Several of the Uke combinations you study in this belt deal with defending against kicks. While these combinations can be useful at times there are often better ways to defend yourself against a kicking attack. Here are some additional guidelines to consider when defending against a kick.
When possible, avoid blocking a kick with an open hand. Blocking with the fingers extended exposes them to likely impact and injury from the much larger foot or leg. Even advanced students should predominantly block kicks with a closed fist (or ideally not block them at all). You have been exposed to several ways to block a kick with an open hand, but in general, save your fingers and use a closed fist to block kicks. This is particularly important until you have mastered Ma Ai, Hyoshi, and have developed excellent Kinesthesia.
The ETD Model is extremely good at helping you define potential strategies to deal with kicking attacks. We will cover how this model can be applied to kick defenses.
Escaping Kick Defenses
When facing a linear kick such as a Mae Geri, Yoko Geri, or even an Ushiro Geri, try to use one of the Escape Patterns to move off of the direct line of approach for the kick. Moving off the line of attack not only makes the kick miss its intended target, but often leaves your opponent at a positional and timing disadvantage. So in many ways the kick becomes a historical artifact that can often simply be ignored in favor of your future efforts.
When dealing with a Mawashi type kick moving back and to the side is often your best option (for example, using octagon stepping pattern R6L2). Avoid moving straight back as your attacker will merely step forward and attack again. If your opponent steps forward following his or her kick then you will be in position to strike as they move forward. Later you will practice moving closer for this type of kick, but for now, focus on getting out of the way.
As you work on kick defense skills try to notice when your training partner begins the kicking process. This can be subtly conveyed by facial expression, shoulder movement, torso rotation, stepping – particularly short steps designed to shift balance, sudden inhalation, and hip motions. While any of these actions could be a feint, they are often the prelude to a kick.
Once you suspect that a kick might be on the way then move from your current location using one of the relevant Escape Stepping Patterns (see the links at the bottom of this article). Do not be bothered if your training partner utilized a feint and you responded to it. You will learn two things in that case. The first is that you must randomize your escape patterns so you are less predictable. The second is that your partner uses feints, which might suggest you can strike instead of escape at the first sign of a feint.
When you escape just outside the movement of the kick you can often grab the attacker’s kicking leg and hold it aloft. The possibilities for such a grab increase when the person kicking you is not using Disproportionality. In most cases you need only place your (closed) hand under the kicking leg before it has an opportunity to retract. Now you have the other person in a vulnerable position.
The person is not defenseless, then will often strike at you with their nearest hand so you must remain vigilant. But they are quite susceptible to throws since they are now standing on a single leg. They are also vulnerable to strikes to the groin, hip, knee of either leg, shoulders and head. They are also very much at risk for major soft tissue injuries should you pull the elevated leg briskly back and upward (do not try this on a training partner because it will result in very serious and potentially debilitating injuries).
Some martial arts styles will suggest that you allow someone to strike you in the ribs with a Mawashi Geri since all that is then necessary to trap the kick is to lower your arm and wrap your forearm under the leg. Now the leg is trapped between your arm and your rib cage. The only problem with this approach is that you may now have broken ribs or in very rare cases a punctured lung. In Tensoku Ryu we are not large advocates of the “take a shot to give a shot” mentality. We would much prefer to “avoid a shot and give a shot.” At the very least we would suggest that in the case of a Mawashi Geri you move away from the kicking leg to lessen its impact before you attempt to grab it.
Which brings up a final point. In this form of kick defense it is not a goal to grab the attacker’s leg. The primary goal is to avoid being kicked. Grabbing the leg is merely an augmentation to the strategy and should be employed when the primary goal has been achieved.
Thwarting Kick Defenses
Thwarting defenses involve disrupting the kick as it is being developed or delivered. It is always much better to disrupt the kick early in its development than in its latter stages. Much less energy is involved when you disrupt a kick early. Let’s explore some methods by which you might thwart a kicking effort.
The first and easiest is to move. While this sounds like an escaping defense it is subtly different. When you begin practicing with others you will notice that if you move at just the right moment the person kicking will abort their kick because they have had time to realize the kick will miss or not be effective. By moving at the right moment you have in effect caused the opponent to thwart his or her own kick. If you pay attention you will notice this happens with great regularity. Now you simply need to use it as a planned strategy.
Some kicks can take a period of time to develop. On some occasions the time to deliver the kick is long enough that you can advance and push or otherwise impact the opponent before they have delivered the kick. This can be very disruptive to the opponent’s balance and structure and may afford you an immediate benefit.
If you accidentally move into an approaching kick realize that your opponent was not able to reach their Optimal Structure and therefore the kick will have much less power and impact than was intended. Also realize that the opponent’s structure is in fact now compromised. That is a condition you can take advantage of immediately. In training this will happen to you many times. Try to see how you can utilize your training partner’s lack of sound structural alignment to your advantage. This is surprisingly easy to do once you are aware of the opportunity.
