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Understanding the Jumping Back Kicks of the Korean Martial Arts

By Scott Shaw

The Korean martial arts of Hapkido, Taekwondo, and Tang Soo Do have one primary element in common; namely their highly refined use of the kick as a weapon of self-defense. The elaborate kicking arsenals possessed by these systems of self-defense have, in fact, come to define these arts.

In the early development of these Korean martial arts elaborate kicking techniques were not the primary focus of the arts as they have become today. In fact, the early systems of martial arts, developed in post World War II Korea, utilized the standard kicking techniques employed by the various schools of the Japanese martial arts that the first generation of Korean instructors had studied prior to Korean liberation. These instructors taught what they had learned. As such, the kicking techniques taught in association with the early Korean schools of self-defense were very limited in application and deployment compared to what is witnessed today.

The Korean Kick: The Evolution Begins
The Korean kick began its evolution at the hands of Korean students of the original masters. It was this next generation that caused the Korean kick to expand its range, application, and utilization. This evolution began in the 1950s but was not limited to this stage of development. When Taekwondo became the national sport of Korea, again, the Korean kick witnessed a new wave of evolution. At this point, due to the competitive nature of the sport, the Korean kick began to be streamlined. This process witnesses some of the momentum driven power of the traditional kick being left behind, in exchange for rapid deployment. The advanced practitioners of all styles of the Korean martial arts witnessed this evolution, within the sport of Taekwondo, and began to integrate the kicking improvements into the other Korean martial arts.

The Criticism
The Korean martial arts have some of the most beautifully developed kicks ever witnessed in the history of self-defense. It is the elaborate nature of these kicking techniques that have brought about much criticism, however. This is especially the case with the Jumping Back Kicks used by the Korean martial arts practitioner. Many critics claim that these techniques are far too flamboyant and obvious to have any true effect in a combative situation.

To address this criticism and to make the advanced Korean kick as effective as possible, the subtle makeup of these kicking techniques must be studied and understood. From this, the practitioner will emerge with a new knowledge of how to make the advanced Jumping Back Kicks of the Korean martial arts as effective as possible.

Understanding the Back Kick
To come to understand the advanced Jumping Back Kicks of the Korean martial arts, the basic foundations of these kicks must first be studied. As the rudimentary forms of all kicks must be mastered before the advanced applications of the kicks can be performed with precision—this is especially the case with the Jumping Back Kicks. To this end, the practitioner must become very competent with the basic Back Kicks before they can hope to make the jumping applications a viable element of their self-defense arsenal.

The Back Kicks of the Korean martial arts are not only an advanced offensive weapon but a strategic defensive tool, as well. Their power is derived from the momentum of speed that is incurred through the spinning of the body and the snapping out of the leg. From this, they possess the ability to deliver a very powerful strike in both offensive and defensive applications.

As a strategic weapon, the usage of the Back Kick is highly effective due to the fact that most confrontational situations begin in a face-to-face encounter. By spinning and turning behind yourself, not only have you realigned the fight to your own advantage, but you have also created the element of surprise to an unknowing opponent.

In terms of implementation, the most important factor in any of the Korean Back Kicks is to keep your eye on the opponent. This is accomplished by pivoting your head before the actual execution of the kick itself. Though this may sound awkward and you may assume it would give the opponent time to react. This is not the case. Through continued practice this pivoting of the head is done so rapidly and naturally that virtually no time elapses between the pivot and the performance of the kick.

The reason it is necessary to pivot your head and keep your eyes on your adversary is that this allows you the ability to watch your opponent’s movement from his original positioning. If your eyes are taken off of a competent fighter for even a second, he will possess the ability to move and redirect his location to facilitate his own attack positioning. If this occurs, you must able to adapt your own offense or defense to maintain your combat effectiveness. By keeping your eyes on your opponent, when performing any back kicking technique, you preserve that ability.

Performing the Back Kick
The Korean Back Kicks are performed by initially pivoting on the ball of the foot of your Base Leg. By pivoting on the ball of the foot, it keeps the ankle from incurring damage. The knee of the Base Leg is always slightly bent. This keeps it from hyperextending.

