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How & When To Kick In MMA

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Punches can be powerful, but the really devastating attacks come from Kicks and Knees.  In this article we are going to cover some important basics on proper kick techniques and when you should use them.

In the photo above you can see Carlos Condit landing a kick to the head of GSP that turned UFC 154 significantly in his favor.  Although he ultimately lost the bout to GSP, Carlos is one of the record holders for most kicks during a fight in the UFC.  A record he earned during UFC 143 when he became the Welterweight champion by defeating Nick Diaz.

Nick Diaz vs Carlos Condit

Here we see Carlos throwing a straight push kick to Nick Diaz’s abdomen during the UFC 143 bout.

Kicks look cool and they look powerful but when and how should you throw one?

To be effective in kicking you need to have good balance, form, flexibility and speed.   Flexibility will give you more options for where you can land a kick but balance is also absolutely crucial since you run the risk of your opponent catching the kick and using your leg as a harness to control you, likely pushing you backwards thus losing balance and ultimately ending up on the ground.   (This is not where you want to be during a fight.)

Grabbing a Kick

While you can’t always avoid someone catching your kick, you can greatly reduce the chance of them being successful by improving the speed of your kicks.  Though be careful as you don’t want to sacrifice power in favor of speed.  So how do you maintain good power and speed?

Use your opponents weight and mass against them.  When you land s kick you will feel pressure against your shin or foot which is a cue to release and retract the leg.  (Which by the way, you want to try to avoid making contact with your foot as it’s much more fragile and you may end up breaking one or more bones with a strike to a hard surface.)

When you kick or punch someone, their body will naturally try to compensate by applying opposing force to ensure they can maintain balance.  That opposing force can be used to push off your opponents body to get your leg back at a greater speed and ensure your foot is planted on the ground before your opponent has a chance to counter you.

Leaving your leg out there too long will make you vulnerable to a take down.  So you want to throw that kick and get your foot back in the same fighting stance as you began as quickly as possible.   Depending on the kick this may involve additional foot work, meaning more than one or two steps but once you’re foot is back on the ground you’re better positioned to defend or attack.

Kicking Heavy Bag

Practicing kicks on a heavy bag will give you similar resistance to that of a real opponent.

We’ve talked about balance, speed and flexibility… now let’s talk about form.  Each type of kick you throw will require different motion and positioning.  Learning the mechanics are best done with an instructor or school, so we won’t go too deep in the weeds here, but we are going to give you some tips.

Bad Form

This round house kick looks impressive right?  The guy in the photo looks like he can throw some power.  He’s doing a good job of dropping his left hand when throwing a right leg kick to provide counter balance.  He is also putting his hip into the kick which adds a good deal more power and is keeping his torso twisted upward and facing his target.  However, there is one massive problem with his form.  His right hand is to the side and slightly behind his head.  This is a huge, huge no no.   Unfortunately lot’s of fighters do it in the heat of the moment and others also just learn a sloppy approach to throwing kicks with reckless abandon.

His right hand should be in front of his chin, just below his nose covering as much of his face as possible without obstructing his view.  Some fighters prefer an open palm guard (similar to traditional Muay Thai) and others just a simple fist (like most western boxing styles).

Almost Perfect Form

This individual has almost perfect form.  She’s throwing a right roundhouse kick and her left hand is almost exactly where it should be.  Unfortunately her right hand is not where it should be.

Kickboxer working out on punching bag

Finally this individual demonstrates almost all elements of good form.  Other things to note about good form, notice the individual in the photo is on the ball of his left foot as the throws the right kick, additionally his left leg is twisted outward.  This provides more momentum from the hips to ensure maximum power and follow-through from your kicks.  It takes some practice but getting the motion of lifting your leg, tilting your hips, arching your torso, swinging your arm and guarding with the opposite arm, while following through with a side striking motion and twisting on the ball of your grounded foot will make all the difference in the world in how effective your kicks are.

Finally, let’s talk about when to throw that kick.  This is both simple and complex.  First, look for an opening, just like you would when trying to land a punch.  Ensure your distance is appropriate so you don’t run the risk of your kick being smothered, caught or being countered by your opponent.  Remember that kicks provide greater range than punches, so use that to your advantage.  Kicks can also be used to create range.  When you feel your opponent is too close to you and you want to create distance, throw a straight front leg kick to the abdomen to push them away (also known as a “teep” by Muay Thai practitioners).  Just make sure you pull that leg back as fast as possible to prevent them from catching it and using it to take you down.

Kicks are an integral part of Mixed Martial Arts and we could write several articles on the topic.  Let us know what you think and if you’d like to learn more about proper form, defenses, counters and different styles and types of kicks you can throw!

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Luca Rajabi
Luca has been passionate about martial arts and eastern philosophies since childhood. As an athlete, inventor and entrepreneur Luca founded SciFighting on the principal lessons learned from his life experience "fighting" to preserve his health and fitness. Although born with inherently poor and inconsistent health he pushed forward to learn as much as he could about the sciences of technology, medicine and mental health. Years of study, working with physicians and combined analysis finally began to bare fruit by his early twenties. Starting with Fencing, cross training and body building then moving to Boxing, Western Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Eskrima and an eclectic assortment of self defense techniques. Luca's core philosophy is that to win a battle every fighter must balance their mental and physical health. Luca has said that "With well developed technique, conditioning and mental focus a sound strategy will most often win over brute strength alone." It is in this spirit that he passionately advocates for the "Science of Fighting".