All kicks start with the hands and arms being held in a basic guard position: Hands in fists held just below cheekbones with palms toward face, with forearms almost vertical. The arms do not move during a kick. Do not let kicking side elbow rise and expose the abdomen. Keep the elbows under their respective fists. If opponent is quicker than you are, he or she may kick you during you mid-kick movements.
Keep up your guard up at all times!
When kicking, always keep your guard up. Do not use your hands arms for balance. Arms are used for guarding, blocking, and attacking, not for kicking or 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 turkey trying to fly in an effort to maintain your balance. Do not use your arms in an attempt to add power to a kick. Keep your guard up for protection at all times!
Elements of a Kick
- Kick starts from a solid stance with the arms held in an effective guard position. Arms stay in guard position throughout the kick.
- Leg chambers for the kick.
- As leg chambers, kicking foot is shaped into the weapon to be used for the kick, such as ball, heel, or knife-edge.
- Kick fires at target. In side kick, use only thigh muscles. Round or hook kicks also use calf muscles.
- Pivot base foot as required.
- Roll hips over into the kick at impact.
- Re-chamber leg.
- Pivot base foot and step leg back into a solid stance with the arms still in an effective guard position.
Important tips on kicking
- Kicking is what Taekwondo is known for; however, do not forget punches. 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.
- Opponents in Taekwondo sparring tend to fight at a long kicking range. You must 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 nothing to do with kicking. The two areas of concern for kicks are the knee and the hip. Speed and power come from using these two areas correctly, so do not think about the foot while performing a kick; it is only it is only the striking point.
Ways to perform kicks
- Without power. Used in sparring where opponent is barely touched. The purpose is focus.
- With thrusting power. Used for fighting or breaking. Generate maximum power.
- With pushing power. Used to push opponent away with minimum injury.
- With snapping power. Used for sparring and fighting where quick powerful kicks are needed.
- Jamming. Similar to kicking without power. It stops short of target and opponent runs into kick, stopping forward motion.
- Accelerating. Acceleration comes from adding various movements, such as spins, flips, jumps, etc.
Rear/trailing leg kick
Kicks are performed with rear/trailing leg although front leg kicks are similar in movement. Front leg kicks are quicker, more likely to score, less powerful, and more difficult to perform than rear leg kicks.
Some kicks are delivered while the front of the body faces the opponent, such as front kicks and axe kicks, some while the side of the body faces the opponent, such as side kicks and round kicks, and some while the back of the body faces the opponent, such as back kicks and spin kicks.
The initial movement on any kick is the knee lifting the knee into the chamber position. From the waist up, there is no indication of a kick being considered. Once the upper body moves, the kick is already in motion. For some kicks, the upper body may move very little. This means the first noticed the opponent has of an attacking kick is when it hits the target. Do not drop the arms, swing the arms, or extend the arms; just move around in a good fighting stance with a tight guard and suddenly fire a kick without telegraphing the kick in anyway.
Raise Kicking Leg and Knee
For most kicks, 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 may be executed in one smooth motion. Reasons for this are:
- All the leg bones and muscles, the ankle and knee, and hip rotation 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. Imagine your foot as an arrow being delivered from you own waist level to the waist level of your opponent.
- 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.
- 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 is the primary target.
- A kick coming from the floor and up to its target may be easily blocked by the arms. Kicks thrown from a high position are harder to block since the opponent does not know the intended target. Also, kicks that move straight into their target are difficult to block, since the kick can be stopped when your opponent lowers his forearm.
- When a kick is immediately recoiled back to the high cocked position, another kick may be quickly thrown to another target without move the leg or 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 shifts while kicking
When 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 do not shift it at all. Each method has some advantages and disadvantages.
If you shift weight:
- In the shift, weight shifts from the kicking foot to the other foot, so balance is maintained during the kick.
- The kicking leg is able to 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, it may be quickly and easily re-chambered and fired again.
- While you may thrust or snap your weight behind a kick, the weight stays entered 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 do not shift weight
- If you do not shift, the weight does not move to the other foot so you are not balanced; in effect, you are falling during the kick.
- Since you are falling forward, he kicking leg does not chamber or only partially chambers. It must fire and retract quickly so you do not 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.
- 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.
Arms are not used for kicks. Arms are used for blocking and striking. When you kick, the body above the waist does not move until you pivot and roll the hips. You do not 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 steps inside the kick and punches or kicks your unguarded face or body.
Kick similar to 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 ducks legs are thrashing like crazy.
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.
Once the kicking leg is cocked, the kick starts with the knee. For side thrust kicks, drive the knee toward the target. For round, hook, heel, etc. kicks, pull the knee around and through the technique.
Knee Moves First
When kicking, do not 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. Do not 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 to a low, middle, or high target.
In 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. When kicking, most students concentrate on leg power, some remember to chamber, but many forget the hip action.
A snapping hip roll is the primary movement that separates a karate style side snap kick or a 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 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 - 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 not only thrusts into the target, it strikes the target with a powerful jolt.
The chamber 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 over 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, making contact with 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 even if it is not an advantageous move.
Kicking Leg Tension
Leg 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 leg. Again, a strong musculature is required. If the hip joint flexes, power is lost. If the knee flexes, it may be injured.
Some 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 want 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 kink forward 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.
In all kicks, a specific area of the foot is the striking surface. To accomplish this, the foot must be held in a specified shape at the moment of impact.
The 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 back into your body. When the knee is unlocked, it also permits subtle leg movements that allow the kicker to maintain balance.
Do not raise the support heel in an attempt 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.
The 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 student. The actual velocity of a kick is, perhaps more than anything else, determined by the power expended in the snap of the knee.
Do not attempt to kick higher than you can while still maintaining proper form. Height will come with flexibility and training. Always maintain proper form when kicking and let height come with time.
Kick at hand targets to increase accuracy. Develop power and recoil resistance by kicking a heavy bag.
Use Full Power Only At Full Extension
Many beginners tend to use full strength throughout the motion of kicking. This creates tension throughout the leg. Remember, tension not only hinders speed, but 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 concentrated in a powerful burst.
Maintain a straight line through the body while kicking
When the hips, body, 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 adding to the impact force.
What if your kicking leg is grabbed?
- Bend kicking knee, grab 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 other leg.
- Execute a backward somersault, kicking opponent under the jaw on the way round.
To 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 ground, and lean forward.
- Practice while holding onto a stretching bar or chair. Then practice by kicking over the back of a chair.
- Stand upright and put one leg 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.