In 1966, karatel egend Joe Lewis rocketed to stardom by winning Jhoon Rhee's U.S. Nationals in Washington, D.C. Incredibly, it was his first tournament, and he won every single point with only one technique — the side kick. For six years, Chuck Norris ruled the karate world with his spinning kicks. He won virtually every major title between 1965 and 1970, including six grand championships. He retired, undefeated, in 1970. From 1974 to 1981, Bill "Superfoot" Wallace dominated the full-contact karate circuit. His lightning-fast left roundhouse and hook kicks rose to legendary status as he stunned one opponent after another. He retired 21-0, with 11 knockouts. Superfoot, indeed. Those champions and many more have demonstrated their awesome kicking abilities in and out of the ring. In fact, the martial arts in general are best-known for their kicks. Even Bruce Lee is remembered more for his dynamic on-screen kicking than for the intricate trapping and striking techniques of jeet kune do. If kicking is the hallmark of the martial arts, it follows logically that to become a superior fighter, you have to learn how to deal with those seemingly indefensible lower-limb assaults. How do you stop a technique that, once mastered, appears to be unstoppable? One answer can be found within William Cheung's traditional wing chun fighting system.

Mechanics of Kicking

The laws of physics hold that a force can have only one direction at a time. The longer a movement is committed to a certain direction, the longer it will take for it to change its direction. It has to run its course before it can move on to another path. When an opponent attacks with a kick as opposed to a punch, his foot must follow a longer path to reach you. Distance equals time, so the greater distance gives you more time to react. In dealing with kicks, then, the first step is to properly train your eyes, or visual reflexes, so you can readily determine how your opponent is attacking and which part of your body he is targeting. Traditional wing chun teaches you to watch your opponent's elbow to identify an upper-body strike — punch, palm strike, elbow and so on — because the movement of the elbow indicates the movement of the entire arm. The arm cannot move without the elbow going with it. The knee is to the leg as the elbow is to the arm. Thus, if you train yourself to watch the knee of your opponent's attacking leg the instant he kicks, you will have the best chance of identifying the kick's path and target. If the opponent attempts to bridge the gap with a kick, he must commit himself to that direction of force. As a defense, you can do anything. You have not committed; therefore, as long as you are balanced and have mobile footwork, you are free to move in any direction. Your response should put you in the best position not only to defend yourself but also to counterattack.

Contingency Case

If your opponent executes a kick and it does not make contact — and it is your job to ensure that it doesn't — he will leave you several openings to exploit:


  • Balance: When he kicks, he must balance on one leg — if only for a moment — and that means he is presenting an opening. In general, a person in a two-legged stance should be able to knock a person in a one-legged stance off-balance. Without a good base, it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for him to launch an effective blow.
  • The groin: In most cases, executing a kick will leave his groin open to attack. The vulnerability may exist only for a moment, but if your eyes are well-trained, you will see the kick from its inception and you will be ready to pounce.
  • The supporting leg: Because a force can have only one direction at a time, an opponent who commits to a non-jumping kick leaves his supporting leg virtually defenseless while his other leg is completing its motion. The knee and shin are the most common targets on the supporting leg.
  • The kicking leg: Whenever a kick is in motion, several pressure points on the underside of the leg are exposed. They are small targets, but you can train yourself to attack them with a counter-kick.

Defending against a kick is all about timing. While the opponent's leg is committed, the above-mentioned targets are most vulnerable. From a balanced and neutral position, you can time your response so you act during this fleeting but critical moment. If you move too soon, he may change course and adapt. If you move too late, you may miss the opening and get kicked.

Step by Step

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Because distance equals time, you should protect yourself against the most immediate threat — a linear attack — by controlling the centerline (the path that connects the center of your body with the center of your opponent's body). You have now created a shield covering the shortest attack route; your opponent must try to charge through it or find a way around it.

Say your guard covers your center but your opponent still attacks with a kick. You use your eyes to determine the path of the strike (linear or circular) and the target (the upper, middle or lower part of your body). Once you have identified the strike's commitment, step off the path of the attack. Again, proper footwork is crucial for ensuring that you will move to the right place at the right time.

You then must block or deflect the kick on or near the knee. Whenever possible, you should strive to deflect the attack, bumping it slightly off its intended course, and not stop it. If you stop it, you will have ended the kick's commitment and your opponent can now attack again. Obviously, it is important to keep the leg in motion for as long as possible to give yourself time to exploit the opening.

If, however, you do need to stop it, you must then attack the opponent's balance by controlling his knee. Even though the kick's commitment has ended, he will still have a difficult time initiating another strike right away because his balance is committed downward. Plus, the muscles that lift the leg are weaker than the muscles that lower the leg, so you have gravity and anatomy on your side.

Once the kick is controlled and the initial opening has been exploited, your objective is to close the distance (get inside kicking range) and position yourself to the outside of the opponent's leading elbow to continue your counter. This combination of position and counterattack serves multiple purposes:

  • By stepping off the path of the kick — to one side or the other but not straight back — you are in an excellent position to counter immediately. The lack of hesitation before your counter puts him on the defensive, thereby taking him off the offensive.
  • Your position to the outside of his lead arm keeps you away from his rear arm because you are using his lead arm as a shield. Therefore, you are forced to deal with only one limb at a time.
  • Your control of his lead elbow enables you to manipulate his balance, making it difficult for him to attack again.

Precision Blocking

Once you have identified the nature of the kick, you must decide which block to use. Traditional wing chun teaches two relevant rules:

  • If the kick is aimed at the middle or upper part of your body, you should use your arms to block. The specific block is determined by whether the kick is straight or circular.
  • If the kick is aimed at the lower middle or lower part of your body, you should generally use your legs to block.

These principles require you to devote minimal motion to defense. That, in turn, allows for minimal commitment on your part to do the block, leaving you neutral and ready to instantly launch a counterattack rather than committing your balance forward as you reach down to block a low kick with your arm. In traditional wing chun, the principle of “seizing the critical moment" depends on your ability to identify an opening the instant it becomes an opening. Then you must be able to move into the best position to block and counter. The opening could be anywhere, so you must be prepared to go anywhere at anytime. It is essential to train the right and left sides of your body equally. If you have a dominant side, you will have an imbalance — one that might not mesh with the opening.

Furthermore, when your eyes develop the ability to see a kick forming before it is launched, you may be able to employ a wing chun leg attack or jam as a pre-emptive block. They are the quickest ways to put your opponent on the defensive without committing yourself first.

User Beware

Wing chun rarely advocates the use of kicks as a purely offensive weapon to begin an encounter. If your opponent has not yet committed to his attack, using your leg first leaves you committed and vulnerable. Therefore, you should concentrate on employing kicks as a counterattack immediately after a block. Once he has committed to his punch or kick, he will not be able to exploit your openings as readily as you can exploit his. In addition, you should aim your kicks at or below waist level. That means your leg will be committed to the attack for as short a time as possible and serving as a component of your balance for the maximum amount of time.

Traditional wing chun instructors often use a simple metaphor to further drive home the essence of their art's kick-killing methods: If a hammer is aligned with the head of a nail and moved with sufficient force, it will drive the nail all the way into the board. However, if you learn how to recognize the impending blow before it begins and develop the reflexes to respond instantly, you not only can prevent the nail from being pounded flat but can also ensure that the toolbox remains locked and the hammer never even sees the light of day.

About the Author

Eric Oram has taught traditional wing chun for more than 20 years and is an actor, fight choreographer and freelance writer based in Los Angeles. To contact him, visit lawingchun.com.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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