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Martial Arts: How to Do a Perfect Roundhouse Kick
Here is a simple guide explaining the steps involved to perform a roundhouse kick in perfect form and how physics proves it a winning move in combat sports.
The roundhouse kick, while many times more dangerous than a standard punch, is difficult to master. The reason being for this is that not many people have been exposed to kicking combat. Action movies frequently feature intense fist-fights but by nature, street fights caught on tape rarely feature any kicks. The speed of combat is too fast for the average person to see how kicks can be effective.
The reason for its rarity is not that it is impractical but that it is a combat move rarely mastered enough to use safely. It's power and usefulness is not limited to martial arts common sense - it can be proven by conceptual physics.
What Makes the Roundhouse Kick Dangerous?
Kicks are usually much stronger than punches. The legs are much longer than the arms and thus provide more extension. More extension equates to more rotational force, which can be devastating in combat.
The physical concept to talk about here is torque. There are two factors that determine the power of torque on an object:
-The force applied.
-The length of the moving object as it moves through its path of motion.
Think about it this way. What would hurt more: the end of a six inch pen that hits you at ten miles per hour or the end of a foot long pen that hits you at the same speed?
The longer the arm or leg, the more force (pain) you are going to experience on the other end. Torque is a complex concept when factors such as angular momentum are involved. You will see how important it is to understand these concepts when delivering a roundhouse kick.
The equation relating Torque is as follows:
Torque = Position of the object relative to the fulcrum (Length) x Force
A simple analogy of how this works is the anatomy of a door. One does not push near the hinges to close a door because there is little distance compared to the opposite end of the door. Common sense points us toward pushing the very end of the door (near the handle) as it provides the angular force necessary to move the door further. The closer to the end of the door you push, the more force you exert.
Now think of the door as the leg; with the thigh joint and shin/face of the foot as the opposite ends. The more angular attack and length of motion you use, the more devastating your kick will be.
Another example to look at is the see-saw concept. If there were two boys of the same exact weight but the right boy is sitting on the middle of his side and the left boy is sitting at the far end, who will exert the most torque and end with his side on the ground?
The boy on the left. As he is at the furthermost end of the see-saw, it will result in the boy on the left being slightly raised to counterbalance the rotational force. While the torque values on both sides are the same, the relative positions of the boys affect how the see-saw is balanced.
How to Execute the Perfect Roundhouse Kick
Roundhouse kicks can be done in many different ways. Sometimes it is done different as a result of a particular martial arts style's application. Taekwondo, for example, stresses roundhouse kicks where the face of the foot is the point of impact. Muay Thai is slightly different, instead making the shin and the area between the shin and the tibia the major points of contact.
The face of the foot point of contact is a strategy used in Taekwondo because it emphasizes much higher kicks, which require more range. The face of the foot is at the furthest point of the leg, so it can be most accurate in a ranged blow. The shin is used in Muay Thai because it is easier to use for short distances and provides more power because it uses the majority of the leg muscles. However, head shots will be more difficult and the shins have to be conditioned properly or injuries will occur. It all depends on what the martial arts style intends for its fighters to do.
The muscles involved in a roundhouse kick are primarily the leg muscles, such as the quadriceps. These muscles are twice as powerful as the arms and through more extension, can exert over six hundred pounds of pressure. Take a look here to see professional MMA fighter Bas Rutten performing a roundhouse kick that is to be scientifically analyzed in a snippet from National Geographic's Fight Science. It is scary to think what a kick like that can do to a real human being.
To explain the mechanics of the roundhouse kick, let's take it step by step.
1. You should consider a sideways ready stance, with your kicking foot behind your support foot. For right handers, this means their right foot will be in the back and their left foot will be forward. This is preparation for your kick, as you need distance for the rotation.
2. As you begin the motion of your kick, lift up your right foot by bending your right knee up slightly above waist level.
3. As you bring your right knee up, twist the entire trunk and core of your body into the direction you want to kick. Bringing your knee up and twisting your body into full force should be a single fluid movement. If done improperly or out of rhythm, there will be little momentum.
4. As you twist your body (waist, shoulders, trunk), your left foot must pivot with the movement as it is behind you. This adds significant rotational force and is one of the most ignored steps of the kick.
5. Keep in mind that the left foot provides most the balance. Allow the sole of the foot to grip the ground, drawing force from the ground. Ancient Chinese martial arts masters credited the element of earth to a fighter's power. This is explained through physics as the ground is the medium upon which you press against to propel your movement forward. This is evident in walking, horses pulling carriages, and tug of war.
6. As your body twists toward your opponent, you should slightly lean back as your left foot pivots. Your right knee should now move into a more extended position, with the face of the foot or the shin now aimed directly at the opponent's head or midsection. Never fully extend the leg as it leaves the knee joint vulnerable. The tension and force of impact can pop the joint easily and can permanently injure your body. Keep your right leg slightly bent and angled.
7. Your kick must now make contact with the opponent with blinding speed. It is the final result of the pivoting full body torque motion of the kick. Follow through and snap back your foot after it strikes your opponent. Impulse is the product of force and time. If you shorten the time of the force of impact, you will produce much more force (in the same way, bare-knuckle boxing shortens the time of impact as opposed to gloves increasing it for safety reasons). If you follow through but do not return back to a stable position, you will lose footing. Make sure your left foot stays rooted to the ground. The reason why most kicks fail is because inexperienced fighters are unable to keep balance and are counter-attacked as their backs are exposed.
That is the roundhouse kick in more detail. All seven of those steps must be fluid, rhythmic, and must be executed quickly. Experienced kickers can perform a powerful snapping roundhouse kick in a single second and return back to ready position without much loss of stability. Some fighters can break into combos of alternating right and left foot roundhouse kicks, which is common in many Taekwondo sparring matches.
Realistic Value of Kicks in Street Fights
The art of kicking is much different in reality as opposed to pop culture, television, and movies. Fights in media are typically oriented toward providing entertainment over realism. The truth is that it is very dangerous to use kicking in fights. High kicking can cause joint damage if the fighter is not flexible enough. It can cause loss of balance, resulting in a serious disadvantage. Low flexibility is another reason kicks aren't done well. Instead, they pose a serious risk of causing muscle tears. Every martial artist must stretch, warm up, and improve his or her flexibility before attempting roundhouse kicks at full power - especially ones at head level.
Kicks are slower and it's harder to be accurate with them because there are so many subtle movements of the body that are required to make it a fluid motion. While high kicking is seldom used in street fights, it is used by professional fighters when their opponents leave themselves open to attack. Low kicking is very practical to street fights and a few well placed kicks can break knee joints, disabling an opponent quickly.
The Secret to Delivering the Perfect Roundhouse Kick - Recap
The end result is a symphony of nearly every major muscle in the body. The strength of the legs is only an extension. The majority of the force comes from the weight of the body - the hips, shoulders, and trunk of the body all moving together with a whiplash impact, all to deliver crushing force. It takes years of practice to perfect the kick to the point where it can be used as a combo finisher and not a move simply there to look flashy.
To put it simply, the roundhouse kick is a widely known move but a move more difficult to master than it is to learn. In the end it is not raw power that makes the kick, it is the polished technique. Most people simply do not realize that the roundhouse kick is near the top of the most potentially fatal moves a human being is able to perform. It is a kick underestimated because it lacks the flashy acrobatic movement in Hollywood media.
The real fighter does not put his moves on display to look cool. The real fighter focuses on the fundamentals and then worries later about making it look cool in the process.