Karate Kicks (Keri-Waza)

Keri-waza (kicking techniques)

Keri-waza (kicking techniques) are great, but sometimes they are over-emphasized, or under-emphasized, depending on the art, style, and school. As with any technique, context is important, and determines how and when a technique should be used. In the case of kicking techniques, there are typically three categories–kicks for self defense, kicks for sport fighting, and kicks for show. No category is “better” than any other, they simply have different needs, and use kicks differently. There is, of course, some cross-over between the three categories, as well.

Some kicks intended for self defense, demonstrated by Motobu Choki

In self defense situations, which is what classical karate was intended to be used for, kicks tend to be close-range and low. The reasoning behind this is that you are likely to be within arm’s reach of your opponent if you are attacked, which makes long-range kicks difficult to do, and you do not want to compromise your balance and end up on the ground. In the photos, above, you can see Motobu Choki (infamous karate fighter) demonstrating three kicking techniques for this context. The first is a hiza-geri (knee strike), done at the closest range out of the three. The next is suki-geri (shovel kick) done at a medium range to the inside of the opponent’s leg. The last is a yoko-kekomi-geri (side thrust kick) or kansetsu-geri (joint kick) to the opponent’s knee, done at a slightly longer range. All three kicks, along with mae-geri (front kicks) to the legs and groin, are very useful and effective in this context. They can also be used very effectively in combat sports that allow them–particularly in MMA, where takedowns are legal.

Jodan mawashi-geri (high level turning kick) from my MMA fight

In combat sports, a wider variety of kicks can be utilized because you have the benefit of a matted floor, good lighting, and a referee. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t use the same kicks in self defense, or that using them in combat sports is not risky, but the risk level is certainly higher in self defense. In addition, some combat sports are riskier than others. For example, most Taekwondo and karate competitions do not allow takedowns and grappling, which means you are free to throw just about any kick you can think of, and if you do fall down, the fight is stopped so you can get back up. This is where hook kicks, flying axe kicks, and flutter kicks (kicking repeatedly from a chambered position without putting the foot down) come into play. In sports like Sanshou and MMA, however, where takedowns and various amounts of grappling are allowed, you open yourself up much more by throwing high-level kicks, or fancy kicks. This is fine if you are a better grappler than your opponent, but otherwise it can be a serious problem. In those situations, kicks to the legs and body tend to be more prevalent than kicks to the head, and they tend to be more basic, although the occasional spinning or flying kick does show up from time to time.

Kicks that jump, spin, or repeat generally fall into the category of “flashy” techniques, which are mostly used for show, as displays of athleticism, flexibility, and body control. These take a great deal of skill do do, and are very impressive. To some degree, high kicks can be included in this category, but usually only when they are kicking higher than head level. Many people see this kicks as great challenges in their training, and they can certainly be a great deal of fun. If you are a very skilled kicker, and a very skilled grappler, you might even be able to utilize such techniques in self defense or sport fighting. Typically, though, they are used for demonstrations or choreographed fights, like you often see in kung fu movies.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.