top of page

Torakan Karate-Do

‘Karate Essence’ ‘Reality Check’ Empi Uchi

‘Karate Essence’

‘Reality Check’

Empi Uchi



Empi Uchi/Elbow Strike; now we are talking about a true self-defence weapon.  Close range (you don’t get much closer) and devastating.  

Table of Contents

  •   Variations on a Theme

  •          Tae Kwon Do Elbow Strikes

  • Wing Chun Elow Strikes

  •         Muay Thai Elbow strikes

  •         Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu Elbow Strikes

  •         Bajiquan Elbow Strike

  •          MMA Elbow Strikes

  •          Kyokushin Empi Uchi

  •          Shotokan Empi Uchi

  •         Torakan Empi Uchi/Elbow Strike

  •          Conclusion

  •          While I Have Your Attention


Variations on a Theme

As in all of the techniques we examine in the ‘Reality Check’ for ‘Karate Essence’ we find that there are many variations on the theme of this technique: Empi Uchi/Elbow Strike. 

Depending on the purpose (the intention) of the strike, the Elbow strike can be anything from solid and singular to flowing within a combination; it can be the first line of defence and or the ‘coup de grâce’.

As usual, each martial art has its own take on the technique and, as usual, we will have a brief look at each one.

Tae Kwon Do Elbow Strikes

You might be forgiven for thinking that Elbow Strikes were not taught in Tae Kwon Do because, in most dojang (Korean Dojo) that you see, their main focus is the sport competition in which they participate and – not unlike most Karate competition – the ‘Elbow Strike’ is definitely not allowed. 

Tae Kyon was one of the ancient Korean martial arts which were strongly discouraged by the Japanese during their occupancy of Korea in the early 1900s.  Following WW2, a martial art, which was a bit of an amalgamation between Japanese Karate and the traditional Korean martial arts, began to develop.  The history of Tae Kwon Do began with the opening of the Chung Do Kwan Dojang in Seoul, Korea, in 1944.


So, although the emphasis in Tae Kwon Do seems to be high, spinning and jumping head kicks, as you can see, from this Tae Kwon Do Elbow Strike tutorial, they do indeed include Elbow Strikes in traditional Tae Kwon Do that are very similar to Karate.

Wing Chun Elbow Strikes

Wing Chun is a style of Kung Fu that focuses mainly on close quarter self-defence and, quite naturally, Elbow Strikes play an important role.  According to legend, Wing Chun was created during the Qing Dynasty, about 300 years ago, by a Buddhist nun, Ng Mui, who was a master of Shaolin Kung Fu.

Gaining some notoriety in the Western World by being the form of martial art that the renowned Bruce Lee began his illustrious career with, it gained more notoriety when his teacher, Ip Man, was immortalised in a series of high profile movies about his life, starring Donnie Yen.  Wing Chun is a practical, linear martial art; not flashy in the least but very effective; and the same can be said about its Elbow Strikes. The Wing Chun Elbow strikes are an intricate part of this very practical method of self-defence.       

Muay Thai Elbow Strikes

Muay Thai is a kickboxing type of combat sport, that is derived from several Thai martial arts but collectively they were known as Muay Boran, battle tested martial arts.  From the 1930s these various Thai martial arts began to be regulated to form the combat sport of Muay Thai.

Muay Thai is sometimes referred to as 'the art of 8 limbs': 2 fists, 2 shins, 2 knees, and 2 elbows. The Muay Thai Elbows are flowing, deceptive, and are some of the most devastating Elbow Strikes of all the various martial arts.

Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu Elbow Strikes

This style of fighting was developed by Master Wang Lang, a Shaolin Monk, during the ‘Song Dynasty’, sometime during the 13th century AD. 

This is a Northern Praying Mantis Elbow tutorial.  It would seem to me that the main difference from this and any elbow strikes which I teach or deliver is the striking area of the elbow itself.  In fact, in this tutorial, the Praying Mantis practitioner advises to avoid using the striking area that makes most of my Empi Uchi as devastating as they are: the point of the elbow.  I agree with him on the issue of not using the inner hinge joint of the elbow (the funny bone) which can be disastrous for the deliverer of an Elbow Strike/Empi Uchi.  To be fair, this next tutorial of Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu Elbow Strikes is fuller, giving a more complete picture of the scope of their Elbow Strikes.

Bajiquan Elbow Strike

While researching for this month’s ‘Reality Check’ I came across a martial art that I had never heard of.  I was, I admit, very surprised that I had no knowledge of it, and my first impression was such that I thought it certainly deserved a mention here as part of the Elbow Strike/Empi Uchi ‘Reality Check for ‘Karate Essence’.

Bajiquan is a traditional Chinese martial art that features explosive, short-range power in close-combat and is well known for its rapid elbow and shoulder strikes.  Its full name is Kaimen Bajiquan (open-gate eight-extremities boxing). Bajiquan is also known as the ‘Bodyguard Style’; this was the style taught and used by personal bodyguards for Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, also Puyi (the last Qing dynasty emperor).