To examine the Back Kicks we must begin at the most elemental example, the straight back kick. Though this may well be the easiest to master, it is by far one of the most effective kicking techniques in terms of both defensive and offensive application.

The Straight Back Kick
The Straight Back Kick is executed very similar in style and structure to the common Side Kick. The difference is you pivot your head, then your body, to deliver the kick from the rear, instead of straight from the side.

Offensively, the Straight Back Kick, when performed correctly, is one of the most effective offensive kicks in a Korean stylist’s arsenal. This has been proven time and time again in Olympic competitions. This kick is ideally targeted at your opponent’s stomach or chest. Though it can be directed to the head, this target is far smaller and is therefore much more difficult to be assured of hitting.

When used as an offensive mechanism, this kick may be performed in a rapid-fire continuation from one Back Kick to the next and onto the next. One, two, three, or four of these kicks may be used consecutively with varying legs. This is an excellent method of striking an opponent multiple times as you drive him back until he is disabled.

From a defensive point of view, the Back Kick is very effectively employed when an opponent is charging in at you. By delivering a single Back Kick to his midsection his attack has been halted and he will be left prone to further counterattacks as necessary.

The advantages that the Back Kick possesses is that not only is your back exposed to the opponent, which allows him little effective space for counter attack, but the driving force of the straight back kick, launched generally into your adversary’s mid section is quite a devastating strike.

Rising Up
As you progress in competence with this straight Back Kick, it may become advisable to raise your body up off of the ground while this kicking technique is being performed. This is known as the Jumping Back Kick.

The raising of your body from the ground not only aids you in higher impact points on your opponent, but it also allows you the ability to miss low level attacks from an opponent, such as a Low Sweep Kick.

Proper development of the ability to vary a kick from its ground position into a jumping version is very important. The majority of those who perform these jumping techniques use their own exaggerated body momentum or a forced bending down on the Base Leg knee and then jumping up to give more spring to achieve the desired height. Both of these methods not only alert your opponent to the oncoming jumping technique but also they allow these kicks to be easily defended against. This is where much of the aforementioned criticism is born. Therefore, it is imperative to make the jumping versions of any Back Kick as unnoticeable as possible.

Jump Back Kick Development
To develop the ability to make a Jumping Back Kick as unnoticeable and defensively accurate as possible not only takes dedicated practice but the development of certain muscles in the leg, as well. The key area of development for the effective execution of the Jumping Back Kick are the muscles of the lower leg.

A muscle development exercise used to strengthen the appropriate muscle groups is to stand next to a wall with your arms stretched upwards, on your tiptoes, and jump, touching the wall with your hands. Do this a few times at first. Then, as your muscles in these areas become accustomed to the exercise, increase your practice time and height. This jumping technique aids in the development of the necessary muscle groups near the knee.

The next step in your development of the refined Jumping Back Kick is hanging bag practice. By performing the kick into a hanging bag you will begin to master how the kick is best unleashed by your particular body design and how it is most appropriately delivered. Secondary target focus can be accomplished by having your training partner hold a shield. The striking shield is a large padded bag that is approximately the size and width of the upper torso. By practicing your Jumping Back Kick into a training shield held by your partner, you come to understand how the body of your opponent reacts to this kick.

As is the case with all kicks in the Korean martial arts, the Jumping Back Kick should never be unleashed before you are in close proximity to your target. The reason for this is that by unleashing the kick too soon, you expend power before appropriate forceful contact can be made. Therefore, never fully extend a Jumping Back Kick until a forceful snapping out of your lower leg and foot into your target is assured.

The final stage of the Jumping Back Kick development is achieved through mirror drills. Through dedicated mirror practice the Jumping Back Kick can be added to your martial art arsenal and be performed with no noticeable warning to the opponent.

The Spinning Heel Kick
A close variation of the Straight Back Kick is the Spinning Heel Kick. No doubt this is one of the most powerful and devastating techniques in the arsenal of Korean Spinning Back Kicks. The momentum this kick develops can have a devastating effect on any object that it may encounter.

