Side Thrust Kick

by George Mattson

by David Gimberline

Shotokan appears to execute the sidekick with the kicking leg coming from behind, i.e. one steps across with the front leg and kick with what would be the back leg (if one were standing in kosa dachi). Is this a correct assessment of the Shotokan side kick, and if so, how does one manage to avoid being impeded by the front leg?

Why do we do this? It is important to understand that kicking from kiba dache is meant to be a simplified training method to learn the technique. It is NOT meant to be used this way. In actual application (in s/d or in kumite) you would not start in kiba dache and cross in front to kick with the back leg. We usually launch it from our “fighting position”; 50/50 weight distribution, left side forward, body turn 45 degrees. If you want to kick with the back leg, you coil pretty much like a front kick (except for the foot position and inner thigh tension) and thrust from the coil, pivoting hips and support side as necessary (or personal preference).

Training from kiba dache should develop the ability to side thrust with either leg, in any direction (from fighting position). A different teaching method I have seen used in other styles, is to cross your left leg behind, already pointing to the back, and coil and thrust with the kicking side. (this is actually closer in concept to our back thrust) The advantage of this method is, it’s easy, you could actually use it right away. It also gives you a broad range of target acquisition, as the kicking foot and leg are in striking position from the beginning. It’s also simple. No twisting or turning or anything. IMHO, though it is somewhat limited in it’s potential, and it doesn’t develop the same versatility of use. I have seen advanced practitioners of this method who still must turn before they kick. For a much more detailed description, please read the next section (if you don’t care, then skip this part 🙂 ):

I have thought about our methodology of teaching the side thrust (we also have a side snap and a back thrust) quite a bit, as it does appear to be a somewhat unique (and complicated) teaching progression. We practice the side thrust moving across the floor in kiba dachi stance. Start in kiba dachi (like if you were practicing punching in side stance or horse stance). If you are going to kick with your right leg, you turn your head to the right and move your arms into sort of right “fighting position”, your right arm is reaching to the right side and your left arm is across your body, also pointing to the right.

Cross your left foot over your right and plant the ball of foot in line with the right foot (like the first move of tekki/nihanchi). Simultaneously drop your left heel to the floor and coil the right leg. In this coiled position, your body is still upright and your hip is still underneath you. Your knee is up and sort of makes a 45 degree angle, up and to the right (so it doesn’t point straight to the right, it’s a little more towards the front). There is actually a pretty strong body center contraction going on at this time. This center contraction is not a focus, but it is a contraction like you are on your way to a focus. The center contraction has the feeling of drawing the inner thigh, knee, inner shin, and inner sole of foot towards your center, making your coil tighter and more controlled (edge your kicking foot). Your kicking knee is continuing to want to move towards the target, building a potential energy in the system (kind of a result of the knee moving towards target verses the center squeezing it back in).

From here, you thrust. 🙂 Although the mechanics don’t match, the feeling of thrusting should be made by increasing the pressure to the floor from the center. While making pressure to the floor, keep your knee up, extend leg, twisting your hip and support leg to the end position. Initially, over-twist your hip (to almost a back thrust position) to teach yourself the muscle action, and let your support leg pivot as far as it wants to (it may end up facing 180 degrees away from your target). In this thrusting position, you must focus (kime). The main pressure, as I mentioned, is from your center to the floor, but there is also a strong pull along the bottom (inner side) of your kicking leg, pulling into center and being directed to the floor. This is helped by strongly edging your foot. So the end foot-position is horizontal, striking with the heel edge. It is important in all focused techniques for the feeling of “pulling together” and “settling” to be dominant, rather than any sensation of pulling apart. Try to perform all these actions while maintaining the vertical plane established by the initial stance.

As the practitioner gets more of a feeling for the kick, some things will change. The twisting of the hip will lessen, but the muscles will still do the same work. The support leg may not pivot as far, in fact a flexible individual may not pivot at all.

In general when kicking, try to make the support leg the heavy leg and the kicking leg the light leg. Sometimes this is difficult. Especially when thrusting, people tend to overemphasis the kicking side and totally forget about the support leg and center. Eventually, with the thrust, you should develop the center and the support leg to be the base and the dynamics of the coil and center contraction/expansion/contraction will start to give the feel the kicking leg is drawn into center and “bounces” or rebounds out into the target. When this becomes more automatic, it allows you to concentrate more on directing energy from the center to the floor and into the target. Make sure to hold the thrusting position for a second or two. It gives you a chance to actually learn the position.

Common mistakes in the side thrust: Too much emphasis on the kicking leg (or a lack of pressure on the center and support side, depending on your point of view). Changing position during the coil; leaning, hunching, changing the body plane, and the biggie: letting your bottom hip out of place when initiating the kick.

One training method I like to use to fix these problems is to train against a wall in three different ways. The first way, is just for stability when going through the sequence of the kick. In place against the wall, standing with your feet together, I use a five count method. 1) COIL to sort of a side snap position: here make sure your body is straight, and your center is together with your hip underneath. 2) COIL HIGHER: pick the knee up higher and increase the pressure to center (at this point your hip is still underneath, too many people tilt their hips and stick their butt out here). 3) THRUST; as previously described, drop your weight and twist into the extended thrust position (the muscles under your left butt cheek should still be connected), hold the position long enough to feel the control points and feel the pressure pulling your kicking leg to center and the energy flowing towards the ground. At first, you may lean backwards for balance, but eventually your shoulders will remain relatively stable, and become a secondary base. 4) RECOIL back to side snap position, with pressure settling towards floor. 5) put your foot down. 🙂 Eventually you can skip 1 and hold at 2. Then you can bounce through 1 and 2 and hold the thrust (3)

The next method of using the wall is the same except you move across the floor in kiba dache to a six count. Start with your back to the wall in kiba dache with your heels positioned about two inches (5 cm) or so away from the wall. The first count is cross, and the subsequent counts are from the previous exercise. Try to feel like your shoulders and hips are staying parallel with the wall (like touching) as you do each count. Still make pressure into the floor though. Hint: if when you thrust, your hip bumps the wall and pushes you away, you are breaking the plane of the thrust when you kick. 😉

The last methods of using the wall, is similar, except you face the wall as you move along it. This one has some great feed back 😉 In kiba dache, put your toes about 6 inches (15 cm) or so away from the wall. Assuming your are kicking with the right leg, rest your left forearm on the wall (in front and across your body) as you move through the sequence, make sure your forearm maintains contact and feels forward towards the target (to your right). If it pulls away, it is an indication your are stretching apart when you thrust. If you hit your head on the wall, you are again breaking the plane of the by bending the hip in the wrong way. 🙂

The end of another overlong post!

As always, I welcome any comments, critiques, suggestions, or other input.

Dave in Minnesota

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