Tag Archives: kicks

Q&A: Yes, Kicks are a Thing

My cousin is a fan of the character Archer from the series ‘Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’. He was curious if Archer’s habit of kicking a foe away from him to gain distance in a close-combat fight with weapons is something belonging to a particular martial arts style. Do you know if this is the case? How reliable would that tactic be in real life? Seems to me that there’s a big chance of your opponent grabbing your leg, after all.

It’s not a specific martial art, because nearly every martial art has their own variation on this one. Martial arts have a concept called distance, or range, which governs the ranges one can fight at with different weapon types. This runs from swords to knives to kicks to hands and then to grappling, and after grappling we’re on the ground. Unless specifically attempted to alter, combat invariably moves inwards from your feet to your hands to grappling and then the ground. Now, this means you have specific techniques which can be used at specific ranges and once you get too close or too far away those techniques become significantly less useful.

So, if you’re a warrior like Archer who relies on specific ranges in order to be effective then what do you do? You’ve got to find a way to get your enemy back into the range you want, which is away from you. Now, under normal circumstances, one would most likely consider using their hands. This is what most non-combatants are going to gravitate towards, because kicks require training to be able to pull off in combat. They’re powerful, but they’re also high risk. However, Archer needs his legs. He dual wields his blades in close quarters, he can’t use his hands without sacrificing one or both of his blades. Those blades cost mana to resummon, over time this will become costly to his reserves and takes time. He won’t drop them unless the situation requires it. So, he falls back to a secondary option by utilizing his legs and feet for defense/control.

Hence that specific kick. In Taekwondo, we call it the push kick. It isn’t about damaging your opponent so much as pushing them back. This kick is specifically utilized in getting your opponent into the range you want them, i.e. the range where you are more effective. For Archer, this means getting a melee enemy away from him and back into a better range for his weapons.

Here’s the thing to understand about kicks:

Strike to strike they are incredibly powerful. Power comes from your body’s momentum. Momentum is gained by torque, or twisting your body and joints in order to gain power to strike. The whole body moves. For a punch, this means using your shoulders and hips together at the same moment with your arm in order to connect. Kicks involve one of your legs taking flight, they’re heavier, stronger, faster, and utilize greater rotation than you will ever get off your hands and arms. They are a martial arts mainstay for this reason, even in the disciplines where they are not the specialty. If you ever wind up facing someone with a kicking specialty that knows how to properly utilize their legs, watch out.

You can catch a kick, you can block a kick, and they are riskier because they require more motion which is easier to see coming. If your opponent manages to capture your leg, then the fight is over for all intents in purposes. For this reason, a kick is often part of a finisher or at the end of a combination. They distract your attention with other techniques, and then the kick comes. Blocking a kick is also risky, not just because their powerful but catching a kick requires you be able to preempt it and catch it before  the leg enters extension. This means you have to stop the kick while its still in chamber stage, and you need to guess that they’ll be committing to risky business or else you just lost your defense to a feint. Blocking a kick rather than dodging a kick requires you move your hands or a leg to stop the kick. A push kick cranks all the way into the chest before it extends and acts as a shove outward, which means it can be done in tight confines like when in the hand range where most of the general kicks (in disciplines other than Muay Thai) become useless. You can also grab your opponent at that distance and crank your leg right into their stomach/chest. They can’t go anywhere and they’re forced to take the full blow rather than absorbing some into the stumble/fall. Take a roundhouse to your forearm and you’ll walk around with a bruise the size of your forearm for several weeks, at least. Time your block wrong, and that can easily translate into broken bones.

It’s easy to discount kicks if you’ve never seen them in action, and most self-defense experts will say you shouldn’t use them. This is because they take longer to master, are more dangerous, and have greater requirements in overall flexibility in order to be used effectively. You can’t effectively learn the sidekick in a two week crash course. However, the kicks are a defined pillar in the four pillars of martial arts. (Fists, Feet, Ground Fighting, Standing Grappling/Joint Locks.) Sometimes, it can be broken into five. If kicks were totally useless, or too risky, they wouldn’t exist as a focus.

  Kicks are powerful enough as techniques to be worth the risk.

For writers, especially writers without a martial arts background, this is going to be difficult. You’re not used to thinking with your feet, or utilizing the wide array of options which come with footwork and kicks. The key to understanding the utility of kicks lies in the if,  if they can catch your leg. If they can stop you. If they see it coming. If you miss.  But, what if you don’t?

The reward you gain in success runs about equal to the chance of failure. These techniques are high risk, high reward.

Now, envisioning this is going to be where most writers will run into problems. Hands are easy, you can wrap your mind around them as a basic concept. The strengths and weaknesses of the leg are similar, but its too easy to start seeing catching a leg coming at you full speed to be easy as catching a hand.

It isn’t.

A foot buried in your stomach in full extension is much more dangerous than a sucker punch, even if you tense your abdominal muscles a large portion of that force is going to go right through you. The timing risks are higher in failure with a leg than they are with the hands.

