You've spent lots of time and plenty of greenbacks planning and preparing for TEOTWAWKI. You have your evacuation route planned. Your bug-out vehicle is a well-oiled machine. And your go-bag is full of all the good stuff only a survival Santa could bring. But Murphy and his damn law can pop up at anytime, anywhere — if anything can go wrong, it will, and that includes your self-defense plans.

Every prepper probably has a knife, hatchet, or a firearm at the ready — or perhaps all three simultaneously. But what if you're caught bugging out empty-handed? Say a fire tore through your neighborhood, and you had to bail with nothing but the pajamas you were wearing. Or maybe the first part of your bug-out plan went as you expected, but you stopped to take a leak by a tree and a band of marauders ambush you? Perhaps it doesn't have to be a catastrophic situation. It could just be you walking to the corner store and getting jumped by a couple of hoodlums. As the old saying goes, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” At that point, you'll have to survive using nothing but your skills and the tools you were born with.

No worries. Just put a little (warning, puns ahead!) elbow grease into it. With a little knowhow, that knobby little joint in the middle of your arm can save your hide when used as a defensive shield, a devastating hammer, and a leveraging tool. Read on and learn how three different masters, representing three different fighting arts, reveal all you need to know about making a little “elbow room” when SHTF.

Elbow Striking 101

To learn how to throw a proper elbow strike, OFFGRID went straight to the elbow-striking expert, Sam Phimsoutham of World Team USA in San Francisco, California. Even though he's knocked out and pummeled many opponents with his fists and feet as an ajarn (or master) of Muay Thai (AKA Thai boxing), Phimsoutham doesn't suggest using either as your primary empty-hand weapon. “On the street, you want to use palm and elbow strikes so you don't break your hand,” says Phimsoutham, who has trained more than 40 Muay Thai and MMA champions. Indeed, when the grid goes down, getting medical attention for a fracture may prove difficult.

Using your elbow as a weapon is not rocket science, nor should it be. Phimsoutham shows us two effective elbow strikes to be used when your life is on the line.

Vertical Elbow

How: This strike is thrown upward like an uppercut, but with your arm bent all the way so that you connect with your elbow instead of your fist:


– Start in a good stance. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart with your dominant leg slightly behind you (if you're right-handed, step back with your right leg). Place your hands up with your palms out to protect your head.



– Raise your elbow straight up with your palm traveling along the side of your head, like you're combing your hair. Keep your other hand up by your temple to protect your head.

– Elbows are lonely creatures, so practice throwing multiple strikes on both sides.

Why: The vertical elbow strike is an instinctive motion. Plus, it doubles in protecting your cranium because it blends well with the natural flinch response. From a distance, you can use your elbow as a shield.

If you're close enough, your elbow will cause damage to your opponent's face, head, or neck. “This strike works best when a fighter comes at you aggressively,” Phimsouthamsays. The harder they come charging in, the more damage they will do to themselves — talk about karma at work.

Horizontal Elbow

How: Think of this strike as if you're throwing a hook punch, or pretending to be Dracula pulling on his cape:

– Just like with the vertical elbow, you want to start in a good stance: feet shoulder-width apart and hands up.


– Bring your elbow up to your shoulder, keeping your forearm level to the ground. Bring your elbow across your chest, like throwing a hook punch in boxing. (Your right elbow makes a straight line from your right shoulder to your left and your left elbow goes from left to right.)


– Keep your other hand up by your temple to protect your head.

– For extra power tighten your abs, rotate your hips, and pivot your same-side foot (if you're using your right elbow, pivot with your right foot with the heel off the ground like you're grinding a cigarette butt).

– Practice throwing multiple elbow strikes.

Why: When thrown correctly and utilizing your core, the horizontal elbow strike can knock someone out or cut them open. “One of my champions opened a cut on his opponent that took 20 stitches to close,” Phimsoutham says. “During a disaster, you want to end the fight fast so, for maximum trauma, use your entire body weight.”

Target Anatomy

For both vertical and horizontal elbow strikes, you want to use the pointy part of your elbow (the olecranon process of the ulna for you studious types) and up to 2 inches of bone below that. This will allow you to create more pressure (and damage) per square inch.



In fact, your elbow is the strongest area of your arm and one of the strongest parts of your anatomy. This makes it a durable blunt instrument against all manner of targets. “Aim for the chin, bridge of the nose, neck, temple, behind the neck,” Phimsoutham says. “Or anywhere on the spine.” Attacking the back of the neck and the spine can be fatal blows, but desperate times may call for desperate measures — particularly if you have loved ones depending on you for their safety.

