We will use the following kicks in our lessons:
- Exercise kicks
- Front kick
- Side kick
- Knee kick
- Rear kick
- Roundhouse kick
- Crescent kick
- Hook kick
- Stomp kick
- Drop kick
- Jump front kick
- Jump side kick
- Thrust kick
- Wheel kick
This page will discuss the common factors which must be kept in mind when performing any kick.
Koshi and Sokutō
Depending on the kick, the foot will contact the target with either your koshi, your sokutō, or your heel. While the first two require some explanation, the heel should be obvious.
The koshi (literally: “middle-foot”) is the ball of the foot, between the arch and the big toe. In karate, the majority of your body weight should be focused on the balls of your feet, like a cat, for optimum balance and mobility. Front kick, front exercise kick, jump front kick, roundhouse kick, and inside crescent kick all use the koshi to damage an opponent’s vital points.
Unlike many Korean and Korean-influenced martial arts, Goshin-Jutsu karateka do not strike with their insteps, as they are one of the weak points of the human body. One of our contributors, Mr. Zielinski, once sparred a Tae Kwon Do stylist who charged at him with a large, looping kick, hell-bent on crushing him with his instep. Mr. Zielinski did not block, parry, evade, or counter; he merely turned his elbow to the side. When the Tae Kwon Do man’s instep struck Mr. Zielinski’s elbow, it broke with a sickening crack. The point of this anecdote is this -- Mr. Zielinski did not break that man’s foot; that man broke his foot on Mr. Zielinski. Think about that -- then, kick with the ball of the foot.
To form the koshi, curl your toes back, and turn your ankle downward, so that your instep is in-line with your shin, like a ballerina. Failing to accentuate the koshi causes your kicks to impact with the tips of your toes. Unless you are wearing steel-toed workbooks, these “toe-kicks” will painfully sprain or break your toes, leaving your without a leg to stand on.
The sokutō (literally: “foot-sword”) is the blade or knife-edge of the foot. This is the outer edge of the foot, opposite the arch, running from the little toe to the heel. Side kick, side exercise kick, jump side kick, outside crescent kick, drop kick, and stomp kick all use the sokutō to damage an opponent’s vital points.
To form the sokutō, raise your big toe up, curl your other toes down, and turn your ankle so that the ball of your foot points inward. Failing to accentuate the sokutō will cause your kicks to strike with entire bottom of your foot, dissipating the blow over a larger area, decreasing the pressure and damage inflicted. For best results, try to aim your techniques such that they make contact within 3” (~ 7.5 cm) from your heel. This ensures that your little toe is out of the way, and remains undamaged.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Kicking is a critical skill for a number of reasons:
- Legs have twice the reach of an arm. A tall or gangly person who is skilled at kicking can rain pain upon their opponents from a safe distance. The shorter person is unable to kick back, as their stubby legs will not reach, nor can they get close enough to strike or grapple without getting hit. Likewise, shorter and stockier students can use kicks as atemi to help close in on their opponents.
- Kicks are powerful. The legs contain the body's largest, most powerful muscles, so kicks can have 4-5 times the power of a punch (Comparing the amount of weight one can lift in the bench press or military press to that of squats or the leg press will make this clear). A well-placed kick can break boards -- and bones -- with ease.
- Kicks have an intrinsic element of surprise. People expect to get punched in the nose during a fight, but they don't always expect to be kicked in the side of the knee.
However, kicking also presents a number of disadvantages, which must also be addressed:
- Kicks can throw you off-balance. At the moment of greatest extension and final impact, every kick leaves you standing on one foot, with your leg sticking straight out. Although you may not be in this awkward position for long, it will occur. An opponent who blocked or deflected your kick can use your leg as a lever for superior manhandling -- and without balance, there no defense.
- There is a “dead time” following every kick. The reciprocal action of one punch sets up the next punch, but if you kick with one leg, you can’t follow-up with the other -- that’s what’s holding you up! There is a “dead time” after throwing a kick, where you are completely vulnerable when rechambering kicks. While you could throw hand techniques, they are intrinsically weak when performed on one foot. A skilled fighter can avoid a kick, then stick to the opponent’s foot like a coat of paint, and follow their rechamber in to close the distance.
[video of following a kick in.]
- Effective kicks requires lots of practice. Unless you explicitly train to use kicks in fights, you wont be able to do so. There is no other exercise, game, or daily activity which is similar to martial arts kicking; it is an oddly-specific and technically complex skill. There is no way to develop kicking ability other than to spending lots of time learning how to kick.
The above-listed shortcomings always give the opponent a chance to block, deflect, or avoid your kicks. This becomes easier as more and more kicks are thrown in a series, since your stances will inevitably become slightly sloppier with each successive kick. Never perform more than three or four techniques without momentarily stopping to recheck your stance; the best way to maintain your balance is never losing it.
Goshin-Jutsu resolves some of these intrinsic problems by favoring low kicks over high kicks. We rarely kick above the floating ribs. The height of a kick is inversely proportional to its power; kicks grow weaker as they grow higher, since they use up their energy to overcome gravity. Also, lower kicks travel shorter paths than high kicks, making them inherently faster. For us, high kicking is simply a form of exercise.
Goshin-Jutsu kicks follow a four-point process. Slowly practice each step individually, and then put them all together. Speed is for rabbits and fools. Instead, concentrate on proper form, and performing it as smooth and fluid as possible. Slow is smooth; smooth is fast. Emphasizing speed over form can never make you into a better martial artist -- instead, you will just suck faster.
The four points are:
- Chambering -- the necessary setup.
- Kicking -- This is the easiest part.
- Re-chambering -- Recovering from a kick. Standing with one foot extended is an awkward and compromising position. Having your kicks return twice as fast as they went out mitigates this. Resist the urge to use your kick as a giant step; save stepping for Point 4. By immediately returning to the chambered position after kicking, you have the option of throwing additional kicks.
- Stepping out -- the act of transitioning to another stance after kicking.
After kicking, set your kicking leg behind you, and enter a front stance or fighting stance. Alternately, set your kicking foot next to your support foot (in a sort of bent-knees attention stance) and then slide your kicking foot out into a front or fighting stance. What you will not do -- ever, for any reason -- is stepping forward directly from crane stance into some other stance. Using kicks as giant steps transfers your weight to a leg that isn’t touching the ground. If this happens, a clever or skilled opponent can swat your foot aside with a well-timed leg sweep, toppling you instantly.
Kicking with the front leg has a greater range. Taking a step, then kicking will keep you stable; these “step-up kicks” frequently occur in Goshin-Jutsu Karatedō. The most important consideration in step-up kicks is that the rear foot must step up exactly next to the front foot. If you step past the front foot, and it's no longer a step-up kick -- it becomes a rear-leg kick thrown from a really crappy front stance. Stepping too short also leads to poor front stances, and kicking with your still-weighted front leg results in a slow kick and a loss of balance.
Step-up kicks can be made more efficient by combining the step-up and chambering steps into one motion. However, this requires a high level of coordination and form.
[video step-up kicks front the front and side, chambering as you step up, fast and slow.]