Archer is essentially performing a sucker punch with his leg on an incoming enemy, and then he’s saying, “get away from me.” He does this without ever having to lose hold of or sacrifice his weapons in a situation where he very well might have to. This is why warriors carry somewhere around two to four weapons on their person at all times. Total specialization in archery makes you next to useless when knocked into sword range, short sword range, or knife range. If you’re in a situation where someone else can hit you, they’re too close and you’ve ceded your advantage. You want to not be there anymore, or you want them to not be there anymore. Either way, you need the ability to either switch to a different weapon, or force them to be somewhere else. This kick is the definition of, “be somewhere else.” It creates the needed opportunity to move someone from standing grappling to kick range. Which is why lots of martial arts actually do use some variation of it or keep it in their back pocket as part of a larger tactical approach.

The one thing I can give the Fate/Stay Night anime series is that they excel at showing ranges for weapons and incorporating them into the different character’s combat styles. I mean, it is very Japanese, but studying up on Lancer versus Archer versus Berserker versus Saber is not a bad place to start if you’re looking to grasp how different weapon types can function when dialed to eleven. The characters do utilize strategies and tactics when fighting each other, which is nice. They’re usually, loosely, working off some real world combat concepts in the way the weaponry pairs off. The series is pretty good about balancing out the strengths and weaknesses against each other to create tension in the fights. Saber having trouble closing on Lancer is a real problem someone with a sword will face against a spear. I mean, the setting is war games with heroes from history in a battle royal martial arts competition.

-Michi

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How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

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The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring. The It is more difficult to strike someone when the

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film. 

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

 -Michi

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Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Got it. I was thinking they were roundhouse kicks, but different variants. Cousins maybe. Both work in similar arcs but with different mechanics. But those different mechanics maid them markedly different kicks.

I’d always been taught there are four kicks – front, side, round and oblique. And lots and lots of flavors of each

Yeah, those are the four basic kicks. (Though some systems just lump the back kick in with the sidekick as a spinning sidekick, the difference depends on the chamber and whether you’re striking with the blade of the foot or the heel.) There’s also the hook kick, the crescent kick (inside and outside), the axe kick, the mule kick, the push kick, and so many others.

The mule kick, for example, might initially look like a back kick because you look over your shoulder and strike with your heel. The difference is in the chamber which looks like a mule or horse preparing to kick backwards. It comes straight back and then drives up into the stomach, more similar to an elbow than a sidekick. The use for the mule kick as a combination kick in TKD is with the front kick. You kick the opponent facing you then, utilizing the momentum of the recoil, swing your leg down straight backward into the mule kick. You do it all in one, singular motion. The kicking leg never touches the ground.

We can’t do this with a back kick. Or, at least, we can’t without readjusting our hip position. The chamber is slightly to the side of our body rather than directly underneath it. The hips still need to turn over. With the mule kick, the hips are in the same position as the front kick. You just roll one into the other.

The push kick sort of looks like the front kick, but the chamber pulls the knee to the chest and then uses the whole foot to push forward. It’s a shove with your foot.

This makes sense when you realize TKD mostly focuses on the feet and legs as the primary weapons rather than the hands. When combat constantly progresses inwards and you’ve got an opponent moving into punching range, you need to force them back to where your kicks are effective.

It’s the opposite of a martial art like Muay Thai where the kicks are all about successfully using powerful legs strikes in close-quarters.

TKD is all about being able transition between and utilize multiple kicks with one leg, sometimes without ever planting between strikes. You can do an entire combination off just your front leg. Begin with an axe kick (top of the head) transitions into a roundhouse (side of the head), which transitions back across into a hook kick (heel strikes the other side of the head) then you can follow up with a more powerful roundhouse off the back leg to the head.

Traditional TKD is the art of how to win slap fights with your feet. It builds off the idea you’re going to be throwing three or four kicks in a row rather than just one. Blocks with your knee transition into kicks with the blocking leg or jump kicks off the back leg. If you come out of a non-kicking tradition then TKD and other martial arts like it are going to be a little weird, confusing, and possibly nonsensical. TKD uses its kicks like a boxer uses a jab. The kicks themselves aren’t finishers, they’re the set up for a powerful final blow. Spin kicks and jump kicks are chancy as hell by themselves, but if you’ve successful destabilized your opponent first then the risk drops. A TKD master should be able to create a 360 degree defense with just their legs.  As a discipline, it’s the “Look, ma! No hands!” of martial arts. 

“Let me feint with a roundhouse to your head, and then switch to a
roundhouse off my back leg while my front leg is still in the air.” 

I know, it sounds utterly ridiculous. If you ever wanted to know why TKD became one of Hollywood’s staples for stunt martial arts or it’s worldwide popularity, it’s due to the fact it is ridiculously fun to watch.

A hook kick with the front leg drops to become a slide sidekick with the front kick, then we roll into a roundhouse with the back leg and from there swing right into a wheel kick. The back leg becomes the front leg, and the front leg becomes the new power leg on the spin. ((If any of our followers are wondering, this is where most fictional fight scenes involving kicks fail. The author doesn’t understand kicks or their transitions well enough to make sense of the chain.))

