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In combat sports and hand-to-hand combat, a kick is a physical strike using the foot, leg, or knee (the latter is also known as a knee strike). This type of attack is used frequently, especially in stand-up fighting. Kicks play a significant role in many forms of martial arts, such as Taekwondo, Karate, Pankration, Kung fu, Vovinam, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Capoeira, Silat, and Kalarippayattu.
Kicks are also used for kicking objects such as balls, books etc. If a human uses a kick in sport, it would most likely be used for kicking an object into a goal such as kicking a soccer ball into a goal and so on.
The English verb to kick appears only in the late 14th century, apparently as a loan from Old Norse, originally in the sense of a hooved animal delivering strikes with his hind legs; the oldest use is Biblical, in the metaphor of an ox kicking against the pricks.
The act of kicking in general is a universal form of human aggression. The same movement is also used in non-offensive contexts, e.g. a kick to propel an object such as a ball, or a kicking movement without touching anything, e.g. as a dance move.
Kicks as a form of attack are more typically directed against helpless or downed targets, because using a kick in a combat situation bears the significant disadvantage of losing stability of one's stance, as delivering a kick obviously requires lifting at least one foot off the ground.
Martial arts systems that utilize kicks will therefore emphasize the training of very efficient and technically perfected forms of kicks, include recovery techniques in the event of missed or blocked kicks, and will employ a wide repertoire of kicks adapted to specific situations. In sports tournaments, the rules of combat may also be adjusted, such as limiting the contest to stand-up fighting or reducing the penalty resulting from a failed attempt at delivering a kick.
The more elaborate kicks used in martial arts, especially high kicks aiming above the waist or to the head have long been a distinguishing feature of Asian martial arts. This feature was introduced in the west in the 19th century with early hybrid martial arts inspired by Asian styles such as Bartitsu and Savate. Practice of high kicks became more universal in the second half of the 20th century with the more widespread development of hybrid styles such as kickboxing and eventually mixed martial arts.
The history of the high kick in Asian martial arts is difficult to trace. It appears to be prevalent in all traditional forms of Indochinese kickboxing, but these cannot be traced with any technical detail to pre-modern times. For example, Muay Boran or "ancient boxing" in Thailand was developed under Rama V (r. 1868-1910). While it is known that earlier forms of "boxing" existed during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, it is difficult if not impossible[clarification needed] to recover any detail regarding the techniques these involved. Some stances that look like low kicks, but not high kicks, are visible in the Shaolin temple frescoes, dated to the 17th century. The Mahabharata (4.13), an Indian epic compiled at some point before the 5th century AD, describes an unarmed hand-to-hand battle, including the sentence "and they gave each other violent kicks" (without providing any further detail).
A kick to the knee as depicted in a Baroque Ringen treatise (Johann Georg Passchen 1659)
The usefulness of kicks in self-defense and actual combat has been debated. Some, like Bruce Lee, have commented that the leg, thanks to its size and weight, is a more powerful weapon than the arm. Because the leg is longer than the arm, kicks tend to keep an opponent at a distance and to surprise him or her with their range.
On the other hand, stance is very important in any combat system, and any attempt to deliver a kick will necessarily compromise one's stability of stance. The practicality of kicks is thus a question of the tradeoff between the power that can be delivered vs. the cost incurred to balance. Since combat situations are fluid, understanding this tradeoff and making the appropriate decision to adjust to each moment is key.
The high kicks practiced in modern martial arts or the flying/jumping kicks performed in synthesis styles are primarily performed for conditioning or aesthetic reasons. The proponents have viewed that some high front snap kicks are effective for striking the face or throat, particularly against charging opponents, and flying kicks can be effective to scare off attackers. Some contrasting views have stated that high kicks are completely ineffective as it would be much quicker and more probable to be able to strike the throat, nose or face with a palm strike for the face or a claw hand to strike at or choke the throat. It has been noted that high kicks (and other complicated kicks for that matter) can be almost impossible to perform in an actual confrontation due to the adrenal shock that one experiences in a stressful situation. This "adrenal dump" as it is called by some experts, causes the body to lose the ability of fine motor control, which is what many modern high kicks require to perform. Additionally, high kicks nearly always expose the groin, inviting a swift kick to the area from an agile opponent. As a result, the use of high kicks in defensive situations is considered risky at best for anyone but highly skilled martial artists. It should be further noted, that many styles use a more vulnerable stance (circular stance) that exposes the groin constantly (as noted by Bruce Lee for example in his defense manuals). Linear stance such as in Shotokan Karate, Wado Karate and most other original forms of Karate and Te fighting do not expose the groin. Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, and Shotokan Karate share nearly identical stances in terms of the initial attack and even after basic attacks (roundhouse, front kick, etc.). As with the varieties of kicks themselves, the choice of stance reflects a tradeoff between speed, commitment, power, range, balance, and maneuverability. Some self defence experts only condone the use of kicks as an intimidation or distraction tool, scaring off the attacker or distracting them so other techniques can be used. ( see Geoff Thompsons "real kicking" and "the fence" ) and even then only advocate the use of kicks to the lower abdomen at the highest.
