Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Side Kick

The Dragon: The side kick:

ne of the most easily recognizable kicks in the martial arts is the side kick.

Because of its sometimes dramatic angle and reach, photos and other graphics of the side kick have often become a trademark feature of martial arts posters, magazine and book covers.

There  is definitely a wow factor involved in witnessing competitors in modern tournaments perform a series of almost perpendicular side kicks, as though they were machine-gunning the ceiling. Since very few people are able to perform such a feat at the start of their training, such a display can be  a measure of how far they have improved both in the level of their fitness and in their kicking skills.

A Karate or a Taekwondo practitioner who chambers her leg up high and then slowly extends her leg out over the height of her own head in a way is suggesting: “Look how much work I’ve put into this kick and how much control I’m able to achieve.”

No doubt, the side kick is one of the more beautiful movements in the martial arts.

Originally, I was taught two types of basic side kicks – a side snap kick where the part of the leg below the knee snaps out sideways and the side thrust kick in which the leg pushes  out from its chambered position. Today, I’d like to investigate the side thrust kick.


I was told to bend my supporting leg at the knee while raising my kicking leg straight up from the floor at a 90 degree angle. In this chambered position, the knee should be at least as high as the hip. There are several reasons for this, both physical and tactical.

1.  The higher the knee, the more wind up behind the thrusting motion resulting in more power behind the kick.

2.  The higher the knee, the more you’re able to cover your supporting leg and your rib cage against an attack in case the attacker reaches you before you can deliver the kick.

3. The higher the knee, the more access you have to the opponent’s entire body, from head to toe. If your knee is chambered too low, your opponent will automatically sense that you won’t be able to reach her or his chest or head. You’re restricted in your range of targets.

A chambered position also allows you to change the side kick into a variety of kicks at the last minute.  In sparring, if you see that your opponent has set up a good cover at the last second against your kick, you can still change the angle and come around his defense with a hook kick, a roundhouse kick, an inside roundhouse kick, an axe kick, etc. You haven’t over-committed yourself to a single, win-or-lose technique.

Some systems of Kung Fu, particularly those who favour medium to close range combat, prefer not to raise their knees too high, if at all. The main targets for their kicks lie below the waist, from the groin all the way down to the toes. They also rely a lot on multiple and very fast hand techniques and they feel they may actually prevent full use of those techniques by using a high chambered position.

However, some Karate practitioners will use the chambered leg as a shield or as a leg block. The leg is then dropped to allow for either a single significant reverse punch or a volley of various hand techniques. It all depends on your system, and what you are comfortable with.


A crucial aspect of any side kick is the position of the kicking foot. The foot should be pointed in the same direction as the knee. Typical of Karate, the toes should be curled up as much as possible and the heel slightly extended in the direction of the kick ahead of the toes. You should kick with the side of the heel and the side blade of the foot  instead of the toes, especially when barefoot.

After completion of the kick, the kicking leg should return to its chambered position. Why? prepare for another kick without placing your foot back on the floor; to act as a shield against a counter-attack; and so on.

If you like those high side kicks that can knock an apple off the top of a Dojo mate’s head, you do need to practise – often and hard, along with lots of stretching.

The following are some examples of leg stretches that can help –

1.  Stretches, such as sitting on the floor, legs spread apart in a V position as far as possible

2. Using the same V posture, have a partner push down gradually and carefully against your back as your head moves toward the floor

3. Standing V stretch (like the standing splits)

4. Standing with your one side against a wall while a partner lifts your outside leg sideways in toward your head

5. Away from the wall, place your leg in a side kick position so it rests on your partner’s shoulder. Lean your head toward the same leg.


6. Using a stretch machine ((as shown in the photo)

7. Placing your leg sideways on a support such as a table or bench (much like a barre exercise in ballet)


Using a pulley device attached to the ceiling where one end of a rope has a loop or harness attached for your ankle. (I once had one of these. You have to remember to let go of the rope if you feel that you’re losing your balance otherwise you’ll find yourself dangling from the ceiling. Hard won advice, dear readers!)

A reminder: all stretches should be held for at least 20 seconds to have any deep effect. Another reminder: my Kung Fu teacher, Chau Sifu, (a truly flexible man) warns about overstretching. Muscles and joints must be balanced between flexibility and strength. Too much stretching may actually weaken joint structure.


Those experienced in side kick training will probably have their own famous icons, either from their own Dojo or organization to the tournament scene and obviously on to the movies. One of the classical side kickers to my mind was the great American competitor, Joe Lewis. Lewis was known for his aggressive side kicking. His kicks were so powerful they would break through most defenses. Lewis’ era was the 60s and 70s, a time when tournament point fighters moved on to full contact kickboxing. Some of his contemporaries were – Chuck Norris, Jeff Smith, Bill Wallace and Mike Stone. Sadly, Lewis passed away in 2012.

Every system has great side kickers - Kyokushin, Savate, Shotokan, Taekwondo, etc. I’d like to hear about your particular icons of the technique. If you have some photos or text background, please send them along.

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