Taekwondo Side Kick of Won-hyo

Taekwondo Side Kick of Won-hyo

The Taekwondo Side Kick is the second kicking technique, and appears in Traditional Taekwondo in pattern Won-hyo. The side kick or yop chagi is called yoko geri in Japanese. If the front kick is a kick known for its ease and speed, the Traditional Taekwondo side kick should be known for its power and penetration. One of my martial arts instructors said that the side kick is the most difficult to perform of all the 'non-gimmicky' kicks.

There is more than one side kick in Taekwondo's Won-hyo

There are two side kicks that appear in Won-hyo Hyung! It's the same technique, but it is seen applied in two different ways in Won-hyo. One kick requires you to take a step back and prompts you to think about it as a defensively applied side kick in response to an opponent's attack. The second one is an offensive penetrative side kick going forward.

The kick from won-hyo we practiced just before this post was a basic side-on side kick. We stood the students facing 135 degrees away from the target (pointing bodies to 8 0'clock or 5 O'clock), raising their knees at about 90 degrees away from the target and then firing the blade of the foot at their targets. We started with the motion in the air, then progressed to working with an opponent (holding hands for stability), and then worked on the kick shield.

You can view the video above for a general distinction between the various basic side kicks.

Maintaining dynamic balance with the side kick

COG for the side kick has to be between the support foot and the target, and should tend towards the striking area. Not to do so is a mistake a lot of beginners or non-kickers make. The mistake is to attempt to hold the foot up in order to replicate such techniques as seen in movies. Such 'posed' side kicks or those that swing the heavy bag over a great distance look great in the air but rarely do much of the damage that side kicks are capable of.

Also as the the foot is pistoned towards the target, it corkscrews - rotating the toes downward to the ground. This rotational move is why your hip needs to be turned away from the target - so that the support leg and push the hip to support the kicking leg. As your kicking leg is extended, there will be vertical rotation in the hip's axis - so that the kicker's hips and gluteus maximus moves toward the target area. (If you have problems with your side kick, you should look at my post Calibrating the Side Kick.)

Maintaining control means not locking out the legs while doing the side kick

Another critical success factor for the taekwondo side kick is to remain a level movement whilst kicking or drop the support leg lower (allowing the knee to maintain some bend). Standing up or tensing the shoulder muscles whilst kicking AND straightening the support leg reduces maneuverability, and doesn't allow for dynamic support. The kicking leg goes forward, and thus the support leg has to push in the opposite direction to equalise vector forces.

Which part of the foot to use for the side kick?

Blade or heel of the foot? I didn't stress much on this last night. Typically I kick with the blade of the foot, focusing the impact area closer to the heel. This allows the striking force to travel up the leg, rather than be absorbed by the ankle.

General Side Kick Acceleration

Many people look to making that heavy bag move as far as possible. Wow, I extend the impact area and push that bag to make it fly. But this kind of kick does nothing for transmitting power into the impact zone. Nowadays I add little more 'snap' in the leg extension - so the lower leg travels faster. The power is 'delivered' over a shorter distance just 2-3 inches beyond the area of impact. This delivers the kinetic chain, saves your joints from stress, and allows you to return to a tactical stance faster.

Targeting the Opponent with the Side Kick

The side kick is 'punched' out from the hip to the opponent in a straight line. If we are not discussing tactical advantage, the best way to launch this kick is when it is fired parallel to the ground. This achieves the longest reach and allows the kicker to generate a good amount of power. This is counter intuitive for Taekwondo practitioners - raising the side kick reduces its power, decreases it's reach, and opens your groin up for counters. Tactically it is most sound to raise the knee to chamber but fire the kick downward to the thigh or knee or even apply it as a foot stomp to the shin or instep.

For a comparison of the basic side kick, check out Taekwondo Side Kick: Yul-guk v Won-hyo. The post compares the side kick as it is introduced in Won-hyo and later how it is practiced in Yul-guk. The following video compares this side kick from Won-hyo to a thrusting side kick - a variant we practice for close quarter encounters.


