IntroThe following are some general tips on how to improve your kicking. The kicking techniques used among the different martial art styles may differ but most of these tips will still apply.
Starting positionAll kicks start with the hands and arms being held in a guard position. The basic guard is with the hands in fists held just below cheekbones with palms toward the face, with forearms almost vertical.
Keep guard upAlways keep your guard up for protection, even when kicking. If the opponent is quicker than you are, he or she may kick you during your mid-kick movements.
The arms don’t move during a kick; don’t use them to try to add power to a kick. Don’t let the kicking side elbow rise and expose the abdomen; keep the elbows under their respective fists.
Arms aren’t used for balanceArms are used for guarding, blocking, and attacking, not for balance. Balance is maintained through subtle body movements and muscle tension. If you have strong, toned, powerful muscles, balance is not a problem. If you have a weak musculature, a potbelly, or poor conditioning, you will probably need to thrash your arms around like a chicken trying to fly to maintain your balance.
Elements of a kick
- A kick starts from a solid stance with the arms held in an effective guard position. Arms stay in guard position throughout the kick.
- The leg chambers for the kick.
- As the leg chambers, the kicking foot is shaped into the weapon to be used for the kick, such as the ball, heel, or knife-edge.
- The kick fires at the target. In the side kick, use only the thigh muscles. Round or hook kicks also use the calf muscles.
- Pivot the base foot as required.
- Roll the hips over into the kick at impact.
- Re-chamber the leg.
- Pivot the base foot and step the kicking leg back into a solid stance with the arms still held in an effective guard position.
- Kicking is what taekwondo is known for; however, don't forget punches. As the old saying goes, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." If you specialize in kicks, you tend to use kicks even when they are not the best weapon to use at the time. If you have a large repertoire of techniques, that use both hands and feet, you will be a more effective fighter.
- Taekwondo tends to concentrate on high kicks, however, for self-defense, low kicks are the most effective. You must train on when, where, and how to use low kicks.
- Since most self-defense fights will end up on the ground, at some point so you must learn to use both defensive and offensive kicks from the ground.
- In taekwondo sparring, the competitors tend to fight at a long kicking range. You must also learn to kick when in close range, which involves learning new kicks and using old kicks in different ways.
- Other than foot shape and striking area, feet have little to do with kicking. The two areas of concern for kicks are the knees and the hips. Speed and power come from using these two areas correctly.
Kicking powerDifferent ways of using power in kicks:
- Without power. Used in sparring where the opponent is barely touched. The primary purpose here is to kick with precise focus.
- With thrusting power. Used for fighting or breaking. The primary purpose here is to kick with maximum power.
- With pushing power. Used to push the opponent away. The primary purpose here is to push, not cause injury.
- With snapping power. Used for sparring and fighting where quick powerful kicks are needed. The primary purpose here is to kick powerfully but also very quickly.
- Jamming. Similar to kicking without power. It stops short of target and opponent runs into the kick, stopping his or her forward motion.
- Accelerating. Acceleration comes from adding various other movements, such as spins, flips, jumps, etc.
Rear or trailing leg kicksKicks are performed with rear or trailing leg although front or leading leg kicks are similar in movement. Leading leg kicks are quicker, more likely to score, less powerful, and more difficult to perform than trailing leg kicks.
Front, side, and back kicksSome kicks are delivered while the front of the body faces the opponent, such as front kicks and axe kicks, some are delivered while the side of the body faces the opponent, such as side kicks and round kicks, and some are delivered while the back of the body faces the opponent, such as back kicks and spin kicks.
Initial movementThe initial movement on any kick is lifting the knee into the chamber position. From the waist up, there is no indication of a kick even being considered. Once the opponent sees the upper body move, the kick is already in motion. For some kicks, the upper body may move very little. This means the first notice the opponent has of an attacking kick is when it hits its target. Don't drop the arms, swing the arms, or extend the arms while kicking, just move around normally while maintaining a good fighting stance with a tight guard and suddenly fire a kick without telegraphing the kick in any way.
Raise kicking leg and kneeFor many kicks, you raise the kicking knee high, vertically with the shin almost parallel to the floor and pull the knee back into a deep cocked position. From this position, any one of a variety of kicks, such as the side thrust kick, may be executed in one smooth motion.
Reasons for this are:
- All the leg bones and muscles, the ankle, the knee, and the rotation of the hip are all in a straight line on a level plane, so they may all work in unison to make a more powerful kick. They all move in a straight trajectory to the target. Balance is easier if the knee of the kicking leg is higher than the waist so that the weight of the leg falls toward the hip.
- A kick coming from the floor and up to its target may be easily blocked by the arms. Kicking from such a high position allows your opponent less time to react and the kick may be targeted at a wide variety of targets without the opponent knowing which one is the primary target. This makes kicks thrown from a high chamber more difficult to block.
- When a kick recoils back to the high cocked position immediately, another kick may be quickly thrown to another target without moving the body.
- When an opponent closes on the kicker, a high, deep cocked leg may still kick powerfully, while a kick coming from the floor would be jammed because of the close range.
