Within Tensoku Ryu we recognize that there are innumerable uses for kicks. One of the primary purposes is to deliver a punishing strike to an opponent. This is one of the more difficult methods of kick delivery and it is an area where we place great emphasis. We are quite demanding about kicking effectively and kicking quite hard, when necessary. But how you go about this requires significant thought, practice, and training.
One of the primary precepts about kicking is that you must maintain excellent structural integrity while kicking. If you are off balance, improperly aligned, off center, or have your guard in an inappropriate place then you will experience consequences for these failings. The consequences may range from subsequent poor positioning to painful injury. Most unfortunate consequences can be avoided by employing proper methodology while kicking. We will discuss some of these methods.
Centering is an essential aspect of effective kicking. If your center is misaligned or did not rotate properly during the kicking process then your kick will not land as powerfully. You will have less control of where and how the kick lands. You will also find that when the kick does land that without proper centering your structural integrity will be affected in a negative manner. This structural alignment principle cannot be ignored while kicking.
You will benefit from being relaxed while kicking. Tension in your neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, and legs will serve only to make you tired and hot while concurrently causing your kicks to be slow, less powerful, and severely limited in elevation. Tension will also cause you to be improperly structured when delivering the kick. If you are experiencing any of these difficulties first experiment to see if relaxing can offer you an immediate improvement. This is a common cure for a great many kicking maladies.
Once you are able to be more relaxed then you can focus on general structural integrity. You should be as erect as possible when kicking. Naturally some kicks will cause you to lean, but leaning directly impacts your structure. While leaning is not always bad, you need to recognize when it is preventing you from either delivering a powerful strike or from retaining good structure as an after effect of the kick. It is not enough to be able to deliver a kick well, you must be able to move quickly and decisively after the kick has landed. This can only be accomplished if you have maintained good structural integrity throughout the kicking process.
If your kick lands while you are poorly structured then the impact will serve to further weaken your structure. If you are leaning back when a Yoko Geri is delivered then the force of the impact may propel you back over your supporting leg suddenly, causing you to lose balance. If you are not structurally sound while delivering a Mawashi Geri then the impact of the kick may cause your torso or hips to torque unexpectedly causing your structure to suddenly weaken further.
By good structural integrity we mean that your knees, hips, shoulders and head are all aligned in a way that supports and augments your kicking efforts. You should not have any inappropriate leaning or unnecessary bends in this structure. You should stay as erect as possible. This can be difficult with some kicks but nonetheless should remain a goal. Minimize leaning by kicking lower or improving your stretch. Not all kicks need to be delivered to the head. If kicking to the head causes you to lean such that your structural integrity is compromised then kick to the ankle instead. Over time your stretch will slowly improve so that you can kick at higher elevations. Don’t rush the process. Kick with good structure first, then work on improving stretch and kicking elevations.
Having excellent structural integrity provides you with a sound base from which your kicks are projected. More force will be delivered into the target because less of the energy will be absorbed by your poorly aligned structure. Having sound structure will improve the impact forces provided by your kicks.
Having a good guard position is essential. Students often assume that aggressive actions on their part will force their opponent to be defensive. This mentality leads the student to consider a good guard position to be irrelevant. This is an invalid thought process. In a conflict both thinking combatants are constantly seeking an advantage. Your opponent will not be defensive if he or she spots an opportunity to be offensive. If you lower your guard you have provided them with that opportunity.
Kicking is really about what you are doing with the knee of your kicking leg. There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking your knee position and motion is critical to the delivery of a powerful kick. Too much focus is usually given to the foot. The focus is best placed upon the knee. The knee determines structure. The foot will go wherever the knee directs it. This is a different way of thinking about kicks. But it proves beneficial to think of kicking in this way.
The first point regarding the knee is that it defines the elevation of your kick. In a Mae Geri you raise your knee until it points at your intended target. You then simply extend the foot so that it impacts directly into the selected target area.
If the kick was delivered with a focus on the foot instead, then the foot would extended upward from the floor in a larger arc. It would impact the target with a rising rather than penetrating trajectory. This is what is going on when you kick someone and your foot merely slides up the surface of his or her torso.
Focusing on positioning the knee first will cause the subsequent arc of travel of the foot to be smaller. In the case of a Mae Geri the kick will be projected into the torso of an opponent rather than up his or her torso wall. This in large part due to the knee serving as an upward movement limit. Your lower leg will not travel higher than your knee. The knee controls the elevation and the arc of travel of the foot. The energy of the kick is therefore focused and delivered forward.
I’m not claiming that every kick delivered without considering knee position will graze an opponent’s chest wall and not have much effect. Clearly any kick has the potential to inflict pain, discomfort, and injury. But these kicks can, depending on the movement of the two combatants, miss in a grazing manner. A kick delivered with a focus on knee position is far less likely to have this outcome. If you practice a Mae Geri from a knee focused perspective you will find it results in more impact and greater penetration. Your kick will also have much more precision of movement. You are also likely to discover that you have a more consistent and reliable method of kick delivery.
