Yellow Belt Front Kicks

In this post I’ll discuss the kicks targeted toward angle one of the octagon. Tensoku Ryu students must demonstrate proficiency at these kicks in order to obtain the Yellow Belt (Hachikyu) ranking. These are all kicks in which a single strike is delivered. In the Yellow Belt students learn every stationary single kick in our curriculum. In later belts students learn moving and multiple kick sequences.

This is not the order that kicks are introduced  or taught to Tensoku Ryu students during training. The curriculum card associated with this belt, for example, requires that students be familiar at Mae Geri, Yoko Geri, Mawashi Geri, and Ushiro Geri in order to obtain their first stripe. Only two of these kicks required for obtaining the first stripe focus on striking toward octagon angle one.

You may also wish to view the other kicking information posts listed at the bottom of this page.

Kicks focused toward angle one have several things in common, which makes grouping them together for discussion a useful explanatory activity. If you are a new martial arts practitioner you should not attempt these kicks, some of which are quite advanced, without proper instruction. To minimize your risk of injury you should learn kicks in the order prescribed on the Tensoku Ryu curriculum card for the Hachikyu ranking. This order provides a progression that enables your body to become accustomed to movements over time so that you become prepared and conditioned for more advanced and difficult kicking skills.

Nearly all of these kicks require that you stand on one leg. This can represent a balance challenge for many people. If you are having difficulty with balance spend some time adopting Ippon Dachi, raising your hands to guard position, bending your supporting leg slightly, and practice holding this position for perhaps thirty seconds or a minute. Practice on both sides. If you can hold this stance for thirty seconds that will be more than enough time to complete any of the kicks defined below.

Knee Action

The knee of the kicking leg is extremely important when kicking. I suggest you never think about your foot when kicking, but instead focus entirely on the knee of the kicking leg. This will sound counter intuitive, like many things in Tensoku Ryu. But as you experiment with kicking methods you will find that thinking about your knee proves quite beneficial.

The knee is often used as your targeting device. When you wish to strike a particular target you point your knee at the target first then simply extend your lower leg and foot. In most cases they will then accurately strike into your intended target.

In most kicks you can improve your posture and structure following the kick by concentrating on returning the knee rather than the foot. Thinking about pulling the knee back or in (depending on the kick being employed), if done with focus and intensity, will normally pull your shoulders, hips, and knees in proper alignment immediately following the kick. This will then allow you to move in a controlled manner automatically at the completion of the kick. If you are suffering from poor balance and control following a kick it is likely due to your mind thinking about returning the foot. Shift your focus to the knee and you will likely see an immediate improvement in your stability following your kicks.

Kicking Cycle

The process of kicking has a general pattern or cycle that should be considered when practicing. The pattern is to first begin shifting from your current stance into a stance that will allow you to efficiently and effectively deliver the intended kick. As this shifting occurs you also rotate and align your structure so you are ultimately in an ideal orientation for delivery of your intended kick. This is also essential for maintaining proper structure during the kick. During this initial phase of the kick you will also want to ensure your hands are positioned so they form an effective and useful guarding function. You must remember that you may not be the only person kicking. Finally, your knee is positioned so that it points at your defined target area. The knee will point to the ankle if that is your target or alternately to the abdomen or head if those are your planned target locations.

The next phase simply involves extended the knee and then retracting it in the fastest manner possible. This is the kick delivery phase and is no more complex than described. If everything has been properly aligned during the first phase then this phase is quite simple. Strike using the knee and then return the kick by using the knee. The lower leg is a lever and you are relying on this lever to quickly and efficiently strike into your defined target. You are also then using it to quickly pull your leg away from the target.

Following the kick delivery and retraction you want to get your kicking leg back onto the ground as quickly as possible. You do not want to be standing on one leg in front of someone you just made very angry. You need to get that foot back on the ground so you can do whatever it is you plan to do next. This is usually easily accomplished by allowing the knee to continue its general direction of movement until the foot and hip are in a position where some or all of your weight can be transferred onto what had been your kicking leg. It is quite beneficial to think of the knee movement during this process. If you have difficulties with balance and structure during this phase of the kick, which is quite normal, then you will benefit from thinking more about the position and movement of the knee of your kicking foot.

