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Powerful kicks


All martial art styles have kicks in their repertoire and they all use balance, hip torque, and of course, strong, flexible legs to generate power in the kicks. While all these qualities play a role in powerful kicks, the real secret to kicking prowess is how you pivot on your stationary foot. When your stationary foot pivots, you are aligning your joints and improving balance, which positions your body for generating more kicking power.


Every kick has its own characteristic pivot, and the pivoting action for each kick differs from style to style. For example, in the front kick, some styles don’t pivot the base foot at all, most karate styles and some versions of taekwondo styles pivot 90 degrees, some styles only pivot 45 degrees, saying it puts less stress on the pivot knee and helps balance. Pivoting more than 45 degrees on a front kick makes it difficult to keep the back straight and causes some kickers to lean back as the kick extends, which lessens power. Pivoting 45 degrees turns the torso toward the side, which presents a smaller target area to the opponent.

Pivoting too far can also put stress on the knee due to the excessive twisting movement while carrying the body's weight on that leg. The knee of your stationary leg should always line up with the toes of the stationary foot. When you turn your hip into the kick, the knee follows, meaning your foot must pivot to stay in line with the knee. According to sports medicine experts, one of the major causes of knee damage in martial artists is kicking without pivoting on the stationary foot.

For a roundhouse (round) kick, some instructors recommend pivoting 90 degrees when executing the kick, cocking the knee of their kicking leg, then extending it into the kick, with the support knee at a right angle to the target. Other instructors say to pivot 180 degrees to deliver the kick, with the support knee pointed backward, away from the target, which means the kicker must view the target over the shoulder, which is an awkward twist.  However, the 180-degree pivot generates maximum power. Other instructors say to only pivot 160 degrees, which allows the knee to be brought up and still generate plenty of power while allowing the kicker to view the target easier.

For a hook kick, the pivot should be 180 degrees, so the kicking leg can extend straight toward the side of the target and still achieve the whip-like hooking motion.

For a lead leg side kick, some martial arts advocate using a 90-degree pivot, performing the technique a quick knee cock, followed immediately by the side kick. Traditional taekwondo uses a 180-degree pivot that makes the kicks appearing a little like a back kick, which means the kicker must view the target over the shoulder.

A sliding side kick usually requires a 180-degree pivot but modern taekwondo uses a 160-degree pivot so you can see the target easier. Again the 180-degree pivot generates the most powerful kick.

The spinning hook and back kicks require a 180-degree pivot. Anything less will place an unnatural torque on the stationary knee.

Knowledge of the different kick pivots is important for several reasons. An improper pivot decreases power, disrupts balance, obstructs your view of your target and may damage the joints of your stationary leg.

  • Hallander, J. (1992). Why Does Tae Kwon Do Have the Best Kicks? Black Belt Magazine, February 1992.
  • Turtle Press. (2002). [Online], Available: [2002, October 21].

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