The Spinning Heel Kick is most properly performed with the head, then body pivoting. The knee of the Kicking Leg is bent, the leg is hooked, and finally snapped into its final strike with the heel catching the opponent’s head or other targeted area. Not only does the movement of your pivot add to the strength of this kick but also the snapping of the Striking Leg increases its power immensely.

The reason that the Striking Leg is always at least slightly bent, upon impact in this kicking technique is that this prevents knee injury. If the kick were to be performed with the Striking Leg straight, upon impact with the target, the knee would be bent against itself, perhaps breaking it.

Though this kick is a devastating technique, as has been proven in numerous sparring matches, it still has met with much criticism. This is because many martial artists believe this kick is easily defended against.

Defending Against the Spinning Heel Kick
Many martial art systems have developed defensive movements to counter the enormous power of this kick. One of the simplest methods to defense against this kick is to simply step back and out of the way of its onslaught. This is no doubt one of the most effective ways to deal with the oncoming Spinning Heel Kick. This is due to the fact that because once this kick has missed its intended target, the person performing it continues to spin through with the momentum he has developed, thus leaving himself open for a counter strike.

The second and equally effective method of countermanding the power of the Spinning Heel Kick, though this defense is a bit more complicated, is to step inside of the kick’s attack. This is accomplished by quickly sliding in close and then behind your opponent who is performing this spinning heel technique.

As a capable opponent has the ability to step inside of any of these spinning Back Kicks and counter strike, again, another case for maintaining eye contact with your opponent is made.

With this deeper understanding of the defensive intricacies of the Spinning Heel Kick, you now understand why you must be able to alter either the strike positioning of this attack or alter the technique altogether if necessary—due to your opponent’s movements. Though these defensive maneuvers may be the reason some have criticized the effectiveness of the Spinning Heel Kick, with proper execution of the technique, defense of its power is close to impossible.

Maintaining Control
Now that you understand the previous two defensive applications, it is necessary to make sure your opponent will remain in place when you perform a Spinning Heel Kick. This is accomplished by one of two methods:

The first of these methods is accomplished by allowing your opponent to attack and then deflecting his oncoming punch or kick. Once this has been accomplished, you grab onto him and lightly hold your opponent’s limb in place until your kick is fully in progress.

The second method is to step inside of your opponent’s own offensive technique—especially if this is a Roundhouse Kick or similar type of attack and launch your Spinning Heel Kick before your opponent’s kick has the opportunity to strike. By doing this, your opponent is not only in the vulnerable position of being half way through his attack but, in addition, he will not possess the ability to move and relocate his positioning. Thus, he is prone to take the full impact of the kick.

Baiting the Opponent
As detailed, the Spinning Heel Kick is quite effective as a defensive technique, once your opponent’s offense has been naturalized. It is also very effective as an offensive technique. In this application it most efficiently follows a lead in technique such as a roundhouse kick, straight punch, or back fist. By baiting your opponent with one of these techniques first, he is set back, hopefully placed off balance, and in the mode of recoiling into his own counter attack. At this moment, while he is locked in this position of indecision, the Spinning Heel Kick easily penetrates his defenses and can deliver a devastating blow.

In combat, the Spinning Heel Kick is almost universally directed at the opponent’s head. This is due to the fact that the strike point of this technique is with the heel. Though this may cause minor damage to other parts of the opponent’s body: the chest, the back, or the shoulder. The impact will not be as greatly felt as an impact to the head.

The Jumping Spinning Heel Kick
The Jumping Spinning Heel Kick has become quite popular, mostly due to its use in many martial art movies. But the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick is also a very effective advanced kicking technique when it is performed properly.

The common flaw that many have when performing this technique is to physically reveal their intentions to their opponent before the technique is performed. Pivoting the body back, in the opposite direction, and then snapping it out in order to gain momentum to raise the body up off the ground is the common mistake many make before performing this kick. This can be a devastating mistake, as any trained opponent will then see the technique coming.