However, your elbow, like all tools, has limitations. “You must be in the correct range,” says Phimsoutham, who has been teaching Muay Thai for over 20 years. “Use your elbow when you can grab the guy. If you cannot grab, don't throw the elbow — you're too far. You use your elbow in close quarters only.”

“A good time to throw the elbow strike is when they can't see it coming. For example, after you off balance them in the clinch,” Phimsoutham says. “It works even better when you set it up with a low technique, like a knee to the groin.”

Firing your elbow, like firing a gun, requires training to become proficient. Training will help develop technique, coordination, power, and proper distancing.

Fine Arts

As a prepared individual, you'll want to be proficient with at least one empty-hand self-defense system. But where to start? There are thousands of methods, from military combatives and reality-based programs to traditional Asian fighting styles and modern mixed martial arts (MMA). Below is a brief overview of the three we've highlighted in this article.

Muay Thai: The Art of Eight Limbs

Muay Thai (or Thai boxing) is often referred to as the art and science of eight limbs because competitors use their fists, feet, knees, and — yes, you guessed it — elbows to beat each other into a bloody pulp. Originally from Thailand, MMA competitors have known for many years that this “science” is a must learn for effective stand-up fighting in the cage. The elbow techniques of Muay Thai are perfect for preppers because they are simple to learn, easy to implement, and traumatic in their usage.

Krav Maga: Pressure Tested

It used to be that everyone was kung-fu fighting. Now everyone is doing Krav Maga, from German police officers to Jennifer Lopez in the film Enough. And for good reason: Krav Maga has been battle tested, over and over again, by the Israeli Defense Forces in the war-torn Middle East. Created in the 1940s by Imi Lichtenfeld, this system incorporates elements of boxing, Muay Thai, Combat Sambo, and wrestling. Translated as “contact combat,” Krav Maga is known for its instinctive body movements, simple principles, and devastating techniques.

Pentjak Silat: Minimum Movement, Maximum Devastation

Pentjak Silat, or the study of movement and combat, is one of the most effective styles you have never heard of. Because of silat's effectiveness, many gurus (teachers) aren't open to teaching this system to the public — hence silat's lack of popularity in the USA. Pentjak Silat is a general term for hundreds of different styles from Indonesia. These deadly styles are a unique blend of Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian martial arts forged from centuries of jungle warfare. Represented in this article is Pentjak Silat Anak Serak, identified by its bladed weapons, close-range fighting, sophisticated angles, extreme leveraging, and effortless sweeps.

What If…?

“Using the elbow is one of the most underrated weapons out there,” says Edgar Gabriel, a certified Krav Maga instructor who co-founded the Academy of Combative Defense and Fitness in San Jose, California. “Elbow strikes are instinctive movements and are used to induce blunt trauma and break or cut open the skin. These weapons are fight-enders.”

Because of this, Gabriel often teaches how to respond with elbows in these three specific situations:

Baseball Bat Swing: Found in nearly every garage in North America, a baseball bat is another nasty weapon you may encounter when facing looters and troublemakers. This technique can also be applied against any object of similar length, such as a stick, 2×4, or pipe.


– If you see someone holding a big green, zombie-busting baseball bat, get your hands up to protect your noggin like Gabriel does here.


– The attacker isn't raising that bat to stretch, he's trying to hit a homer with your head. Immediately step inside the arc of the bat. Block at their arm with your left arm, keeping your right hand high, just in case. With any luck, your attacker may hyperextend their elbow and drop the bat right there.


– No, such luck? Use your left arm to cup their elbow (controlling the bat wielding arm) and unleash all the nasty elbow strikes you've been drilling.

Rear Bear Hug: This attack is often used by multiple thugs to hold you in place so their buddies can finish you off. It's also a common move used by rapists and kidnappers to move you to another location before inflicting further pain and other evil acts.


– Bend your knees and settle your weight so the attacker cannot lift you and throw you around like a rag doll.


– Strike with a rear, upward elbow strike to the attacker's neck, face, or jaw.



– Repeat your rear, upward elbow strikes on both sides (right and left) as often as necessary until you make enough space to turn, facing your attacker for more horizontal elbow strikes to their chin.

Knife Threat: It doesn't take society to be ripped apart at the seams for a thug to be armed. Blades are often the weapon of choice for the unprepared and the desperate because they're cheap, commonplace, and concealable.


– In this instance, the attacker is using the knife to intimidate you from behind, but this technique will work just as well for a stab to the gut.


– Turn to face your attacker using your forearm to deflect the knife off line and away from your body.


– Using the same arm, tightly cup the attacker's elbow for control.


– Violently smash your elbow into the attackers chin. Don't be a Scrooge; deliver as many horizontal elbow strikes as necessary to stun your attacker until you can get away.

