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Cambodian Bokator Knee Kicks

By Antonio Graceffo

Two Khmer fighters practicing in the temple grounds. a fighter leaps, places his foot on his opponent's thigh, grabs the back of his head, and pulls the face down into a deadly knee strike.

In a recent Discovery Channel series about martial arts, they determined that the knee kick is the single most powerful weapon in the human arsenal. Hooking professional fighters up to all sorts of computer equipment, they discovered that the force of impact of a knee kick is equivalent to being hit by a car. (In this article, when I say knee kick, I mean striking the opponent with your knee. When I say leg kick, I mean striking with your foot or shin.)
Most Asian martial arts stress the importance of leg kicks, because they are also powerful and have greater range. But the knee kick has a number of advantages over the leg kick. A knee kick is much faster than a leg kick, and a knee kick is nearly impossible to grab.

Any time you throw a leg kick, particularly a high kick, there is always the danger of your opponent catching your leg and throwing you, or jamming or breaking your knee. Knee kicks are almost never grabbed. If you take a big knock-out swing with a roundhouse to the head, and miss, you may go completely off balance, or spin around. If you miss a knee kick, you just miss, and nothing is lost. Another advantage to the knee kick is that it uses less energy than a leg kick, so the knee kick conserves energy. Late in the fight, when you are tired, your leg kicks will slow down. They will have no power. They will be easier to avoid, and easier to grab. But even when you are exhausted, you can throw a decent knee kick.

Antonio uses his crossed arms to block a knee strike to the face. Notice how the khmer fighter can scale the body of a taller opponent..

One Khmer fighter grabs his opponent' head, the opponent concentrates on raising his arms to fend off the grab. the attacker bring a hook knee to strike his opponent’s lower rib cage.

Since I am always interested in the practical application of martial arts in professional fighting, one more good reason to master the knee kick is that most professional tournaments allow them. Elbows are often prohibited everywhere except Thailand and Cambodia. Some tournaments also prohibit knees but most, including the K-1 allow them. So, knee kicks can be an extremely valuable tool.
As Bokator is the origin of modern Brodal Serey (Khmer boxing) as well as Muay Thai, Bokator contains all of the knee kicks seen in professional sport, plus a host of others.
There are many knee strikes in Bokator, but we begin training by learning the four basic knees: straight front knee, straight push down knee, hook knee, and cross knee.

Front knee on bag

1. Straight front knee: The body has to remain upright. Don’t lean back. Don’t go off balance. It is better to lean into the strike and crouch slightly. Also, remember to leave your foot hooked, rather than pointed. If the toes are pointing straight at the ground, you will lose power. When you do a knee kick make sure your hands are up next to your head, cover and protect. Lean forward into the strike. After you kick, don’t pop back up to a rigid position. Remain in your fighting crouch. You have closed distance now, and you can follow up with elbow strikes.

A straight left knee strike executed with a right elbow strike (head level) on the bag. Grand Master San Kim Sean holds the bag.

The straight front knee can be executed to the front of the thigh, solar plexus, center of the chest, or the face. If you get a good angle on your opponent, the straight front knee can be used to attack the floating ribs, which break easily. Since the front straight knee is the strongest, it is preferable first to move your body into position, then attack the side of the opponent’s body with your straight knee. If you can’t get a good angle, use the hook knee described below.
In Bokator, the area just above the groin is a favorite target. A straight knee between the groin and bellybutton will put a man in the hospital. Depending upon how low his shorts are ridding, this may be a legal strike.
When executing a knee strike, the power can be increased dramatically by grabbing your opponent behind the head and pulling him into the strike. Even if he holds up his guard, just keep hitting him with knees. One of them will get through his guard. Even the knee strikes which hit his guard will injure him, knocking his own hands into his face or bruising his hands and forearms.
2. Down Knee: This technique can hurt you a bit, but it hurts the opponent a lot worse. It is difficult to practice on a bag, however, because of the shape of the bag. It is best practiced with your partner holding a pad parallel to the ground at waist height, and you practice hitting it down. The knee goes out, like a straight knee, but at the last second, you flex your back and abs and push the knee down. This is an excellent technique for blocking a kick. The downward force pushes the kick away, protecting your body, but it also injures the opponent.

A hook knee to the bag. Iit is important to grab the opponent (here the bag) and pull him into the knee kick. Grand Master san Kim Sean supports the bag..

