do we Taekwon-Do stylists bother training in high kicks/jump
kicks/spin kicks/impractical kicks, if we are then told not to use
them in a street self defence situation?”
Whenever we view TKD demonstrated on TV,
films, demo’s etc. we see flashy high section kicking, jumping/flying
kicks & spinning kicks performed. These show great skill, grace,
balance & artistic beauty. TKD is marketed as the dynamic kicking Art
& no other fighting style has as many amazing kicking techniques as
this unique Korean fighting system.
Why is it then, that when we practice
practical fighting/self defence skills,
we are told not to use these techniques, or to kick to low section
targets? Isn’t this somewhat contradictory & confusing for students?
After conducting a self-defence drill in
one of my classes, which placed the students under pressure, a great
many students reverted to attempting to use kicks to get themselves
out of trouble & this succeeded in putting themselves into more
vulnerable positions (most ended up with their legs being grabbed &
pushed/pulled off balance). Even when instructed to stop trying to
kick high section & to use more practical defences that suited the
different attack types that they were randomly subjected to, they
still reverted back to the high kicking. As an observer & experienced
instructor it is easy to come to the conclusion that most of these
students would have been “taken apart” on the streets.
What follows is an examination of these
types of techniques & how to apply them in the real world; at the end
of the day, there is a place for these techniques, but they need to be
applied in the correct manner. You should draw your own conclusions,
based on your personal experiences (& be honest with yourself) & the
facts supplied below, to whether you should use high kicks as a
Many techniques in today’s syllabus are
sports orientated & specifically originated from American “points
sparring”, developed in the 1970’s (these were adapted from the high
kicking Korean & Chinese systems that were flourishing at that time).
The Korean systems were themselves
influenced by the Northern Shaolin Kung Fu styles, which used a lot of
kicking techniques as opposed to the Southern styles that used more
hand techniques. This was due to the more mountainous regions where
these Arts were developed; the peoples of these areas had stronger
legs than their Southern counterparts, due to the riding of horses or
climbing when they had to travel (the Southerners used the rivers more
& the punting of barges developed strong upper bodies). The Koreans
had developed Taek-Kyon, which had refined & evolved the kicking
techniques further. This development led to the basis of Taekwon-Do &
the reason why so many kicking techniques are incorporated into our
The flying kicks used today were
traditionally used to knock an opponent from horseback to enable them
to be fought on foot. The original Okinawan & Japanese Karate systems
are noticeably different to the Korean styles, in that high section
kicks did not exist. When a head kick was performed, the old master’s
would strike the opponents in such a way that the attackers head would
be brought down towards the ground, before a head kick was carried out
(i.e: to low or mid section).
Traditionally, there were few kicking
techniques, even in the Korean styles. Front, side, back, roundhouse &
crescent kicks, stamping techniques & front sweeps & spinning sweeps,
are some examples. But, even these were different than today’s modern
kicks. Front kicks were performed to the front, side kicks directed to
an attacker approaching from the side & back kicks to an opponent who
was attacking from the rear. It was a relatively modern invention that
has incorporated the twist (& spins) into the techniques that, for
example, sees us performing a “side kick” to the front.
It is important to remember that certain
techniques are for specific target areas. Techniques such as
bituro chagi (twisting kick) are seen in sparring, demo’s (linework
& breaking), patterns etc. to varying heights, but were originally
devised to strike the pressure points on the inside of the knees.
“Points”/”flicky” (semi-contact) sparring
techniques have absolutely no value whatsoever & a waste of time
in relation to self-defence.
Competition sparring & it’s associated techniques & tactics are a
completely different animal to self-defence skills & this should be
remembered. Self-defence requires a completely different mindset. This
is not to say competition sparring has no value, it does. It offers
the student the chance to improve their cardio-vascular fitness,
flexibility, to compete in a safe environment & have fun. It does get
the adrenaline going & conditions the student to dealing with
confrontations & a certain amount of contact, which serves a purpose
regarding real self-defence scenarios.
BUT IT IS A SPORT.
One drawback regarding training in
(controlled or “pulled”) sports orientated techniques is; if you are
not careful & don’t train for realism, then you will naturally react
the way you train when put under pressure for real & only then will
you find your techniques to be ineffective.
