There’s no disputing the self-defense potential of the front kick. Used as an explosive, committed attack or counterattack, a deep front kick into an assailant’s stomach may end a conflict outright.
Unlike many kicks, the front kick doesn’t lose potency at close range. Even if an attacker lunges in and the kick catches him when only half extended, he still receives a jarring impact, and the follow-through still drives him backward.
From a defensive standpoint, the front kick is safe, for a practitioner is not likely to get into trouble while using it. Yes, the leg can still be grabbed. But if it is, the kicker is not as easily upended as with a more complicated kick. And because the upper body doesn’t lean backward or tilt to the side, the front kick can be retracted more naturally and quickly.
In sparring, the front kick proves its value. Because it requires minimal pivoting, it lends itself to combinations. A confident fighter can lead with it, then follow with a strong lunge or reverse punch. The front kick also can be employed after a lead punch, with the punch’s momentum facilitating the delivery of the follow-up kick. Done quickly, this type of combination will nail a “runner” before he can retreat.
Against a “blocker,” the front kick can easily be transformed into a deceptive double kick. The initial chamber lowers the opponent’s guard as the kick becomes a high roundhouse or side kick. Of course, your foe is more likely to take the bait if the regular front kick has been used earlier in the match.
With all this potential, why isn’t the front kick used more frequently in sparring? It may be that its very simplicity allows some martial artists to be less than rigorous in perfecting it. It’s not uncommon for practitioners to suffer broken toes and bruised insteps when an opponent stops the kick with an elbow. Indeed, many practitioners eschew the front kick in dojo sparring — not because they believe it won’t work but because they fear the consequences.
One of the main reasons the front kick leads to minor injury during training is that its trajectory is upward rather than outward. This may be the result of misunderstanding the intent of the kick or from reinforcing bad habits through high kicking.
If the problem is the latter, it really doesn’t matter whether the toes are pulled back perfectly. If the foot isn’t flexed slightly downward and pointed toward the target, even a deep kick will harmlessly brush by the opponent. Positioning the foot correctly also aids in kicking straight into the target area — the middle of the body. A kick’s power dissipates when directed upward, and not only does kicking upward weaken the front kick’s impact, but it also bypasses the only realistic target area.
Another critical success factor involves getting the knee up as high as possible before the kick. A low, lazy chamber allows a foe to pick up on the motion earlier, thereby making it easier to block or jam with a stop-kick. Failing to crank the knee up also drastically reduces the kick’s power; the kick is shoveled up instead of exploded through its target.
Many exercises help develop the front kick, but perhaps the most useful thing to improve confidence and performance is to actually hit something. A heavy bag,makiwara, air shield, old tire or any number of devices can serve as effective targets because they encourage the kicker to make contact.
If the target is positioned realistically — at midsection level — a rising kick will pass in front of it. As a result, a practitioner who strikes the heavy bag with consistency learns to front-kick correctly — or abandons the practice in frustration.
In modern tournaments, the front kick has fallen out of favor. Yet 50 years ago when American tournaments were in their infancy, points weren’t given for sloppy, flicking or questionable techniques. To be recognized as a valid point, a technique had to have good form, focus and stopping power. Not coincidentally, the front kick was one of the most often used techniques — because it delivered on all these prerequisites.
True, times have changed and competition has evolved. Today’s fighters are better conditioned and more mobile, and they possess a more extensive repertoire of techniques than their first-generation counterparts. Despite this seeming sophistication, however, something seems to be missing. Too often, what grabs judges’ attention is more flash than substance. This is not, nor has it ever been, the case with the front kick. Whether the circumstance is self-defense or sparring, the basic front kick remains a reliable choice.