Taekwondo: Foot Intercepts Fist:
The Dynamics of the Defensive Kick
By Scott Shaw
This article originally appeared in the July 1994 issue of the magazine, Masters & Styles.
An enraged attacker is stepping up to throw a wild punch at you in a street altercation. Instead of intercepting the punch in the traditional manner, with a forearm block, you rapidly front kick him to the shoulder region of his punching arm before he has the chance to fully launch his fist. With this, you have not only foiled his attempt to land a powerful punch to your face, but you have knocked him off balance, as well.
From this position of strategic advantage, you can instantly and effectively launch a powerful counter attack in the form of another kick to your opponent’s exposed body or perhaps a straight punch to his face. Thus, you have become victorious in the confrontation and have utilized minimal energy in doing so.
The martial arts have traditionally taught us that to successfully defend against a punch we must forcefully block it with our arms and then continue forward with further defensive techniques or a counter strike. Though performing arm-to-arm blocks is obviously an effective method of defending against the punch, there is however another viable alternative that not only halts the attack of your opponent but also has the ability of injuring him enough in the process to keep him from attempting to launch a secondary attack at you. That method, as we have just seen, is intercepting a punch with a powerful kicking technique.
Understanding the Dynamics
To begin our understanding of kicking defense against the punch, we can start by viewing the proportion of our leg muscles, compared to that of our arm muscles. Immediately, we notice that our legs possess much muscle mass than do our arms. The legs, therefore, have the potential to deliver a much more powerful strike than that of the arms. Appreciating this, if we consciously develop the legs to be effective tools of punch defense we can use their added strike power in our own protection and become more complete martial artists.
To begin our development of kicking defense against the punch, the first step is we must acquire the ability to anticipate the initial attack of an opponent. The fact is, it is fairly easy to foresee the oncoming punch of your opponent, especially in street altercations. This is due to the fact that a fighter generally, “Sets up,” to launch an attack before they actually do so. The common signs of a punching attack about to begin are: the pulling back of the shoulder before a roundhouse punch is attempted or the lowering of the arm before a straight punch is begun. All of these subtle motions are signs to watch for at the inception of any physical confrontation for they will alert you as to what type of punching attack is about to be launched.
Through partner practice, you can develop the ability to anticipate what type of punching attack will be launched at you simply by becoming very conscious of your training partner’s initial aggressive movements. This type of eye training will aid you in your ability to successfully defend against any oncoming attack in a less than controlled street altercation.
Anticipation training is a fundamental martial art practice and should be entered into in all of your training sessions. As it may, at some point, save your life.
The Kick as a Defensive Tool
Once you have developed the initial eye coordination to defend yourself against the onslaught of a punch, the three basic kicks that are most effective in punch defense are that of the front kick, the side kick, and the roundhouse kick. The key to effectively using any of these kicks in punch defense is to rapidly strike their prescribed individual target zone the moment your opponent begins his punching assault.
The Front Kick
The front kick is the most elemental kick in the martial artist’s arsenal. Though it may be considered the most simplistic, it is no doubt one of the most effective techniques in interrupting the oncoming punch.
The common misconception of the front kick is that it is easily and effectively launched towards an opponent’s groin in any confrontational situation. Though this target may be very effective in various self-defense applications, it is not the sole target that should be focused upon in defending against a punch. The reason one should not direct their front kick only towards the groin region is that kicking an opponent in the groin does nothing to interrupt the motion of his on-coming punch. Even if you do make contact with your opponent’s groin, it will take several seconds for the effect of this strike to be felt by him. In the interim, your opponent’s attempted punch may have already hit you in the face. And, as we all understand, it is never ideal to be struck by an assailant’s punch in a physical confrontation.
With this initial understanding, we must focus our front kick defense at other more debilitating targets; of which there are three:
1. The opponent’s shoulder
2. The opponent’s solar plexus
3. Under the opponent’s jaw
A front kick to any one of these three regions will result in the opponent’s punch being stopped. As well as, by using a kick as your initial defense you may end the confrontation before it ever begins.