For you writers, this is what I mean by thinking with your feet: front leg/lead leg roundhouse into a hook kick into a slide sidekick then into a running jump sidekick. ((If you missed it, that’s an entire combination on one leg.)) You lead with your feet, rather than your hands. We go feet first. Or, from a basic standing position, front kick into a popup jump front kick. The standing front kick steps forward into the fighting stance, from the fighting stance we with jump with both legs to pop up. The back leg switches, chambers, and strikes with a front kick. Then our leg tucks in recoil and we land back in a fighting stance, what was once our back leg becomes the new front leg.

Popup jump kicks are done from a standing position. You jump off both legs, and then your legs switch midair.

This is what makes the popup different from the standard pump with the front leg and jump off the back leg in a regular jump kick. If that wasn’t enough in the way of fun, popups can be done together quickly in combination. They just switch back and forth between legs.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Lots of these kicks are referred to by different names in different systems or even within the same system but different schools. What differentiates kicks into their own family is basically hip position, strike vectors, and points of impact.

If anyone is wondering why I’m continuing this discussion it’s because I love talking about TKD kicks and what we can do with them.

I’m a huge nerd, and they’re so much fun.

-Michi

Q&A: Roundhouse Kicks

How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring.

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film.

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

-Michi

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I have a character (in a typical swords-and-sorcery world ala Middle Earth) who decides to fix metal ridges to the bottom of her boots that doubles as better traction and making it hirt more and deal more damage if she needs to kick in a fight. Is this realistic, or would it be too heavy to fight in?

I’m going to be that pedantic asshole here for a second and remind you that Middle Earth is High Fantasy, and if we’re going with Lord of the Rings then it’s Epic Fantasy. “Sword and Sorcery” is actually a different sub-genre of fantasy established (mainly) by Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard. The famous narratives surround the adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Conan the Barbarian.

You will probably break your brain trying to figure out all the fantasy subcategories from dark fantasy, to low fantasy, to gaslamp, but the distinction here is important. “Sword and Sorcery” is a sub-genre is a set up where the fantasy focuses on the personal costs to the characters rather than a sweeping epic. It’s generally populated with anti-heroes, but if you’re writing a story that involves a small group of friends on an adventure and they are focused on personal growth over epic battles then you’ve got Swords and Sorcery.

However, if you don’t understand your genre then you eventually end up in this situation: Dragon Age (epic fantasy) versus Dragon Age 2 (sword and sorcery).

If you want my advice though, I’d say you pull a Tolkien and start researching medieval combat. Too many authors attempt to come up with “clever”, more “modern“ solutions in order to give their characters an edge that people in the middle ages either actually solved or just weren’t applicable.

In this case, it’s probably both and definitely the latter. Steel ridges on the bottom of the boot aren’t going to add anything to the foot’s stopping power. The reason for this is that stiffening up the sole in a boot or shoe that you intend to use for kicking is a bad idea.

When you’re looking at application of force via a punch or a kick, you learn quickly that the body position and posture ensure that the force is distributed over a small area rather than a large one.

In simple terms = the smaller the area, the more penetrating force you get.

For example, the reason why a boxer’s fracture occurs in the fore and index finger on the hand is because that’s where the connecting force is being applied. The rest of the hand is reinforcing those two fingers. Ultimately, a similar principle applies with the foot.

The whole bottom of the foot isn’t used for kicking, except in a very few circumstances (like the push kick, which does exactly what it’s defined as). Kicks use the blade of the foot (the outside edge), the ball of the foot, and the heel. Sometimes, the top of the foot is used. When you use the whole of the foot to kick i.e. spreading the force across a wider surface, you get the push kick rather than the front kick. The push kick is a defensive kick, used for maintaining distance. You bury your foot into the other person’s gut and shove, like a literal push. You use your foot to push your opponent away from you. (This is the point where some of you may be realizing that martial techniques are often given literal names that correspond directly to their purpose, which will help you in the future when figuring out what X technique does. Case in point = triangle choke (arm forms a triangle and chokes) and the arm bar (opponent’s arm is extended to form a literal bar).)

The front kick  = leg kicks toward the front (point of impact: ball of the foot)

The side kick = turn sideways in order to kick (point of impact: blade of the foot or heel, depending on type)

The roundhouse = the leg comes across the body, literally swings around to kick. (point of impact: either ball or top of the foot depending on type of kick used.)

The back kick/spinning sidekick = your back faces your opponent when you kick. (Point of impact: Heel.)

The hook kick = leg’s chamber forms a hook as it kicks. (Point of impact: Heel)

The spinning hook kick/wheel kick = you spin and perform a hook kick. (Point of impact: Heel)

The axe kick = leg lifts and drives the heel on a sharp downward angle like an axe. (Point of impact: Heel.)

The shin kick = instead of connecting with the foot, this Muay Thai kick connects with the shin. (Point of impact: Shin.)

The mule kick = you know how mules and horses kick with their hind legs? Yeah, it looks like that. (Point of impact: heel.)

The push kick = A defensive kick which pushes an opponent away from you to create distance.  (Point of impact: the entire underside of the foot.)

