Beginner’s GuideTo Knee Strikes

Though deemed as illegal in many martial art forms, knees are an integral part of Muay Thai and Kickboxing. They don’t just look vicious; they are actually devastating. 

When we talk about using knees in combat, no fighting style even comes close to that of Muay Thai. The always evolving and transforming world of Muay Thai fighting style is based on “Art of Eight Limbs”, which is quite distinctive in nature.

Role of knees in martial arts

The role of knees in this martial art is unparalleled. Just as the art of using an elbow strike is highly sought after in UFC, the art of using knees is equally important.

The impact of the knee strike can knock an opponent out and can cause devastating effects such as breaking their ribs, paralyzing their muscle and even cutting certain parts of the body if used correctly.

We see fighters use them to great effect in combat sports. An exciting example of using knees to the right measure was when Jose Aldo used the double flying knee against Cub Swanson at WEC 41 and scored a knockout within the initial 8 seconds of the bout.

Role of Knee strikes in Muay Thai

There is a lot of information regarding knee strikes on the internet. However, not all of them are correct. Many of the leading portals even carry slightly misleading tutorials which can hinder your progress, to say the least. With that said, there’s no particular way of incorporating a knee style.

Every trainer you train with will have his/her personal philosophy and their way of utilizing the knee would be different.  

Since the basis of the majority of the sports is to score points, greater emphasis is laid on using the kicks and knee techniques with great effectiveness.

What is a Knee Strike?

Though there are more than 8 variations in a knee strike, a primary knee strike usually involves thrusting your knee i.e. knee cap into your opponent’s head or body.

As a beginner, you want to straighten your knees out and without flexing it, notice how you can rotate your knee caps around especially when you stand up. However, when you bend it, your knees tighten up and it becomes hard.

So, when you’re striking with a straight knee, you want to make sure that you bring your heel all the way to your butt so you solidify your knees before you hit your opponent. Your knee cap matters the most, it’s below femur and above tibia. In case of side knee, you use the side of the femur knee, which is the inside part of the knee cap. While doing any of these knee strikes, you must bring your heel all the way back to your butt with your feet pointing towards the ground.

Bad Knee Strike vs Good Knee Strike with Visual Sample

Bad knee demonstration: In the picture below, you’ll see that the additional height achieved in the knee strike makes it highly ineffective. Furthermore, you can see that not enough power has been generated by the knee. Additionally, the knee rises straight up and not at a diagonal angle, which isn’t the most effective method. Even the hips aren’t well turned out and the knee doesn’t seem to penetrate enough which is crucial.

Deploying Incorrect knee technique: A common mistake made by beginners is to hit the opponent with the wrong part of the knee. As explained below, you want to connect with the knee cap. There should be a single contact point which carries all of the force behind the attack. Furthermore, the knee is not placed in up and down position rather than a diagonal position which makes the impact less powerful as it deviates the single-point contact. 

These two images above cover some of the major areas which point out towards the most common mistake. We could’ve divided that into several parts, but the breakdown makes it simple for you to understand the problem. Having said that, let us understand everything that’s right in a knee strike.

Everything that’s right in a knee strike

Look at the pictures above and then look at the image below. The difference between the two knees is so apparent. The hips of the fighter are driven forward whereas his upper body is leaning slightly backward thereby helping him to create more power and momentum going forward with his knee. The upper thigh angle and the lower leg add to the perfect knee strike.


How to do a knee strike?

Having said that, let us move towards a stepwise guide on how to do a straight knee strike. Once we get the steps down, we can focus on the variations in-detail:

Take the fighting stance: You don’t want to be in a neutral stance while delivering the knee strike. Make sure you aren’t leaning too forward or backward. Though you have to exert pressure forward, refrain from overdoing it.

Hip Movements: Before you execute the knee strike, your hips should move in the forward direction. Herein, you’re trying to achieve considerable height along with a denting impact on your target.

Arm movements: As you’re about to land your knees, stretch your arms towards one angle to add additional power. For instance, if you’re knee striking with your right leg, you want your arms to stretch out in the same direction. With your right hand farther right and the left one following it across the body.

Don’t just elevate, eliminate: When you’re raising your knees and are about to plant your knees onto your opponent’s head or his ribs, make sure you direct in inwards and not just upwards.

Common mistakes to avoid when doing a knee strike

Not achieving fluid motion: When doing a knee strike, you must be able to use strength, power, and speed of your knee to its maximum capacity. Only when you combine these three elements, will you be able to achieve a fluid motion. Though entry-level practitioners do have a lot of difficulties when it comes to extending the hips, it can be achieved with constant practice.

Moving knee straight up: When using the knee strike, you’re not looking to skim the body of a person. Most of the practitioners often commit this mistake of driving their knees straight up as if their skimming their opponent. Remember, you have to indent your knee strike and penetrate through your opponent. Though it’s traveling in an upward direction, you have to strike towards your opponent’s body aiming to penetrate your knees. Imagine the angle and you’re trying to catch your opponent’s ribs. In such a case, you want to hit the ribs with the knee cap.

Dropping hands low: Most practitioners are often though to drop one hand low to set up a jab post the strike. While it’s not a wrong practice, you should avoid it as much as you can. Instead, you should raise both your hands together whilst you protect your jaws from any kind of attack.

Not bending your knee: A pretty common mistake amongst beginner practitioners is that they do not bend the knee. When you don’t bend the knee, you’re taking away the impact from the strike as you don’t solidify it enough. Moreover, you’re also risking yourself to a serious injury if you get it wrong.

