Techniques

Self-Defense for Minimalists: The Only Kick You Will Ever Need

Back on the farm, plow hitches were always getting stuck because they’d fill up with dirt. If you didn’t have a sledgehammer handy, the only way to knock them loose was with a good, swift kick. But not just any kick would do. It had to be what we called the “Georgia stomp.”

Turns out, it was one of the best tools on the farm because it could be used in so many situations — everything from busting up big dirt clods to straightening out your hoe. It’s one of your best tools in self-defense and the martial arts for the same reasons — namely, it packs power and versatility.

BASIC STOMP: As the assailant (left) approaches, the martial artist assumes a defensive stance. He raises his knee as high as possible and thrusts his foot out and down, striking the man in the groin.

Once I began studying the martial arts, I recognized that the stomping kick — also called the push kick, the piston kick or just the front kick — was nothing more than a Georgia stomp applied to self-defense. At first, I preferred the stomp to other types of kicks, probably because of its familiarity. After many years of practice, I realized I preferred it not just for its ease of use but because experience had proved it superior to other leg techniques.

Based on that experience, I’ve placed the stomp at the top of my hierarchy of striking techniques. What were my criteria?

First, it had to be powerful because without power, it won’t be effective. Second, it had to be accurate. Third, it had to incur minimal risk — including risk of self-injury and risk of counterattack. To fully appreciate these points, you must understand how to do the stomp kick correctly.

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The basic movement entails raising your foot as high as possible, then dropping the bottom of your boot as hard as possible while simultaneously dropping your body weight onto the target. It’s that simple.

Almost everybody knows how to do this, which means you already have a good idea of how to do the stomp. You probably use the basic motion all the time — for example, to break up stuff that won’t fit in the garbage can. Because you’ve got the basics down, you need only a little practice to perfect the technique.

One reason the stomp is so powerful is it’s a natural movement. You don’t need to learn new skills involving foot position, balance and hip rotation. You don’t even need to be flexible. The power of the stomp comes from the fact that it utilizes your strongest muscles — thigh and buttocks — in conjunction with your bodyweight. When you stomp, they merge to become an unstoppable force.

FROM A HEAD LOCK: Mark A. Jordan is caught in a bad position. He raises his foot before driving it down onto the aggressor’s instep.

Right now, you’re probably wondering what’s so useful about stomping the ground. Well, it has nothing to do with knocking your opponent down and stomping him in the head — although that’s a possibility. You see, most people forget how important it is to target the feet and ankles of an assailant. It should be one of your top priorities in self-defense. By damaging his feet, you’ll hinder his stability and mobility, and he’ll no longer pose a threat.

Even though the foot and ankle are designed to withstand a lot of pressure from the bottom, they’re susceptible to even a light force from above. If you’ve ever dropped something on your foot, even something small, you know what I mean. Now imagine that the thing being dropped on your foot is a powerful stomp. With that much force and bodyweight behind it, there’s a good chance the small bones of the foot will fracture or be dislocated.

A stomp directed at the side of the ankle will force the foot to roll, tearing the ligaments and spraining the joint — which is why the technique is illegal in many competitions. Dirty little secret of the martial arts: Any technique that’s illegal in competition should be the first thing you do in self-defense.

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Better Martial Arts Through Psychology: A Concise Guide to Improving Your Techniques

How many side kicks have you performed? How many thousands of punches have you thrown? Why did you do so many?

While simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a black belt, I found psychology’s answers to many of my martial arts questions.

One reason for repeating a technique many times comes from physiological learning theories. When you perform a technique, a small electrical charge is conducted through your brain in a pattern particular to that activity. Each time you repeat the technique, the same pathway is followed.

Just as a trail in the woods becomes more defined with use, so will the electrical pathways in your brain. The more you practice a technique, the easier it is for electrochemical processes in your brain to repeat the pattern.

In short, your brain will perform the cognitive, or mental, portion of the technique more quickly; therefore, your body will be able to perform the physical portion of the technique more quickly and efficiently.

Another relevant psychological theory is that of behavioral conditioning. Behavioral theorists support the notion that physical practice leads to more efficient performance.

For instance, if you want to teach a student to stand his ground and counterattack an opponent, shouting for him to do so is not the most efficient teaching method. Instead, have him practice his counterattacks with you or a focus pad, and do so slowly at first. Reward successful efforts with verbal praise or by withholding push-ups, depending upon your style.