When you see someone breaking down a door with their foot in the movies, they are, usually, using a push kick.

If you’re wearing boots that don’t allow for much articulation of the ankle or bending in the foot then your character isn’t going to do much kicking. Kicks are easiest to do with no shoes on, then in sneakers. There’s a lot of bendy, rotational, mechanical detail that goes on with kicks like the side kick or the roundhouse. Add in that kicks are risky business, going up on one leg is sacrificing a lot for attack, and their use in most modern combat is confined almost entirely to the mid/lower body.

With the way kicks function, there’s no point to affixing steel to the bottom of the boot. It won’t matter if they’re fighting someone unarmored and if they’re armored then they’re best bet will be going after the joints left exposed in the armor for articulation like the knee. You wear steel on the top of the foot to protect the foot and the toes, and on the shin.

If you don’t plan on having her kick as a major part of her fighting style, then I suggest going with a medieval variant of the steel toed boots. The boot will be too heavy for fancy kicking, but you get to upgrade kicking someone in the shin from “OH GOD WHY” to “OH GOD YOU BROKE IT!”

Something similar to the sabaton.

I’ll be honest, cool as they are, kicks aren’t the easiest to pull off especially in a combat situation. Most fighters, especially when going up against enemies in armor, will avoid them entirely. Unless you’re doing a lot stretching and remaining loose, getting practice in, they’re very difficult to do cold. Do to the necessity of going up on one leg, kicks end up in the category of risky business.

Also, unless you’re building your setting on “Rule of Cool”, avoid the spin kicks. While devastating when they connect, the average combatant isn’t going to want to risk taking their eyes off their opponent for any length of time. They also aren’t going to want to expose their back to the enemy.

You need your spine and your kidneys.

The back kick and its brother the mule kick will get the most mileage off an enemy coming in from behind you. However, take care of the opponent in front of you first. Otherwise, it’ll put them in the perfect position to grab your head with all the other openings provided to pick from.

The other thing that’s important to remember about kicks is that due to their risky business (very big motion, up on one leg, total commitment), you gotta be fast. Wearing heavy footwear will impede the speed, which ultimately both lessens the power of the kick and makes it easier to avoid/block/counter.

The one thing you don’t want is to throw your leg out there only to have the other person catch it and then break your knee. Or, you know, drag you around the field until you fall down.

No, really, it happens. If you ever want to know about the horrors that can be committed on a captured leg, check out Hapkido.

TLDR: Just give them some normal protection for their feet.

Please.

While the most risky, kicks are the most powerful of the hand to hand techniques. They don’t need help to make them more effective against unarmored opponents. They crush organs and break bones just fine all by themselves.

Your bones, even, if you screw up. (Hello, Sixth Grade.)

If they are facing enemies in armor then take weapons.

-Michi

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ok, this isn’t really for writing, it’s just for my personal use so if you don’t have time to answer, that’s ok. I’ve started training karate a while ago and one of my biggest challenges is kicks. I’ve gathered that I’ll need not just to learn the technique (alhtough, that’s obviously a key point), but I also need to build my flexibility, balance and strenght. my question is if you guys have any suggestion for how I should work on strength specifically for kicking? thanks :)

Kicking is mostly about balance and flexibility. So, it’s not so much about developing your muscles for strength, it’s about developing them in the right way. This one’s pretty simple because developing flexibility for kicks is all about making sure you’re including stretches for the right muscles in your warm up regimen. Here are some useful stretches that will help you.

Remember, developing flexibility takes time and patience. Also, make sure you stretch before and after you exercise to get the best benefits. These are all stretches that develop and widen the muscles in the hips

Side Leg Stretch

Side Splits/Center Splits: this one is a little advanced so be careful with it and don’t push too hard, too fast because this can injure your legs if you go too hard in the beginning

Front Splits: Same rules for caution apply to the front splits as it does for it’s cousin

The Butterfly Stretch: simple and safe, but take it slow and don’t push too hard

Work your core:

Crunches

Reverse Crunches

Jump Rope

These are all good, but it’s going to take a few months and even a few years before you start to see significant improvement. Be patient with your body and consult your instructor if you have questions. They may also have good tips. (I pick flexibility over specific muscle strength because flexibility is what governs the speed that makes a kick successful.)

-Michi

Would you buy a kick heavy character using armored boots given that: A: The setting is a semi-realistic Superhero world. Superpowers break physics, technology ect. is typically limited normally. B: Char can have aerial control due to an ability and can range from extremely trained human strength and speed to slightly superhuman. C: He has a tendency to kick and punch things that are dangerous. D: Purely aerial I think kicks lack power, so then maybe finesse footblade strikes using the control?

The part I’m going to have to stop you on is Letter D. Aerial kicks don’t lack power, they substantially enhance it.They are more difficult to land and tiring to execute, however the tradeoff is that they are much, much more deadly.

This how kicks work, essentially:

Basic Kicks (front kick, sidekick, roundhouse, back kick): these kicks are your bread and butter kicks, they are the easiest to learn to do and the easiest to land in combat.