Defining the Punch/Defining the Defense
As each type of punch, be it a straight punch or the more common roundhouse punch, has its own characteristics, the type of front kick defense which is most effectively used against the various individual punches will vary. Thus, we must view the elements that make up these punches to come to the conclusion of where the optimal front kick target is located.
When a roundhouse punch is launched at you, it can be easily intercepted by a front kick to your opponent’s shoulder. This front kick should be targeted at his forward shoulder joint. This is where the swing power of a roundhouse punch is launched.
The nature of the roundhouse punch, (the most common punch in a street fight), is that it swings out wide while building momentum as it goes in towards its target; generally the face or the head. As this punch is swung out, the inner shoulder region of your attacker is left wide open as the punch is being executed. Therefore, by delivering a front kick to this location, you immediately interrupt and halt the progress of your opponent’s punch.
By front kicking to your opponent’s shoulder in this fashion, not only do you stop the progress of his punch but you send him back, knocked off balance, as well. As your opponent’s offensive technique has been powerfully interrupted and he is off balance, he is in a prone position to be hit by a successful counter attack. This counter attack ideally takes the form of you continuing forward with your motion, landing your kicking foot down and forcefully straight punching him to his face.
The Solar Plexus
The second optimum strike point for the front kick is to your opponent’s solar plexus. This target, once kicked, intercepts the oncoming roundhouse punch as well as the straight punch; which is sent straight out and forward from the opponent’s body.
The solar plexus are not only a vulnerable and sensitive region on the body but they are also the body’s central balance point. Striking to this location, with a front kick, not only takes less exact targeting than does the shoulder strike, but a well delivered front kick to this location also effortlessly sends your opponent back, possibly to the ground, where an easily applied counter attack can be delivered.
The third and final front kick defensive target against the aggressive punch is the base of your opponent’s jaw. In application, the front kick to this strike point is similar to that of an uppercut punch. This kicking defense is an appropriate defense either against the roundhouse or the straight punch.
The front kick under the jaw is not designed to intercept the punch of an opponent, as were the other two front kick strikes that have been discussed. Instead, due to the force and power of this kick your adversary’s head he will be knocked directly backwards. Thus, his attack will not only be instantly stopped but he may become completely debilitated by this defensive kick. In which case, no further counter strikes will be necessary.
As we have seen, the front kick, as simple as it may be, is no doubt one of the leading methods to immediately intercept and countermand any punching attack an opponent may unleash at you. Furthermore, the front kick being so simplistic in its design, allows it to not only be very powerful in its delivery but very fast in its application, as well. Therefore, due to these two elements it can readily intercept any oncoming punch and easily aid in your victory over any opponent.
Other Kicks as a Defensive Methodology
Though the front kick is obviously one of the key tools in kicking defense against the punch, other kicks such as the side kick or the roundhouse kick can be equally effective. Once again, we must study their make up and proper utilization to make them truly effective in our kicking defense against the punch.
Traditionally, in taekwondo, kicking techniques are launched from the rear leg. This is the case with the front kick, side kick, and roundhouse kick, among others. Though this rear launch is obviously effective and it does aid in the developed momentum and strike power, when such kicks as the side kick or roundhouse kick are launched from the rear leg positioning, they tend to become much slower from their point of inception to making contact with their target. For this reason, when we use the side kick or the roundhouse kick in defense against the punch, it is far better to launch the kick from the front or lead leg.
Launching the Defensive Side Kick
When launching a side or roundhouse kick from the lead leg, the kick is performed in a very similar fashion to that of the traditional rear leg side or roundhouse kick. The front leg is brought up and then powerfully extended in appropriate kicking fashion.
When viewing the front leg side kick, we see that due to its close proximity to the opponent, it can easily, quickly, and effectively be launched into your opponent’s mid section. The key to making this front leg side kick effective as a punch defense; once the kick has reached the stomach region of your opponent, you must then powerfully extend your leg out, virtually to its entire length, thus, driving your opponent away from you leaving him open to a secondary counter attack.
