Karate Kicks - Dynamic Weapons of Self-Defense
By Michael J. Lorden
Many individuals begin studying the martial arts for self-defense. Many for other athletic competition. But for still others, their only exposure to the martial arts is what they witness through television and the movies. The media’s portrayal of the martial arts is often and sometimes inaccurately portrayed, especially in the area of self-defense and kicking.
All martial artists should know the origin of their style. A thorough understanding of the origin and purpose of a style will offer clues as to the types of techniques taught within that art and which of those are emphasized. Not every martial art utilizes kicks. Some use kicking techniques but do not place much emphasis on them. Some martial arts would seem to emphasize the hands because of the name of the style, but in fact do not (for example, karate). Although the word karate means “empty-hands,” kicking techniques account for a large part of the karate practitioner’s arsenal. Kicking techniques that use the feet and legs are numerous within the art of karate and are powerful weapons of self-defense. In many styles of karate, the training of kicks is on a level equal to or greater than that of the hand techniques.
A young woman is walking toward her vehicle across a dimly lit parking lot. Just as she approaches her vehicle a man steps from the shadows and confronts her. Without hesitation the woman spins 360 degrees and delivers a kick to the assailant’s head. She then jumps in the air and executes a perfectly thrown kick, again to the assailant’s head sending him crashing to the pavement.
This is the typical depiction of a self-defense scenario through the creative eyes of a Hollywood writer. We are not expected to question the believability of this or wonder how this woman was able to accomplish such a feat while wearing a skirt, high heel shoes, and carrying a purse or several bags. What is sad about this dramatization is that a great number of individuals uneducated in the martial arts believe this to be real. A practical alternative to this scenario would be to see the woman deliver a side kick down toward the assailant’s knee and then flee the scene. And while the alternative is not exciting or flashy enough for the viewers, it is believable and it can certainly be done.
Legs are superior to arms
Obviously the legs are much stronger than the arms, as they support all the weight of the body, provide mobility and transport, and contain the larger muscles. Because of this, leg strength is always going to be superior to that of the upper body. The legs make for powerful combative weapons. They allow for a longer reach and can achieve a greater acceleration of speed, amassing more power. Power is the generation of force over distance and time. Clearly the legs posses more strength than the arms and carry with them more power and with proper execution can deliver devastating results.
As weapons of self-defense, then, the legs are an excellent choice. However, the legs do not posses the same degree of coordination and dexterity as that of the arms; therefore, they require continuous training to achieve accuracy if they are to be useful in a street encounter.
Types of kicks and attacks
Front, back, side, roundhouse, spinning, jumping, crescent, knee, stomping, ax—these are only a few of the kicks of the various styles of martial arts. The delivery or execution of kicks can be linear or circular and either parallel to the ground or at an angle up or down. Delivery is possible even when one is on the ground from a prone or supine position or lying on the side. Kicks can start low and end high or they may start high and end low. However, high kicks should only be a last resort for self-defense. High kicks are flashy and look good in the movies, but they are not sensible for real-world encounters. Attempting a kick to an adversary’s head in a street fight may result in unwarranted consequences for the defender. Unlike in the karate dojo, in a street fight you must consider the texture of the sole of the shoe and the surface of the ground. It is very easy for the supporting foot to slip because of the material of the shoe or the presence of sand, gravel or even the level or stability of the ground. Balance is more difficult when delivering a high kick. In addition, the head is not only one of the smaller targets on the body—making it harder to aim accurately for—it is also one of the easiest to move out of the way of an attack.
Linear attacks are more direct to the target, easier to execute, and most difficult to block. Linear or straight kicks can be performed whether one is facing in front of, away from, or sideways to an attacker. Linear kicks can employ the ball-of-the-foot, heel, edge or blade of the foot or the knee as the contact surface. The shin and instep can also be used in linear attacks to the assailant’s groin in a snapping motion. Linear kicks can also be thrown at various angles to one’s body. A front kick may travel straight to the opponent’s mid-section, lower abdominal area, or to the groin. With a slight upward angle a front kick can travel to the attacker’s solar-plexus. Using a downward angle, it can strike to the knee or shin of the opponent. Again, using a snapping upwards movement the shin or instep can attack the groin.
Side or back kicks employing the heel or blade of the foot can also take on the same trajectories as the front kick, to the same target areas on the attacker’s body. Linear kicks utilize a more direct concentration of muscles than roundhouse or spinning kicks, and employ the use of the lower abdominal and back muscles, the gluteus or buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and even the muscles of the feet.
Spinning and roundhouse kicks fall into the category of circular delivery and they, too, employ these same muscles but are put under much more strain and torque than during linear kicks. Circular kicks, especially spinning kicks, place added stress to the muscles, particularly those of the lower back.
