When most people think of martial arts, two things usually come to mind. It’s either board breaking or flashy kicks. For today, let’s focus on kicking techniques and some ways to improve them using drills. We’ll discuss breaking at a later time.
Accurate and powerful kicks are a big part of most martial arts systems. They tend to be a core element of Korean-based karate systems like Tang Soo Do. One of the first things we teach white belt students is how to throw a proper front kick. As students progress, they learn other kicks such as the side, roundhouse and spinning kicks which supplement their arsenal.
Why Improve Your Kicks?
In the past, having powerful kicks was part of one’s tools for survival. Whether it was to keep an animal at bay or an enemy from getting too close in hand to hand combat, they were a necessity. In modern times, these situations aren’t as common, however, good kicks should still be developed in the off chance that you need them.
Here are a few reasons why every martial artist should constantly work to improve their kicking ability. From a self-defense perspective, a well-placed kick can be a very effective deterrent. It provides you with a method of striking that doesn’t require getting too close to an attacker. This allows you to either retreat, diffuse the situation, or attack effectively. The martial artist has more options on how to best respond.
Using good technique also reduces the likelihood of injury by allowing you to train longer and harder. This allows us to develop our bodies for many years which provides physical benefits and mental well-being.
Good kicking ability helps your forms look better. This is relevant at competitions such as Tang Soo Do regional and world championships. It also provides you with more options for breaking techniques. Plus let’s face it, being able to throw a fast and accurate kick with lots of snap is just plain cool.
Improving my kicks is something I’ve worked very hard on throughout my years of training. I’d like to share a process that’s helped my kicks to become more effective. It consists of static and dynamic drills that have proven to be very effective if done consistently over a period of time. Like most things in martial arts, you get out of the process what you put into it.
Strength and Flexibility
Improving your flexibility is important towards being able to throw good kicks. Being flexible is often thought as being important only to softer arts like Tai Chi and Yoga. In reality it’s important to all martial arts.
Flexible muscles are more elastic which allows you to more easily generate speed and power. It also reduces the chance of injury since your body is able to twist and bend without straining. In my post on dynamic stretching, you can find a stretching sequence and accompanying video that will help improve the flexibility in your hips and legs.
Feel free to use it as a starting point to develop your own routine. Later on, I’ll provide a drill that I regularly use to improve my kicks. A great feature of the drill is that it can be done practically anywhere. About the same amount of space as a sofa is pretty much all you need.
But first, let’s talk about kicking mechanics.
A Total Body Movement for Powerful Kicks
Your entire body plays an important role in throwing an effective kick. A mistake most beginners or those without good kicks make is only focusing on the kicking leg and foot. A proper kick requires the coordinated movement of your entire body.
You may have also been told or read about the importance of “throwing” your techniques. What this means is you’re leveraging the power of body mechanics to powerfully deliver the strike. This is in stark contrast to “placing” a kick. When you place a kick, your foot technically ends up in the same place but how you got there is slower, inefficient and far less powerful.
It’s helpful to think of throwing a kicking along the same lines as cracking a whip. Your body and base leg make up the handle. Your kicking leg and foot are the whip. Much like cracking a whip, the first part that moves is the handle or your body. This stored energy is later translated into movement of the striking leg and foot. This motion is what creates power and heft.
In the purist sense, your body generates the power and your leg and striking foot are simply along for the ride.