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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
amazon.com: ”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 Antonio@speakingadventure.com
see his website www.speakingadventure.com