by Phillip Starr

      In the many years that I’ve been involved in martial arts, I’ve met several practitioners who honestly believed that jumping kicks and kicks to he head are effective techniques for self-defense.  So I thought I’d take a moment and put that argument to rest.

     First off, the head is the most mobile target on the human body.  That is, it responds faster to a threat (an attack) than any other part of the body.  This is because it houses the two most sensitive “organs” that we have…the eyes.  Have you ever been outside on a windy day and suddenly (and involuntarily) snapped your head around and shut one or both eyes…to prevent a grain of dust from getting into your eye?  If you live in the Midwest, I know you have!  That’s a good example of just how quickly the head can move when a threat is perceived.

     Second…performing jumping or head-high kicks leaves you in an extremely vulnerable position.  This why flying side kicks, and kicks to the head are not featured in the traditional Okinawan (and hence, Japanese) or Chinese forms.  Ever.  Low kicks – made to the groin and even lower, are extremely effective and much safer to use.  Such kicks are often featured in the old traditional forms if you know where to look for them…

     Third, what bodily weapon is furthest from your foe’s head?  If you guessed it’s the feet, you win the banana!  So, WHY would you try to hit his head with the weapon that’s furthest away?  Your hands are much closer!

     And then there’s the problem of distance.  Regardless of what Hollywood would have us believe, fights in real life generally don’t begin with the two antagonists squaring off in some kind of fighting stance.  At all.  The attack comes out of nowhere, with very little (if any) warning.  And it begins up close and personal.  My old friend, Master Seiyu Oyata (10th dan, dec.)  would demonstrate; standing several feet away, he’d raise his fists in a fighting stance and say, “This for sport.  You have a good time.”  Then he’d walk up to his opponent such that he was almost close enough to kiss him and he’d say, “This self-defense.  No can run away or get (physically) ready.”  Point well made.

     So, is it a good idea to practice high kicks?  Yes- it helps maintain a fine degree of flexibility and that will actually be of great help in developing effective low-level kicks.  In gong-fu there is a saying that my teacher often repeated; “You can kick effectively only to the level that you can hold your leg.”  So, how high can you lift a front kick and hold it for, say, 20 seconds?  How about a side thrust kick?  However high it may be, THAT is the maximum height where you can land a kick with pinpoint precision and focus.  Anything higher than that is relying very heavily on momentum, which isn’t totally reliable and precise.  An excellent way to strengthen and toughen the hips and muscles used in kicking is to do that 3 times with each leg (with 5 second rests in between).  It also strengthens the lower back.  Beginners should not try this; it’s an advanced routine.

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