The general consensus is that for most defense and combat applications, simple kicks aimed at vulnerable targets below the chest (self defence experts such as author and teacher Marc Macyoung claim that kicks should be aimed no higher than the waist/stomach) may be highly efficient, but should be executed with a degree of care. Thus, the fighter should not compromise their balance while delivering a kick, and retract the leg properly to avoid grappling. The front kick could be aimed at the groin/pelvis area when attacking, or to the waist/stomach area when being used defensively, knees and shins, inflicting respectable damage. The defensive side kick is a great move for stopping a blitzing opponent. The roundhouse kick performed at low level may be effective due to its power, and the vulnerability of many of its targets ( knees, ribs etc.) since attacking leg muscles will often cripple opponent's mobility, however the technique still throws a fighter's balance off and leaves them vulnerable. It is often recommended to build and drill simple combinations that involve attacking different levels of opponents. A common example would be distracting an opponent's focus via a fake jab, following up with a powerful attack at the opponent's legs and punching. Further, since low kicks are inherently quicker and harder to see and dodge in general they are often emphasized in a street fight scenario.
Basic kicks 
Front kick 
Delivering a front kick involves raising the knee and foot of the striking leg to the desired height and extending the leg to contact the target. The actual strike is usually delivered by the ball of the foot for a forward kick or the top of the toes for an upward kick. Taekwondo practitioners utilize both the heel and ball of the foot for striking. Various combat systems teach 'general' front kick using the heel or whole foot when footwear is on. Depending of fighter's tactical needs, a front kick may involve more or less body motion. Thrusting one's hips is a common method of increasing both reach and power of the kick. The front kick is typically executed with the upper body straight and balanced. Front kicks are typically aimed at targets below the chest: stomach, thighs, groin, knees or lower. Highly skilled martial artists are often capable of striking head-level targets with front kick.
Roundhouse kick 
Not to be confused with the round kick or turning kick, this is the most commonly used kick in kickboxing due to its power and ease of use. In most styles, the instep is used to strike, though most Karate styles would allow the shin as official technique for a street fight. To execute, the attacker swings their leg sideways in a circular motion, kicking the opponent's side with the front of the leg, usually with the instep, ball of the foot, toe, or shin. Also performable is a 360-degree kick in which the attacker performs a full circle with their leg, in which the striking surface is generally either the instep, shin or ball of the foot.
There are many variations of the roundhouse kick based on various chambering of the cocked leg (small, or full, or universal or no chambering) or various footwork possibilities (rear-leg, front-leg, hopping, switch, oblique, dropping, ground spin-back or full 360 spin-back). An important variation is the downward roundhouse kick, nicknamed the Brazilian Kick from recent MMA use: A more pronounced twist of the hips allows for a downward end of the trajectory of the kick that is very deceiving.
Side kick 
The side kick refers to a kick that is delivered sideways in relation to the body of the person kicking. There are two areas that are commonly used as impact points in sidekicks: the heel of the foot or the outer edge of the foot. The heel is more suited to hard targets such as the ribs, stomach, jaw, temple and chest. However, when executing a side kick with one's heel one should pull their toes back so that they only make contact with your heel and not with the whole foot. If a person hits with the arch or the ball of the foot, then that can injure the foot or break an ankle. A standard sidekick is performed by first chambering the kicking leg diagonally across the body, then extending the leg in a linear fashion toward the target, while flexing the abdominals.
Another way of doing the side kick is to make it an end result of a faked roundhouse. This technique is considered antequated, and used only after an opponent is persuaded to believe it is a roundhouse, and then led to believe that closing the distance is best for an upper body attack, which plays into the tactical position and relative requirement of this version of the side kick. In Korean, yeop chagi. In Okinawan te fighting, it is sometimes called a dragon kick. Some have called this side kick a "twist kick" due to its roundhouse like origins. This side kick begins as would a roundhouse kick however the practitioner allows the heel to move towards the center of the body. The kick is then directed outward from a cross-leg chamber so that the final destination of the kick is a target to the side, rather than one that is directly ahead.
Traditional Back kick (reverse side kick) 
Also referred to as a donkey kick, mule kick, or turning back kick. This kick is directed backwards, keeping the kicking leg close to the standing leg and using the heel as a striking surface. In wushu, this kick is called the "half-moon" kick but involves the slight arching of the back and a higher lift of the leg to give a larger curvature. It is often used to strike opponents by surprise when facing away from them.