The previous method can be deliberately initiated by purposefully jamming a kick. As the opponent begins to extend the kicking let you move toward the kick in an attempt to interrupt it early in its delivery. The idea is that the kick will have developed far less energy if you can press some portion of your anatomy into the kick at its earliest stages. There is a great deal of precise timing involved here. I can tell you from experience that sometimes you will thwart the kick very effectively. Sometimes you will be kicked really hard. You will often find that the person kicking has become structurally unstable and off balance – a situation you will eventually learn to exploit.
A more difficult thwarting possibility (which is hard to master) is to move and then place your leg or foot so that you can manipulate or control the opponent’s pedestal leg. Forcing the pedestal leg to collapse or rotate unexpectedly will result in severe structural and balance problems for the person kicking. You will encounter a practical application of this skill in your next belt, but we provide an introduction to it here for your consideration.
Another effective way to thwart a kick is to parry it off its intended path. This usually involves some form of movement to position yourself in an advantageous location and then applying a parry to move the kick away from its intended target. This takes some experience with timing, but it is usually not difficult to accomplish. You might parry the kick to either side, downward, forward, or even upward. Each action will have a different impact on the opponent’s subsequent movement and structure.
And of course the most basic thwarting method of all is the block. But it is only partially a thwarting action. You are still being struck, just not in the way the person kicking intended. Nonetheless a successful block will prevent the intended impact from occurring. Blocks like Gedan Barai, Ura Gedan Barai, and many of the blocks you study in this belt curriculum can be well employed as a kicking defense. Be sure you do not lean forward when performing these blocking maneuvers or you risk the possibility that you block will miss and your face will descend toward the approaching kick. While these blocks can be effective, we suggest that you also seek other defensive strategies that do not rely upon you being struck.
Destructive Kick Defenses
As we discussed earlier, most people do not practice Disproportionality when they kick. As a result they may well leave their kicking leg in the extended position too long. This can make the kicking leg easy to grab. You might scoop a fist under the leg to hold it aloft. In some cases you may trap the leg against your side by bending your forearm over and around the leg. Once you have grabbed an opponent’s leg they are susceptible to throws, groin pulls, leg twists, pedestal leg strikes, and a variety of other retaliatory measures. These latter actions might qualify as destructive kick defenses. But in reality they are a retaliation after a previously successful kick defense. It is important for you to realize that the kicking defense and subsequent offensive actions on your part are two different events.
If you escape to either the ear side or the face side of your opponent’s kick (assuming you are dealing with a kick like a Mae Geri or Yoko Geri), then striking down and into the thigh of the kicking leg thigh with a Tettsui Uchi may cause significant pain and also force the leg down and forward, causing the opponent to be in a bad structural position directly in front of you. Just ensure you strike muscle tissue and not bone with your strike to reduce the risk of injury to your hand. You can handle it from there.
Instead of Tettsui Uchi you might strike into the side of the thigh with Ken Tsuki. This may have a rotational effect similar to a parry, but with greater pain and increased likelihood of muscle tissue damage.
If you move to the face side then you might employ a Mae Geri or other similar kick concurrent with your movement and the attacker’s kick. Your timing will be a little later than the attacker’s kick, but it still has potential for pain or injury because your kick will land when the opponent is least able to provide protection. These kicks can be very effective when delivered to the abdomen, pedestal leg hip joint, pedestal leg knee, or face. If you are kicking to the lower extremities then a shovel kick can be particularly destructive when delivered to the knee of the pedestal leg.
And of course you can escape to the ear or face side and ignore the opponent’s kick altogether. This relegates the kick to little more than ancient history. You are now standing directly in front of someone who is positioned oddly, has few defensive options, and has numerous vulnerable targets at your disposal.
Moving for Kick Defenses
How do you know which way to move? Sometimes you can tell by the initial movement of your opponent’s head and shoulders which side of their body will be used to attack and the general nature of that attack. But an experienced practitioner will often try to fool you (quite successfully sometimes). So, in reality you may not know what type of kick will be delivered, from which leg it will come, or even if a kick is forthcoming at all. Your best strategy is to move. If you stand where you are then your opponent will use their Optimal Structure to deliver a kick with maximum power at their intended target. That can only be classified as not so good. Any escaping movement, rotation of center (to take away the attacker’s planned strike zone), Uke, stance transition, or Kiai may lessen the severity of the impact. So to answer the question, almost any way that you move is the proper way to move (there can be some obvious exceptions, e.g. don’t move to place your head directly in front of the oncoming kick).
Your attacker has computed the best method for kick delivery based upon your expected position. If you are somewhere other than the expected position then the kick will be less effective than planned. So the root of all good kicking defenses is to move. The exact nature of the movement is secondary to not remaining in the target zone. With practice you will come to favor specific types of movement. Over time you will find other methods that you prefer and will adopt those. So in this way your skills and options will increase over time. But to be successful they will all involve moving as an essential element of each defensive method. When you see a kick, the first thing in your mind should be “move.”
In your next belt you will study other blocking strategies that use your feet or legs. When you study those skills think back to this page to envision different ways in which these new blocks might be used for each type of kick defense outlined above.
What we have presented above is a small sample of the methods you will eventually learn about kick defenses. Eventually you will come to appreciate that defending against a kick is no different than defending against any other striking method. You ignore the strike and move on to your next planned task.