All martial art styles have kick in their repertoire. Why are Taekwondo kicks so much more powerful than those of most other styles? They all use balance, hip torque, and of course, powerful, flexible legs. While all of those qualities play a role in strong 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 better 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 do not pivot the base foot at all, most Japanese styles pivot 90 degrees, some Taekwondo styles pivot 90 degrees, others 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 to lean backward as the kick extends, which lessens power. Pivoting 45 degrees turn 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.
Some instructors recommend pivoting 90 degrees when executing a roundhouse kick, cocking the knee of their kicking leg, then extending it into the kick, with the knee at a right angle to the target. Others pivot 180 degrees to deliver the roundhouse kick, with their knee pointed forward toward 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. Others pivot 160 degrees, which allows the knee to be brought up and still generate plenty of power and permits the kicker to view the target better.
For a hook kick, the pivot is 180 degrees so the kicking leg can extend straight toward the side of the target and still achieve the whip-like hooking motion.
For side kicks, some instructors advocate 90-degree pivots, making 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.
Sliding side kicks require a 180 degree pivot. Modern Contemporary Taekwondo uses 160 degree pivot so you can see the target easier. Again the 180 degree pivot generates the most powerful kick.
Spinning hook and back kicks require a 180-degree pivot. Anything less will place unnatural torque on the stationary knee.
Knowledge of different kick pivots is important for a number of reasons. An improper pivot decreases power, disrupts balance, obstructs your view of your target and may damage the joints of your stationary leg.