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Evolution of taekwondo kicks


Taekwondo has evolved a lot since its creation in 1955. At its inception, it was a combination of combat-related styles and it gradually gained its own individuality.

Early competition kicks were basic linear kicks; spinning and aerial kicks were considered flashy and ineffective. Modern training techniques, starting children at younger ages, and individual superstars have changed many sports. The pioneers of taekwondo became heroes to children and helped spread taekwondo’s influence in the martial arts community. As these younger practitioners became bored with the traditional ways of kicking, they began experimenting with new, flashy, more acrobatic kicks.

Traditional taekwondo kicks

Traditional taekwondo kicks are singular, linear, and powerful, with the emphasis being on power. Linear kicks are relatively easy to deflect or avoid and leave the kicker exposed to counterattacks. Modern kicking techniques use combinations kicks that drive the opponent back with a basic kick and then finish with a jump or jump-spinning kick. The emphasis now is more on speed and quickness. Kicking emphasis has shifted from sheer muscle power to kinetic efficiency, where kicks take advantage of the laws of kinetics and physics.

Traditional taekwondo patterns use exaggerated low stances. Such low stances hamper quick movements and limit height when jumping. To attempt a spin kick from a low stance, a large weight shift must occur, which telegraphs the intent of the kicker. When attempting a jumping kick from a low stance, the wide base of the stance limits the amount of force that may be applied to the jump. Using a more upright stance permits the quick movement needed for spin kicks and allows the legs to propel the body upward enough to perform high jump kicks.

Traditional taekwondo fighting stances were relatively stationary but modern taekwondo has adopted the continuous movement used by other fighting arts such as boxing. Early boxers stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out, but then boxers stated moving around and thus avoiding many punches. Adopting these changes involved quick shifts of foot positions and stances. Now, quick footwork is used to change ranges and confuse opponents and the use of rapid combinations can create openings for the use of jump and spin kicks. Also, protective equipment, especially chest protectors, has become lighter and less restrictive, making it easier to jump and spin quickly through a greater range of motion.

Sport taekwondo kicks

Change is inevitable! It may not always be for the better, but things will change.

The globalization of taekwondo, modern training techniques, the prevalence of risk-taking behavior, and scientific study of individual techniques and movements have led to the development of new kicks and new kicking movements. The entry of more women and children into taekwondo has led to less emphasis on power to and more emphasis on flexibility and speed. As more weight divisions have been added to competitions, it increased the number of lighter competitors, meaning the lighter competitors would be fighting opponents of equal size, so they developed quick, snappy techniques are more appropriate to their body type.

With these cultural changes and innovations, new kicks and new ways to use old kicks developed.

Kick evolution

Taekwondo became known for its side thrust kick, which is much more powerful than the karate side snap kick. The spin thrust side kick is also very powerful; however, using it in completion exposes more target area to the opponent. So it evolved into a spin heel kick where more of the illegal back area is exposed while the front legal target area is protected.

The spin heel kick has a long reach, but it’s awkward since the leg must remain straight throughout the kick. It is also chambered low, which makes it easier to block and makes it more difficult to kick to the head, where more points are awarded. This led to the development of the spin hook kick, which is chambered high to make it more difficult to block and to make it easier to kick to the head. The high chamber deceives the opponent since from this position the kick can be executed to low, middle, or high target with ease. However, it has slightly less range than the spin heel kick.

The spin heel kick is powerful, but it is also cumbersome since the kicking leg remains straight from beginning to end. An improvement came with the spin hook kick. It is faster and more deceptive than the spin heel kick, and just as powerful. To perform the spin hook kick, from a fighting stance, pivot, chamber, and kick like the spin side kick, except the foot is aimed beside the target and the heel is pulled through the target by the knee and the snapping of the heel back toward the hip.

The back kick is powerful and it’s faster than either of the spin kicks since you save time by not spinning. To execute a back kick, rotate your hips forward 90°, pivoting on your lead foot, and thrust your rear leg to the target. There is no chamber since the kicking foot travel from the floor to the target in a mostly straight line. The back kick is an excellent counterattack against an aggressive opponent, such as when in a closed fighting position and opponent attacks with a lead leg round kick, the back kick turns your back to the attack and scores to the opponent's midsection while only exposing nonscoring back targets to the opponent. In spin back kick, spin your hips backward, pivoting on your lead foot, and thrust your rear leg to the target.

The back kick and spin back kick are commonly used as follow-up attacks in a combination since they expose less of the upper body and head to the opponent than the spin side kick. With the spin back kick, your back is turned to the opponent and your upper body out of counterattack range. However, timing and accuracy are essential, since, if you kick too late or too early and miss your target, your opponent may take advantage of your awkward body position and counter.

Since these kicks expose target areas to counter attacks during or immediately after the kick, a new type of kick evolved, the spin whip kick. Although the exact development of the spin whip kick is unknown, its roots can be traced to three kicks: the spin heel, spin hook and spin crescent kicks. The spin whip kick uses the power of the spin heel kick, the speed and deception of the spin hook kick, and the close range of the spin crescent kick while protecting target areas.

Since the early days of competition, the spin heel kick has been popular because its power is difficult to block. To execute a spin heel kick, from a low sitting stance, pivot the hips backward, swing the rear leg behind the body, and strike the opponent's body with the back of the heel.

The once popular spin crescent kick is used less today since it presents more scoring area to the opponent and requires the user to be in close range. However, it is not a useless kick. Some competitors use it very effectively both as a primary attacking kick and in combination with other hand and foot attacks. The spin crescent kick is ideal for close range attacking because, unlike any other spin kick, the body is kept upright and compact throughout the kick. However, as fighters learned to read and counter the kick, it fell out of favor in full contact sparring.

To perform the spin whip kick, the upper body rotates around its vertical axis while the lead foot rotates until the heel points at the opponent. Once the body is coiled, the rear foot shoots straight out to the side of the target and the body uncoils to then whip the kicking leg through the target. The kick is quick, powerful, and may be used at close range. Since the chamber may also be used for a spinning hand technique, the kick can be deceptive. In addition, since the body is kept upright, you can attack with a hand combination. However, if you lean your body backward to keep your head out of range of a counterattack, then your hands won’t be in range for you to attack.

A more recent kicking innovation is the spin 360° round kick. Prior to the mid-1980s, the 360° round kick was unheard of outside of Korea. But with the immigration of a new generation of Korean competitors and instructors to the U.S. and Europe, the kick quickly gained widespread popularity. To perform the spin 360° round kick, when attacking, spin backward and step the rear foot forward, keep spinning and then perform a round kick using the other foot. The range is controlled by how far the spinning rear foot steps forward.

Ways to use the spin 360° round kick:
  • When defending, the kick may be performed in place by placing the spinning foot just in front of the kicking foot in a hopping motion. 
  • When used in a counter, the spinning foot spins around the kicking foot to its original spot in a hopping motion. 
  • When you are attacking with a spin side, spin hook, or spin back kick, if the opponent reads the kick and backs up, then, instead of finishing the kick, step the kicking foot through and fire the round kick. 

Taekwondo has evolved since its inception and it continues to evolve. However, there are differences in opinion as to whether the changes are true to the art or are only to make kicks more eye-catching and entertaining. Either way, evolution is continuing, and change can’t be stopped. However, it may be limited and controlled by martial arts instructors and their students who live in the present but remember and respect the past. Traditional taekwondo uses some of the innovations in competition sparring but, it tries to stay true to its combat heritage so the traditions of taekwondo may survive.

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