Powerful strikes: my top 5 martial arts kicks

Copyright Duncan Grisby 2010If you are practicing a striking martial art you probably using several kicks that can hit the opponent in a variety of directions and angles.  Here is the list of my favourite kicks out of all techniques I know, practice and teach.

Round kick

The round kick is probably the kick that has the broader application in martial arts styles.  If we exclude Wing Chun and various non striking martial arts I cannot think of any other style that doesn’t teach, use and promote the round kick as a basic, practical, effective and powerful technique.  The Round Kick has an effective and very broad range of applications and can be technically delivered to the whole body; from as low as the ankles all the way up to the head.  Different sport regulations will affect what targets can be aimed with this technique while competing: e.g. American Kickboxing and Tae Kwon Do are imposing kicks above the waist while many other styles like Muay Thai and MMA allowing kicks to the whole body. Round Kick can be delivered with both front and rear leg and each of these has a specific application and context in which it applies.  The former is a super fast kick: the leading leg is the one closest to the opponent therefore the kick travels a short distance and can catch the opponent unprepared.  The kick with the rear leg is the slower of the two it enjoys a great advantage offered by its very nature: it is very powerful.  The Round Kick with the rear leg involves a large number of core muscles that, if well aligned and synchronised together will explode in impressive power.  The Round Kick can be used in both defensive and offensive strategies and easily combined with other kick or punches. If used in a self defence situation I would suggest to avoid any kick above the waist unless your kicking abilities are so outstanding that you can absolutely sure to hit the target without your leg being intercepted or trapped; it’d be no fun missing your target and find yourself with a leg in the air and your groin exposed.  The round kick is a very accessible kick and however it works better for flexible people it can be used by most people with a broad range of levels of fitness and flexibility.  Here a little video about improving power for the Round Kick with the front leg:

Front Kick

The front kick is a very simple kick and universally adopted by all striking styles known to me.  The Front kick is a technique with a very broad range of applications: it can eventually be used to stamp on somebody’s top of the foot, as well as hitting somebody’s face.  My favourite range for the Front Kick is the midsection (abdomen and chest) where it can deliver maximum damage during a fight.  The Front Kick gets its power from the core as well as most muscles of the leg including the gluteus; it can be a snappy, fast and irritating (for the opponent) kick when performed with the front leg while it can deliver truly explosive pushing power when performed with the rear leg.  The Front Kick can be used both in offensive and defensive strategies combined with other techniques like punches as well as elbow and knee strikes.  Front Kicks can indeed be effectively used in self defence situation; I would always recommend medium and low kicks, aimed at the groin or below. When well timed a Front Kick could be great to stop an attacker stepping toward you as well as to “bridge the gap” to get close to an opponent before using other techniques to finish off the situation. Front Kick is a very accessible technique as it can be easily performed by people without specific experience in martial arts, regardless of their physical fitness.

Hook Kick

The Hook Kick can be defined as a niche technique because of the very restricted target area it can hit (face and head) and because of the fairly high level of flexibility required to execute it.  In short, using a very British expression, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.  However it’s fantastic technique that, being highly choreographic, it helped several famous actors like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme as well as Bill Wallace using this technique as a strongly identifying point.  The Hook Kick is a great technique when coming from the leading leg, particularly when alternated with side and round kicks (in a very Superfoot style).  In my direct experience I always found the Hook Kick as an excellent technique to score with and, in some cases, knocking down the opponent.  From a physiological point of view the hook uses a fairly small set of muscles; although it can build up some decent speed it cannot deliver the destroying power of some other kicks listed in this post. Having accepted that the Hook Kick applies just for high level targets it usually requires a good preparation to be used effectively.  The Hook Kick can be used both in offensive and defensive strategies anticipated by other techniques like punches or other kicks; defensive strategies using hook kicks require dead spot on timing.  Unless you have suicidal aims I would not suggest to even think about using a Hook Kick in a self defence situation as it requires flexibility and super speed; also it exposes your groin to the opponent putting you in a very vulnerable position.  As I mentioned several times the Hook Kick hits high and fast so it requires very flexible hips and legs and highly trained body to be used effectively.  It is probably the least accessible kick mentioned in this post.  Here a little video about performing the Hook Kick with the front leg:

Axe Kick

The Axe Kick is a niche kick both for the fitness required to perform it and for the quite restricted range of schools that teach it.  I was surprised about how many people with years of experience in martial arts who joined my kickboxing club and had never seen an Axe Kick before.  The Axe Kick is a very choreographic technique that hits the head of the opponent following a downward movement. The Axe Kick can be used both in offensive and defensive strategies combined with other techniques like punches and other kicks.  The Axe Kick uses similar set of muscles as the Hook Kick although has less stringent requirements on the flexibility at hip level; also has it has a descending trajectory when striking it can exploit gravity as extra force to be added to the total result. Following a similar reasoning as previously used for the Hook Kick I would discourage anybody to use Axe Kicks for self defence although I am aware of people that managed that literally destroyed street attackers by using this technique.  Being a kick that aims the face and head the Axe Kick is a technique that offers limited accessibility to people that are not particularly flexible.  The good news is that, in my experience of teaching kickboxing for many years, Axe Kick becomes possible with some serious commitment and training while the Hook Kick remains the most exclusive one.  Here a little video about performing the Axe Kick with the front leg:

Spinning Back Side Kick

If I had to choose of just using one spinning back technique the Spinning Back Side Kick would the one.  The Spinning Back Side Kick has the unique advantage of combining rotation and straight movement in a single technique that also involves some of the biggest and most powerful muscles in our body; in short it is a killer kick.  It can be delivered within a very short space (e.g. at the end of short range punches such as hooks and uppercuts) as well as from a long distance, bridging a broad gap.  Although it can be used as a first technique to catch the opponent with a surprise element I usually combine together different kicks and punches and use the Spinning Back Side Kick as a terminating technique.  However choreographic and somewhat flamboyant the Spinning Back Side Kick can be used in self defence situations as it will mostly catch the opponent by surprise;  in these cases it should be delivered to the lower part of the body, from the groin and below.  However the Spinning Back Side Kick requires practice and reasonable level of co-ordination it can be usually taught to inexperienced people of various levels of fitness and flexibility.