Axe Kick - A Risky Taekwondo Sparring Technique

I don't like the use of the axe kick in sportive Taekwondo sparring.

Videos referenced from Taekwondo Animals

The problem with the axe kick is that it has to be brought all the way up, and then dropped a little way in order to hit the opponent somewhere in the head/neck or shoulder region. Wouldn't it be easier kicking the opponent somewhere lower down on the body? It would certainly expend less energy. And look at how much of your body is exposed. This seems to be an overly a risky technique with a poor return on invested effort.

I once had a visiting black belt who used this particular axe kick frequently in sparring. None of our students could understand why - since it wasn't really hitting them. When I pulled her aside she said the kick was to knock someone out. So I told her to perform the kick, and I lunged in and took the downward falling axe kick right on my forehead - full force. Then looked her in the eye and said there's a problem with this kick. The problem is that there are only certain situations where it'll work really well - and most times an opponent who is positioned to strike you will not be in those 'certain situations.' 

The counter proposed in the above video is to create distance and then return fire with a roundhouse kick. Wouldn't it be more logical to jam the rising axe kick? To block it in mid air? Then sweep the leg or perform a high level punch? The person has his leg all the way up and is perched on his support leg. He's not going anywhere!?

The way we practice the axe kick is if the opponent and defender are both grabbing onto a weapon - the kick is aimed at the hand or forearm or elbow or bicep. The impact is intended for mid level, and allows the defender to bring in an alternate weapon when both of his primary weapons are occupied. This strike is leveled at an opponent trying to wrestle a weapon away from defender, and the hope is to crush the bones in his hands or loosen his grip or hyperextend an elbow joint - all extremely 'lucrative' pursuits if you're trying to free a weapon to use against him or other opponents.

Look at the below diagram step 25b to 26 of Bassai, and then step 28a.

Bassai has moves that correlate to Taekwondo Pattern Hwa-rang

Both steps incorporate some leg lift and then a corresponding hand strike. The first move is a leg lift ala Toi Gye's mountain block, and is how we perform Hwa-rang step 24-25. The knee can be leveled against an attackers grab or wrist control or between a tug-of-war with a weapon. The knee strike hits hand or elbow region, loosening the grip, and the lower block comes dome on top of forearm or bicep to destroy the opponent's extremity. Same thing with step 28a - the axe kick makes impact with the opponent's extremity, then you sandwich a part of the opponent between left hand and right elbow. Nowhere do you see the axe kick performed as the finishing blow (ala the sparring video above).

Where I think this sportive axe kick might work would be for an opponent losing his balance or backpedaling. Or if he's performing a spinning technique and you are sure that spinning technique is going to go awry. Having that head and neck exposed means you can deliver the downward falling payload full force with less chance of retaliation.

The following video shows how an Axe kick can be applied at short range to compliment solid self defence skills requiring coverage, counters, or takedowns. Hope you enjoy.


Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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Ørjan said…
Great post Colin. I like the axe kick in an olympic sparring session. You write a lot of good ideas of how to cope with the axe kick like sweep the leg (kobra kai inspired?), etc, but most of your suggestions are illegal in an olympic sparring setting. The thing is that axe kick can work very well in an olympic sparring setting but you will almost never have any use for it outside that setting.

As for knock out potential one of my teachers used to knock out people on the competitions in northern Europe so often in the early 80s that he became very well known if not famous for the technique. He is 2 meters tall (or slightly below 2 meters) so he does have range and height benifits that helps with that particular kick. For us merely mortal men the axe kick is great for increasing distance and to gather points (head shots are worth more).

In self defense it can be used in conjunction with arm/wrist locks that make the opponent bend forward, backwards, but I would not reccomend its use here either. We use this in demos and such to show that the kick can be used eventhough it looks unusable.

In Korean Karate by Son Duk Sung and Robert Clark the axe kick is described as a sort of dynamic stretching (before the term dynamic stretching was viewed as something important). They write that the axe kick should be practised every session eventhough its application in sparring is very limited because it really helps all front kicks.
Anonymous said…
Hi, I beg to differ. Andy Hug is a pretty famous fighter that has put the axe kick to phenomenal use. It`s almost even considered his signature technique.

Most of the successful applications in the video belong to Andy, and I believe that the reason the axe kick is relatively ineffective in most Sport TKD is because the kicker directs the kick forward, and as a result, most of the force is forward rather than downward.
Andy`s axe kicks have visibly more downward force, whereas the TKD practitioners tend to launch themselves forward much more, leading to a 45 degree downward kick.

This difference in force direction is due to the difference in kick methodology, I believe, as the sports TKD fighters use it more aggressively, rather than more defensively as Andy does.

But definitely as you said, it is a very high effort kick where there are waay more lower effort and lower risk kicks available.
Colin Wee said…
Hey Anonymous, I totally understand what you're saying, but I'll introduce another perspective - as a kicker and as an instructor. It is this - over the last 20 years of my dealing with students, I rarely see those who are as phenomenal as Andy Hug. My job, while I hate to put it this way, is for all my student practitioners to be able to serve up 'happy meals'. If there's talent there, hey, all the better for me ... and of course I hope I'll be able to raise them up to where their talent can take them. :-) Cheers, Colin
Colin Wee said…
Ørjan, I think highly risky tactics can be put to brilliant use in a controlled situation - like sparring or competition. There's no dishonour in enjoying a brilliantly placed axe kick, or hook kick, or spinning back thrust. Many of these risk techniques give an unfair advantage as they do not telegraphic like other staple kicks. As an aside, you can probably guess I know nuts about Olympic rules. I don't think groin strikes or our chokes would be welcomed in that arena. As for front kicks, I think the best way to help a front kick is to grab onto the opponent so I can sink the ball of my foot sonewhere where the opponent doesn't want it. :-) Cheers, Colin
I'm with you on the axe kick. I'm only 5'9'', so many of my opponents aren't short enough for me to take advantage of that technique. And any move that places my groin in the open like that isn't something I would use too much, even in sparring.

Colin Wee said…
Only 5'9"! If only I was a little taller like that! :-) Hahahahha ...

Stuart said…
"Only 5'9"! If only I was a little taller like that! :-) Hahahahha ..."
I second that motion.

Also I land axes on taller people than myself regularly enough, its more about flexibility and timing than height, within reason.

In my experience the kick should nearly always be set up in either a left front kick / right inwards axe kick combination or fired from very close range after successfully engaging with hands (not Olympic style, its vital that you are punching to the head).

If you are throwing high kicks real world fight, you are probably not taking the fight too seriously.
Colin Wee said…
"In my experience the kick should nearly always be set up in either a left front kick / right inwards axe kick combination or fired from very close range after successfully engaging with hands"

I think I remember seeing a very old picture of Bruce Lee throwing an axe kick at close range. I'm sure his timing would have been very good.

My old master said that the axe kick was one of his favourites. I remember him saying he put several koreans in hospital with it! Lol. Anyway, he also preferred it (and taught it to us) as a tightly wound chambered lift - with body expansion happening whilst the leg comes down.

Anonymous said…
Is there a difference between an axe kick and a rising kick?
Anonymous said…
I've was taught and have seen an axe kick launched as the second half of a disguised round house kick which lures the opponent in (thinking for a quick strike after the round house) then the lateral heel is pushed into the crease of the nose as the opponent moves forward. The result was a half a nose that literally got torn off the opponent's face. It probably depends on the height and speed of your opponent versus your own and spacing. In real world fight, I probably would not use it though.

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