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Mir said…
Why is it that so many beginner students, (Including myself a few years ago), have a side kick that resembles a mutated roundhouse? Where is the movement going wrong?
Colin Wee said…
Karate side kicks or 'side snap kicks' are linked directly to the philosophy of karate towards kicking - in that kicks support deadly hand techniques. Meaning I would rather do a shuto and knock this guy's head off first. If I get my hands entangled, I'll kick him. Or if someone comes at me at the same time I'll kick him.

Most TKD practitioners see the kicks first. I'll kick him here then gap close then maybe kick him some more. And oh yeah maybe I'll try not to forget I can punch him.

In line with Karate's mindset, deep stances mean you can't afford to vertically rotate the hip and launch a long range kick and then drop back down again to strike with the hands. COG recovery is key and therefore it is all waist high or below kicks.

With the side kick I described, the hip is rotated away from the target, and vertically rotated so that your butt sticks toward the opponent. It opens up the groin, gets your COG thrown at your opponent. Your side kicks (the ones like roundhouse kicks) have COG floating very near your original COG. The motion is like a roundhouse and you kick with the blade of the foot. It's very fast, good for knee strikes, but doesn't have much range. This is not wrong. It's just a variation. Check out the chinese side kick with toes above the heel ... how funky is that?!

Colin Wee said…
Why is it that so many beginner students, (Including myself a few years ago), have a side kick that resembles a mutated roundhouse?

Another explanation is that it is far easier to use the abdominal obliques and quads to raise the leg. As opposed to the muscles on the side of the leg and their gluts to control the trajectory of the kick. Check out the following image...


Colin Wee said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
TWD1993man said…
Stretches are important to kicking high, but the stretches i have been doing only tense my legs up, what kind of stretches work on opening the hips and stretching the hamstring? And how often should these stretches be done?
Colin Wee said…
"Stretches are important to kicking high, but the stretches i have been doing only tense my legs up, what kind of stretches work on opening the hips and stretching the hamstring? And how often should these stretches be done?"

Research shows that stretches - which don't stretch muscle but ligaments and tendons need to be done for muscles that are warmed up first. Stretching cold muscles mean microtears may form on the muscles and ligaments - which injure you unnnecessarily and which may be detrimental to your flexibility in the long term.

In my class, we go for a short jog before we start class. This helps warm the muscles up. Our warm ups are also designed to do just that - total body warm ups while progressively working towards light to moderate stretches. Any heavy duty stretching is only done at the end of the warm up period when the body is ready.

There are two major types of stretches, if I'm correct. Static stretches are when you stretch slowly and try to lengthen the muscles. Dynamic stretches are when you're moving the limbs of the body - sometimes degenerating into 'bouncing' type 'traditional' stretching, which is not very good.

You may get a great deal of ideas if you look through Yoga postures and include a whole body routine for yourself.

You may also want to research how to stretch - there's research to show you should tense the muscle at full stretch for some time and then relax and achieve a new maximum.

As a side note, against popular belief, you don't have to be able to achieve a full split to kick high. HIgh kicks can be done even if you're one foot away from the ground in a side split. Not everyone should or must aim towards doing vertical kicks. Some parts of the population just shouldn't rush verticla kicks.

Last thing - relaxedness is the key to great kicks. Tension and timing are the keys to applying power. You should make sure you understand the interplay beteween these three factors.

Hope this helps.

Jeremy said…
Ahhhh! The mutated roundhouse! I like that. That is something that 95% of beginners do - it is so common. We tried to remedy the situation by not teaching the roundhouse until students achieved their second rank. This seemed to help - our white belts had great side kicks. Unfortunately, as soon as they were taught roundhouse, their sidekicks suffered.

I've found that shouting certain key phrases during drills help students work on their sidekick delivery such as:

(a) Push the door open!

(b) Reach with your heel!

(c) Tight Chamber!

(a) When teaching the side kick, I'll demonstrate by placing myself about a half step back from a closed door. If you chamber correctly (c), your knee should not hit the door and you should be able to push the door open.

(b) The second problem is reaching with the toes and not the heels. When students stop focusing on their foot position, natural tendencies take over and their feet instinctively extend the toes to gain maximum reach. I constantly remind the students to "reach with the heel".