This application of the defensive side kick prevents any punch from reaching you, as the leg is generally much longer than the arm. Furthermore, your opponent will be left in a prone position for you to continue through will additional counter attacks such as a hook kick to his head.
The front launched side kick, as we have seen, is another ideal example of a simple kick that can be put into very effective use in the defense against the oncoming punch. When using it as an initial defense against a punch not only is its target area as large as your opponent’s entire mid section, thereby making it an almost sure hit, but by it’s very design it is a powerful kick with the first strike capabilities of injuring your opponent to the degree that no further counter self-defense may be necessary.
The Defensive Roundhouse Kick
The lead leg roundhouse kick is an equally debilitating defense to the aggressive opponent who attempts a punching attack at you. The speed at which the roundhouse kick is delivered is very important at making it a viable defensive tool. For this reason, (once again), by launching it from the front, lead leg, this not only brings it closer to its target but makes it much faster in making contact with your attacking opponent, as well.
The defensive roundhouse kick is ideally targeted at the opponent’s head. Aiming for any other body position on your adversary would do little to countermand his on-coming punch.
To make the roundhouse kick an effective defensive weapon against the punch, it must be executed from the opposite side of your body, than your opponent is punching from, i.e.; your right leg, to his right punch, and so on. This keeps your kick from become blocked by the in-progress punching arm of your opponent.
The roundhouse kick, due to its circular nature, does not attempt to halt the progress of your adversary’s oncoming punch, as do the two previously described linear kicks. What it does accomplish, however, is to deliver a debilitating blow to the head of your opponent before he has the opportunity to make contact with his punch. Therefore, its delivery must be made very fast.
Understanding the Circular Kick
The roundhouse kick is similar in both application and stopping magnitude to other very powerful advanced circular kicks in the taekwondo arsenal such as the circle crescent kick or the spinning heel kick. When using these kicks as a defensive weapon they are not designed to actually intercept the punch of your opponent but, instead, to beat the punch to its strike point.
Like the roundhouse kick, the circle crescent kick is aimed at your opponent’s head and is made effective by utilizing your right leg to your opponent’s left arm punch or vice versa. In this way it is not inadvertently blocked.
The defensive circle crescent kick is designed to strike your opponent with the outside of your foot. This kick's power is developed by bringing you kicking leg in across your body and then snapping your kicking foot powerfully out as it approaches its target. This kick is somewhat faster then the roundhouse and is equally debilitating to your opponent.
The Spinning Heel Kick
The spinning heel kick is one of the most powerful tools in taekwondo's kicking arsenal. The devastating power of the spinning heel kick comes from your leg gaining force and momentum as your kicking foot spins around behind yourself. This is one of the few kicks, used in punch defense, where it is necessary to use the rear leg in kicking.
In terms of defensive action, the spinning heel kick should be targeted at your opponent’s head or midsection the instant he attempts to punch at you. You should use your right leg against a punch coming from his left arm and so on. By instantly launching a spinning heel the moment you know a punching attack is imminent, you will take control over the confrontation and have ability to debilitate you opponent before he can land his intended strike at you.
The spinning heel kick is the most powerful of the kicks one can use in punch defense. It is also the most difficult to use successfully. This is because of the fact that for this kick to spin around and reach its target takes substantially longer than that of the other previously described kicks.
Each of these discussed circular kicks, be they the basic roundhouse or the more advanced circle crescent or spinning heel kick, though very effective in punching defense have their own specific applications and are defined in their individual use by the martial arts practitioner’s own ability to be able to deliver them successfully in a punch defensive scenario. Each one of them must be well aimed and be delivered very rapidly to be effective. This is where the developed techniques of anticipating the oncoming punch of your opponent comes into play.
As we have seen, kicks when properly applied do not have to be limited in their use to simply offensive weapons. Through conscious practice you can take the simplest of kicking techniques and make them viable defensive tools. Thus, you can greatly increase your ability to fend off aggressive attacks while becoming a more complete martial artist.
Copyright © 1994 — All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.