Sunday, August 12, 2007

Low Kicks Rule


Striking Thoughts' Bob Patterson got me thinking about the efficiency of low-target kicking versus the impressive albeit impractical high kicks of tae kwon do and other arts. "Sporting" kicks look nice, but the follow-up consequences can wreak havoc. Anytime you kick above the obi (belt) you leave yourself wide open for a serious counter. To further compound the problem, kicks that are aimed even at the midsection are typically met by your opponent's arms, where kicks can be blocked, redirected, or grabbed. Competitive practitioners have developed a plethora of moves to combat mid and high-section kicks, so depending on who you're playing with, it pays to watch out.

In a recent sparring match I executed a crescent kick to the head of my opponent only to be taken down unceremoniously. Granted, I really pulled the shot, so I ended up paying for playing nice. I wouldn't dream of trying that move outside the dojo anyway. Strictly speaking, high kicks are not, nor ever have been part of any traditional karate syllabus if you're using kata (practice forms) as a textbook. Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, the 70s full-contact karate high kick extraordinaire once said in an interview that kicks were never shown above the waist in the Shorin-ryu he trained in during his military hitch on Okinawa. Still, who would mind being able to kick like him?

Karate, Wing Chun, Muay Thai and Savate all incorporate low-section kicks as core techniques. I really like that inverted rear-leg side kick to the knee that savateurs use, as it can be used at close range with virtually no adjustment in stance. In karate, blade kicks delivered to the knee and step-over stomp kicks are signature moves taken directly from kata.

High kicks require a certain degree of flexibility and athleticism that many practitioners lack. Low kicks are definitely recommended for the street, while I have my doubts about the former variety. If you're an avid high kicker, consider including low kicks into your regimen. Simply put, low kicks are relatively easy to learn and can be indispensable when you need them.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Dan Paden said...

I once read someone--can't remember who--who said that no one ever used high kicks in kumite until the rules were changed to prohibit groin shots. Then high kicks seemed to appear everywhere.

Don't know if it's altogether true, but it appears plausible.

As I recall, some of the Northern Chinese styles make use of higher kicks, but even then, I think the idea is to train to kick high so that low kicks will be easier in comparison.

While I would never advocate them as a street-effective maneuver, I can recall from my Taekwon-do days that high kicks were not entirely useless. I (accidentally, I was just a smidge closer than I thought I was) knocked someone out with a jumping side kick to the head once.
He was retreating in a big hurry and was off-balance. The jumping kick allowed me to cover a lot of ground in a hurry and tag him, and he couldn't counter, not off-balance.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Bob Patterson said...

Certain high kicks are tricky for sure to pull off safely in a street situation while wearing street shoes. In Wing Chun my sifu dismissed taekwondo's high kicks outright. Yet I now wonder how well he would have faired against someone who could kick high? Constant training against mid to low kicks teaches certain behaviors that may cause you to freeze when someone kicks high. My former Sabum has said this of the aikido he now studies. They are very good at what they do but they train to defend against some fairly weak punches and kicks because their's is an art that does not emphasize these skills. So how would they fair against a good puncher? The same for us tko high-kickers. Training to kick mid to high ingrained this notion so much that I was even starting to have trouble kicking low, as my post notes.

If I had to choose one over the other I'd take low kicks for sure. However, it's sure nice now to be able to have the option to kick someone's head.

Re: Wallace. He was a phenom for sure. He had one bad leg from judo. So, he only had three kicks: The hook, round, and side-kick. He fired them all from a front leg stance and was absolutely deadly. He's a good example of mastering a few techniques.

~BCP

5:31 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

I believe there are two reasons why high kicks work (in tournaments anyway).

1. When one is extremely fast, really really fast they can work provided you use them as a finishing technique.

2. Because usually it involves two individuals of like style who are conditioned due to training which allows for such kicks to work.

