A student of taekwondo authority Y.H. Park dissects the mechanics of the push kick and outlines a number of drills that can lead you to proficiency.

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, perpetuate his motion by throwing an immediate back kick off your other leg.” The key to making the push kick effective lies in raising the knee and driving the foot forward using a piston-like motion, the author says. Yeon Hwan Park claims the push kick can wreak havoc on a poor puncher. To illustrate, face your partner in closed cover with your right side back. As he lunges forward and changes sides to effect a lunge punch, thrust out a push kick. Distancing and timing are essential in this drill. To practice the crucial timing aspect of the push kick, Park suggests squaring off with a partner in closed cover. He throws a back hook kick, which you avoid by sliding backward but remaining within kicking range. Once his leg touches the ground — most people land after spinning 270 degrees, thus partly exposing their upper body — let loose with a rear-leg push kick. Your task becomes easier because his momentum moves him backward. Since you change sides during a push kick, be sure to change your guard, as well. Otherwise, your head could be exposed to attack. To practice an offensive push kick, face your opponent in open cover. Take one quick step forward and change sides, and as he retreats, he changes sides, as well. Once he moves back, thrust in your rear-leg push kick. This drill will help you get a sense of the kick’s forward motion and a better understanding of timing and distance.

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When you practice your push kick, don’t forget the footwork. If you can kick well but are unable to get within reach of your opponent, Park says, your kicks have only aesthetic value. Learning how to step to facilitate your kicks takes time, and learning to combine stepping and kicking can take longer. For this reason, Park advises students to step with their kicks immediately after they develop an understanding of the basics of both skills. “Try to step faster than your opponent,” Yeon Hwan Park says. This way, you will be able to land your push kick before he settles back into a stance. “Footwork is very important for all your kicks, but especially for one like the push kick, which you can just throw out of nowhere. For example, many competitors have very fast roundhouse kicks, which they can throw without having to set them up. For the push kick, though, you must create a situation wherein you can move forward safely and not extraordinarily fast.” The push kick combines speed with power, Park says. “It’s slower than a roundhouse kick but more powerful. It’s less powerful than a side kick but faster. It doesn’t require a great deal of strength, but it does take practice.” In years to come, Park predicts we’ll see even more intricate ways to score with the technique. (Photos by Rick Hustead) Jeff Leibowitz is a New York-based free-lance writer and martial artist who has studied taekwondo under Y.H. Park for more than 30 years.
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