Key among all of Korea’s spinning kicking techniques is to not reveal what you are about to do. This is paramount in the case of the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick.

The Jumping Spinning Heel Kick is slower to execute than the ground based Spinning Heel Kick. To be effective, it must not be perceived by your opponent prior to you unleashing it. It must become quite natural if you hope to make it an effective weapon.

Developing the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick
To use this kick as an effective offensive or defensive technique, your Base Leg must become the central point where your body pivots upward and pushes off. The Jumping Spinning Heel Kick is properly executed by achieving, through practice, a heightened momentum of the spin standard to the Ground Based Spinning Heel Kick and then added to it the impetus that raises your body up from the ground. This is aided by a slight push upwards with your Base Leg.

As in the case with the Jumping Straight Back Kick a combination of mirror, bag, and partner bag practice all add to your evolving competency with this kicking technique. You must practice this kick for extended periods of time before you hope to effectively use it in a combat situation.

Targeting
The Jumping Spinning Heel Kick, as with all other forms of spinning kicks, must have a stationary target in mind or it will not be effective. A trained opponent will not wait for the kick to arrive. The creation of a stationary target is most effectively accomplished when your opponent is in motion with a technique that has just been performed and missed its intended strike point on your body. At that moment, as he is regaining his balance, he is most vulnerable to attack with the jumping Spinning Heel Kick.

The Spinning Axe Kick
The Spinning Axe Kick is unequaled by few Korean kicking techniques in terms of its ability to penetrate your opponent’s defenses and deliver a devastating blow. This kick is very dangerous, however, as its impact is targeted at your opponent’s shoulder. This bone is quite easily broken. For this reason, all care must be taken when practicing with a training partner when you perform this advanced kicking technique.

To properly deploy the Spinning Axe Kick your head and body pivots behind themselves, as your Striking Leg rises up in a linear fashion. Your heel then comes forcefully down on your adversary’s shoulder.

Understanding the Spinning Axe Kick
As with the previously discussed Spinning Kick, you must be sure of your opponent’s stationary location before this kick is launched or you will leave yourself open to a powerful counter attack. This is especially the case with the Spinning Axe Kick. By its very design, this kick possesses a short range of applicable strike distance. This is due to the fact that when you spin around behind yourself, while raising your Striking Leg, your target must be in close proximity to your body or your kick will miss. For this reason you maintain control over your opponent’s movement before you unleash this technique or he will simply move out of the path of this kick and your assault will fail.

The most assured way to keep your opponent in place before unleashing this technique is to initially strike him with a powerful and debilitating offensive technique such as a straight punch to the face or front kick to the midsection. As he is regrouping from this first strike, you can finish off your opponent by delivering a spinning axe kick.

The Jumping Spinning Axe Kick
To advance into the use of the Jumping Spinning Axe kick is similar in application and practice as that of the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick. The difference between the two is the Jumping Spinning Axe Kick is performed in much more of a linear movement. Your kicking leg comes straight up and your heel strikes down.

The usage is much faster and less noticeable than that of the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick. It is generally put into practice when the circular structure of the Jumping Spinning Heel Kick would either easily be intercepted by your opponent or the fighting situation does not allow for such broad movement.

As is the case with all Jumping Spinning Back Kicks, used in the Korean martial arts, you must develop you ability to successfully implement this technique before you attempt to use it in a combative situation. The best way to do this is through mirror practice and having a training partner hold a training glove with its pad facing upward.

As the shoulder is a very limited target it is essential that you develop the ability to strike out and make contact with small objects. For this reason, practicing with a training glove is an ideal method to develop your focus and striking power with the Jumping Spinning Axe Kick.

To master the Jumping Spinning Back Kicks of the Korean martial arts a long period of practice and kick refinement must be undertaken. But, once you have come to understand the subtle elements of these advanced kicking techniques, they can become essential elements in your self-defense arsenal. Through conscious practice and proper application you can take these seemingly flamboyant kicking techniques and place them in the realms of highly usable self-defense.

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