Advanced kicks 
These are often complicated variations of basic kicks, either with a different target or combined with another move, such as jumping.
Axe kick 
In Japanese, kakato-geri; in Korean, doki bal chagi or naeryeo chagi or "chikka chagi".
An axe kick, also known as a hammer kick, stretch kick, or thigh of obliteration kick, is characterized by a straightened leg descending onto an opponent like the blade of an axe. It begins with one foot rising upward as in a crescent kick. The upward arc motion is stopped, and then the attacking foot is lowered so as to strike the target from above. The arc can be performed in either an inward (counter-clockwise) or outward (clockwise) fashion.
Butterfly kick 
The butterfly kick is done by doing a large circular motion with both feet in succession, making the combatant airborne. There are many variations of this kick. The kick may look like a slanted aerial cartwheel, and at the same time, the body spins horizontally in a circle. It begins as a jump with one leg while kicking with the other, then move the kicking leg down and the jumping leg up into a kick, landing with the first kicking leg, all while spinning. This kick involves also the arching the back backwards when airborne to give a horizontal body with high angled legs to the horizontal. It may also resemble a jumping spin roundhouse kick (developed by James 'Two Screens' Perkins) into a spinning hook kick, all in one jump and one spin although the difference is that both legs should remain in the air at the same time for a considerable amount of time.
First practiced in Chinese martial arts, the butterfly kick, or "xuan zi", is widely viewed as ineffective for actual combat. However, its original purpose was to evade an opponent's floor sweep and flip to the antagonist's exposed side or it may be used as a double aerial kick to an opponent standing off to the side. It is now widely used in demonstrative wushu forms (taolu) as a symbol of difficulty.
Calf kick 
This kick strikes with the backside of the calf. A variation which is known as the jumping calf kick is when the user jumps before performing the kick. This attack often takes the form of a sweep in clinching situations and is most often seen in Judo matches or MMA.
Crescent kick 
In Japanese, mikazuki Geri; in Korean, bandal chagi (반달 차기).
The crescent kick, also referred to as a 'swing' kick, has some similarities to a hook kick, and is sometimes practised as an off-target front snap kick. The leg is bent like the front kick, but the knee is pointed at a target to the left or right of the true target. The energy from the snap is then redirected, whipping the leg into an arc and hitting the target from the side. This is useful for getting inside defenses and striking the side of the head or for knocking down hands to follow up with a close attack. In many styles of T'ai chi ch'uan, crescent kicks are taught as tripping techniques. When training for crescent kicks, it is common to keep the knee extended to increase the difficulty. This also increases the momentum of the foot and can generate more force, though it takes longer to build up the speed.
The inward/inner/inside crescent hits with the inside edge of the foot. Its arch is clockwise for the left leg and counter-clockwise for the right leg. Force is generated by both legs' hip adduction. The inward variant has also been called a hangetsu geri (Half moon kick) in karate and is employed to "wipe" an opponents hand off of one's wrist. It can quickly be followed up by a low side-blade kick to the knee of the offender.
The outward/outer/outside crescent hits with the 'blade', the outside edge of the foot. Its path is counter-clockwise for the left leg and clockwise for the right leg, and force is generated by both legs' hip abduction. This is similar to a rising side kick, only with the kicking leg's hip flexed so that the line of force travels parallel to the ground from front to side rather than straight up, beginning and ending at the side.
Hook kick 
In Korean, huryeo chagi (후려 차기) or golcho chagi.
The hook kick strikes with the heel from the side (or flat of the foot in sparring). It is executed similar to a side kick. However, the kick is intentionally aimed slightly off target in the direction of the kicking foot's toes. At full extension, the knee is bent and the foot snapped to the side, impacting the target with the heel. In Taekwondo it is often used at the resulting miss of a short slide side kick to the head, but is considered a very high level technique in said circumstance. Practitioners of jeet kune do frequently use the term heel hook kick or sweep kick. It is known as Gancho in Capoeira.
There are many variations of the hook kick, generally based on different footworks: rear- or front-leg, oblique or half-pivot, dropping, spin-back and more. The hook kick can be delivered with a near-straight leg at impact, or with a hooked finish (Kake in Japanese Karate) where the leg bends before impact to catch the target from behind. An important variation is the downward hook kick, delivered as a regular or a spin-back kick, in which the end of the trajectory is diagonally downwards for a surprise effect or following an evading opponent.
The hook kick is mainly used to strike the jaw area of an opponent,but is also highly effective in the temple region.
Reverse roundhouse/heel kick 
In Japanese, ushiro mawashi geri (後ろ回し蹴り); in Korean, bandae dollyo chagi (반대 돌려 차기), dwit hu ryo chagi, nakkio mom dollyo chagi or parryo chagi.