Many martial artists have fallen into
this trap of using sport TKD under pressure & have suffered as a
result. For this reason martial arts has lost a lot of “cred” on the
streets as a realistic form of defence. In addition to instructors
teaching sport martial arts under the label of self-defence, a large
number of martial art manuals picturing unrealistic self-defence
techniques have helped to spread a lot of misinformation.
Despite this, traditional martial arts &
kicking techniques DO have their place in self-defence & combat
situations. Documentation has recorded feats of Korean martial arts on
the battlefield. During the 3 Kingdoms period, Circa 7th
Century AD, when Silla was striving to unify the country, many
accounts of Hwarang warriors using empty-hand techniques to defeat
their enemies were recorded. Some of these stories may have been
embellished & distorted through time, but enough accounts were kept to
believe that at least some of these were true.
In the Vietnam War of the 1960’s & 70’s,
a Korean unit called the “Black Tiger” Division had such a fiercesome
reputation that the Viet-Cong would actively avoid entering into
combat against them. All the Black Tiger Division soldiers were
trained in (close-combat) martial arts, both in weapons & empty-hand
skills. One documentary that I have seen was an interview with a Black
Tiger veteran who recalled a situation where he had to kill a VC with
his bare hands in the jungle. This elite division still exists & all
members of this combat unit are martial arts experts & additional to
this, the general infantryman in the Korean army is schooled in the
Historically, gunpowder spelt the end for
the MA’s on the battlefield but, as noted above, the Black Tigers have
utilised empty-hand arts in the jungles of Vietnam. These were applied
when situations dictated it was necessary, for example; when weapons
jammed in the close conditions of the jungle etc.
Whenever I teach practical self-defence
skills, I normally teach to kick below the belt (to the knees, groin,
shins, thighs, ankles etc.) to make the kicking techniques most
effective; because this is going to be more practical for the
majority of students.
The trouble with high kicks when used for
self-defence is that they expose the groin & leave you off-balance &
vulnerable to having your leg being grabbed or to takedowns, sweeps &
the danger of missing & leaving you exposed. However, IF done with
commitment, full power & in the right situation
(i.e: If all factors are in your favour. This includes; positioning,
distancing & environmental conditions –such as, wet grass, ice, beer
on a dance-floor etc.) then a good practitioner could carry it
Tips for successful
kicking in self-defence
Use your rear leg for power & execute
your kicks with speed (including the retraction phase of the kick to
prevent grabbing). Kicking to the “open” side of the body allows more
targets to be accessible. Kihap/shout –it may induce an “adrenal dump”
in your attacker & they may loose their nerve & run.
Try to disguise your actions/intentions
–use large hand movements &/or vocal distractions –or throw an object
(keys, coins, gravel, drinks, sand etc.) into the face of the attacker
as a set-up.
Commit yourself into the technique –let
the “red mist” come down (but remain in control of your actions). Hit
the target & drill the technique in. Aim to cause maximum impact
damage. Do not aim for small targets; with the adrenaline flowing, you
may miss. You can’t afford finesse under pressure; instead go for
large target areas.
If an attacker is closing a gap to
initiate an attack, keep your cool (breathe deeply) & get your timing
right. Don’t fire off too early.
Remember, crowded conditions may not let
you use kicks (use knees, low/short range kicks, elbows etc.).
Jumping kicks are to cover
distance/height; not normally for one on one encounters. Keep your
feet on the floor. Do not use “sparring type” kicks at all.
Once contact has been made (or even if
the kick fails) instantly follow up with hands/elbows/head or a
control technique (lock/choke etc.). Only follow up with another kick
if distancing/positioning allows you to do this safely.
This is a final important note:
As a martial artist, you have a great
responsibility to use your skills wisely & with restraint. If you can
avoid a situation without it becoming physical then do your utmost to
When performed correctly & with power,
the kicking techniques of Taekwon-Do can be devastating; kicking to
the head can fracture the skull, cause haemorrhaging (leading to
unconsciousness & death), strikes to the body can easily break ribs &
cause major damage to the internal organs.
For these reasons you must justify to
yourself, & a court of Law if necessary, that a full power strike was
required to enable you to defend yourself –in a split second, you need
to assess the threat & ask yourself –would a disabling kick to the
legs, or a control technique, be more of an acceptable response given
It is a very hard
call to make, especially when the adrenalin is flowing & you haven’t
time to think…just time to react. But, ultimately, the only one who
can make that decision is you.