3. Hook Knee: The hook knee goes out at forty five degree angle, then rotates so the leg is parallel to the ground, and the knee comes in from the side. Always remember to cover as you strike. With the side knee it is good to shoot both hands behind your opponent’s neck and pull him into the knee strike. You reach across his body and hit him with the opposite side knee. The hook knee can be used to attack the side of the opponent’s thigh, midsection, or rib cage. It could be used on the head, but you will probably need to pull the head down to meet the knee.

Antonio uses a cross knee to block a kick.

The knee goes across his body and strikes the opponent's kicking leg jut above the knee. A cross, downward knee can also be used as a block and it may also destroy the opponent's leg.

4. Cross Knee: You use a cross knee when the opponent throws a low round house, aiming for your thigh or midsection. You pivot on the leg he is aiming for, and you strike his thigh with your opposite knee. Your knee comes all of the way across the body and hits his leg. You can also do a variation of cross knee, where you come across, and then strike down on his thigh. This is like a cross-downward knee. At the very least, this technique will jam his kick. If done correctly, it could completely destroy his leg or knock the man down.
Remember, when your opponent kicks, your options are: let him hit you, move, block, or counter strike. Obviously if you let him hit you, you will get injured. If you move, you will not get injured but you may lose your position or he may be setting you up. If you block, you will stop his kick, but you will still get hurt. The counter is an excellent option. Jamming his kick or coming in with the cross-downward knee will not injure you at all, but it will hurt your opponent. If your opponent is not a professional kick boxer, for example, if his training is more along the lines of traditional martial arts such as Tae Kwan Do or Karate, then you may be able to block with a downward strike of your elbow into his thigh. This is risky against a competent kick boxer because he may kick hard enough to shatter your arm. But against most martial artists this is a viable option. The elbow strike block is much more accurate and uses infinitely less energy than a knee block.
We can block and stop the kick or block and push the leg away with the knee. Always use the opposite knee to block the kick.
Training the Knee Kick: We begin practice standing still, and hitting the air with a knee kick. The next step is moving while hitting the air. The final stage is hitting a bag or other object with the knee. In Thailand a lot of fighters mount tires on the wall and practice hitting them with a knee strike. So, if you don’t have specialized equipment, just be inventive.
1.Stand on one leg, holding the knee up, hands out in classic fighting position. Remain in this position for thirty seconds. Change knees and repeat as many times as you can. Maybe start by doing thirty seconds on each leg twice. Then build up to doing thirty seconds on each leg ten times.

2.Standing on one leg, bring the knee up, out, in, and down. Switch legs. Repeat ten times on each leg.

3.Stance practice: Move from high stance, to medium stance, to extremely low stance. Pop back up to high stance and start again. This stance work is important because in Bokator you can do all of your knees, kicks, punches and elbows, from all three stances. So, you must first master the stance before practicing the techniques.

4.Standing in fighting position, hop in the air and change feet. Change from right stance, hop, land in left stance, hop, land in right stance.

5.Practice walking forward, throwing three straight knee strikes. Start in fighting position, with the left leg in front. Throw the right straight knee. Set the right leg down in front. Throw the left straight knee. Set the left leg down, in front. Throw the right straight knee. Set the right leg down, rotate, 180 degrees. Now, the left leg is in front again. Start all over again. Make sure to really throw your hip into these knee strikes.

6.Do the same walking knee practice for the down knee, cross knee, and hook knee.

7.      Jumping knee kick: Same as walking knee kick, except you are jumping. Jump straight left knee, jump straight right knee, jump straight left knee, always moving forward.
8.      Kick and block: One partner kicks. The other blocks with his knee. Practice inside, outside, down block, and cross knee. When you cross block, remember that your knee must be higher than your opponent’s knee.
9.      Kick and block: Exactly the same as the knee series above, but this time you will block with the bottom of your foot, instead of the knee.
10.  Repeat all of the above exercises from high stance, medium stance and low stance. The whole routine could take an hour and a half.
11.  Bag Work: Most Bokator practicioners don’t do a lot or any bag work. But, if you want to fight in a ring, you will need to work on the bag. Always work in intervals of three minutes on and one minute off. Downward knee is hard to do on the bag, but you can do one round of straight knee, one round of hook knee, and one round of cross knee. Next, you can do one round of combination knees. Eventually add one round of combinations of kicks, punches, knees and elbows.
It will probably take you several weeks to build up to completing this routine, but if you do, you will be great.

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About The Author:

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on ”The Monk from Brooklyn”, ”Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves”, ”The Desert of Death on Three Wheels” and”Adventures in Formosa.” Antonio was the first foreign student of Bokator, in Cambodia. Contact him see his website

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Grand Master San Kim Saen,Bokator Boxing, Muay Thai,Thai Boxing,Bradal Serei,Khmer boxing,knee kicks

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