These four come with a jumping version. The jumping version of these kicks is more dangerous than the standing because there is more movement involved, the running jump (run and then jump) versions of these kicks is even more deadly than just jumping, because again force = mass x acceleration, the more acceleration you have the more powerful the kick. A general front kick might just knock someone’s teeth out and snap their head back, a running jump front kick with a solid connection could potentially collapse the breast bone.

Spin Kicks: these are kicks like the wheel kick and the spinning crescent kick that aim for the head, essentially any kick that involves spinning to create more momentum to whip around and connect. These kicks are more advanced (more moving pieces), but are more dangerous. They also come with a jump version.

Most of the Taekwondo kicks come with a jump component, actually.

Then, finally, we have the very super flying death kicks like the Tornado Kick, which is a kick that involves two pieces, a beginning roundhouse to gain speed before the fighter launches themselves into the air with a second spinning roundhouse. Go look up the many videos on the internet involving tornado kicks and knockouts (also wheel kicks and knockouts). Also, watch anything Van Damme did ever.

When you see most jump kicks done in movies on even just on television, you’ll notice that the kicks are performed with the other actor or stunt double a good foot or so away. This is because of how dangerous the kick is and how difficult it is to control (on the power side). When these kicks are brought into play, they run the risk of someone (both the stunt double/actor performing the kick and the person they are performing it at) getting hurt. You can’t really control a jump kick in the same way that you can a normal kick because of the amount of force involved. It’s why a jump kick usually comes at the end of a combination because it’s the finishing move. The other attacks make sure that the opponent cannot run, so that the attacker then has the time they need to knock their opponent’s block off.

So, with that in mind, assume for a moment, that the armor your character wears on his feet do not impede his kicking at all (by virtue of some super powered enhancement), this means that his feet will be even more dangerous and prone to bone-breaking than they were already when on the ground. Jump kicks are among the most damaging and advanced weapons in a martial artists arsenal, they are also the most risky because if they miss, there’s not much chance of recovery. So, we have a character who doesn’t mind plowing through an enemy’s chest or dislodging an enemy’s skull, essentially risking (with armor definitely) killing them and doesn’t mind taking chances as they leap and bound through the air.

This isn’t a bad character, in fact, it could be a very interesting one. But, I’m not sure that’s what you were looking for.

Research:

Van Damme. You want to write a character who kicks, it’s time to sit down and watch everything Van Damme has been in ever. No, I’m not kidding. His acting may be laughable but his technique is flawless. Really.

Start going through Korean action movies, you can find quite a few of them online (or clips from their fight scenes). The most common martial art featured in South Korea’s action movies is Taekwondo and there are quite a few amazing martial artists (of both genders) featured in them as primary and some great stunts. See where the internet takes you, but it’s a good visual study.

Also, if you can find it watch the Taekwondo episode of Human Weapon to see one of the guys break his knee on a tornado kick and Bill Duff get knocked out by a wheel kick.

-Michi

Weapon Primer: Basic Kicks Part 3 (Combinations + Your Character)

Disclaimer: This is not an article designed to teach you how to kick. This article is designed to teach you about kicks, the principles behind them, and how to include them in your writing. For the uninitiated, you can risk a lifetime of injuries in your legs by practicing any of these without sufficient stretching and an instructor present. If the martial arts are something you’re interested in pursuing, feel free to message us and we can talk about the steps you can take to find a school that might work for you. Remember, we’re not liable for the damage you do to yourself or others in absence of proper training.

This is the third part of the primer on Basic Kicks, go here and here to read the first two. So, we’ve covered the kicks, some of the footwork, and how to do them.  But without basic understanding of where and when kicks are useful for your fighting sequences, they’re pretty much useless. In this section we’re going to talk about how you handle kicks in fight sequences, talk about kicking combinations and the difference between them and exhibition kicks. We’ll also give a few more tips on how to apply them to the characters you craft, some advice for writing them in your fight scenes, review our basic terminology and finally: give you some good reference material to further improve your studies. The more you know; the better writer you will be.

So, let’s get down to it.

Why is kicking important?

Pros: Kicks are a valuable part of any martial style and are well worth the difficulty that comes with mastering them. While more risky than hand techniques, they come with an advantage of speed, power, reach, and exceptional accuracy if your character has the requisite level of training. You can kick much, much harder than you can punch. A character can put more force behind kicks. Kicks can provide superb defense, keeping the other fighters off balance and your character out of arms reach. They can end the fight quickly, causing significant amounts of internal injuries, broken bones, and even death (often through grievous head wounds and concussions). They give you four limbs with which to attack instead of just two and can help make fight scenes more dynamic in the reader’s imagination.

Cons: That said kicks can come with some significant cons to balance them out. Many kicks are virtually useless once an opponent penetrates the fighter’s guard. (See: the Kicking Conundrum) They rely managing the opponent and keeping them far enough away for the vast majority of their arsenal to remain useful. If an opponent catches the leg, the fight is over. I can tell you that hopping across the floor to keep up with someone who has your leg tucked under their arm, even in just a friendly situation, is terrifying. You can’t extract it from them. You just have to trust that they’ll let you go. You can’t do that in a combat situation. Remember, there are no perfect techniques and no guaranteed victories. Each one has a counter and even when you and your character work hard, sometimes it’s just not enough, sometimes there’s someone better. No injury is free.