Retracting your kicking leg quickly has another tremendous benefit. It is common practice for an opponent (particularly when sparring, but in other situations as well) to grab your kicking leg and hold your leg suspended in the air. You are then vulnerable to attacks to your pedestal leg, torso, suspended leg, and head. You may be struck or thrown to the ground almost instantly. In some situations you could be treated to massive debilitating soft tissue damages to your legs, feet, hips, and groin. This level of injury can be inflicted in a fraction of a second.

By retracting your leg immediately and briskly you reduce the opportunity and the time window the opponent has to grab your leg. Even if an attempt is made the grab has less opportunity to be successful because of the inertia your retreating leg possesses. In general you will want to retract your kicking leg faster than it was delivered by employing the concept of Disproportionality.

Don’t forget to ensure your hands remain in a useful and effective guard position during and after the kick. New practitioners often drop their guard during some portion of the kicking cycle. We are quite insistent that students learn to keep an effective guard position throughout the entire kicking cycle for all kicks.

Mae Geri

This is often called a front kick or a forward snap kick. The name is derived from the Japanese words for front (Mae) and the compound form of the word for kicking (Geri). From Sochin Dachi bring the back knee up and point it directly at your target (at local octagon angle one) as you shift your weight forward and over your front leg. The toes of your kicking leg should be pointed down and generally adjacent to the knee of your pedestal leg. Your hands should be placed in an effective guard position. Now extend the foot up and forward from the knee, extend (pull) the toes upward, and drive the ball of the foot into the target. With practice this should be done in one single continuous motion. This kick can be used to target anywhere from the ankles to the head. Return the knee briskly to establish a Sochin Dachi or other stance. Do not think of returning the foot; think of returning the knee. This will improve your overall speed while helping your maintain good form and balance.

As you move forward from Sochin Dachi and into Ippon Dachi you will want to ensure you rotate your hips, torso, and pedestal foot so that your center can be focused directly toward your target (likely at local octagon angle one). This helps ensure you deliver focused energy into the target and that you achieve the most balanced structural alignment. Immediately prior to extended you knee to deliver the kick your hips and shoulders should be aligned along the local octagon angles three and four axis. In other words, your left hip and shoulder should point directly toward angle three while your right hip and shoulder should point directly toward angle four. This will help ensure your center is directed toward angle one.

We utilize the ball of the foot for striking the target with this kick. This both protects the toes from injury and provides a smaller striking and therefore more penetrative surface.  You could strike with the top of the foot, but we refer to that variation as a Kin Geri (discussed later).

An essential goal during this kick is to deliver the kick quickly and then return the leg to the floor as rapidly as possible so that you can initiate your next movement and or prepare for a potential counter strike from your opponent. Speed is much more important than what you might think of as power.

Focusing on the knee during delivery of this kick will ensure the foot penetrates directly forward and into the target. If you are thinking of the foot then the entire leg will swing up and forward which can cause your foot to graze up the front of the intended target without much penetrative force. Can you deliver an effective kick this way? Yes, but you will have more predictable targeting if you focus on knee position rather than foot position.  You will also be able to more readily retract your kicking leg when using this method of delivery since your leg is not swinging as one larger mass which can be more difficult to pull back.

Mae Ashi Geri

This kick is nearly identical to the Mae Geri, but it is delivered using the front foot (Mae Ashi) rather than the back foot. As a result you will find that how you move your center when delivering the kick is quite different than with Mae Geri. As with Mae Geri you will want to ensure your center is focused at local octagon angle one as you establish Ippon Dachi. This is best done in this kick by thinking of pulling the front hip back as you shift your weight onto your pedestal (back) leg. This will pull your hips and torso so they are properly aligned for delivery of this kick. It will also assist with ensuring our weight is properly pulled over your supporting pedestal leg

Like Mae Geri, you want to think about using the knee to point toward your intended target and then extending the knee to drive the foot and lower leg toward that target. Think of returning to knee rather than the foot to improve your overall speed and stability during and after the kick. You will want to both deliver the kick and get your kicking foot back on the ground as quickly as possible.

