Calibrating the Side Kick

A majority of the Karate side kicks I have seen are what Taekwondo-ists call side snap kicks. These are great for practitioners who are as comfortable striking fairly deadly blows with their hands, and use their kicks in complement to their upper body weapons... or when their upper body weapons are occupied. Side snap kicks angle the body close to the kicking leg so that there is triangulation - a method to help engage the upper body to re-engage the opponent once the kick hits or misses.

In many Taekwondo schools, however you see a propensity to use the foot as the primary weapon --- or as a substitute weapon. Not to say that there are no short range kicks. But kicks are practiced and valued highly for their ability to hit the mid to long range target.

The sliding or stepping side kick (or the penetrating side kick) is a tremendous tool. Generally the exercise starts with kicking leg closer to the target. The back foot steps behind the kicking leg, with heel pointing more or less toward the target and then the knee is brought up (like for a front kick) and then piston-ed out to the target. The body is not triangulated like the Japanese or traditional yoko-geri side kick, mostly the body is aligned to the kick and together generates immense power over the distance covered.

We were practicing this sliding side kick today, and I'd like to discuss some ways to troubleshoot this weapon. Upon impact to the target:

1. If the large toe and the second or third toe is raised - you have stepped up to the target at an angle. Meaning instead of going to the target straight on, you have tended to stray toward the side of the front foot (so if your right foot is forward, you have stepped diagonally to your right). Sometimes the target shows you this by rotating around the person holding the striking pad.

2. If all your toes are raise, but your heel is still on the floor - you have not stepped and covered enough distance and have over stretched your reach.

3. If your toes are bunched up, your heel lightly lifts off the floor - this is when you have stepped either too far to the target OR you have not 'engaged' your COG over your support leg. The resultant is that you strike the target lightly and then you fall away from the target - a major problem for many beginners.

4. Your foot is flat on the floor, but you stumble forward (if your right foot is forward, you stumble to your left) after you kick - this is when you have probably leaned too far and triangulated yourself like the shotokan or karate side kick yet are trying to do a sliding side kick. In the end you trip up yourself.

5. Your heel is directly in line with the target but you spin when you try to 'recoil' your kicking leg - this is when you have not kept enough core body tension OR if you have tried to rotate your body too hard whilst doing the kick.

The best side kicks are done visualising your upper body as a bullet train that is set for the target. The kicking leg is picked up off the ground and rotates or corkscrews into the target through the second half of the kick. The basic premise of the side kick as taught to beginners (to pick up the knee and then shoot the leg straight into the target) is fine but does not allow for higher-level sparring skills to be integrated into this fine kick.

For shorter range targets (like for those in a CQ or self defence situation), the knee is not picked up off the ground, but stays close to the support knee. The heel of the kicking leg is picked off the ground, pointed to the desired target then pistoned upwards into the opponent - that's the side thrust kick. But that's another kick altogether.

taekwondo side kick defence and timing
Won-hyo: Deflection of Side Kick
Private Lessons: Toes, Turns and Twists
Snap, Cracle, Pop Go My Hips.
Won Hyo by DOnuts
The Story of Won Hyo
Tekki: Low Side Kick to Knee (More Troubleshooting)
Jumping Side Kick
Side kick and Cover
Why Yet Another Set of Side Kicks?
Side Kick in the Air and Landing it on the Bag


Potatoe Fist said…
Fantastic breakdown of the kick. I've been working on mine recently at the behest of my teacher. I was wondering about what you thought the striking point is. I've been instructed to focus on the heel the aim point instead of the blade.
Colin Wee said…
Thanks! You're hot, Potatoe.

What is my opinion of the point of impact?

It depends. If you're using the sidekick as a general unfocused bludgeoning and penetrative tool then either the blade or the heel would serve you equally well.

The blade of the foot is well-suited for kicking the limbs. With the foot blade you get a higher probability of striking the opponent's leg or knee - which in itself is a highly mobile, somewhat unsupported, and smallish target. Ironically, the blade also allows more contact so that an experienced fighter would be able to better control the sidekick, stopping the penetrative force, and not land his sparring partner in the hospital.

The ball of the foot works real well for body shots. Certainly there is little difference between the ball of the foot and the blade in this instance, but I would add that if you explore variations of the sidekick, you can modify a thrusting or penetrative kick to include a snapping element at the end. This speeds up the kick and allows you to increase the amount of force you are applying at a short range (thrusting side kicks typically require more distance to shine). If you are snapping the end motion for the kick like this, I would prefer to strike with the ball of the foot as it 1) corresponds with the foot structure of other snapping kicks (like the roundhouse), 2) it increases the distance the foot can travel in space, and 3) it uses the accuracy of the snapping motion and marries it with a smallish point of impact.

In general, I would say if you chamber the knee high, I would recommend hitting with the blade of the foot. If you chamber the knee to the support leg and mule kick the side kick angling upwards, then you'd be probably hitting with the heel. Lastly, if you are choosing a different flightpath for the side kick, you may opt to go for a heel-centred kick to take advantage of the straightening of the knee or the swinging motion and adding that little juice in the end.

supergroup7 said…
"....visualising your upper body as a bullet train that is set for the target."

I LOVE this analogy! It apply describes the feeling/impression that I get when executing kicks/strikes. AWESOME post Colin. Lots for me to look at and think of. THANKS.
Potatoe Fist said…
I've obviously got work with this kick a lot more to pull the nuiances out of it.

Can you eloborate on the snap? Kicks like the roundhouse and crescents seem to naturally present a place for the hip to "cock" and therefore lead to a natural snap. I don't really see it in the side kick...
Colin Wee said…
No. The non-karate side thrust kick doesn't typically show a snapping opportunity.

I developed the kick for myself when I was suffering from a severe bout of joint inflammation/arthritis. The roundhouse motion was a killer for the left hip. THe only kicks were the front kick and the humble side kick.

The humble side kick however, doesn't strike the bag with aplomb when you're nursing a bad hip. So I thought to add a little english to it. Rather than chambering it in front, I made sure that the flight path came directly out from the side. I also kept the end 'tackle' loose and slightly bent. This meant that at the right distance, I could deploy a side kick yet add more speed using a very small extending snap with the knee.

NB - I wouldn't necessarily use this as a demonstration of a proper side kick for a grading. :-)

MARKS said…
Great article in breaking down the fundamentals of the kick. Its a shame that not many people tend to employ the side kick to the extent that it should be. Its one of the most powerful kick in martial arts.
Colin Wee said…
People tend not to use it because most rely on faster kicks like the front kick and the roundhouse kick. But yes, it has no parallel ... the side kick is a devastating strike and a worthy tool for combat and self defence. Colin

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