Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Karate Kicks

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In traditional Okinawa karate, we focus on hands more than feet: possibly as many as 95% of techniques are hand techniques. This doesn’t mean kicks are not important and when used, they should be as devastating as any punch. But the Okinawans chose to call their art Kara Te and also Okinawa Te. Te means hand(s) (not feet). So one should anticipate many hand techniques.

Most kicks in Okinawa karate are designed to strike the lower extremities and many can be separated into keagi and kekomi. Keagi kicks are fast and referred to as snap kicks. This is because when done with focus, the gi pant leg will snap (or whip) against the ankle and shin. The keagi kicks use the ball or instep of the foot as the striking surface. However, a toe kick (tsumasaki geri) uses the big toe as the striking point, which is designed to strike the soft areas of the body. 

One of my students (Dr. Jesse Bergkamp) took a karate vacation to Okinawa a few years back. When he returned, he displayed a very impressive bruise on this stomach where he had been kicked during training. The bruise outlined the big toe next to four little toes that he received from an Okinawan karate practitioner. Many Okinawan karate-ka spend a lot of time with this kick. For instance, Chojun Miyagi, a past grandmaster of Okinawa Goju-Ryu was known for many feats of power including penetrating gas cans with his big toe.

Sensei Hausel in 1969 or 1970 at the University of Utah with 
geophysicist Tim Smith. This was captured with an Instamatic camera, 
so it is a bit grainy. Probably, only a handful of you remember 
the Instamatic. And yes, I did have hair on top of my head in those days. 
Common kicks include the front snap kick (mae geri keagi) and front thrust kick (mae geri kekomi). The striking point of the front snap kick is either the ball or instep of the foot. The thrust is similar to the snap kick, however, the heal of the foot is used in thrust kicks. As you bring your knee high in mae geri kekomi, focus your concentration on your heal and thrust the heal into your opponent. It isn’t as fast as a snap kick, but it can generate a lot of power. 

The side snap kick, yoko geri keagi is also a quick kick that uses the blade of the foot; whereas the side thrust kick, yoko geri kekomi, requires the heal to be thrust into an attacker. Then there is another side kick known as yoko tobi geri that is better known as the flying side kick usually reserved for Hollywood. Overall, it has little practical application but is seen often in videos and photos. Similar to the flying side kick is mae tobi geri - the flying front kick. This kick has practical use as emphasized in the 1984 Karate Kid movie. It appears as a double jumping kick but the initial move in this kick is designed to get airborne allowing the second foot to follow with power. This type of movement also works as a sucker kick which can get an attacker to respond to the first movement (first foot) leaving them open to the second kick. 

Mae Geri keagi (front kick) - 1994 photo 
of Shihan Hausel at the University of Wyoming. 
Note the ball of foot is the striking point
Maewashi geri is a roundhouse kick. The ball or instep of the foot is used in this keagi kick. Most roundhouse kicks are directed at the side of the attackers knee, stomach, or ribs and referred to as chudan maewashi geri, but a higher kick referred to as age maewashi geri is usually directed to the head. Gedan maewashi geri (low roundhouse kick) is excellent as a foot sweep. One of my past instructors - Sensei Toshio Osaka, was a master at this. Similar to gedan maewashi geri is ashi barai geri known as a foot kick and prominent in some kata such as naihanchi and is similar to ashi barai (foot sweep). It is directed to the ankle or calf to drop an attacker. 

A kick with a similar trajectory to age maewashi geri is that of mikazuki geri also known as kozumi geri - the crescent kick. Use the bottom of the foot as the striking point such that the heal and ball of the foot strike an attacker. When done correctly, the foot will be perpendicular to the floor with toes pointed up in the air. When this kick is performed in the opposite direction (to the outside), it is referred to as axe kick, known as kakato geri.

Other common kicks in karate include hiza geri (knee kick). With this kick, you should direct your knee into your attacker’s stomach, chest, face, or inside or outside of thigh. This is always a good follow-up technique after a punch or as a defense against a double lapel grab. 

Back kicks can be very powerful. They are often hard to detect and difficult to block, but they also leave the karate-ka vulnerable as one will lose site of an attacker for a fraction of a second. Another of my past instructors (Sensei Tom Anguay) was a master of the back kick and even broke another’s leg using this kick during a contest on Hawaii. Sensei Patrick Scofield of the Arizona Hombu also has a wonderful story about his father who trained in Shorin-Ryu Karate on Okinawa as a marine. His father, a sandan (3rd dan) black belt, knocked down a wall of cinder blocks with a back kick. Now that’s power!

1975 photo of Sensei Hausel demonstrating Yoko Tobi Geri 
with Senpai Eddie Begaye at the University of New Mexico - 
captured with an Instamatic camera.
Ushiro geri (back kick) gets the karate ka to use his or hers body weight to add to the force of the kick. Another type of back kick is known as the spinning heal kick (ushiro maewashi geri). In Shorin-Ryu, we generally try to focus on the heal as the striking point in this kick. Similar to the back kick is fumikomi - or foot stomp. The kick is designed to attack the instep or toes of an attacker.

One last kick of interest is seldom used in Shorin-Ryu, but I have seen in used periodically. This is tatsumaki senpuu kyaku geri. It is a popular Korean kick that is referred to as the tornado kick.

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