When the student is proficient at counterattacking at a snail’s pace, slowly increase the speed of your attack. He will increase his response skill and become more confident. Finally, practice continuously at full speed, intermittently rewarding him for his good work.

The payoff comes during sparring sessions when the student automatically counterattacks his opponent. The repeated practice conditions the student to instantly counter when he sees an attacker coming toward him. With enough practice, or conditioning, the technique becomes a reflex, bypassing conscious thought. At this point, the quickness and efficiency of the technique take an exponential jump, which is well worth the time spent practicing.

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Social psychologists also have researched individual performance levels in pressure situations. They have found that a person’s performance can either improve or decline under pressure, depending on the complexity of the task being performed.

For instance, if a person is asked to wind a fishing reel as fast as he can, he will wind it more quickly under time pressure and in view of others than if he is alone in a room. If you ask the same person to solve math problems, however, his performance will decrease under the same pressures.

How can you use this information to aid your martial arts practice? The trick is to simplify the performance of complex tasks through repetitive practice. Clinical psychologists have found that black-belt students perform kicking drills more efficiently when they are being watched and graded, whereas colored-belt students perform less efficiently under the same conditions. Why? Because the black-belt students have practiced the technique so many times that it has become a simple task, whereas the drill remains complex for the colored-belt students.

The reason Larry Bird made a higher percentage of free throws in pressure situations is he had practiced the free throw so many thousands of times that it became a simple task for him. Others would choke in the same situation because a free throw is not an automatic, simple task for them.

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A reverse punch, however, is something that you have practiced often enough that your performance should increase under pressure — whether fighting for points in a tournament or for real on the street.

This post has discussed from a psychological perspective several reasons why you need to continually practice your techniques. If those reasons are not enough to make you want to practice, do it so your instructor does not make you do more push-ups.

David F. Clark is a freelance writer and martial artist based in Vineyard, Utah.

Photos by Rick Hustead…

Ultimate Kicking: The Push Kick Can Add Speed and Power to Your Taekwondo Tool Box

As the quality of the competition and techniques seen in taekwondo continues to improve, the push kick is emerging as one of the most potent weapons used by today’s martial arts athletes.

“It works for anyone,” says Yeon Hwan Park, coach of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and head coach of the 1991 Pan-American Games team. “If timed properly, the push kick can be a devastating maneuver. It allows a competitor to get maximum power from his kick, enabling him to use his leg reach and strength to his maximum ability. Competitors are discovering this more and more.”

As a result, Park says, practitioners are developing innovative ways to employ this powerful technique.

Ideally, the push kick will make contact with the heel, but the ball of the foot also works, the author says.

“The push kick combines thrust with snap,” Yeon Hwan Park says. “If done at the right time, you can combine the force of your opponent’s attack with a great deal of your own body’s power.” That results in a powerful kick, but it must be refined through practice.

To throw a taekwondo push kick, lift the knee of your rear leg to your chest. Slide your supporting leg forward as you do, then shoot out your kicking leg in a piston-like fashion. Try to land your foot directly on your opponent’s chest or face. Ideally, you should strike with your heel, but if distance doesn’t permit, the ball of your foot can suffice.

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Park suggests several drills to develop your technique and timing. One involves squaring off with an opponent in closed cover (chests facing opposite directions). As he attempts an ax kick, you aim for his solar plexus with your push kick. If timed right, your kick will land him on his back.

“If you wait until his ax kick is at its highest point, it’s too late to start a counterstrike,” Yeon Hwan Park says. “As he begins his motion, you must begin yours. Don’t wait, especially in a situation like this when your face is exposed.”

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He recommends another drill to illustrate how a push kick can repel an attempted back kick. “Once your opponent turns his back, thrust a push kick into the area just above his waist,” he says. If done properly, the push kick will stop the back kick before he can complete the required turning motion. Park advises students to follow up with a roundhouse kick.

In repelling a back kick, a push kick works especially well when done off the front leg, Yeon Hwan Park says. “You don’t need to thrust it in with any great amount of power. If you keep your leg and foot straight, you can practically lift your foot up and just place it on his waist as he turns into the kick. Since he’s moving into your leg, there will be sufficient force without your having to do much except stay ready to follow up.”