Getting Tooled

All preppers look at their tools as multifunctional items. For example, your knife can be used for self-defense, to skin an animal, for batoning tree limbs, and for a hundred other things. Your elbow, too, has multiple uses and can function as a shield, a wrecking ball, or a lever, depending on the situation.

One expert on the versatility of the elbow is Dr. Andre KnustGraichen, a master of the Indonesian martial art called Pentjak Silat.

“The elbow is conditioned and trained for striking already,” says KnustGraichen, who serves as CEO of Pentjak Silat USA, the American chapter of the International Pencak Silat Federation. “You will also notice your elbow has very little nerve endings.” That means your elbow can be used as a destructive barrier, because it is solid compared to the small bones in the hand. By guiding the opponent's punch into your elbow, it's like making them punch a brick wall.

Wrecking Ball and Lever Versus a Punch: After breaking the attacker's hand, you can immediately turn your elbow into a leveraging tool. Your elbows can produce a large amount of force and leverage because they are closer to your core than your hands. Also, you can use your elbow as a lever to break an attacker's elbow or redirect a strike in a pinch.


– The good doctor shows how to guide a left punch right into a left horizontal elbow. Because the elbow is larger than the carpals of the hand, the elbow will win out every time. The result is a broken hand for the bad guy. The harder they strike, the worse their injury — karma strikes again.


– KnustGraichen quickly follows up with a left-handed wrist grab and a right vertical elbow motion as a lever, to hyperextend his assailant's elbow, ending the confrontation.

Wrecking Ball and Lever Versus Machete Attack: The brilliance of Pentjak Silat is using one principle for many applications. Here, KnustGraichen, who has mastered multiple systems of silat, demonstrates the same principles of the wrecking ball and lever against a back-hand machete attack.


– This time Dr. KnustGraichen guides the back-hand machete slash into his right vertical elbow strike. This strike may fracture the small, delicate bones in his assailant's hand and end the fight right there.


– If the enemy still has the machete, Andre performs a right-handed wrist grab and simultaneously executes a left vertical elbow motion to dislocate the elbow. With his attacker injured, KnustGraichen can choose to disarm his attacker or end the fight with more blows.


By definition, a prepper is always preparing. Preparing to protect yourself and your family with or without weapons is all part of the plan. It's not unlike making a fire. While a lighter and fuel is ideal, any Boy Scout will also know how to spark a flame using nothing but his skills and his ability to adapt to his surroundings.

And just like making fire out of two branches and some brush, the time to practice is not during a crisis. With proper training, your elbows can be used as effective self-defense weapons when you have no other choice. Practice your elbow strikes, and eventually learn to use every part of your body as a weapon. This way if your primary, secondary, and tertiary weapons go off-line or aren't immediately available, it won't be the “end of the world” because you can simply roll up your sleeves and use your elbows.

Drill It to Kill It

Bruce Lee once said, “When you're talking about fighting, as it is, with no rules, well then, baby, you'd better train every part of your body!” Although elbows are just a small part of your body, they can be deadly weapons if trained properly. Like making shelter, creating fire, or shooting a gun, forging your elbows into effective weapons takes practice. Here are some simple drills to train your new tool.


What: Go through the motions to develop proper form

Required Equipment: Mirror

How: Standing in front of the mirror, practice your upward elbow and horizontal elbows trying to keep proper form

Key Points:

– Practice both right and left sides.
– Keep your guard up.
– Tighten your abs and use your core to increase power.
– Start slow to maintain proper form and eventually speed up.
– Set a timer and do one round of two or three minutes.

Heavy Bag Work


What: Hit the heavy bag to develop your power and distancing

Required Equipment: Heavy bag

How: Stand in front of the heavy bag and unleash the fury that is the apocalypse

Key Points:

– Maintain form. Just because we're hitting something doesn't mean we can get sloppy.
– Start slow and increase speed as you warm up and get comfortable, eventually striking with full speed and power.
– Set a timer and do one round of two or three minutes.

Situational Training


What: Practice applying techniques in common scenarios

Required Equipment: Partner, training tools

How: Have your partner slowly attack you and practice your stuff. In a SHTF scenario, you will most likely be attacked by a gun, empty hands (a punch or grab, most likely), a blade (knife, machete, or axe), a stick of some sort (like a bat). Train for all four scenarios.

Key Points:

– Partner training is a must for proper distancing and realistic responses.
– Safety first: Make sure to use training weapons. Start slow and increase speed as you become more familiar with the techniques.
– Do sets of three and switch roles.
– The techniques in this article are a good place to start, but ultimately there is no substitute for proper instruction from a qualified, reputable teacher.

Edgar Gabriel, Academy of Combative Defense and Fitness
Andre KnustGraichen, Pentjak Silat USA
Sam Phimsoutham, World Team USA

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