• Sensei Izzie

Kicks- What, why and how?

Updated: Apr 30, 2020


Today we're going to talk about the different kinds of kicks and their purpose.

Firstly, let's think about what they're for - why do we kick?

We kick because the legs are long and can reach further than our other weapons, the arms. Another benefit of the legs is that they have the biggest muscles which makes them incredibly powerful... but it also makes them incredibly heavy, and continually moving heavy objects (and let's face it, throwing them around in the air) is exhausting - isn't it? Generally speaking, heavy things aren't quick either, but with lots of practice we can improve that speed, as we can with punches.

So we need then to learn how to kick correctly and efficiently, so that when we do use legs as our weapon of choice at that moment, we don't injure ourselves, or waste energy or time - which is also crucial when we're fighting. If we're one second early or one second late, it can be the difference between getting hit - or not, and landing that kick - or not.


Raise your knee a little bit , then hold it steady, and extend the lower leg out. Note where your foot is in relation to the ground. Now start again, raise your knee almost as high as you can and then, controlling it, extend the lower leg again. Where's your foot now? I'll bet you a tenner it's a lot higher now than last time? That's because when you kick, the height you raise your knee directly before you launch the foot out to strike (this position comes before every single kind of kick and is called the 'Chamber position'), determines the height of the resulting strike.

We learn basic kicks first, and then we move on to jumping kicks, to spinning kicks and even to jump-spinning kicks, and if these more elaborate kicks are well practiced, they can look very, very impressive.

But can we use them in sparring?

Yes, why not? After all, sparring is fighting PRACTICE, and it's the time to attempt something fancy if you want to, deciding what works for you and what doesn't.

Are they any use in a real fight?

In a nutshell, no - not really.

In a real fight there's one purpose - to win, and win quickly. Winning comes down to how effectively you use your weapons and how well you read your opponent. It's about where you land techniques and when, how quickly and powerfully you can deliver them, and, of course how well you defend.

Let's be truthful- you could stand and defend for an hour and land one perfect simple kick to the right target to win a fight, but try to throw nothing but spectacular flying spinners and you'd be on the floor in ten minutes gasping for air. If you were extremely lucky you might land one that counted.

So, the moral of the story is that you can't over practice the basics. Throw 50 good roundhouses a day and you'll soon be able to do them in your sleep, because of muscle memory, concentrating instead on the psychology of the fight.

Basic Kicks

There are purposes to every kick. Some kicks are more usable than others, but it's better to have more weapons to pull out so that your opponent has less chance of reading your next move, so we will go through those basics now.

1. Front Kick

Also known as the 'Push Kick' (or is similar to the push kick, depending on the particular discipline) which clears up it's purpose- to 'push' your opponent away, and therefore, is most effective aimed at the body.

It can be used to the head if you're flexible enough, but probably has less power, and can also be used Karate style (with the toes pointed down) between the legs to the groin. In our case, since all punches and kicks legally must be above the belt, this can't be used in sparring, but is highly effective for self defence!

Front kick can be launched off the front leg or back but has most power from the back. Along with the Side Kick, this is your longest distance weapon. Be careful to keep your standing foot flat on the floor. Contrary to popular belief, coming up onto your tiptoes does not increase the height of your kick (due to lack of flexibility), it just decreases your balance.

2. Side Kick

Is also a kick who's purpose is to push the opponent further away, creating more distance and making it more difficult for him/her to reach you.

This can come from either your front or back leg but is (again) more powerful from the back, although arguably slower than from the front. Another thing which should determine which you use is the distance between you and your opponent. The front is closer.

In order to not injure the groin, you should turn, from stance (on the balls of the feet, not heels) until the body is very side on to the target, with the toes on the standing leg pointing away from the target, so that you are looking over your shoulder.

The kick is launched by bringing the knee slightly across the body and straight out, striking with the flat of the foot (in Karate, this is the outer edge of the foot, which is fine if you're aiming high up to the throat/face etc). The leg should push out firmly and quickly and then return to stance.

3. Roundhouse

Also known as the 'Round Kick', this kick's aim is to the side of the opponent's body - to the side of the ribs, or head - (not lower leg in our case as this is too low and illegal).

Again, this kick comes from front or back but crucially needs the body to be turning entirely side on, verging on slightly backwards, looking over the shoulder BEFORE launching the kick. The more the standing toes point away from the target, the more the hips are allowed to open for flexibility and, as in Side, and also Hook kick, the more the upper body is allowed to lean away, the higher the kick will become.