Throwing from too far away: While practicing with a bag, beginners develop a tendency thinking that they can catch their opponent from distance. Since your general reach is slightly more than when you practice using a pad, the reach is underestimated. As a result, when you try to throw the knee from the same distance in a fight, you end up coming short and at the receiving end of a defining blow.

10 Types of Knee Strikes you should know

1.The Straight Knee Strike


  • The straight knee strike is effectively used to target the midsection of your opponent’s body
  • It is amongst the initial strikes taught to a Muay Thai student just starting out
  • This strike can be delivered both in a clinch, mid-range or even outside the clinch
  • This technique is mostly used when a fighter wants to force the opponent’s head down after getting a good grip in the clinch
  • This technique is most effective when you’re able to generate sharp forward and upward thrust from hips

2.Knee Slap

  • It is a great technique to target the midsection of your opponent’s body, especially the sides
  • Knee Slap works best when you’re involved in a cagey fight and want to wear down your opponent
  • Knee Slap is usually used from a really tight range, especially when you’re in a clinch
  • This technique might not be the most powerful technique, however, it is great to wear down your opponent

3.The Curved Knee Strike

  • This curved knee strike is effectively used to target opponent’s oblique muscles, ribs and outer muscles
  • Herein, you want to operate in tight distance i.e. chest to chest
  • When to fighters are really close to each other and are unable to land the straight or diagonal strike, the curved knee strike is the second best options
  • Similar to the Knee Slap, it’s a great technique to wear down your opponent

4.The Diagonal Knee Strike

  • The diagonal knee strike is an exceptional strike used to target the midsection of the opponent – generally landed on the ribs or on either side of the body
  • It’s similar to the straight knee strike with the only difference being the angle wherein, you aim to kick inwards and up
  • This knee strike is ideally executed at a close range when you’re in or outside the clinch

5.The Horizontal Knee Strike

  • The horizontal knee strike is often thrown after lifting the leg up so that it’s parallel to the floor and the knee is thrust forward targeting the opponent’s mid-section
  • It’s an excellent defensive technique which can help keep your opponent at bay
  • Most of the fighters turn towards the horizontal knee guard to keep the opponent away and prevent them from landing any significant strikes.
  • This knee strike has got to be the most effective technique in your knee strike arsenal.

6.Long Knee Strike or Knee Bomb

  • Long knee or knee bomb is the most fiery knee strike usually targeted at your opponent’s mid-section
  • As the name suggests, it is initiated from a long range.
  • Herein, the fighter charges on his/her opponent and lands a strike at an angle which is right between the straight and the diagonal knee strike.
  • This knee strike with its charging capabilities allows the practitioner to penetrate deep and break the opponent’s guard.

7.Flying Knee Strike

  • This technique is tough to execute yet the most effective one when applied correctly.
  • Herein, a fighter makes an explosive leap and while switching his/her feet, lands a strike with incredible amount of force.
  • The flying knee strike has knockout written all over it.
  • Look at this video, for instance, 4 seconds into the fight and light’s out for his opponent.

8.The Small Knee Strike

  • The small knee strike can be used in an offensive and a counter-attacking manner which involves sharp and short knees towards the opponent’s thighs
  • Similar to the curved knee strike, the small knee strike is effective in a small distance and great for wearing down your opponent
  • It’s quite effective when used in clinch. The crux of this technique is the usage of sharp and short knee attacks towards the opponent’s thighs
  • It can also be used to break light guard or to increase the range within the clinch to land a mid-range knee strike.

9.The Rabbit Knee Strike

  • The rabbit knee strike is used effectively to drain your opponent’s leg in a clinch.
  • This knee strike causes sharp, and long-lasting pain which forces the opponent to leave the clinch and start again. However, by this point, the damage is mostly done.
  • Herein, the thigh portion above the knee is targeted instead of the inner thigh.
  • The Rabbit Knee strike is also a great defensive technique to hinder an opponent’s knee strike.

10.Step-up Knee Strike

  • The step-up knee strike certainly has a cinematic appeal to it. Herein, you step onto your opponent’s thighs and catch them with your knees on the side of their face.
  • This technique is one of the most traditional knees striking techniques used less frequently today.
  • Due to the short stance nowadays as compared to wider stance back in the day, this technique is not practical.
  • Thus, this knee strike is mostly used in Muay Boran (the older version of Muay Thai).
  • If you’re up and against a traditional fighter, this knee striking technique can prove to fruitful.

Drills to improve your knee strikes

If you’re getting started with knee strikes and you want to use them as a professional Muay Thai practitioner. You must do the following drills to build the strength, agility, and accuracy required. Once you start with your knees, you want to perfect the timing, speed, posture and how to defend against it if it’s thrown at you.

Sprinting session: Sprinting will help you work your knees and conditioning your body for the bout. If you want to do this drill, you can do sets of sprints such as 5x100m spirits.

Using a heavy bag as a target: Setting a heavy bag at an appropriate distance will help you practice all the different variations of the knee strikes. You can perform jumping, rotating the lead hip and using the right part of your knees onto the pad. You should focus on hitting the right areas more than focusing on power. 

Stair runs An effective drill to work your entire leg. Try climbing the stairs for a certain period, say 1-2 min in each go. This drill will help improve the thigh strength while activating the hips.

Box jumps: It is a hip-width stance, wherein you jump on and off the box using both your feet. While doing so, you want to keep the knees in line with your toes. This drill will help improve the knee and full hip extension.

I hope this comprehensive guide on the Art of Knees was helpful and it added value to your existing knowledge. If you’re beginner, remember to be patient and work hard towards developing your skill set and not just power. Power is secondary but execution and precision are primary. 

You can work your knees and make them more powerful but if you don’t make it precise from the first stage, you’ll never work towards perfecting it. Thus, make sure to spend quality time on this technique.