Again you will want to use the ball of the foot as your striking surface. As with Mae Geri this provides greater impact forces while reducing the possibility of injury to your toes. It is harder to be mobile after you’ve broken your toes.

Kin Geri

The Kin Geri, or the Groin Kick, is nearly identical to the Mae Geri but the top of the foot rather than the ball of the foot is used as the striking surface. Despite its name the kick can be used anytime there is a soft and broad target area. The kick is useful when striking up and into something rather than forward and into the target. This can occur when, naturally, striking to the groin, but it could also happen if your opponent were leaning forward such that you could strike to the surface of their downward directed torso from the side.

In these situations it would not be beneficial to retract your toes to expose the ball of the foot since you are kicking up and into something. Positioning your toes in this manner would put them at risk of impact injury. Instead, the toes are normally pressed downward when performing Kin Geri to minimize the possibility of injurious contact.

All of the other details about guard position, speed, knee position, centering, and related elements of Mae Geri apply to this kick.

Mae Kekomi Geri

This is a forward thrust kick and is essentially a Mae Geri but with more attitude. The kick is momentarily (perhaps ¼ of a second or so) locked into place and the hips are thrust forward creating more penetrative power. Due to its locking nature care must be taken to use the kick when you are off of your opponent’s center or the opponent has become unstable. Under these conditions the opponent is less likely to be in position to grab your momentarily stationary leg.

The kick is normally delivered using the same method as a Mae Geri. Once the lower leg is extended from the knee then the hips are also thrust in line with your center. This usually happens immediately preceding the moment when the foot makes contact with the target. The hip motion adds energy to the strike and makes the strike more penetrative.

The kick is normally held extended for a short period to ensure the hip extension and additional penetrative forces can be fully applied before the leg is retracted. This usually takes a mere fraction of a second, but there is a detectable period or delay between when the lower leg is extended and when it is retracted.

Once you begin retracting the knee it is again important to get the foot back onto the ground in a controlled manner as quickly as possible. All of the details about this portion of the kicking cycle should be identical to those of Mae Geri.

You might ask yourself, “Couldn’t this also be done with the front leg, kind of like a Mae Ashi Kekomi Geri?” Certainly, give it a try. You will notice that since you are initially shifting your weight backward that the thrusting part of the kick could induce additional backward momentum that might cause you to lose structure. You can learn to compensate for this so that the kick remains quite effective and can be useful in ensuring someone says back and away from you. Kicking in this manner is overall less stable than using the back leg, but it can be employed for positive effect provided you remain cognizant of its tendency to propel you backward.

Mae Fumikomi Geri

Mae Fumikomi Geri is also called a forward foot stomp. The knee is raised much like in Mae Geri, but the torso is then caused to lean slightly forward and the foot is driven downward and into the target. It is important to lean forward slightly or you may strike higher than intended, completely missing a target that is low to the ground. The forward lean is normally quite small and subtle. The lean is just enough to prevent the forces from the kick inadvertently causing you to lean further back, which would make your kicking leg descend less toward the ground.

You should also be cautioned not to let your striking foot bear any weight. The strike is powerful and quick, but do not transfer any weight onto the kicking leg. If the opponent pulls his or her impacted body part away while you are bearing weight on your kicking leg you could lose your balance.

In most cases you will strike with the heel of your kicking leg. There may be times when it makes sense to strike with the ball or even the sole of the foot. Try to use the heel when possible because it is a more resilient surface which can deliver great impact force. But allow yourself the latitude to use other portions of the foot when they are the most logical option.

The kick is normally delivered using the back leg. But there is nothing to preclude this kick from be used with the front leg. The term Mae in the name simply implies that the kick is directed in a forward direction. It does not define the foot that is to be used. When practicing the kick you should employ both delivery methods and practice striking with various portions of the foot.

Kakato Geri

The Ax Kick can be delivered in one of two different ways. It might be an Outside-In (Uchi) kick, or an Inside-Out (Soto) kick. For purposes of explanation we will describe kicking with the right leg. The left leg would obviously mirror the movements of the right leg. You should practice kicking with both the right and left legs.