These kicks, although effective and powerful, come with a word of caution: not only is there additional strain, torque, and stress on the muscles, exposing oneself to a greater possibility for injury and loss of balance, the motion of spinning kicks also exposes one’s back, making it vulnerable to a counter-attack. Also, when one turns their back to an attacker, they lose visual contact of their threat.
Concentrate on delivering straight kicks to the attackers’ legs, knees, and shins. Roundhouse kicks are best kept low, again to the attacker’s legs, knees, and shins. These may not look as fancy or impressive as the high kicks, but the results are more dependable. It does not require a great deal of pressure to dislocate the human knee. A powerful kick delivered to the knee will bring results and if the assailant can not stand or walk, most likely he will be unable to continue his attack. Most certain he will not be able to chase you.
Many martial arts require their practitioners to halt or snap-back their techniques just prior to contact, whether in bag training or with a partner. Instructors of these styles rationalize this type of training to their students by explaining that because they are developing destructive power, they cannot risk hurting another student or themselves. However, this misleads students. A student may injure themselves, but only if the student receives improper training from the beginning.
There are a great number of combative arts that employ the use of contact on a regular basis during training. Contact includes both giving and receiving punches and kicks as well as through the use of training apparatus. Boxing, judo, jujutsu, wrestling, and some styles of karate—such as Kyokushin, World Oyama, Enshin and Yoshikai—emphasize contact during training. Styles that prohibit contact deliver a disservice to their students and instill a false sense of security. Contact training is essential for real-world, life-threatening encounters. If a student has never made contact to an opponent during training and worse yet, never received contact, they will be in for a shock during a street encounter that requires adequate self-defense measures. In addition, a student’s training will suffer if they avoid the use of or do not receive proper training on heavy bags, striking shields, makiwara, or other types of striking implements. One will not and can not develop sufficient power to thwart or incapacitate an attacker without contact work. Continuous training on striking apparatus develops strength and kime—the ability to focus one’s technique and power into a target.
Focus and follow-through are paramount for effective delivery of technique. When training on a heavy bag, or any other type of striking implement, focus the technique through the training object. Attempt to penetrate the kick into, through, and out the opposite side of the bag or shield. See the technique exiting the far side of the object. Do not focus on the surface of the object, but completely through the target object. Do not halt or snap-back the kick just short of contact. Focus through the object in order to develop maximum power. The technique and delivery must be developed to the stage that they are capable of stopping an attack and have the ability to deliver blunt trauma. Blunt trauma is the force that is carried deep into the muscle and nerves of the body and stuns the body. This stunning effect can cause temporary or permanent dysfunction to the nerve or muscle groups. Blunt trauma can not be achieved by snapping-back or halting the kick on or before contact. Snapping back the kick diverts the energy and power of the kick in the opposite direction of the kick, away from the target instead of through it. Halting the kick on contact stops the energy or power at the surface of the target, again not allowing the power to penetrate. The ability to deliver blunt trauma requires proper contact-training on striking equipment and cross training in strength conditioning.
Kicks and weight training
Kicks employ the use of the largest and longest muscles within the body. Because of the size and length of these muscles and through proper strength training, they are capable of delivering extensive power. The following weight resistance exercises are recommended for strength conditioning to build up the leg muscles that are used in kicking. Squats, leg-press, leg extension, leg-curls, and calf raises concentrate on the gluteus (buttocks), quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Using low weights with high repetitions will develop muscular endurance and tone. Heavy weight and low repetitions will develop muscle strength and size.
The following weight-resistance circuit training is recommended in order to develop both endurance and strength in the muscles of the legs. Each routine consists of three sets of each exercise. Begin with the endurance routine and continue for a period of two weeks. Dedicate the third and fourth week to the strength routine. Continue to alternate the routines every two weeks.
Endurance Routine—three sets, at 30 repetitions each. Allow 30 seconds rest between exercises.
Squats, Leg Curls, Leg Extensions, Calf Raises. (Leg Press can be substituted for squats and it places less strain on the knees. Do not exceed a 90-degree bend at the knees during the squats or leg press.)
Strength Routine—10, 6, 4, 2, 1 repetitions. Increase the weight for each set of repetitions. The final single repetition should be at a maximum weight.
Squats, Leg Curls, Leg Extensions, Calf Raises. (Again, Leg Press can be substituted for squats and it places less strain on the knees.) In summary, train hard, focus kicks through the target, concentrate on the lower kicks, and cross train in strength conditioning to develop muscular endurance and strength. In time you will develop dynamic weapons of self-defense.
reprinted with permission from CFW Enterprises