How To: Get Your Kicks
Focus, Precision Enhance Kicking Success
What sets Taekwondo apart from other martial arts is the demonstration of exciting, yet effective advanced kicking styles?
Performing Xtreme 720s or a side kick to the abdomen requires a lot of strength and power but also timing and accuracy. As is seen time and time again, the winner of a sparring match isn't always the biggest or the strongest, but the most accurate and technically sound. And that’s exactly what the elite competitors and teachers of ATA International say underpins all effective kicking.
“It’s the little details that really make a big difference in kicking,” said Master Carlos Aguilar, with KickForce Martial Arts in San Diego. “I think that sometimes people focus so much on the power and the big picture that they forget the little elements that go into it like pushing the hip, pivoting the foot on the right side at the right place, positioning the joints.
“I think that’s important when it comes to sparring; don’t focus so much on the power, but the precision.”
Aguilar, an ATA creative world champion, uses advanced kicking styles to develop routines that demonstrate finesse and showmanship. Those same advanced kicks have helped him become ranked among the top 10 in sparring, where there is even more concentration on accuracy. For champions like Aguilar, leg training the right way and building a solid foundation crosses over to all aspects of Taekwondo. This can mean narrowing your sights.
“People forget to practice on targeting and be precise on their targeting,” he said. “Instead of hitting big square targets all the time, try hitting small targets and being precise with it.”
Aguilar said he records his training sessions to spot flaws in his technique that cost him accuracy, even on basic kicks. He said many athletes overlook the importance of the fundamentals and go right to combinations.
“Sometimes, people want to get to the fast kicks and the crazy amount of reps and everything, but they’ve got to focus really on the foundation of every kick before they can do any of that,” he said.
“[When sparring,] once you’re inside the other fighter’s circle, in their range, I think that’s where some of the combinations will come into play,” Aguilar said. “Outside, not really. My combinations are more of a reaction; I try to focus more on waiting for the person to throw something and then respond back with the combination that I want.”
Newly-crowned ATA world champion Kendall Yount of Owenton, Ky., agreed, saying simple kicks delivered with speed and accuracy are the key to competitive success. She said she’s constantly aware of her form and technique in training sessions.
“Your base leg is the most important,” Yount said. “A lot of people just assume that the leg you’re kicking with is the most important, but really the strength of your base leg and the effectiveness and how you can move with your base leg is really what makes or breaks a sparring match.
“If you’re quick and you can jump on one leg while you’re throwing your round kick, that is what separates sparring athletes, what really makes the difference.”
She also preached keeping a high chamber on every kick, thereby improving one’s chance to score while at the same time providing a measure of defense.
“If you have a really low chamber, you risk your opponent getting on top of you and being able to get into that chest guard or that headgear,” she said. “[Keeping your leg up] is a really great strategy I see people use. You’ve already got your leg cocked and ready and no matter when you execute that kick, it’s going to be faster than someone trying to attack you.”
Yount also stressed the importance of developing both legs equally, particularly in younger athletes.
“I definitely have a dominant side and a weaker side and I see that as a flaw. I really wish I had developed both,” she said. “It’s a lot like writing; young athletes pick a side, become good at writing and never use the other side so when they get older it’s impossible to write with the other hand. The same thing happens with kicks."
“I know personally, my training right now is developing the other side. My dad and my coaches are all like ‘Switch legs,’ because I’m so programmed to go with just one leg. Trainers with young athletes should definitely develop both legs because an ambidextrous fighter is just as rare as an ambidextrous writer. Developing both sides allows you to manipulate different parts of the game.”
Chief Master MK Lee, head of the ATA International training department, said developing the ambidextrous athlete is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Kicking from the weaker side feels awkward and ineffective at first, but with discipline and practice this can be overcome.
“Human nature is the worst enemy of becoming effective with both legs, that is why form and other practice tools should always be designed for both legs,” he said. “Practice form more often. It is the perfect tool to develop both sides of the body. Repetition is the mother of learning. I recommend training both legs when working on drills, increasing the repetition more on the non-dominant leg.”
Function Of Instruction
Chief Master Lee said instructors bear an enormous responsibility for helping athletes reach their full potential and must constantly balance high expectations with enjoyment of the activity.
“Character development comes from hard physical training; the instructor must focus on intensity of training and make every student sweat,” he said. “Great instructors pay attention to the quality of techniques at the very beginning stages of training a new student. Good or bad habits are formed at an early part of training."
“But the best instructors also remember to make things fun. Boring activities make students lose interest in continuing. Good instructors will always focus on exciting activities, which is why ATA has developed a class planner which provides simple class structure that keeps class exciting.”
Next time you are at a tournament, watch the form and calculation of each kicking performance. Whether it’s the high-flying combos in Xtreme and Creative or the three-point spinning jump kick to the head to determine the sparring victor, the secret is in the details. These athletes know how to perfect the advanced techniques; you must master the basics of the craft. But with the right practice and the attention to basics, ATA martial artists continue to stay on top of the kicking game.
- Kicking Tips From Elite Martial Artists -
“Side kicks, round kicks or hook kicks all start with the same chamber. Doing them properly means you’re overly flat — your knee and your shin should be parallel to the floor and your hip should be turned over while you have your chamber up. ... It’s a really hard habit to get into because your body doesn't really want to turn your hip all the way over, but that’s where you get that dexterity.” — World Champion Kendall Yount
“I focus 80 percent of my training with conditioning my legs. … I just do a lot of running, sprints, light weights, Stairmaster. And tons and tons of hard work in kicking along with sparring. My one favorite drill on the pads would be a pyramid. Do one round kick on each side. Then you do double, two round kicks alternating with each leg. Then you do three on the right, three on the left, four on the right, four on the left all the way up to 10, then back down to one. While you’re doing pad work, throw a pyramid in there and then reset and do it again.” — World Champion Master Carlos Aguilar
Practice To Perfection
“A good drill is balance supported training: Have the athlete hold a bar, wall or floor and do a kick concentrating on form more than speed. Do this on each leg 10 to 15 repetitions. I had the privilege of being trained by Grand Master Soon Ho Lee by this method every day and I was a four-time champion because of it. I am grateful to him [for] what I am now and what I will be in the future.” — Chief Master MK Lee, head of ATA International training
Author: Dwain Hebda | Originally published in Vol. 24 no. 2 of the ATA World Magazine. Updated Nov. 7, 2017.