This kick is also known as a heel kick, reverse turning kick, reverse round kick, spinning hook kick, spin kick, or "wheel kick". A low reverse roundhouse is also known as a Sweep Kick. This kick traditionally uses the heel to strike with. The kicking leg comes from around the kicker's back and remains straight, unlike a reverse hooking kick. See above for more on hook kicks. Variations exist for low, middle and high height. Spinning and leaping variations of the kick are also popular, and are often showcased in film and television media. Edson Barboza executed the first wheel kick for a knockout in the UFC at UFC 142:Aldo vs. Mendes. He knocked out Terry Etim 3:23 into the third round of their fight.
A different kick that is similarly named also exists. It is literally a roundhouse kick performed by turning as if for a back straight kick and executing a roundhouse kick. It is known as a Reverse Roundhouse Kick because the kicker turns in the opposite, or "reverse", direction before the kick is executed. This kick strikes with the ball of the foot for power or the top of the foot for range. The kick was exhibited by Bruce Lee on numerous occasions in]] his films Enter the Dragon, Fist of Fury and The Big Boss. Bill Wallace was also a great user of this kick, as seen in his fight with Bill Briggs, where he KO'd his opponent with the clocked 60 mph kick. The Jump Spin Hook Kick was popularized in the mid-eighties by Steven Ho in open martial art competitions.
In Olympic format (sport) taekwondo, this technique is performed using the balls of the feet, and in a manner similar to a back thrust, rather than the circular technique adopted in other styles/Martial Arts.
Flying kicks 
A flying kick, in martial arts, is a general description of kicks that involve a running start, jump, then a kick in mid-air. Compared to a regular kick, the user is able to achieve greater momentum from the run at the start. Flying kicks are not to be mistaken for jumping kicks, which are similar maneuvers. A jumping kick is very similar to a flying kick, except that it lacks the running start and the user simply jumps and kicks from a stationary position. Flying kicks are often derived from the basic kicks. Some of the more commonly known flying kicks are the: flying side kick, flying back kick and the flying roundhouse kick, as well as the flying reverse roundhouse kick. Flying kicks are commonly practiced in Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Wushu, and Muay Thai for fitness, exhibitions, competition, as well as self defense. It is known as tobi geri in Japanese martial arts, and twimyo chagi in Taekwondo.
Scissor kick 
Several kicks may be called a scissor kick, involving swinging out the legs to kick multiple targets or using the legs to take down an opponent.
The popularized version of a scissor kick is, while lying down, or jumping, the kicker brings both legs to both sides of the opponent's legs or to their body and head, then brings both in as a take down (as the name states, leg motions are like that of a pair of scissors).
Scissor kicks and other variants are also commonly applied in Vovinam.
Vertical kick (thrust kick/push kick/side kick) 
The vertical kick involves bringing the knee forward and across the chest, then swinging the hip while extending the kicking leg outward, striking with the outside ("sword") edge of the foot. It can deliver a considerable amount of power. This is called a yoko geri keage in karate.
In Taekwondo, the vertical kick is called sewo chagi, and can be performed as either an inward (anuro) or outward (bakuro) kick.
Multiple kick 
In Japanese karate, the term ren geri is used for several kicks performed in succession. Old karate did not promote the use of the legs for weapons as much as modern karate does, seeing them as being too open for countering. However, in modern sport karate (non-traditional) competitions, the ability to use multiple kicks without setting the foot down has become a viable option, not only for effectiveness but also for stylish aesthetics.
In Taekwon-Do, three types of multiple kick are distinguished:
Double kick (i-jung chagi) - two kicks of the same type executed in succession by the same foot in the same direction.
Consecutive kick (yonsok chagi) - two or more kicks executed in succession by the same foot but in different directions, or with different attacking tools.
Combination kick (honhap chagi) - two or more kicks executed in succession by both feet.
One such Multiple Kick commonly seen in Taekwondo, is a slightly complex Side Kick where a High Side Kick is followed by a Low Side Kick which is in turn followed by a more powerful Side Kick. This combination is done rapidly and is meant not for multiple targets but for a single one. The Multiple Kick usually targets the face, thigh, and chest, but in turn can be a multiple chest attack which is useful for knocking the breath out of an attacker. The Multiple Kick is usually done in the "second" style described in the Side Kick article which "involves shooting the leg forward as in a front kick and then pivoting and turning so" to actually deliver a side kick. That style "has far less power but is much faster and more deceptive", which is what the Multiple Kick was designed for. The Multiple Kick, unlike some Side Kicks or "side blade kicks", never uses the outer edge of the foot; it is intended solely for the heel to be used as the impact point. Depending on the strength and skill of the attacker and the attacked, the combination can be highly effective or highly ineffective when compared to more pragmatic attacks. In some encounters with highly trained and conditioned fighters, multiple side-kicks have seen disastrous results against the abs of their targets.
See also