Roundhouse uses the upper part of the top of the foot (instep) and slightly the lowest part of the leg to strike... note - NOT THE TOES, so it's important to learn to 'point' the toes, as you would in ballet, to keep them from accidentally (and painfully) striking first. The leg lifts straight up and out in a bent position (the chamber) and the lower leg 'flicks' out to strike the target. This should then flick back, to come into stance or land forward, depending on the situation.

4. Hook Kick

Hook kick is precisely the reverse of the roundhouse, and in fact is also (in Karate) known as the Reverse Roundhouse. It uses a flexed-back foot, striking with, ideally, the back of the heel, which is very hard and bony, and sometimes the flat of the foot, which is less effective. Hook kick again should be executed side on, and also relies on the front hip pushing forward, to lead the leg around the target so that it can hit on the other side. Hooks would come to either the ribs, under the guard, or to the side of the head.

5. Axe Kick

Is more difficult to find a use for during normal sparring unless you're extremely flexible and can fly it above the opponent's head first, before landing it, with the heel downwards, on the top of the shoulder.

Since it's illegal to strike the top of the head, and dangerous, and difficult on the breast bone, this is probably it's only strike point - but it could also be used once the opponent is already on his/her knees, in the same place.

To execute, either lift the knee high, quickly extend the lower leg out and around the body of the opponent and then down on the target area- OR (but not in grading techniques because it looks like a bad front kick)- take the leg up straight, around the body of the opponent and then down on the target. This depends on how close the opponent is and the bent version is easier if he/she is closer to you. Remember though, we talked about the weight of leg muscles? This would mean you lifting ALL your leg weight up and over, so it's harder than the bent version.

6. Inside/Outside Crescent Kicks

Speaking of lifting your entire leg, that's exactly what we do here- except that we're using different muscles and creating momentum with the use of the rotation of the hip joint, and so it's easier to do.

Remember - INside Crescent drives INwards and uses the INside edge of the foot to strike- whereas OUTside Crescent drives OUTwards and uses the OUTside edge of the foot.

Here, the target is almost always one side of the head or the other.

The leg should be rigidly straight (apart from anything else, striking with the foot this way with a bent leg would cause untold damage to the knee).

INSIDE CRESCENT (most noticeably from the back leg) should first rise out to the side and then draw an arc, upwards then inwards towards the head target in front of you, hitting across the side of the face/head with the inside edge of the foot.

OUTSIDE CRESCENT (most noticeably from the leading, or front leg), should rise up, and slightly more across the body from stance position, then draw an arc up and outwards, striking across the side of the head. If this misses the target, it then continues in the arc until it touches the ground.

Obviously this kick is very reliant on flexibility and hip turn out so it's crucial to be sure the right exercises are done during warm up to cover it.

7. Inverted Crescent

Behaves differently from the others and is technically very difficult for some students to grasp at first.

I've said many times that a good way to use it is to feint (pretend and make your opponent think that you're about to execute) a front kick, but change your mind. This way, the opponent thinks they're going to get the sole of your foot in the face, but instead get a slap at the side of the head.

Inverted Crescent comes up into the same chamber position as a front kick (lift knee up in front to the correct height), but then changes direction to strike the farthest away side of the head instead, with the outside corner of the top of the foot. This means partly pointing the toes again and slightly twisting the foot outwards.

NOTE: The upper leg should stay still and chambered, while the lower leg rotates outwards from the knee joint, flicks and slaps the side of the head and then returns along the same curved path.

8. Back Kick

Back kick is the last of the kicks which we'd class as 'non spinning or jumping'.

You can execute one of these from 'front' or 'back' leg, but initially, you would use what starts out as your back leg, to kick.

Bear in mind that the kick has to strike above the belt, so leaning forward is necessary to get height once you're in position.

Stand in left stance, facing your opponent. You are going to kick him/her square in the stomach, above the belt.

Keep your feet still (except allowing you to turn). Turn to your right until you are facing exactly the opposite direction, and are now in right stance. Lift your right knee up (the one that's now infront) towards your belly button. Keeping your knees together (don't allow the chambered knee to turn out), push back to kick (like a donkey would) WITHOUT LOOKING. Your eyes should be forward. Once you've kicked, you can then turn back the way you came, to arrive back in left stance, facing your opponent again.

Later on you will be asked to Back kick from your front leg. This means you turn exactly as before, but this time use the leg closest to your opponent (in left stance, this is your left leg). This is much harder to get enough height to land above the belt and needs a lot of leaning forward.

Bear in mind that right from the start you are told the cardinal sin is to turn your back on your opponent, so once you've learned the technique, you need to practice speed as well so that you can execute as quickly as possible and return to face him/her.

There will be another written class later on more advanced techniques after I've covered Punches.

Sensei Izzie Kirk. Copyright 2020.

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