Common Combinations versus Double-Kicks:

Let’s start with Double-Kicks.

Double-Kicks: You’ve probably seen double-kicks in action if you’ve gone to any Taekwondo tournament. But let’s assume you haven’t. What is a double-kick? A double-kick is a kick, usually using the front leg, where two kicks are done with a single leg without the foot ever touching the ground. Sounds impressive, right? They are an exceptional display of control and skill when executed well. This can be confusing for non-practitioners who see them, because they look impressive and are very advanced. So, using them in a combat sequence will prove how talented their character is. But double-kicks aren’t combat kicks.

Double-Kicks like the low-high (low-high roundhouse, low-high side kick) and the double roundhouse aren’t combat kicks, they’re kicks designed to help the practitioner develop their balance, accuracy, flexibility, and fine muscular control. They’re usually taught between red belt (sometimes at brown belt) to black belt and are included in some of the higher level forms.

So, why don’t double-kicks work for combat?

The reason for this is simple, unlike in Hollywood, humans normally move away from what’s causing them pain. They will stumble, they will move back, or step away. Think back to your physics lessons for your scenes, what happens when force encounters force? Double-kicks are stationary. A character caught in the middle of a double-kick cannot give chase. Kicks generate a lot of force and they need follow-through (complete extension of the leg into the opponent) to be effective. A Double-Kick relies on balance, instead of the character going through the opponent. They have to pull their leg back to try again and don’t take into account the idea of the other person moving. Like I said, they’re not designed for combat. They are a great balance exercise and they will still look damn impressive when showing off to your friends (if you ever show off to your friends, I never did, non-martial artists just don’t understand).

Basic Kicking Combinations: Combinations are a martial artist’s bread and butter. They’re an important part of any character’s martial training. They build the connections in the brain that allow a fighter to transfer easily between different techniques, so instead of just throwing one, they can consecutively throw two, three, or four. Kicking combinations can only be done by characters that are trained, characters with a higher level of training will eventually start switching up their combinations and crafting their own. Remember, combinations are more like guidelines than actual rules. For kickers, they teach what kicks work together and flow naturally into one another, thus saving time and grief on using kicks whose movements (ending hip position, footwork) clash with each other. An example would be: combining a sidekick with a wheel kick as opposed to a sidekick and a back kick.

Now, let’s bring the rest of this guide into play and see how well you can follow along with these basic combinations:

1)      Slide front kick, front kick

2)      Front kick, roundhouse

3)      Roundhouse, sidekick

4)      Roundhouse, slide sidekick

5)      Sidekick, back kick

6)      Slide sidekick, back kick

7)      Slide sidekick, back kick, front kick, double-punch

8)      Front kick, roundhouse, back kick

9)      Slide front kick, front kick, roundhouse, slide sidekick, back kick

10)   Slide roundhouse, hook kick, cross-step roundhouse, wheel kick

I’m kidding on the last one, that’s rather advanced (red belt). You tack on the double-punch to the end of all of the above if it’s being performed in class.

How to Build Your Own:

If you were wondering why this guide in particular is so damn long, this is why. As writers, but (mostly) non-practitioners you don’t have the advantage of being able to experiment with your scenes before you put them down on paper. The reason for the step-by-step instruction is so you can learn the ins and outs of the kicks without having to learn to use them yourselves even if they’re imported piecemeal into your writing. Once you start being able to visualize the kicks in your mind, you can start putting them together into different combinations, combining them with hand motions as you become more advanced in your understanding. Your characters won’t always hit the enemy, but what matters is convincing your audience that you know what you’re talking about. So, some things to consider when putting together your own combinations:

Ignore the legs and ask where did my character’s feet land? What direction are their hips facing? Are they pointed sideways (finished a sidekick) or towards the opponent (front kick, roundhouse, punch)? Is someone coming in from the side (throw sidekick)? Or from behind (back kick)? Do they need to turn or come across (roundhouse)? How close are they to the opponent (punch, grab, or sidekick)?

Think beyond just techniques to the situation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Remember, there are thousands of different combinations out there. So, don’t worry about it too much unless the scene you’re writing is anatomically impossible or you’re performing a kill strike and calling it self-defense.

Kicking and Your Character:

You don’t have to include kicks if you’re not comfortable with them. In fact, if we’ve gotten this far and it’s all confusion, I really recommend avoiding them. Kicking is a very specialized skill and characters who practice them require specialized backgrounds. Not all martial artists can kick or kick well enough to get away with it in combat. Many of my Instructors, the ones who began training in martial arts at an older age, were only passable. Kicking wasn’t what they were good at, but they were still excellent in every other aspect. So, remember, you don’t need kicks and they’re much easier to screw up even in a fictional context than hand technique.