The same applies to most kicks. A Yoko Geri is initially targeted by the location of the knee. If you place your knee at the correct elevation and orientation then striking the target is now simply a matter of extending the foot (or more precisely, the heel). This is primarily done by straightening the knee. Now you might be thinking that this is a two-stage process and will therefore make kicking slower. In fact, it is still a one stage process. You merely think of how the knee will be positioned as the kick is developing. In most cases this will make your kicks both faster and more penetrative.
How you retract a kick is every bit as important as how you extend it. Here again the knee is a vital part of the process. You seldom want to think about returning the foot. You instead want to think about returning the knee. The foot will tag along just fine.
Returning the knee pulls the foot away from the target in a generally linear manner. If you think of retracting the foot then the first thing that occurs is your knee bends, causing the foot to move while still in proximity of the target. This leaves you in an imbalanced posture and makes your foot a potential target for a counter grab.
In contrast, if you think of returning the knee then the first thing that happens is your hip bends. This pulls your knee in toward your torso while also pulling the foot directly away from the target, lessening the chance it can be grabbed by the opponent. This is a much faster and more direct method of returning a kick.
This also provides the benefit of pulling your supporting knee, hips,and shoulders back into sound structural alignment. This in turn will make it much easier for you to step or otherwise move following the kick. It affords you the method to escape or move to your next beneficial position. So briskly returning the knee in this manner helps ensure you reestablish sound structural integrity. The return must be done is a very focused and powerful manner to derive the desired structural realignment benefits. Through experimentation (and instructor guidance) you will find this to be a very beneficial method of concluding a kick.
In the beginning of this section I said that retracting a kick is every bit as important as extending it. I think that is in fact not quite accurate. I think that retracting a kick is far more important than extending it. In fact, if you are generally familiar with a kick then you will find that focusing solely on retracting the kick, essentially ignoring the extension, will result in a more powerful and controlled kick. This will sound counter-intuitive – as much of Tensoku Ryu does. But try it. Focusing solely on how you return the kick will make your kicking more controlled and powerful. You should not do this when first learning a new kick, but once the kicking mechanics become familiar then you will find advantage in only considering the retraction part of the kick.
Pedestal Foot Orientation
In most grounded kicks (those not involving jumping) you will ultimately have one leg that remains on the ground while the other raises to kick. The foot that remains on the ground might be referred to as your base or pedestal foot. How this foot is oriented can make a major difference in how your kick is delivered.
For a kick such as Mae Geri the pedestal foot is generally positioned such that the toes face the target. Some minor foot rotation may be needed to establish this orientation. The purpose for these alignments is to ensure your center is directly facing your intended target. As your raise your knee to kick you will also normally realign your foot and shift your center so your hips and shoulders are positioned oriented along the angles three and four axis of The Octagon.
When doing other kicks such as Yoko Geri, and Mawashi Geri the foot is rotated so the toes point directly away from your target. So your toes would point in the general vicinity of local angle two. This helps ensure your hips and shoulders are pointed at your target and that your overall structure is sound. Now your kick can be delivered toward local angle one (your target) with speed, precision, and power.
Another major benefit of this foot alignment is that your foot now supports your structure over its entire length. If your foot (toes) were pointed to angle three then the only support afforded by your foot is the relatively small expanse across the width of your foot. This is not a large support area and side-directed kicks can cause you to be propelled over your pedestal foot in a way that causes you to become unstable. By turning your foot toward angle two you allow your structure to be supported by the entire length of your foot, thereby reducing the likelihood of structural loss.
For a kick such as Ushiro Geri the toes point toward local angle one. This again provides support using the full length of the foot. This is usually not a problem if the kick is delivered from a standing position, but if you must spin or otherwise rotate to deliver the kick then you will want to ensure the foot is in proper alignment before initiating the kick.
There are many situations in which delivering a kick via the methods described above would be inappropriate. The methods above are fundamental methods. More skilled individuals will find uses for kicks of tremendous variety delivered using innumerable methods.
In many ways the fundamental methods of kick delivery defined above are the hardest to master and deliver. They are also the most beneficial if your intent is to cause an impact injury or generate some distance between yourself and your opponent. We require that all students focus on these elemental kicking methods until these skills have become second nature. If you can do this form of kicking well then you will have little difficulty performing kicks in any other circumstance or via any other methodology.
While Tensoku Ryu seldom takes a dogmatic approach to any topic or skills (we believing thinking in dogmatic terms limits what you can learn), we are fairly dogmatic about this form of kicking for beginning students. For your first few ranking examinations you will want to ensure your kicks reflect the materials discussed above. As you advance into the middle ranks you will find that we view kicking differently and provide practitioners with much more flexibility. But for initial students we think it is essential that they can kick well, kick hard, maintain structure through the entire kicking process, and move quickly and comfortably at the conclusion of any kick. The best way to achieve these objectives is to follow the general principles discussed above.