I have had my time in the dojo sparring with those who like such kicks. It was rare anyone with such kicks every connected. Isshinryu allowed me to move in quickly underneath such kicks or my hand techniques lifted the opponent up slightly causing a total loss of balance where I moved in quickly again with hand techniques.

Caveat, I don't train in supo-tsu karate, I train in gendai budo karate-do.

I also love it when I spar with someone who does a spinning back kick. If the person is not quick I end up inside his kick as it wraps around my waist while I pummel them in the kidneys, shoulder blades, and back of head.

hehehehehehehehehehehehe

If they are fast a simple movement to either side and rear simultaneously creates unbalance since most practitioners move the technique in a form that requires contact to the opponent or it swings wildly then I move in low and fast with hand techniques.

Notice that I don't talk about moving in with a foot technique.

Remember that Isshinryu is made up of about 80% hand and 20% leg techniques so I save the legs to finish off an opponent when they are down and done.

I had an Isshinryu student from another dojo who asked me once why I didn't do kicks more since they learned to use them a lot and my answer was as stated above. They were puzzled especially since they trained in supo-tsu karate.

Sorry, wordy post :-)

10:24 AM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

I went to a seminar by "Superfoot" Wallace and can he kick high! I also think that those high kicks we use at our karate school would never work in the real world. I feel that a good swift kick to their knee would be far more disabling than a spectacular high kick to their head.

11:07 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

High kicks provide a certain degree of surprise.

Context plays a lot for sure.

While in the dojo a head kick can surprise, in a situation where my life would depend on my actions, I would not use them. Even if I can kick rather high.

From my limited experience, kicks to the legs connect and high kicks take too much time to connect allowing for retaliation.

I guess the closer to reality you get, the less you see them. I sometimes look at the UFC and high kicks are there. Few, but still there.

Thankfully, and it's a shame at the same time, low kicks are not allowed in tourneys. Imagine the injury count... Yet, you don't train in what's effective.

Balance is always hard to find.

Cheers!

1:09 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Dan:

...I think the idea is to train to kick high so that low kicks will be easier in comparison.

Many schools train those high kicks more as an exercise drill than anything else. It's good for developing flexibility and balance, but the low kicks still have to be worked. How you train is how it happens.
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Bob:

If I had to choose one over the other I'd take low kicks for sure. However, it's sure nice now to be able to have the option to kick someone's head.

Agreed, especially if they're not prepared for that. If you have the flexibility and especially the speed of a guy like Wallace, you're in.
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Charles:

Isshinryu allowed me to move in quickly underneath such kicks or my hand techniques lifted the opponent up slightly causing a total loss of balance where I moved in quickly again with hand techniques.

Isshinryu is about in-fighting, which is a nightmare against a high kicker. Maintaining balance is an issue for launching those kind of kicks as I found out. I'm currently training in a dojo without mats, so I wasn't exactly thrilled.

I also love it when I spar with someone who does a spinning back kick. If the person is not quick I end up inside his kick as it wraps around my waist while I pummel them in the kidneys, shoulder blades, and back of head.

Again, this is the close-combative aspect of Isshinryu and Okinawan karate in general. It takes timing and some guts to move in on spinning back kick , quite possibly the strongest kick in karate.
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Miss Chris:

I went to a seminar by "Superfoot" Wallace and can he kick high! I also think that those high kicks we use at our karate school would never work in the real world.

That must've been a great workshop. I think I remember you mentioning that you went to a Wallace seminar a while back in one of your posts. But even he would tell you that those kicks aren't too practical when you're in restrictive street clothes, without stretching or warming up first, etc.
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Mat:

While in the dojo a head kick can surprise, in a situation where my life would depend on my actions, I would not use them. Even if I can kick rather high.

I think you may be speaking for a legion of practitioners. You're right about the element of surprise. This is especially the case for someone who doesn't regularly train against those kicks, as Bob noted.

