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Round kicks


The round (roundhouse or turning) kick is a dynamic, highly effective scoring technique in competition. The large semicircular motion of the roundhouse kick offers more contact points of the foot and leg to use against different targets.

A 1998 study by J. B. Lee, A study of kicking techniques of advanced Korea taekwondo players (Coach Field Reports. Seoul, Korea: Korea Sports Research Institutes) showed that a roundhouse was used in 50% of the kicks used by competitors and that 89% of total points scored came from a roundhouse kick.

The contact surfaces of a roundhouse kick are either the ball of the foot (for penetration and greater striking force without injury), the instep (for more range in sparring), or the shin (especially against the common peroneal nerve in the upper leg).

Differences between the round kicks of various martial arts

In the karate roundhouse kick, the knee is lifted, the hip is turned over, the support heel rotates about 90 degrees toward the target, and the leg is snapped outward from the knee to deliver a strike with the ball of the foot. Masutatsu Oyama modified the kick in kyokushin karate by using the instep or shin instead of the ball of the foot as the striking point, using more hip rotation, and by shifting the body mass into the target to create a bludgeoning type of strike.

The muay thai roundhouse kick is a bit different from the karate version. The kicker raises on the ball of the supporting foot to generate greater turning speed. The power comes from the pivoting of the hips and the spin more than from a snapping of the leg, which stays relaxed during the kick. Because the kick is executed with so much speed and power, a missed kick causes the kicker to keep spinning. The muay thai roundhouse kick strikes with the shin.

Initially, the taekwondo round kick was the same as the karate roundhouse kick, but, as taekwondo began trying to rid itself of its shotokan influences, the kick began to evolve. In the karate roundhouse kick, the supporting foot pivots about 90 degrees toward the target, which means the kicking foot travels in a quarter of a circle. Taekwondo instructors theorized that, if you pivot the support foot 180 degrees, more body mass would be imparted to the kick since the kicking foot would travel in a half circle instead of a quarter circle.

Since Gen. Choi's taekwondo was designed for the military, the round kick was designed to be used while wearing combat boots, so the toes did not have to be curled back. Instead, the point of the shoe was purposed used. With the full pivot of the body, chambering of the lower leg backward, and then snapping it out and back to the chamber position in a whip-cracking motion, much power is imparted to the small impact point at the point of the boot. When kicking barefoot, the toes must be curled back so the impact point is the ball of the foot.

In the traditional taekwondo rear leg "off the line" round kick, the knee is chambered before any body rotation is started. This differentiates it from the muay thai, karate, and other roundhouse kicks that tend to start the rotation before or during the rising of the knee. The knee is then rotated nearly parallel to the ground and the kicking hip is simultaneously rotated towards the opponent.

After the rise of the Olympic sport style of taekwondo, there were a lot of complaints about the "slow speed" of the round kick and the toe injuries from kicking training bags with the ball of the foot, so a different type of round kick was developed. A knee whip motion with an impact that pushes beyond the target was developed. The attack angle of the kick was increased to 45-degrees and the striking surface was changed to the instep. This 45-degree round kick was used in the traditional taekwondo, as in the choong moo pattern, but it was not used much in sparring.

In a front leg round kick, the leading leg is drawn up vertically, and rotated and snapped toward the opponent in the same manner as in the rear leg kick. A fast kick version is done by skipping forward with the rear leg, which moves the kicker toward the opponent while simultaneously chambering and firing the front leg round kick. This version was effectively used by Bill Wallace, a highly successful Korean martial art stylist, during his full-contact karate career. The front leg kick is weaker than the rear leg kick because the hip does not rotate as much; however, it is faster because the leg travels a shorter distance before striking the opponent.

So, there are two types of round kicks in taekwondo; the old, traditional style and the new, modern style (bit chagi). Both of which are different from the karate "mawashi geri" roundhouse kick.

How to perform a traditional round kick

  • The knee of the kicking leg is raised straight up to the side with the heel pulled back against the buttocks as much as possible.
  • The thigh and shin are almost parallel to the floor. This chamber disguises the type of kick and the height of the kick and it permits a knee kick it the opponent is too close for the round kick.
  • The knee may also be chambered with the knee in front, similar to a front kick chamber, to fake a front kick, but a round kick from this position will be weaker, and it may get jammed.
  • The foot moves towards the target in a wide semicircular motion, with the foot in the shape in which you want to strike the target.
  • The knee will move up or down depending on the height you want to kick.
  • As the foot moves towards the target in the semicircular motion, the hip of the kicking foot goes forward with the kick and the supporting leg pivots until the heel points toward the target. Movement of the hip and rotation of the support foot adds body power to the kick.
  • As the kick fires, the body pivots on the support foot and the leg is whipped around toward the target. Near the end of the kick, the kicking knee snaps the leg out straight which accelerates the foot into the target, and just before impact, the kicking hip rolls over to add even more power to the kick. 
  • The supporting foot should always remain in contact with the floor, don’t rise on the ball of the foot to try to add more height in the kick; you will lose stability and thus lose power.
  • Keep the upper body as upright as much as possible; you are spinning around your vertical axis. After the foot impacts the target, the foot should be snapped back to the buttocks.
  • The whipping and snapping motion of the leg along with the forward motion and rollover of the hip create a very powerful kick. The recoil motion helps maintain balance and positions the foot for a second kick. 

Other round kicks

  • Aero step round kick. Chamber rear leg as if performing a front kick, but only lift it a few inches. As the knee passes the support knee, retract the hip and simultaneously execute a round kick with the support leg before the raised foot touches the ground.

    A difficult variation of using an aero step with a round kick is to lift the front leg first and kick with the rear foot. This is a popular technique for counterattacking without stepping backward. The aero step is an effective way of adding speed and power to the round kick, because of the reaction force of one leg pulling back and the other kicks forward.
  • Aero step double round kick. The double round kick is useful for shorter competitors because it takes advantage of their speed. To perform a double kick with an aero step, perform the first round kick as described above, then, just as the kicking foot touches the ground, execute a round kick with the other leg. Quick kickers may fire a round kick again with the first leg. Double or triple round kicks strike the opponent from both sides so he or she cannot mount an effective defense or counter.
  • Turn (360° round) kick. When attacking, spin and step the rear foot forward (turn step) and then perform a round kick using the other foot. Range is controlled by how far the spinning foot steps forward. 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.
  • Jump turn kick. To perform a jump turn kick, replace the turn step with an aero turn step. Instead of placing the foot of your turning leg on the floor when you after you turn, hold it in the air as you round kick with the rear leg. Rotate your hips first, and then begin your turn step. A jump turn kick is more powerful than a turning kick because the aero step forces your entire body weight into the target.
  • Roundhouse kick (ball or instep).
  • Jump roundhouse or twist kick.
  • Spin roundhouse or twist kick.
  • Jump-spin roundhouse or twist kick.
  • Flying roundhouse or twist kick.

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