Kicking is not a required trait for a female fighter. While women do have a better sense of balance and flexibility, any woman who begins her training even into her early teens will have some difficulty with kicks (balance + muscular control) and older than that she’ll run into the same problems her male counterparts have. The older you get, the more difficult it is to master kicks in a combat context. The speed and fine muscle control just isn’t there. Besides, a woman’s only value isn’t in her legs.

Traits of a Kicker:

Beyond the obvious (limber, flexible, etc), here are a few traits that characters who use kicks as their primary offense will have.

They think with their feet:  A character that comes from a kicking discipline will have a “feet first” mentality. They’ll be more aware of other characters and keep a wider circle of awareness around their body (the extension of the leg), they’re usually aware of any other character who has entered into “kicking range”.

The knees go: snap, crackle, pop. This is one of the things they won’t tell you, but fighting is hard on the body. Even just training for it, you begin to wear out your body at an early age. Most kickers have knee problems later in life and even if they don’t, you can hear their body when they kneel down or bend over: snap, crackle, pop, the sound of the cartilage in their joints rubbing together. It doesn’t mean much of anything, but it’s common in most Taekwondo artists. My knees were going snap, crackle, pop by the time I was twelve years old. It isn’t painful for the practitioner, but it does make the listener wince and go: ‘oooh, ouch’.

Calluses: Kickers have hardened feet from years on the mats; no amount of lotion will ever soften them.

Writing Kicks in Your Fight Sequences:

We went over everything associated with the basic kicks in this write up not because all of it needs to be included in on the page, but because it’s part of what you need to be thinking about when you write them. There’s no reason to take the audience through a step-by-step accounting of every technique unless they’re a complete beginner. For most characters, these techniques will have already naturally become part of who they are, how they move, and how they think. They won’t consider the step-by-step because they already know how to do them. The problem is that you are not your character even though they are built out of your experiences and your imagination. If you don’t know, they can’t know, even though they should. It can be very frustrating.

So, let’s talk about the parts your scenes should focus on:

Impact: Remember our terminology and be specific: where on the body is your character hitting or being hit by their opponent? What parts of the body are they using, foot and leg don’t cut it, details are key. Compare:

Bad example: Samantha yanked her leg back and rammed her foot into Steven’s stomach.

Better example: Samantha yanked her leg back and struck out, ramming the blade of her foot into Steven’s stomach.

The differences are minor, but the visualization for the audience is better. You don’t need much, techniques happen fast, so you must attempt to marry brevity with detail to create scenes that move quickly. Remember, time doesn’t stop for us in real life when we stop to think about stuff, so it shouldn’t for your character.

Focus on what the technique does, not what the technique is: Use of proper terminology is great, but most people won’t know what that means and the effect is lessened. It feels like reading a textbook, instead of a fight.

Bad example: Samantha hit Steve with a hammer blow to the chest and then drove a sidekick into the side of his knee.

Better example: Samantha drove the bottom of her fist down into the center of Steve’s chest, like a hammer striking a nail. As he stumbled back, she whipped her knee up and around, tucking it tight against her stomach. Then she struck out with her left leg, driving the blade of her foot through the side of his knee. It gave way with a crunch and he howled, falling to the ground.

Any writing is about communicating ‘what happened’ to the reader, the rules for ‘show, don’t tell’ apply to writing fight scenes too. This is why writing fight scenes is so hard, because you need more than just the technique, you need: how to do it, what it does, where can it connect, what are the effects, and how will others respond to my character’s actions?

Most martial artists won’t provide that information for you, because they don’t need it. There are no easy answers to writing, just the ones you find for yourself. Give yourself some time to learn and you’ll come out the other side better than you began.

Review: Basic Terminology

The Fighting Stance: the beginning defensive stance for fighters

The Chamber: The position of the knee and the intermediate step between the foot on the ground and the kick in the air.

The Ball: the front part of the foot, between the arch and the toes.

The Blade: the outside edge of the foot

The Top: the top of the foot, point the toes

The Heel: the hardened back of the foot, behind the arch

Front Kick: a kick done while facing forwards, uses the ball of the foot

Side Kick: a kick done while facing sideways, uses the blade of the foot

Roundhouse: a kick done while the leg arcs around and across the front of the body, uses the ball of the foot

Back Kick: a kick done when the back is facing the opponent, uses the heel of the foot

Snap Kick: a fast version of the above kicks, a half-kick that strikes to the lower regions of the body, often taught in self defense

Turnover: when the hip turns over so the strike can connect, this happens during the chamber.

Follow-through: the concept of going through your target, instead of stopping at the body

The slide step: a step done while sliding forwards, kicks are done with the front leg

The cross-step: a step done where the legs make a cross-shape, turning the front leg into the powerful back leg

Review: Homework

Yeah, yeah, I know, boo. But this is just a guide, to actually learn more about how to use kicks in combat, you’re going to have to do more research and visual aids always help. The films and television series on this list aren’t great art or even great movies, but that’s not why you’re watching them is it? We suffer for our art, after all, and the martial artists in these films and shows are pretty damn incredible. If you’re watching any of the really good “Kung Fu” movies out of China, just try to keep in mind that Wire-Fu is a thing, so take some of the more elaborate stunts with a grain of salt. Remember, kicks are complicated and difficult to be really good at once you’re past a certain age. The pool for the media you can turn to that includes them is very small and must be performed by martial artists for the required speed and fluidity. (Summer Glau, though she is an excellent actress, ballerina, and terminator, has terrible form. You can’t skip this list by watching Serenity, I’m sorry. The same is true of Buffy and honestly, most of Joss Whedon’s work.)