Weight shiftsWhen standing in a standard fighting stance, body weight is spread equally between the two feet. To kick, one foot must leave the floor; therefore, something must be done with the weight that is on that foot. There are two ways to deal with the weight while kicking: shift it to the other foot or don't shift it at all. Each method has some advantages and disadvantages.
If you shift the weight:
- In the shift, weight shifts from the kicking foot to the support foot, so balance is maintained during the kick.
- The kicking leg can fully chamber before firing so maximum muscle force may be applied to the kick.
- If the kick misses it target or it is deflected or blocked, the kicking leg may be quickly and easily re-chambered and fired again.
- While you may thrust or snap your weight behind a kick, the weight stays centered over the kicking foot, so, if the kicking foot is grabbed, you still have your balance and you have many counter options available.
- Your opponent may be able to read your weight shift and anticipate the kick.
If you don’t shift the weight:
- The weight of the body is falling into the kick so it is applied to the kick to give it more mass and thus more power. The kick may be used to drive the opponent backward.
- Since there is no weight shift, there is no tell for the opponent to read so there is no way to anticipate the kick.
- If you don't shift, the weight does not move to the support foot, so you are not balanced; in effect, you are falling forward during the kick. Since you are falling forward, the kicking leg does not chamber or only partially chambers. It must fire and retract quickly so you don't fall.
- If the kick misses its target or it is deflected or blocked, you must step forward to keep from falling, so the leg cannot kick again.
Arm positionArms are not used for kicks. When you kick, the body above the waist does not move until you pivot and roll the hips. You don't swing, wave, or flap the arms; they stay in a tight guard position, even when performing a spin kick. Doing a fast, high kick does no good if the opponent reads the kick, steps inside it, and counterattacks.
You should kick like the way a duck swims. When you see a duck moving around a lake, the duck is moving calmly and smoothly through the water with its wings tucked with no apparent body movement. However, just beneath the surface, the duck's legs are thrashing like crazy. During as kick, above the waist, you are calm and still, but below the waist, your legs are moving around like crazy.
PivotYou should pivot on the ball of your standing foot as you kick to prevent ligament injury and to use the power generated by the rotating hips. For most kicks, the standing foot will pivot 180 degrees so its toes point directly away from the target. As the kicking leg is re-cocked, pivot the standing foot back to its starting position.
KneeOnce the kicking leg is cocked, the kick starts with the knee. For side thrust kicks, drive the knee toward into the target. For round kicks, use the knee to snap the foot forward into the target. For hook and heel kicks, pull the knee around and pull it through the target.
When kicking, don’t move the foot first. For example, in a side kick, the knee moves vertically first; the foot follows but it moves quicker than the knee. When the foot is in position, the knee pushes the foot directly toward the target. Don’t think of the foot moving first and dragging the knee behind; instead, think of the knee moving first and then pushing the foot toward the target. This motion will add power to the kick, minimize telegraphing the attack, get the kick over the top of any counter kick, and confuse the opponent as to whether the kick will be toward a low, middle, or high target.
Hip rollIn kicks, just as in hand techniques, power comes from hips. Without the hips, the only the power in a kick comes from the leg and possibility from a spin. Snap rolling the hip over into a kick applies the mass of the entire body into the kick and give it maximum penetrating power.
A snapping hip roll is one thing that separates a karate style side snap kick and the taekwondo side kick from the more powerful taekwondo side thrust kick. In the side snap kick, the striking foot is held parallel to the floor and the striking surface is the entire length of the outer knife-edge of the foot. In the taekwondo side kick, the striking foot is also parallel to the floor but the striking surface is just the heel area of the knife-edge of the foot.
In the taekwondo side thrust kick, the kicking foot's final position is perpendicular to the floor, heel upward and toes downward, but the striking surface is the same as with the side kick, the heel area of the knife-edge of the foot. To get the foot into this position, the hip must roll over the kicking leg. This rolling motion is snapped so the heel of the kicking foot is thrust forward applying all the forces of the body into the kick. The resulting kick thrusts the hell into the target with a powerful jolt.
ChamberingThe chamber (cocking of kicking leg) is important since it contracts the powerful leg muscles to prepare them for a power extension through the full range of motion. When power is applied through a longer distance, the power of the kick increases. As the kick extends, the body mass is settled onto the support foot so the support leg may push off the floor to add power to the kick. From a tight chamber, such as for a side thrust kick, the kick may be executed no matter how close the opponent is. If the opponent closes range quickly, the kick may be used to nail the opponent as he or she closes, or, at the worst, the kick may be used to push the opponent backward.
The leg extends, contacting the target couple of inches before full extension so maximum force occurs during target penetration. If the leg reaches full extension before target contact, the kick misses. If it makes contact too early, power is decreased to the point that the kick becomes a push rather than a strike.
The kick quickly retracts to its chamber position. From the chambered position, another kick may be fired, the chamber may be maintained as a guard, or the foot may be placed at any position of the floor desired by the kicker. If the leg drops to the floor without retracting, it cannot quickly kick again, and the kicker must step forward onto the foot even if it is not an advantageous move.
