When the average person hears the word “karate,” they picture kicking and punching. This stands to reason, since mainstream cinema has provided that portrayal for decades. But martial arts is so much more than just kicking and punching. There’s an entire way of life behind it; and knowing its proper application is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Before I Learned The Art, A Punch Was Just A Punch, And A Kick, Just A Kick. After I Learned The Art, A Punch Was No Longer A Punch, A Kick, No Longer A Kick. Now That I Understand The Art, A Punch Is Just A Punch, A Kick Is Just A Kick.”– Bruce Lee
I’ve been doing Okinawan karate for over 32 years, and I’ve learned a great deal. I’m still learning. Despite that fact, my abilities within the art have limitations. Like anything else in life, there are aspects I’m quite good at and some that I’m NOT so good at. One of those aspects happens to be kicking. Kicking is a bit of a strange creature, in my opinion. Although stronger than punching and in some ways more effective, there are inherent risks involved.
My style of karate has taught me never to attempt a kick above the waistline. That may seem pretty restrictive, but why would you risk trying to put your foot that high when you have two very effective arms that can do the damage without compromising yourself. A real fight isn’t like what you see in the movies; opponents don’t spend forty minutes exchanging devastating blows to each other’s bodies and heads with only one winner declared once the penultimate strike is delivered.
In fact, any serious impact to the head will cause dizziness, nausea and disorientation. The recipient will likely be on their ass for a day or more before they’d be ready to do anything more than wipe their own backsides. That’s the difference between what you see in the movies and real life. The human body has backups and defences that prevent sustained battle when you get kicked in the head. But I digress…
A proper fight, even in the street, requires a combination of balance mixed with techniques and attacks that won’t compromise you. Your legs should be squared in such a way to maintain proper balance while allowing fluidity of movement. This is something that can really only be achieved after serious hours of intense training and development. You have multiple striking weapons on your body that allow you to effectively deliver attacks without compromising your balance and stance, including your fists, elbow, knees and forehead (a headbutt is a fantastic thing, but that’s for another post).
People see a lot of fancy, high-flying kicks in colourful styles like Tae Kwon Do. But these kicks are reasonably useless, unless you’re fighting someone who’s willing to sit there and take it. Let’s look at the illustration above. This is a free stock image of a kickboxing match. To the average spectator, this likely looks reasonably impressive. A nice high kick, poised to strike his opponent’s head.
Want to know what I see? I see an exposed groin. I see a lack of proper balance on the red guy’s part, due to the supporting foot being on its fuckin’ tippy-toes. And I see the guy in blue, ready to bob his head down and deliver a nice, devastating blow to the red guys’ groin. Obviously, this is a professional fight and a groin strike wouldn’t be permitted. But I deal with the real world, not organized fights with referees. The blue guy can take his sweet time striking anywhere on the red guy. Or better still, he can simply grab the leg and push back. This will throw the red guy completely to the floor. And as anyone who has watched an MMA match can attest, falling to the ground and having someone else come on top of you is usually the end of the match.
In Okinawan karate, we focus mainly on front kick to the abdomen, roundhouse and blade kick to the legs and knees. We let our hands do the work, if it involves the upper body. There’s just too much risk of injury, in any actual fight. And although I don’t advocate fighting, if you must fight, you must win. Anything else is simply not acceptable. ☯