It's an on going process and I tell the students if they dedicate themselves to focus on foot position now, muscle memory will take over later.

Jeremy - 3rd Dan Instructor
Colin Wee said…
Jeremy - thanks for the response and welcome on board.

I think the problem with beginners is often we are trying to teach them physical skills too fast for their mental skills to catch up. Meaning they have so much to figure out from culture of the dojo to coordination to tiredness to deciding how to flip that leg out.

I'm really impressed that you teach the side kick before the roundhouse. This is how I do it because that's the way the kicks appear in the forms we teach. As for my students I hold back on kicks for longer so that they see it performed by other practitioners, build up their flexibility and muscles, and figure out what is expected of them before they embark on kicks.

But the force feedback is so important to understand what is a side kick as opposed to a roundhouse kick for the student kicking air. This is one time that any training aid is better than no training aid, and should be used generously during practice.

What do you do, Jeremy?

Jeremy said…
I definitely believe the kicking shield is an invaluable tool for showing kids the difference between how to use a side kick and how to use a front kick.

One advantage I have is our taekwondo basics program. It's a 12-class (once a week) program that all kids under 12 are required to take before they can sign up for traditional classes. It's a low cost way for kids to try out it before committing to joining the traditional class and getting a uniform.

The basics class covers all the basic stances, punches, blocks and kicks that are learned at the white belt level. The learn front kick, side kick, axe kick, roundhouse and back kick. However, we do not teach the kids to pivot at this point. Side kicks and back kicks are done from chun-bi "ready stance" with hands up in the guard position. Side kicks are done side to side and back kicks are done looking over there shoulder kicking straight back.

Roundhouse kicks are done from an L-Stance but with both feet pointed in the same direction (sideways). The kids kick with their front leg so that their leg and foot are already in the roundhouse position and they can just work on the chamber and slapping motion.

I've found that this intro really helps later on when I begin to teach the students to pivot and kick.
Colin Wee said…
That is a fantastic approach, Jeremy!

I don't teach children at present, though am biding my time as I see a lot of very cool children-oriented teaching approaches - some from Montessori and some from Suzuki violin classes. I'm fortunate to come into contact with some very adept early childhood teachers and am brewing up a martial arts program for children.

I would hesitate to say that I would teach fewer techniques to children - in following the suzuki method. But drilling them in different variations in order to make sure they get it. I also tend to think that parents should get involved in training their children. I have seen amazing progress for my son who started violin when he was 3 - and now can play close to 20 songs (he's 7), can listen to music and replicate it on his violin, and is just a joy to listen to.

Check out the next post I'll make on my blog.


Anonymous said…
To Supergroup

The reason that most side kick resembles a "mutated" roundhouse(also know a a turning kick" is because the ground foot(the one on the ground) is not fully rotated. This is normally the main cause. If this happened it does not allow the hips to fully 'open'. I know that this is not the only reson but it is the main.
Total Aer said…
The side kick is definitely the hardest. I am a green belt in Taekwondo, and I am still having difficulty in turning foot to the correct position.
Colin Wee said…
Turning foot to the right position.

Yeah - some schools are really very pedantic about angles and body position. I usually try to explain larger body dynamics and power generation concepts. Focusing on minute angles and foot positions are not the best things for beginners to dwell on.

My suggestion is for you to work off with a training partner and find yourself a mirror to train in front of. Also reduce the power you're using whilst working with the kick. Using too much power makes it hard to feel the body and to make small adjustments to the side kick.

Keep training!


TaekwonPro said…
The sidekick is definitely my favourite kick.

A stepping offensive sidekick is great, especially if you have the flexibility to reach the head.

Thank you for this post, Mr. Wee!
Colin Wee said…
Thanks, TaekwondoPro. Where I come from, there are some very sneaky people who like to sneak low front or roundhouse kicks .. worst still, backkicks into your nuts if you do a sidekick too high. So, for the sake of self-preservation, I've always kept sidekicks more or less level. :-)
Colin Wee said…
I've just added a short video of us discussing a side kick v a side thrusting kick. Cheers, Colin
Greg Le said…
Wow great footage and videos of the meeting between these two legends. I didn't know these existed until now.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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