Kicking leg tensionLeg tension is important in angular kicks, such as the round and hook kicks. In linear thrust kicks, such as the side thrust or back kicks, it is less important since the mass of the body is directly behind the kick. In angular kicks, the mass of the body may only be applied to the kick through tension in the leg since the mass is being applied at an angle to the kicking motion. To keep tension in the leg, a strong musculature is required. If the hip joint flexes, power is lost. If the knee flexes, it may be injured.
Counter-motionSome kickers use a counter-motion when kicking. The counter-motion is to either lean the upper body away from the kick or to move the arms away from the direction of the kick. The reasoning is that this thrusts the hips forward to add power to the kick.
However, counter-motion makes no sense what so ever. It is at most a feeble attempt to maintain balance while thrusting the leg outward. In what sport does the athlete lean away from the direction a force is being applied? The mass of the body should be applied behind the kick or punch, not be held back, and certainly not pulled backward.
When you perform a kick, such as a side thrust kick, the arms should maintain their guard and the upper body should stay upright, or maybe have a slight forward lean into the kick. As a defense, you may choose to lean backward to avoid a kick, such as a round kick to the head, as you fire your side thrust kick.
Foot shapeIn all kicks, a specific area of the foot is the striking surface. To get this striking surface into position, the foot must be in a specified shape at impact. This is called foot shape. If proper foot shape is not maintained throughout the kick, the kick may not be effective or the kicking foot may be injured.
Support legThe supporting leg must be slightly bent and springy, with the foot firmly on the ground. Having the knee too straight or too bent will adversely affect the kick. The supporting leg must be supple rather than rigid. If the support knee is locked, the leg is susceptible to injury, either internally from the force of the muscles, or externally from a possible strike to the leg. Remember, any force you apply to the target is also reflected into your body. When the knee is unlocked, it also permits subtle leg movements that allow the kicker to maintain balance.
Don’t raise the support heel to gain more height in the kick. With the heel off the floor, power is lessened since the springing action of the ankle absorbs forces being transmitted to and from the floor through the body and the size of your base is greatly reduced, making it more difficult to resist external forces and maintain balance.
SpeedThe lighter your body weight, the more speed is required for you to develop a kick of a force equal to the force generated by a heavier person. The actual velocity of a kick is, perhaps more than anything else, determined by the power expended in the snap of the knee. A high-velocity kick by a lighter person may have greater impact force than a lower velocity kick by a bigger, stronger person.
Height of kickDon’t attempt to kick higher than you can while still maintaining proper form. Don’t raise up on the toes to get greater kicking height; you need a strong base to maintain your stability. Height will come with flexibility and training. Always maintain proper form when kicking and let height come with time.
Target trainingKick at hand targets or swinging hanging targets to develop eye-foot coordination. When kicking, always see your target before impact; this helps ensure you always hit what you intend to hit. Develop power and recoil resistance by kicking a heavy bag.
Full power at the endMany beginners tend to use full power throughout the motion of kicking. This creates tension throughout the leg, which hinders speed and exhausts your strength. While kicks should always be delivered at top speed, the entire leg should remain relaxed until the moment of full extension or just before contact, at which time full tension and muscle power should be highly concentrated in a burst of maximum power.
Maintain a straight lineWhen the body, hips, and leg muscles are thrust forward behind the kick, tremendous power can result. This coordinates all body movement into the kick. For example, imagine that you are a delivering a side thrust kick to a stack of boards. If the body is not in line with the hip and leg, the reactive force from the boards will twist the body lessening the impact force. If everything is in alignment, the reactive force will be directed down the support leg to the floor where it will rebound back through the body to the boards and add to the impact force.
Response to a grabbed kickWhen a kick is grabbed by your opponent:
- Bend the kicking knee to close the range, grab the opponent (at least one of his or her hands is being used to grab you) and pull him or her toward you, and punch at will.
- Quickly jerk kicking leg into a re-chamber and then immediately kick again.
- Jump off support leg to get your mass above your leg and then use your body weight to break opponent's grip as you land.
- Use opponent's grip as a support to execute a jump kick with the other leg.
- Execute a backward somersault, kicking opponent under the jaw on the way around.
StretchingTo train for kicks, it is essential to stretch the hamstrings as much as possible. Some good exercises include:
- Placing your leg on a stretching bar, then grabbing that ankle and slowly pulling your torso forward until, optimally, you can touch your head to your knee or shin. Once you can do this easily, increase the height of the stretching bar.
- Sit with your legs stretched out to each side as far as possible and bend your torso first toward one knee and then toward the other, and finally down the middle. Next, you bring your legs together, place your palms on the floor, and lean forward.
- Practice slow high kicks while holding onto a stretching bar or chair.
- Stand upright and put one foot against a wall, then slowly inch your foot up the wall as your body adjusts to the pressure on the muscles being stretched.
- Since some kicks, such as the axe kick, are difficult to control it is unsafe to train with a partner, so it is best to train using a focus mitt.