Kicking at a Glance

by David Alcon

Devestating kick to the support knee as a counter to a high Roundhouse

A kick is a strike performed with one of a person's legs. Typically the point of contact is inferior to the kicker's knee. Many muscles can be employed when kicking, such as the quadriceps, hip adductors, and abdominal muscles. These muscles are much larger groups than the muscles of the arms, and as such they require more energy to move. This means when kicking these muscles utilize more of the body's oxygen supply to produce the needed energy. But with practice these muscles can become much more efficient energy burners and reduce the absolute amount of oxygen they need to perform tasks such as kicking.

Points of Impact:

Each type of kick will benefit from a unique foot position to inflict maximum damage to the target with minimum damage to the foot. The following are the most common basic kicks found in martial arts.

Kick Mechanism of Impact
Front: Heel- the suggested mechanism of impact;“Ball”- for added range; Toe- for precise kicks to vital areas

Side: Edge- lateral edge of foot; Heel- suggested mechanism of impact

Roundhouse: “Top” of Foot- most common mechanism of impact; the “shoelace” portion of the foot; Tibia- the suggested mechanism of impact; slightly superior to the ankle (distal portion of Tibia) to prevent hyperextension on contact

Outside Crescent: Edge- lateral edge of foot; Heel- suggested mechanism of impact

Flick: Toe- for precise kicks to vital areas; “Ball”- for added impact; “Top” of Foot- the suggested mechanism of impact


A common misconception is that kicks must be targeted from the waist and above to be effective. However, high kicks expose vital portions of one's body. The groin and support leg are usually fully exposed with high kicks, making these sorts of techniques riskier than they need be. One must also consider the constriction normal street clothes and lack of warm-up place upon the ability to kick high. For these reason much more realistic targets for kicks include the groin, thigh (side), knee, shin, ankle, and foot.

Basic Steps of a Kick:

1) Balance: Before a kick can be launched, balance must be attained. Without balance there is a significant chance one will push themselves back or fall to the ground, and do little or no damage to the target. Stance will play a large role in this, as it will determine exactly where the Center of Mass (CoM) is located. A lower CoM is usually preferred, and for this reason the support leg should typically remain flat on the ground and carry a bend at the knee. However, those with advanced stabilizing muscles in their legs have to ability to perform kicks straight legged and on their toes. This does provide a problem though because it raises the CoM significantly and risks a loss of stability.

2) Chamber: Once proper balance is obtained the kicking leg is raised in a “chambered” position before executing the kick. The chamber allows for a last second change of target or kick before committing to the technique. Different kicks will have different chambers. Typically front kicks will have the knee raise above the target, while roundhouses have the knee aim towards the target. A high chamber is recommended for the fact that a high chamber allows a high kick to a low kick, while a low chamber allows only for low kicks (unless the chambered leg is afterward raised).

3) Release: With a target in sight, balance obtained, and leg chambered, the leg is extended to strike a target. As with arm techniques relaxation plays a large role in the speed and impact on the target. Tension can slow down the limb and thus reduce the velocity of the foot the moment before contact. The limb should only tense that moment directly before impact. It is also important to note that, like arm techniques, the leg should retain a slight bend in it to prevent hyperextension and damage to the knee.

4) Re-chamber: After the kick has been thrown there are several options. At the basic level the only option is to return to a chambered position and proceed to set down. More advanced kickers can throw multiple kicks without setting the chambered leg down. Usually, however, these kicks lose speed and impact significantly. Therefore these types of kicks are usually reserved for feints or precise soft targets.

5) Set Down: The primary reason for the re-chamber is for the set down. After a kick is thrown if one were to just let the foot fall to the ground he might end up in a disadvantageous position. Because of this it is recommended to re-chamber and then decide where and how to set down. During the set down step one can decide if he wants to advance, retreat, or flank with another step. The key principle with this step and the others as well is to allow for options.

Kicking Exercises:

Many exercises exist to help train kicking speed, strength, and precision. Most of them are similar to exercises one can practice any other technique with. The following are a few exercises that can help a person with their kicking ability.

Precision: A good precision drill requires only a target (preferably a heavy bag) and some tape. In this drill the objective will be to make contact with the specific targets outlined by the tape. At first one can make large boxes with the tape, and as precision rises the size can reduce to a point of just a single strip of tape. Once static position expertise has occurred one can begin to move around the bag and try to connect with the targets.

