Friday 11 December 2020


Funakoshi Gichin Sensei demonstrating a 'high kick' in his later years.

Low kicks, generally speaking, are the best kicks. There are many reasons for this, but the obvious ones are as follows:


1. They are faster as they have less distance to travel.

2. They are harder for the opponent to see due to their angle of attack and less telegraphing.

3. It’s easier to 'hit harder' with them.

4. They are more balanced and less dangerous to lose balance or be caught.

5. It’s faster to follow up, from a more solid grounded position, as the recovery is quicker.

6. They can open up the opponents face/head for attack. Especially in full contact/actual fighting, a powerful low blow (at least momentarily) draws the mind downward/to the lower body.


One could certainly name more things but, rather make an exhaustive list, I’d like to focus on just one point: “the hips are close to the legs, just as the shoulders are close to the head”. Consider this, from another angle. Why are high kicks popular in movies? The answer to this question is primarily twofold: they look spectacular on film: as they are big dynamic actions, which is consistent with all other 'cinematic dramatizations'. Secondly, they are strange. What I mean by this is that, in real life;— that is, in real fighting, they are not the norm. This also appeals to the entertainment industry.


A fist, open hand, elbow, shoulder or strike with one’s forehead are all better options than 'kicking high' (generally speaking): in a ‘stand up’ scenario (that is, when those who are fighting are both/all on their feet).


Of course, for those with tremendous flexibility and leg strength, and/or a tremendous height advantage, a high kick may well be devastating. However, even when taking these variables into account—generally speaking—'the low kick is still the better choice'. Especially when it is "...immediately followed by attacks with weapons closer to the head" (i.e. – the aforementioned tsuki and uchiwaza).


I personally practice and teach high kicks, but the focus is—the depth of the kick: rather than the height. I emphasize ‘aiming through the target’. In this way, high kicking becomes a training tool for achieving this; nevertheless, it is still not 'totally necessary'. The main point is to develop effective low kicks.


I’m not sure if this is true, but I heard here in Japan that Funakoshi Gichin Sensei taught that the suigetsu (solar plexus) of the opponent was his definition of a ‘high kick’. This may well be because of his extremely small stature; however, looking at the karate of Okinawa and we can see that this is the norm.


The most obvious targets of low kicks include the opponents testicles, knees, shins, feet, ankles inner, and outer thighs… basically anywhere low… Thrust kicking, snap kicks, swinging kicks, turning kicks, jumping kicks, kicking from the ground/floor, kneeing, and stamping kicks can all be applied.


Certainly, a kick that is common in full contact competition is the gedan mawashi-geri, which utilizes ‘sune’—the shinbone to impact on the hamstrings and/or quadriceps of the opponent. This waza is great for all the previously mentioned reasons. That being said, one thing not mentioned is it’s capacity to function in an axing manner by rolling over the hip and putting one’s weight onto/over the striking leg. The fighter can use this technique whilst maintaining a solid guard.


In Shotokan, for the most part, this waza is not permitted in competition; hence unfortunately, it is very often neglected. This is a mistake that you will need to rectify if you try full contact jiyu kumite training or full contact competition in any form. Even if you do not wish to do full contact " is still absolutely imperative to regularly practice your techniques on the bag, impact mitts, shields, etcetera, with full power/full-contact”. Otherwise, it is literally impossible to develop reliable karate techniques.


Some people have injuries, want to avoid injuries, or lack the flexibility to do high kicks. That’s fine! They are actually 'the least necessary techniques in karate'! Unlike our younger cousin, Tae Kwon Do, you can still do the absolutely best karate in the world without possessing high kicks. However, if you can kick high (and more importantly, 'deeply') you will have a larger arsenal of kicking techniques; moreover, this will benefit your low kicks... But, indeed, only if you practice them also. Please understand, "Low kicks don't automatically develop. They are an art unto themselves!"


By seriously practicing low kicks you will be forced to also train ‘ashi ukewaza’ (reception techniques with your legs). These waza are very useful as they also allow one to keep their guard when defending and/or simultaneously attacking. If you have attended of my seminars, or come to train as a renshusei at my dojo here in Japan, you will know how much I emphasize 'leg defenses'.

Changing subject, it reminds me of a truth from jiyu-kumite. Some karateka rarely practice, say, for example ushiro-geri or mawashi-zuki. I find this when I can keep hitting them arbitrarily, in free sparring, with such techniques. This reminds me of a maxim stated by many of my seniors: “Practice all of the techniques, not so that you master ‘them all’ (which is impossible even for the best karateka); rather, practice them all 'so you understand them' fully”. In this way, you will be forced to develop effective defenses and not be blindsided by an unforeseen attack.


This highlights that if we don’t practice the full range of unarmed budo/bujutsu techniques, they will become weakness in our defense. Accordingly, practice all and master the few: which best suit you (for maximizing your capacity in the event of needing to protect yourself or others). Indeed, this general training and specialization applies to kata training as well!


Keeping these points in mind and returning to low kicks, it is important to state that ‘as far as leg techniques are concerned’—in budo/bujutsu karate—“…leg kicks, and low kicks in general, are very high on the agenda”. I hope that this article finds you and yours well. OSU!!!

Time to wrap up the article with another 'high kick'. :-)

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

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