The Uchi version would have the right leg rise outside the opponent’s left side then circle inward slightly and then suddenly descend directly downward with great speed and force. The Soto version would have the right leg cross and rise up outside the opponent’s right side, then circle toward the opponent’s center and again descend with great speed and force.

The striking surface for this kick is almost always the heel. Little tension or energy is spent while lifting the leg as all the energy is reserved for driving the heel down and toward the ground. Common targets are the head, face, shoulders, and collar bone. If the opponent is leaning back the target might be the chest area. An opponent leaning forward may provide an opportunity to strike various locations on the back.

The two key features of this kick are its relaxed and almost casual initial movement followed by great downward acceleration. The acceleration is possible only because of the relaxed initial portion of the kick. If the initial portion of the kick is at all tense then transitioning to a powerful movement in a new direction will be difficult to achieve and this second part of the kick will have diminished power.

This does not mean the initial part of the kick should be slow. It can and should be rapid, but it should also be relaxed and unfocused. There should be no tension in the leg as it rises above its target.

This is a very powerful kick likely to cause severe injury to an opponent. You should therefore use the kick only in controlled training situations or where your intent is to harm the individual you are kicking. Inflicting such injury would only be justified in the most extreme circumstances.

Shovel Kick

This kick involves striking forward with the instep of the foot. The knee is lifted and the foot rotates to expose the instep of the foot to the target. The knee extends such that the lower leg then protrudes forward into the target. The knee then quickly retracts the lower leg. The kick is only useful at the Gedan level as the hip joint will normally not allow movement higher with the leg in this position. The usual striking targets are the ankle, knee, groin, calf, shin, and thigh. The groin is not a typical target but can be accessible if you are holding the opponent’s leg aloft thereby providing an unobstructed pathway to the groin.

When applied to the back of a person’s knee this kick can cause the knee to immediately buckle forward. This will likely cause the person to lose structural integrity, often causing them to fall or descend onto the impacted knee.  When applied to the front portion of an opponent’s knee the kick can cause devastating injury to the knee joint. This can result in a permanent debilitating condition so this method of striking should be reserved for those situations that warrant such an aggressive response.

Kicking to the opponent’s shin in this way is likely to cause significant impact pain. It may cause a potential impact fracture as well, but this is a less likely outcome.

Striking to the groin can cause serious injury to the groin and to nearby tissues of leg and hips. These latter injuries are unlikely outcomes of the strike itself, but rather occur due to stresses placed on joints, ligaments, and tendons as the person struggles to maintain structural integrity immediately following impact.

Hiza Geri

This is simply a rising knee kick. The knee rises much like Mae Geri but then the knee itself impacts the target directly. The areas of the body most frequently targeted by this kick are the thigh, groin, abdomen, and, in the case where an opponent is leaning forward, the ribs, face or head. In some scenarios the kick might be delivered while an opponent is falling backward, in which case the knee might impact the kidneys, spine, back ribs, neck, or cranium. Care must be taken to ensure the knee itself is not involved in contacting the target. Instead, the bone and muscle surface just above the knee should be used to help prevent injury to the knee joint and knee cap (patella).

This kick is also delivered with the foot positioned so that the thigh and lower leg are both roughly parallel to the floor. This makes the path of delivery move along a horizontal rather than vertical trajectory. This method of delivery is most beneficial when you have moved (or are moving) to the side of an opponent. The knee then strikes into the abdomen or back of the opponent. Often your back hand is used to pull the opponent’s upper torso such that the person moves into the approaching kick.

Additional Comment

Make sure when practicing these kicks that you remain cognizant of your guard position and that you strive to forget about your kicking foot. Think only of the knee. This will seem strange, but you will eventually find the benefit of thinking in this manner. It will enable you to remain upright, improve your balance following a kick, and quickly move on to a subsequent task. Too often practitioners find they are momentarily frozen as they strive to recover from the kicking sequence. This is a prime target opportunity for an opponent. You will want to ensure you can kick, quickly regain your balance and structure, retract anything an opponent might grab, and then move on to your next objective. Speed is the essence of good kicking skills development.

See Also

Yellow Belt Side Kicks
Yellow Belt Rear and Hooking Kicks
Yellow Belt Rotating Kicks

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