Again, Park emphasizes that you must time the kick so it’s unleashed concurrently with the attacker’s kick. “If you start your kick when he starts his, your foot should be in position to cut off the back kick, then follow up,” he says. “If you’re late with the push kick, you’re going to run into a back kick, which is probably the most powerful technique in taekwondo. Your kick should land at or just above his hip. Once you’ve stopped his momentum, he’s a sitting duck.”

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For the next drill, square off with your partner in open cover (chests facing the same direction). As he unleashes a rear-leg roundhouse, skip in with a forward-leg cut kick, a variation of the push kick that applies basically the same principles but in a sideways motion. Make sure your kicking leg moves first and your supporting leg slides forward immediately afterward.

When he throws the roundhouse, there comes a point when he’s full-bodied. It lasts only a moment — until he turns his back into the kick more fully and incorporates his upper-body power. That, Park says, is precisely what the push kick or cut kick can help you exploit.

“If you cut off his roundhouse with a kick as powerful as a push kick, your opponent is likely to be off-balance,” he says. “As he moves backward [from] the impact, …

Maximize Your Chance of Surviving a Knife Fight — by Training Smart!

The part of self-defense that frightens me most is defending against a knife attack. It’s hard to convey the ugliness of combat with a bladed weapon. Anyone — trained or untrained, male or female — gains a significant advantage when wielding a knife and suffers a great disadvantage when facing one.

How should you prepare for this type of potentially fatal encounter? Being realistic in training is the key.

I say this because most martial artists train primarily to deal with face-to-face, Hollywood-style knife attacks. You need to distinguish between what looks good for demonstration purposes and movies and what will work in an actual knife fight.

Think about the way you train. Your workouts should help you gain the skills and attributes needed to deal with high-speed, aggressive blade attacks. Furthermore, your workouts must be shaped by reality. That means they should include functional training methods and reliable techniques.

Morne Swanepoel

Research has shown that techniques that depend on fine-motor skills require heightened awareness, proximity sense and precise timing. That’s a lot to ask in a real-life self-defense situation.

It follows that the best techniques are those that rely on gross-motor skills, especially ones you’ve practiced over and over in environments designed to mimic reality. When you start training your body and brain that way, it quickly becomes apparent that keeping things simple is the preferred way to ensure you can function under pressure.

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I’ve found that the best method for getting this kind of experience involves sparring with a resisting opponent using training knives. Knife fights occur at full speed, so all your sparring should be done at a fast pace.

A crucial part of knife training is composed of offensive techniques. Only by understanding the offensive elements of blade combat will you be able to develop good defensive tactics. Knowledge of the way weapons work can give you the advantage you need to defend against them.

Of course, you can’t neglect empty-hand-vs.-weapon training. To keep it realistic, engage in scenarios that occasionally include surrendering as soon as a weapon is deployed, as well as scenarios in which you can’t do that because it would place you in greater danger.

The following is the training progression I teach:

1 — Avoid

Improve your awareness so you can avoid threats. Study the mindset of the sociopath. Review statistics associated with knife attacks. Read about relevant criminal cases.

2 — Escape

Set up training scenarios that allow escape. Engage in “mental practice” that involves planning a quick exit from the places you visit. Don’t forget to envision yourself fleeing along with a loved one.

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3 — Use the Environment

Learn how to identify nearby objects that can be thrown at an armed attacker, as well as objects that can be used to bludgeon or cut him. Also learn how to maneuver so an obstacle or barrier stands between him and you. To ingrain this concept, engage in training scenarios with focus mitts, boxing gloves and so on to serve as throwable objects and other improvised weapons.

Morne Swanepoel

4 — Mobility

Develop your perception so that distancing, timing and accuracy become second nature. Practice not engaging with the enemy and making your escape. Don’t forget to train in the presence of role-playing “loved ones” who need your protection.

5 — Engage

Know that this should be your course of action only if your life or the life of a loved one is at stake. When engaging, it’s imperative to grab the assailant’s knife hand with both your hands before executing a counterattack.

Avoid focusing on disarms unless one presents itself. Incorporate training knives of various sizes and designs, as well as all kinds of improvised weapons, into your drills. Train in a variety of environments and adjust your methods according to what works where.

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Blade training is essential in the education of anyone who’s into self-defense. Never make the mistake of thinking a knife attack won’t happen to you or that you can disarm an assailant as easily as they do in the movies.