Thankfully, and it's a shame at the same time, low kicks are not allowed in tourneys. Imagine the injury count... Yet, you don't train in what's effective.

Right, you really can't devote the same level of attention to something that is prohibited in sparring. You lose that important edge of applying it spontaneously.

12:48 AM  
Blogger B said...

Its the old form follows function debate. In a nutshell, high kicks look aesthetically pleasing (form) but are not always the best choice in a real confrontation where a low kick (function) will suffice. When I trained in Okinawan Uechi-ryu we emphasized low-kicks and trained against them (leg conditioning, knee and shin blocks)as well as high kicks (point of elbow blocks, step-in counters, sweeps). These were usually more painful to the attacker than the receiver. When I transitioned to Muay Thai low kicks were emphasized as well though mostly to the thighs. Outside the ring, and particularily with Muay Thais predecessor, Muay Boran, emphasize was placed on kicking to the knee in a real confrontation. I wouldnt even consider kicking to the head of someone twice my size or much taller than myself.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous KFG said...

At our Shaolin School, we were told that the circular kicks (sometimes called crescent kicks in other arts) could be mainly used for distraction, or to open up an opponent's guard. Still, you have to be fast and move in right away afterwards. I've also been told that they are useful in knocking something out of someone's hand - again, quickness would be the key. Having been on the wrong end of having my foot caught while kicking on more occasions than I'd like to admit, I'm a little uncertain about the effectiveness of using them in a real situation. Funnily enough, we were discussing kicks last night in class - my instructor pointed out that kicks could be useful in a situation where you are faced with multiple attackers to keep people at bay and create space. I think this could work - if nothing else, people would back off a little, which is what happens in sparring, too, even if you don't land the kick.

3:58 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Just like how the knuckles are conditioned for Okinawan and Japanese styles of karate, the shin is a powerful weapon once it's it's been strengthened from continuous training. The same goes for Okinawan and Chinese toe kicks.
I rarely use high kicks (Partly because even though I'm 186 cm, my legs are actually not that long. I have a large torso and I'm not that flexible. So I primarily rely on low kicks and knees. I think I only used jodan mawashi geri was when I sparred a couple of times, but that was it.

2:50 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

B:

When I transitioned to Muay Thai low kicks were emphasized as well though mostly to the thighs.

Those Muay Thai guys kick high too, but also use knee strikes to the face which I didn't mention in my post. The advantage to a high-section knee strike (over a conventional high kick) is that it doesn't really expose the groin the same way, and allows the user to maintain more balance because the leg is still chambered. What's interesting about Muay Thai is that it pre-dates a number of modern disciplines, including Okinawan karate.
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KFG:

I've also been told that they (crescent kicks) are useful in knocking something out of someone's hand - again, quickness would be the key.

When most people think of a crescent kick, they think of a high-section target. That's the way they're usually shown. Years ago at a seminar, I saw a neat move that involved knocking a weapon (presumably a knife) out of the attacker's hand with a low crescent kick. Generally, circular kicks are weak (compared to a side or back kick), but for that particular move power really isn't an issue. But you're right about speed, as kicks for just about everyone are slower than hand techniques.
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Mark:

Just like how the knuckles are conditioned for Okinawan and Japanese styles of karate, the shin is a powerful weapon once it's it's been strengthened from continuous training. The same goes for Okinawan and Chinese toe kicks.

It seems shin strikes (and conditioning them) are now in vogue, thanks to the popularity of Muay Thai and especially MMA contests. Toe kicks are another thing. Chojun Miyagi, the illustrious founder of Goju-ryu karate, once punctured a metal can with his famous toe-kick at an exhibition. Most karateka just don't train that way anymore, with the advent of protective gear, etc.

9:21 PM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

I like how high kicks "feel" when you execute them. There is such a demand for balance, and an extension of your body into the movement. I would be disappointed if training didn't include some high kicks. However, I can understand that one really needs to develop low kicks for self defense moments.

2:09 PM  

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