee. The ref would consider if the area of the strike was legal (not back of the head, etc.), if the recipient is intelligently defending himself, and whether the recipient sustained too much damage to allow the fight to continue.That being said, an elbow strike delivered by a grounded fighter from a 12-o’clock position is not significantly more or less dangerous than a blow delivered from an 11-o’clock position. Furthermore, with mounted fighters intelligently defending themselves by squirming, switching hips, covering up, etc., it is an extremely difficult rule to enforce properly . I emphasize the phrase intelligently defending because if a fighter is unable to do so, as per the rules, the fight should be halted.
I realize getting elbow strikes allowed at all for amateur Muay Thai in California would be a watermark triumph to begin with but I do wish the United States would consider more carefully allowing downward elbow strikes as well. It seems logical that a combat sport specialized Physician’s opinion should probably have more consideration than hyperbole and ice breaking demonstrations. The California State Athletic Commission while not as influential as either New Jersey or Nevada’s commissions can and does influence commission conduct of other states. And for the United States, California is really the busiest and among the best in Muay Thai. I am hopeful that California allows the downward technique along with elbow strikes for amateurs. If and when it does I hope the other states’ adopt it as well. Thanks again for reading.