If you teach, reinforce the notion that “avoid and escape” is preferred to “stand and fight.” Constantly tell your students that this is by no means a cowardly response to an attack. Your possessions can be replaced, but your life cannot.

As they say, there can be only one winner in a knife fight — but more often, there are two losers.

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Steve Nasty Anderson on the Sport-Karate California Blitz vs. MMA Superman Punch

Steve Anderson started competing in karate tournaments in the early 1970s in Southern California. By 1980 Anderson, who’d gained the nickname “Nasty,” had become the top sport-karate fighter in America. He dominated the Karate Illustrated/NASKA circuit for the next decade. Anderson, who’s called Canada home for 20-plus years, is now vice president of the Canadian WKA National Team. He runs a successful martial arts academy and trains his 10-year-old daughter Osha, herself a World Kickboxing Association champ. In this article, the 58-year-old discusses his trademark “California blitz” and its MMA counterpart, the superman punch.

What exactly is the California blitz?

The blitz is a punching technique that’s used to quickly close the gap between you and your opponent by simultaneously delivering a jab and a cross as you move in.

Steve Nasty AndersonSteve Anderson demonstrates the original version of his California blitz done without the jump. It was developed in the 1970s for point-karate competition. Anderson begins in a fighting stance (1) and opens with a jab, which he executes with a forward lean designed to cover distance (2). After a quick step forward (3), he uncorks the reverse punch (4).

When did you start using the technique?

In the 1970s, I noticed Howard Jackson using a similar technique while fighting taller opponents. He was able to close the gap by practically running in [and] punching, as opposed to the traditional shuffle reverse punch that was used at the time. I am 6 feet 3 and a 100-meter sprinter, so I worked on developing a unique way to get off the line quicker. I watched some video footage of myself fighting and noticed I was doing similar [things], so I fine-tuned the technique until it became what’s been known since as my California blitz.

What advantages did it give you over your competition?

In those days, the fighters had great kicking and punching ability but lacked lateral movement and forward motion. By implementing my blitz into a tournament format, I was able to score with offensive punching techniques faster than they could counterattack. And while my opponents were focused on my hands, I was able to score more with my kicks.

Do you attribute your unprecedented winning percentage in sport karate to this technique?

Mastering the blitz definitely gave me an advantage over the average competitor, but within months, many of the other top fighters began using the same technique. My winning percentage was a result of a number of factors, including:

•     I worked harder in training than anyone — or at least I told myself I did.

•     I competed in more tournaments than anyone, averaging more than 50 annually.

•     Since sport karate was my career, I needed the prize money.

•     I never got hurt or had injuries.

•     I fought with my brain rather than my brawn.

•     I used a scientific approach to fighting and always studied my opponents.

•     I truly believed I was going to win every single fight.

Steve AndersonTo show the diving version of the California blitz, Steve Anderson recruits his instructor, Orned “Chicken” Gabriel, to hold the pad. Anderson initiates with the same jab, this time performed as he’s about to go airborne (1-2). Anderson leaves the ground to close the distance (3), then unleashes his power technique in the form of a right cross, making contact before he lands (4).

There have been comparisons of the California blitz and the MMA superman punch. How are the techniques similar?

The superman punch is the California blitz. They both:

•     have fighters exploding from the ground, jumping off the lead leg,

•     end with a cross or straight right punch, and

•     have fighters jumping up and forward to close the gap and hit opponents [who are] out of range for traditional punches and kicks.

How do they differ?

The California blitz was designed for sport karate, which is a speed and accuracy [contest]. In sport karate, the first scoring technique gets you a point, and you don’t need a knockout to win. Bearing this in mind, there are some differences between the two techniques:

•     The blitz uses the extension of a jab to propel your momentum forward, then lands the jab.

•     The blitz uses your back leg to start the momentum of the jump forward, rather than up, to cover ground quicker.

•     The blitz travels like an arrow rather than a rainbow, which is more widely used in MMA.

•     The blitz [lets] you surprise your opponent with an unforeseen jab or backfist, followed by the cross for good measure.

Sport-karate star Steve Nasty Anderson

What advice do you have for MMA competitors looking to increase the effectiveness of their superman punch?

First off, I commend all MMA fighters for their use of the superman punch. It’s a technique that takes time …

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