Jean-Claude Van Damme: I haven’t seen most of his movies (which are terrible), but as a martial artist the man is incredible. His claim to fame is kickboxing, so he does fancy leg work better than just about anyone else on screen.  This is one of the few series of movies where you’ll ever see wheel kicks on film, especially the jump wheel kick. Check it out in Expendables 2 during his fight with Stallone, the man has perfect form.

Bruce Lee: The Master and progenitor of Jeet Kun Do. That said, the hype is real, Bruce Lee was a fantastic martial artist who defied a great many conventions and pretty much widened the gap for Asians in Hollywood. We’ve got a long way to go to push it further, but for martial artists, his movies are some of the finest. From the Green Hornet to Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee

Chuck Norris: I don’t really recommend Chuck Norris’s movies or his politics, unless you’re into pain. But the man is a master of the roundhouse kick and his fight scenes in Walker Texas Ranger, while silly, are a good example of some basic kicking techniques. You can also watch him deliver a Chuck Norris joke in character (while mocking his own movies) in Expendables 2. Chuck Norris like Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a student of Bruce Lee. (Also, check out Bruce Lee’s filmed fight with Kareem from the last movie he was filming before his death. There aren’t enough examples of black martial artists on film in Hollywood.)

Jet Li: All of it, no, seriously, including the badly subtitled obscure ones from China and the silly ones in the U.S. like Romeo Must Die (African-American crime families fight Asian-American crime families and the only white dude to be seen anywhere are working for the NFL. Also, Jet Li does incredible tricks with plastic ties) and Lethal Weapon IV where he takes apart a gun with his knees. (I don’t care if he’s the bad guy in that movie, I will never be over that stunt, omg!) Jet Li has a huge catalogue of movies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and when it comes to studying up on writing fights most of them are worth a watch at least once.

Jackie Chan: Jackie Chan is the joker version of Jet Li, he does a lot of stunts and his movies are comedies, but he’s just as good and possibly more entertaining. Drunken Master is an incredible exhibition of skill all on its own and he’s done some of the craziest stunts.

The Karate Kid (Remake) Also, check out the Karate Kid remake as another decent Hollywood movie that pretty much skips white folks entirely. The sequences in it are very good and all the actors are fantastic. The young Chinese martial artists in the movie are fantastic and Jaden Smith is very good. It’s a great movie about martial arts, spirituality, and one of the only places you’ll get to see a good representation of competition and tournament culture. Michelle Yeoh also has a cameo where she faces off with a cobra.

Mortal Combat: It’s a cult classic and it’s really dumb, but the fight scenes really are pretty good. Don’t feel bad about popping in this flick in and watching it when you’re bored one evening. It might be worth your while.

The Mortal Combat Legacy: This mini-series is full of martial artists and stuntmen doing martial arts things and is free to watch on YouTube. This list is mostly full of boys and girl martial artists (especially ones who use kicks) can be hard to find, but check out the second episode of the Kitana and Mileena two-parter for some excellent girl on girl brawling action in the first scene.

GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee (and their child counterparts)) Ray Park was the stuntman who played both Darth Maul and Toad in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and X-men respectively (famous for Storm’s “what happens when a toad gets hit by lightning” line), but he’s at his best as Snake Eyes in the ridiculously silly GI Joe movies. Throw in the excellent Byung-hun Lee as his counterpart villain Storm Shadow and you get some very impressive fight sequences. The flashback sequences between these two rivals as children are also pretty incredible. I’m rather eagerly awaiting the sequel on DVD to watch their rematch.

I would recommend Gina Carano, but I don’t like Haywire. For multiple reasons, you’d be better served looking up her actual fights and only if you’re really interested in a study of grappling moves. Those are what she’s best at. So, she really doesn’t have a place on this list. If someone more versed in some of the excellent movies out of China wants to recommend some female martial artists, we’ll put ‘em up.

Michelle Yeoh: She’s considered one of the greatest of female action movie martial artists, so if you’re starved for women who can kick butt, check out some of her films. Or catch her in the Supercop series opposite Jackie Chan. She’s a better example of what a ballerina can do when combined with martial training. But like Summer Glau, the tells never quite go away.

Finally: Human Weapon, the now defunct show on the history channel. The Discovery Channel has or had its own version, but it’s not as entertaining or as informative. Human Weapon isn’t great and it’s not always accurate (it is TV). It’s a great window into a lot of different martial arts from around the world. It’s a great starting primer to use as a launch for your research. You can find most of the episodes for it on YouTube.

Also, check out our article: The Points Where Weapons Become Useless for more information about when to kick and when not to.

-Michi 1, 2, 3