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Kicks – Training with and without a Heavy Target

Kicks – Training with and without a Heavy Target

Learning techniques in free space is of great value. Only by repetition, in near perfect form, can the technique become ingrained and of second nature. Slow, methodical and mechanical practice is needed to remove imperfections and repetition allows ‘muscle memory’ and instinctive behavior to be formed. [The colloquial term ‘muscle memory’ is misleading, for muscles do not ‘remember’ anything. Large numbers of repetition of an action allows the neural system to learn an ‘action pathway’ and the related motor skills to develop to an extent that allows performance that is devoid of the slower, conscience thought process needed to determine which muscles need to be employed. The right neural paths have been sufficiently developed that the cognitive process has a ‘short-cut’ and the brain can ‘instinctively’ tell the body what to do.]

At the intermediate and advanced stage, however, there is a need to recognize that practice in free space is insufficient. Practitioners of the martial arts must hit targets. As an illustrative example mentally imagine the performance of a thrust kick. Advanced martial artists are adept at deploying a side thrust kick in free space at great speed andbeing able to stop the kick at the end of its travel; then retract the foot and leg and stand down. This practice has great value, and it demonstrates that the kick is being locked out at full extension confirming that it is a thrusting, not a snapping, action.

It should be clear, however, that when kicking in free space there is no reactive force pushing back to the kicker. Anyone that has trained regularly on a bag knows and understands this difference. Kick a heavy bag or a large target pad held strongly by a partner and you can feel the opposing force on the body, leg and supporting foot. This is exactly as predicted earlier: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.Note that this is a dynamic action not a protracted, static, balancing of forces. Indeed, kick a heavy bag wrong and the bag can almost knock you over, rather than the reverse. In other words: the bag pushes back—and so will an opponent! A side thrust kick, in free space, will take on a particular form if we are to be balanced at the moment of full extension and thereby able to stop the kick and remain upright. When this controlled practice is to deliberately stop the kick at full extension and remain balanced, the kickers’ line of center of gravity must fall through the supporting leg. That is not where the center of gravity should be if hitting a target, not if the kicker wants to deliver significant and forceful (thrusting) impact.

If we were to take a photograph of a martial artist performing a side thrust kick that was controlled and balanced, such that the kick was held at the limit of its extension and motion, the image is provided within the book “Parting the Clouds”. The book shows both a sketch and a photograph of a karate-ka in this balanced position and then provides a view of the same martial artist performing the same kick against a heavy bag. The book notes that these photographs or images would be literally snapshots in time. Although the balanced kick could be maintained for a short while the second image of a bag being hit portrays a dynamic position, lasting for only a fraction of a second.

In the first case, in free space, to hold the kicking leg out in a static stance the center of gravity mustbe on a line that runs through the base or the standing foot: If it didn’t the martial artist would fall over; so to prevent this the kicker’s upper body will tend to lean back, compensating for the unbalancing effect of the outstretched limb.

In the second case, when the kick hits a bag, there is a returning force, pushing back against the line of the kicking leg. The kicker creates this force; it is not an inherent property of the bag. The act of kicking the bag creates this force, for we know that to each action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Martial artists can therefore deliberately push into the kick and bag, more than they would in free space. Hence, when hitting a bag the center of gravity will be further forward, towards the target. The center of gravity, at the moment of impact, will notbe over the standing foot, it will be pushed forward and proud. The upper body is naturally more upright when kicking the bag.

All of this movement, this deliberate forward intrusion of the center of gravity, results in a far more forceful kick. In the same way as we achieve maximum effect with a punch, we want to kick with the body not just the leg. I admit to being biased, but I’ve long considered the side thrust kick to be one of the jewels of the martial arts.

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