Control: Similar to the precision drill, a good control exercise involves the use of a target. This can be something hard or as flimsy as a piece of paper on a string. The key with this is to execute a kick with full force and speed, but only slight touch the target area. Harder surfaces are preferred because they force one to learn quickly lest a painful reminder be administered.

Strength: To properly exercise the strength of one's kicking prowess, one definitely needs a heavy bag or shield to strike full force. Striking only air can mislead one into thinking something is a powerful strike that is not. The simple act of kicking will full intent can also serve to strengthen the legs for future kicks.


To combine the exercises of Control and Strength one will need a partner. As kicks are coming into a target at full force the partner should randomly pull the target away. This will simulate the actual movement of an opponent and serve to demonstrate how over-committing can severely off-balance the kicker.

Speed: The speed of a kick can be increased by multiple factors, many if not all of which are addressed in the following exercise. In this exercise one will work strength, speed, and balance all in one. The kicker will begin by adopting a stance. Next he will raise his leg into a chambered position for a 30 second count. After this he will extend into a kicking position with good posture and body alignment, and hold this for 30 seconds (kicks might have to be aimed below the waist). After this the leg will come back to chamber for another 30 seconds before finally being set down. The number of reps is determined by the kicker, but it is advised that a multitude of kicks be practiced like this on both legs. After slowly kicking the kicker should then perform the same number and type of kicks, this time as fast as he can. This exercise serves to increase the neural pathway from brain to leg, and innervate all the muscle fibers utilized in a kick.

Advanced Kicking Concepts:


As with any strike, it is important that one knows what type of strike he can effectively throw at varying distances. Certain kicks can be thrown at closer or farther targets depending on extension and hip rotation. As the kicker becomes more comfortable with his limbs he can better gauge what sort of kick to throw given targets at varying distances. The only way to obtain this knowledge is for the kicker to actively engage in sparring exercises where he can experiment with various kicks. From this he can adapt to his natural strengths and preferences. For example, one of the kicker's legs might be able to reach farther, and this knowledge can help in determining which leg to kick with, what target to aim for, or how far to position oneself from the target.

Knowledge of range is a powerful tool. By becoming conscious of one's personal ranges as they relate to a moving target one can begin to manipulate distances to one's own advantage. The knowledge of range does not always relate to oneself, but also to one's opponent. By picking up on these things one can attempt to maximize his potential while minimizing his opponent's.


There are two main elements of advanced kicks, those being spinning and jumping. Both of these require the kicker to have existing proper kick mechanics, agility, and athletic ability.

Spinning: Spin kicks are very flashy, and usually riskier to execute in a combat scenario. Factors hindered by spinning include speed, balance, sight of target, and exposure of the back. The trade off is an increase in tangential velocity, which will increase the impact of the kick on contact. Spinning can be used as a feint, or to execute devastatingly powerful kicks from very advanced kickers.

Jumping: Jump kicks are another flashy maneuver, harder to execute but not as risky as spin kicks. Initially jumping will place a greater demand of energy on the legs of the body, making a jump kick more taxing on the body's energy source. Another disadvantage is the movement of the CoM to a higher location, thus making the kicker potentially easier to knock out of the air. The trade off is gaining temporary higher ground. This can be useful to avoid a leg sweep attack or attack a higher target that might not otherwise be reached. Jumping could also be used as a feint for those who believe the kicker will be attacking a higher target.

Push Kicks

Although mobility is a key issue in combat scenarios, sometimes the option will be taken to move past kicking range into close combat. With step-kicks the kicker will not re-chamber his leg after a successful kick, but rather step through the target. Although this would not be used for all kicks to all target areas, it does work very well with lower level front or side kicks. While this technique is being employed it transitions the kicker from kicking range into punching range, therefore this is an excellent technique to close the distance for those more comfortable with hand techniques as opposed to feet.

For example, with a successful kick to a target knee, the kicker will step forward and essentially continue pushing the knee back all the way to ground, or scraping down the target's shin. At waist level these type of kicks would serve to mow over a target like a tidal wave, stepping through him. In unison with the step arms would now be employed to deliver strikes upon a backpedaling target.

After blocking a left punch, a Push Kick to the Abdomen that forces the person back. Can Optionally scrape down to hit lower targets.