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Characteristics and Techniques of Pankration


Compared to ancient times when very few limitations were put upon the discipline, today’s pankration is thoroughly regulated.  Modern Pankration appears similar to MMA, but there are a few rules which make it unique.  Today’s Pankration allows all grappling techniques, such as throws, locks, and chokes.  However, the sport is more focused on awarding points for punches and kicks, both in the standing position and on the ground. It should be noted that, unlike MMA, points for dominant control positions are not awarded.  This is in order to favour a faster-paced style of combat. 

Kicks play a major part, in particular, a kick to the stomach not dissimilar to a Muay Thai ‘Teep’.  The kick known as a ‘gastrizein’ is a straight kick to the stomach using the heel of the foot to strike the midsection with full power.  Pankratiasts (pankration practitioners) however also use kicks familiar with other martial arts, round kicks, calf kicks etc. 

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The ‘Gastrizein’ a forward push kick delivered with the heel of the foot.  Not dissimilar to a Muay Thai ‘Teep’ kick.

Emphasis on Takedowns

However, there is a great emphasis on wrestling and takedowns as opposed to stand-up fighting.  The Pankratiast is looking to get the fight to the floor as quickly as possible.  With regards to striking straight punches are used to set up takedowns, with hooks and uppercut punches being rarely employed.  The thinking behind the emphasis on straight punches is to help a pankratiast maintain distance from their opponent.  Keeping this distance helps them avoid or stifle takedown attempts.  Hooks, crosses and uppercuts involve getting close and leave you open to takedowns.

On the ground, submissions (or even ground and pound with the Elite version of Pankration – see rules and regulations section) can then be used to secure victory.  Leg locks and arm bars are widely used, as is the shoulder lock.  The shoulder lock is performed like a double wrist lock/kimura while trapping the head between the knees.


Here are some of the most common pankration striking techniques that have been restored into the modern competition:

Punches permitted in modern pankration:

  • Jabs.
  • Straight punches.
  • Hooks.
  • Uppercuts.
  • Superman punches.
  • Spinning back fists.

Kicks permitted in modern pankration:

  • Roundhouse kick.
  • Lead kick.
  • Head kick.
  • Calf kick.
  • Push kick (Gastrizein).
  • Side kick.
  • Side thrust.
  • Hook kick.
  • Back kick.
  • Spinning kicks.
  • Knees (to the body).

NB: Kicking the throat, kidneys, spine, groin and knees is not allowed.

Close Quarters

Knees can be used in close-quarter combat fights. This technique can target the thighs, ribs, abdomen, or head (in Elite Pankration). Additionally, in Elite ruleset Pankration, elbow strikes can be used to the face. Clinching can now be seen in modern pankration, which helps set up close-quarter strikes.


Takedown techniques are the gateway for the application of choke holds and locks. It can also open an opportunity for ground and pounds to score more points.  The most common takedowns are the single-leg and double-leg takedowns.

Single-leg takedowns are where you’ll only attack one leg. This move’s main objective is to destroy your enemy’s balance.  Double-leg takedowns are an excellent technique to put the fight to the ground. Double-leg takedowns require much strength and use up a lot of energy. However, if the move is pulled off effectively it can leave an opponent very vulnerable to follow-up attacks, shatter their confidence and can also rank highly on the scorecard.

Pankration double-leg takedowns involve dipping under the opponent’s punches, grabbing both legs while using the hips to drive upward. The Pankratiast then lifts his opponent straight up in the air and slams him down onto his back. Another tool in the grappling arsenal is the one-armed shoulder throw from the clinch. 

Some of the grappling attacks permitted in modern pankration:

  • Single-leg takedown.
  • Double-leg takedown.
  • Low crotch takedown.
  • Armbar.
  • Ankle locks.
  • Body slam.

Double leg takedown attempt.

Ground Attacks

Ground and Pound

The hammerfist is one of the most effective weapons in the ground and pound. This is done by swinging your fists downwards like a hammer to your opponent’s head or body.  This is usually targeted toward the face, ribs, or kidneys. 

Hammerfists are also often used to continuously strike your opponents when knocked down to secure a knockout.

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On the floor, ground and pound tactics may be employed to gain points.

NB: The hammerfist is allowed in the elite pankration but disallowed in traditional pankration because the ruleset limits strikes to the head, whether in stand-up or ground striking.


Choke Holds and locks are effective in holding your opponent in one place. The aim of these types of moves is to immobilise your opponent or restrict their airflow, which may force them to tap out.  Locks and submissions can be used to induce pain, forcing an opponent to tap out if they are unable to escape.  Examples of submissions are the kimura, arm bar, knee bar, and ankle locks.

Examples of chokeholds include the rear naked choke and the guillotine. Due to their effectiveness, chokes are the most common submissions in modern pankration. Using them can result in tap outs within seconds or render an opponent unconscious. The rear naked choke is commonly performed from a back mount, where you place your dominant arm around your opponent’s neck and lock it with the other hand.  Pushing their heads against your forearm restricts breathing and blood flow.  If the opponent does not escape or tap, this can result in them passing out due to the lack of oxygen. 

One Pankraitist gets caught in his opponents guillotine.

Other common chokes include Guillotine chokes which have two variations: standing and grounded (more common).  It is often used in a full guard position. To apply the move, you’d wrap your hand around their neck and lock it by holding your wrist with your other hand. 

Leg Locks

Leg locks are very effective because they can cause immense pain to opponents.  The most common leg lock is the heel hook. The heel hook works like a lever system. It is performed by taking control of your opponent’s leg and twisting it to a specific angle. Despite the name, the heel hook puts pressure on the knee. But it gets its name because you are holding or controlling the heel.  Due to the potential for injury leg locks pose, as in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu), they are only allowed in elite pankration competitions.

Arm and shoulder locks

Another way of submitting your opponents are arm and shoulder locks. The most common moves are the armbar, kimura, americana, and omoplata.

A wide variety of submissions are available to a Pankraitist on the floor.  Here one fighter is caught in his opponents armbar.

The armbar is the easiest because you can execute the move from different ground positions. An armbar can be achieved from a full mount, back mount, and even when you are being taken down.

Disallowed moves and restrictions

  • Rabbit Punches: Punches to the back of the head and throat. These are banned and can result in immediate disqualification for those who use them due to the potential for cervical vertebrae and spinal cord injuries. 
  • Throat strikes: are prohibited because they damage the neck, which is sensitive and fragile. Striking the neck can damage the windpipe and throat, leading to breathing and eating complications. 
  • Head kicks on grounded opponents: Generally, combat sports do not allow knees and kicks to grounded opponents.  However, it was not always like this; ancient pankration and UFC’s predecessor, Pride FC, allowed stomps and head kicks on downed opponents.  Due to the history of injuries caused by this type of move, head kicks on grounded opponents are prohibited in both traditional and elite pankration.  This includes stomps, roundhouses, or soccer kicks. 
  • Heel kicks to the kidney:Heel kicks to the kidney are not permitted. This is because the heel is the hardest part of the foot. Targeting organs this way can cause permanent damage and massive amounts of pain.
  • Neck crank:Neck cranks may sometimes look like a conventional rear naked choke. However, it’s potentially very dangerous to the stability of the neck and can lead to paralysis or worse.  As such the move is not legal in either version of Pankration.

NB: These moves are illegal in both traditional and elite pankration.

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