Bajiquan, popular in northern China and Taiwan, was introduced to Japan, South Korea and other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Italy among others.  I understand that Tatsuya Naka Sensei was interested enough to investigate this intriguing art and, for me, further research and study of Bajiquan Elbow Strikes seems warrantied.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Elbow Strikes

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t usually include MMA techniques in the ‘Reality Check’ column.  Firstly, as the title (MMA) suggests, it is not so much a martial art as a mixture of martial arts, to form a combat sport.  However, and I must admit, MMA has virtually become a fighting art in itself.  It is a sport, and as such it has rules that have to be adhered to (even concerning the use of the Elbow Strike) but it does prepare a person for effective self-defence.  The only negative I have with MMA is similar to the one I have with any combat sport discipline that excludes techniques or areas of target in favour of referees and judges because – I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say again in the future – ‘You react under pressure the way you train;  repetitively.’  Also, of course, you train your focus to concentrate on just one adversary; and, I know, adverse situations concerning self-defence rarely entail just one adversary.


I have more than sixty years’ experience in numerous martial arts but I would be the first to admit that I have only a rudimentary knowledge of the sport of MMA.  I do know that within MMA they study and practice the best combat techniques from anywhere they find them; this MMA Elbow Strike tutorial is as complete as I have found.

Kyokushin Empi Uchi

It took a bit of searching to find a Kyokushin Empi Uchi tutorial.  As stated earlier, the Empi Uchi technique is not allowed in most Karate competition and that includes Kyokushin.  Kyokushin do of course teach Empi Uchi but only for self-defence purposes and as their training is mainly geared toward their particular style of fighting, their competition and even their dojo sparring excludes the technique.  They do however realise the power of this technique and drill the Empi Uchi for self-defence purposes.

Shotokan Empi Uchi

With Shotokan, the whole range of Elbow Strikes are covered; however, it depends on which dojo you frequent as to how much attention is paid to the practice of said Empi Uchi techniques.  Many Shotokan Dojo, who focus intently on the sporting competition side of Karate (like many other Karate and martial arts styles), will pay little attention to Budō techniques that are not permitted to be used in competition because they are considered too dangerous.  Empi Uchi is just such a technique; however it is an excellent self-defence technique.  In fact I would go as far as saying that Empi Uchi is one of the best, singular, ‘go to’ self-defence techniques in the whole Shotokan armoury.

In my opinion, the Shotokan Empi Uchi is not only one of the most devastating single techniques in the Shotokan system; the strike itself is one of a few of the most powerful Elbow Strikes throughout the whole of the martial arts.  I have added another short Shotokan Empi Uchi tutorial here just because I like it.

Torakan Empi Uchi/Elbow Strikes

Because of my long involvement (60 years) in the martial arts, and my ‘real life’ practical experience, working in the ‘High Risk’ security industry (30 years), I think that this ‘Reality Check’ would be incomplete without a little Torakan eye view… and so I’ll finish, as usual, with a few short video clips from the Torakan Dojo.



Usually, rightly or wrongly, when we think of a physical conflict being concluded quickly with a devastating technique we think of a large and or powerful person delivering a well-placed kick or punch.  However, a well-placed ‘Empi Uchi’/’Elbow Strike’, delivered by virtually anyone (a small, slightly built individual or a woman) could indeed end the conflict very quickly.

Characteristically, we find that there are variations on the Empi Uchi/Elbow Strike theme and, as usual, it depends on the desired conclusion (what is hoped to achieve by the implementation of the said technique) as to whether the particular technique fits the bill.  Everyone (all styles and martial modes) agrees that the Empi Uchi/Elbow Strike is a ‘Self-defence’ technique; the only difference being that those martial arts that have a competition aspect to their art generally, but not always, exclude this technique from their competition game plans.  The exceptions being, notably, Muay Thai full rules and MMA competition.


Anyone who knows me will know my philosophy on martial arts and your ‘Mushin’.  Not training to fight… training so that you do not have to think about what to do if you have to defend yourself.  Self-defence is not fighting!  Self-defence has no referees or judges and only one rule: survive.  If you are attacked or are about to be attacked your ‘Mushin’ will supply you with the required reaction if, that is, you have supplied your ‘Mushin’ with the right preparation.  Empi Uchi, in its many guises, is definitely a weapon you need to supply your ‘Mushin’ with.

While I Have Your Attention

I would just like to thank all those who have given my recent book, ‘A Budōka Odyssey’ such a terrific launch.  To make the launch even more successful I would ask those who have bought the book (and of course those of you who pick up ‘A Budōka Odyssey’ in the future) a very great favour: please, if you would, leave a review.  Just a few words would be great; although, for those of you who are perhaps more verbose, you can be as loquacious as you want.  I know that there will be many knowledgeable martial artists out there, and it is in our nature to have individual views and opinions, so I will be happy to read any constructive views you may want to share.  As a Budōka and Karateka, I am a student still and will always be, always learning, always looking with Shoshin to learn… more. 

Thank you.

Yours sincerely in Karate-Do

T.D. McKinnon


Follow Me
  • Grey Facebook Icon
bottom of page