If you are anything like me you really appreciate a swift head kick, although I must admit I like them a little less when they are thrown at me. A good low kick is better than a sloppy head kick, but a good head kick will put your lights right out. Over years of training, a martial artist’s limbs become weapons, feet become tougher and shins harden as they are conditioned through striking bags, pads and each other.
The history of an art and the terms of combat will dictate which kicks are going to be useful and which are going to leave you wishing you were somewhere else. It is important to not only have a degree of skill with your techniques, but to choose the right one under pressure. For instance, my old karate Sensei loved to tell the story of his old training partner who got into a bar fight many years ago. As the tale goes, although his friend was a talented kicker, when tipsy he didn’t think about how his jeans were going to limit his kicking range. As he tried to throw a high front kick he ended up throwing himself onto his back and subsequently received his own kicking! I don’t know anyone that advocates head kicks in a street fight but it’s a different story in professional fights.
Let’s warm up with a head kick highlight before we look closer at some individual kicks and their application.
The Roundhouse Kick
Depending on your style you may be taught different striking areas, for instance in Muay Thai you may deal only with the shin and instep when throwing a roundhouse. Whereas in Taekwondo you will also learn a variation with the ball of the foot; whichever method you employ, the basic mechanics remain the same. The rear leg is a lot more powerful than the lead, but the front leg is much faster and with correct distancing can be used much like a boxer’s jab.
The most common kick you will see in combat sports is the roundhouse – it makes an excellent head kick and mixes well with boxing combinations. The non-kicking leg should pivot, protecting the knee and allowing the hips to rotate in the direction of the target. As the body rotates, the knee of the kicking leg should drive past the line of the target – the momentum of the rotation and the extension of the knee generates a lot of power when the shin or foot finds the target.
This is Kaoklai Kaennorsing, a brave Thai boxer who is known internationally for his amazing performance in K1’s World GP 2004. Here, his jump roundhouse connects perfectly with Mighty Mo’s unguarded face, and advances him to the semi-finals.
Here is Croatian legend Mirko Filipovic – politician, special force team member, pro fighter and one of the worlds best south paw kickers. All of his striking is elite level, but look how he puts people away with those deadly roundhouse kicks.
“Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetary” – Mirko Cro Cop
The Turning Hook Kick
This is one of those techniques that often has its name confused, so let me take a minute to clear up what I personally mean when I say turning hook kick or spinning hook kick. With a turning hook kick from an orthodox stance, the lead leg steps across and pivots, bringing the kick from the rear leg around clockwise. A spinning hook kick takes a step first, so the back leg becomes the lead pivot and you rotate in the opposite direction. You can generate some terrifying force behind this – super effective, especially if it’s undefended!
One strong advantage to this kick is that if the defender flinches and pulls their guard to centre, the heel will still come around their arms and find the undefended side of the head.
When a turning or spinning head kick lands with the heel, someone is getting rattled; but if it misses, there is a higher risk involved when compared to other techniques. Because of this it takes a high degree of skill and nerves of steel to throw them as often as Serkan Yilmaz, one of my favourite fighters.
The Axe Kick
The axe kick is a great head kick. It’s perfect for putting your opponent into a defensive mode, and if you miss with the head kick, use it to chop their guard down instead to easily get inside range for a follow-up. It’s not something you see quite as often in MMA bouts – many put this down to the risk factor when throwing it, but I personally think it’s because people don’t train it enough. Fighters like Benson Henderson are starting to show it has a place in MMA too.
Karate, Kick Boxing and Taekwondo have always had axe kicks aplenty, enjoy these.
Here we can see the axe kick being put to great use. Look how easily he is closing the distance with it.
While this last video is not a head kick (although some would argue otherwise) let’s finish with an unfortunate, rarely seen and surely painful axe kick to the groin.
If you like this, I’ll break down some more kicks for you in the future and in greater detail.