Front kick

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Mae-geri, the front kick, is the most basic -- and most common -- kicking technique used in sparring and self-defense. Simple, straightforward kicks, like the front kick, tend to be the most effective. Spinning kicks are intrinsically telegraphing, have long set-up times, and they force you to turn your back on your opponent. Jump kicks leave you vulnerable while jumping and landing. Drop kicks send you to the ground. Simple linear kicks suffer from none of those problems.

Throwing a front kick is a four point process. Slowly practice each step individually, then put them all together. Speed is for rabbits and fools. Instead, concentrate on executing a proper form, and worry about performing that as smoothly and fluid as possible. Remember, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. The four points are:

  1. Chambering. Enter a walking crane stance, raising your knee as high as possible. Ideally, your knee will touch your chest, to deliver maximum power later. At minimum, your knee needs to be “past parallel” -- that is, your knee must be higher than your hips, so that your thigh is angled upward with respect to the floor.

    Remember to keep a slight bend in your supporting leg, keeping the knee directly over the toes to improve your balance. Again, pretend that your spine and supporting leg is a telephone pole buried deep in the ground. Without such sturdy grounding, you will be blown back from the recoil of your own kick.

    Pull your arms close to your chest to shield yourself. As long as you remain on one foot, your defense is compromised -- your blocks will be weak (since you cannot drive with your legs), and evasive footwork requires two feet.

  2. Kicking. Push the knee down and forward; this will drive your foot horizontally into the target. The most common problem with front snap-kicks is flicking them, instead of snapping them. A “flicky” kick results from keeping the knee fixed, and swinging their foot up, as though your physician were checking your reflexes. A proper front kick drives with the knee; the knee lowers, and the foot travels in a horizontal line, with no arc; the motion is kind of like a scissors jack. Kicking form can be evaluated by using front snap kicks to close car doors or crumple cardboard boxes. A flicking kick will just wipe the dirt off the door or box.

    [video of flicky and proper front kicks from the front and side, and their effects on car doors.]

    You need to be careful, as “flicky” kicks may feel like good form. To keep yourself honest, practice against a responsive target, like a hanging heavy bag. A proper front kick will dent a heavy bag. Heavy bags will remain stationary when flicked, and will swing when pushed by kicks with poor snap. Since heavy bags are round, any kick that isn’t perfectly straight will glance off. If you want to get serious about kicking, buy or make a hanging heavy bag. In the meantime, you can always use a car door:

    [car door video]

    In Goshin-Jutsu, front kicks strike with the ball of the foot. Some karate styles advocate kicking with the tips of the toes, for a more spear-like kick. However, this can lead to jammed and broken toes. These “toe-kicks” are acceptable if you are wearing steel-toed work boots.

    Likewise, some other styles (such as Tae Kwon Do) favor a swinging kick that strikes with the instep. This is inadvisable, as the instep is one of the weak points of the human body. One of our contributors, Mr. Zielinski, once sparred a Tae Kwon Do stylist who charged at him with a large, looping kick, hell-bent on crushing him with his instep. Mr. Zielinski did not block, parry, evade, or counter; he merely turned his elbow to the side. When the Tae Kwon Do man’s instep struck Mr. Zielinski’s elbow, it broke with a sickening crack. The point of this anecdote is this -- Mr. Zielinski did not break that man’s foot; that man broke his foot on Mr. Zielinski. Think about that -- then, kick with the ball of the foot.

    To help maintain your balance, tense your abdominal muscles at the kick extends, like a stomach crunch. This will keep your shoulders directly over your hips -- and that’s the secret to stability. Some karate styles, like Shōtōkan, advocate leaning back as you kick, to use the torso as a counterweight to balance the body. However, leaning back only means you’ll have to lean forward later -- and extra motion results in slower techniques and wasted energy.

  3. Re-chambering. Return to walking crane stance as quickly as possible. As a rule, kicks should return twice as fast as they went out. Resist the urge to use your kick as a giant step; save stepping for Point 4. By immediately returning to the chambered position after kicking, you have the option of throwing additional kicks.

  4. Stepping out. When you are done kicking, you can set your kicking leg behind you, and enter a front stance or fighting stance. Alternately, you can set your kicking foot right next to your support foot (in a sort of bent-knees attention stance) and then slide the kicking foot out into a front or fighting stance. What you will not do -- ever, for any reason -- is to step forward directly from crane stance into some other stance. Using your kick as a giant step causes you to lean, transferring a portion of your weight to a leg that isn’t touching the ground. If this happens, a clever or skilled opponent can swat your foot aside with a well-timed leg sweep, toppling you instantly.

Putting it all together, a front snap-kick looks like this:

[video of a front snap-kick, viewed from the front and side, many times, fast and slow.]

That was a big pill to swallow -- but we must be thorough. Slowly practice each step individually, and then put them all together. Speed is for rabbits and fools. Instead, concentrate on proper form, and performing it as smooth and fluid as possible. Remember, slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. We implore you to practice slowly at first. Emphasizing speed over form will never make you into a better martial artist -- instead, you will just suck faster.