High Kicks with No Warm-Up: The Right Body Alignment for Side Kicks
Kurtz, author of Stretching Scientifically and Secrets
This is the sixth installment of my column on training that appeared
in January 2000 issue of TaeKwonDo Times.
Read the previous installment
Apart from the right way of developing your flexibility meaning
doing the right stretches at the right time, to throw high kicks without
any warm-upyou need to know and practice the right technique of
kicking, including the right body alignment. In this article you will
learn the correct body alignment for the high side kick. The high roundhouse
kick I will discuss in the next article.
When I took up karate in Poland, at the age of 20, it was obvious to
me that if some people had to prepare, stretch, and loosen up before kicking,
then there was something wrong with them or with their kicks.
I knew how to stretch because I was already at the AWF (University School
of Physical Education). But some karate instructors were showing me high
kicks that would stress my joints even though my flexibility was good.
The problem was that the body alignment that worked for a given kick when
it was aimed low (as in original Okinawan karate) did not work when the
kick was aimed highdid not work, that is, unless one had an extraordinary
range of motion in the hips and lower back joints. (The high kicks that
appeal so much to young people were introduced into karate by Yoshitaka
Funakoshi, son of Gichin Funakoshi, without any attention to whether they
made sense in combat [Draeger 1974, p.134].)
Luckily I met Mac Mierzejewski, the author of Power High Kicks
with No Warm-Up!, a knock-down karate fighter and instructor who
also studied at AWF. He was less flexible than me, but he could throw
any kick higher than I could, with knockout power, and without any prestretching.
During our individual workouts he taught me how to align the body for
great height and power in the kicks without having to reach the limits
of one's range of motion in the hip joints. He had to show me the little
details of kicking techniques that let you kick high and with power without
warm-up! As a bonus, these same little details reduce your chance of injury.
Yes, you can learn how to throw high kicks cold without injuring
yourself, pulling muscles, or even getting sore. All you need to do is
to learn (and practice!) the right body alignment to make sure your hips
and knees don't hurt when you throw high side and roundhouse kicks.
I will use the example of a raising side kick (yoko keage in
karate), a kick that should be learned before learning the high thrust
side kick (yoko geri kekomi, in karate, yop-chagi in
taekwondo), to show how small adjustments of your position can increase
When learning the raising side kick, you should start with the leg raise
to the side shown in the previous
(fifth) article of this column in TaeKwonDo Times November
1999. This exercise (leg raise to the side) will eventually allow you
to reach a higher side kick. Many people experience quite a bit of discomfort,
even pain, in attempting this dynamic stretch. They can only raise each
leg to about 45 degrees (and it hurts doing that).
Their problem? They try to keep their leg straight, and to raise it straight
sideways while attempting to keep their whole body straight too. This
is typically the cause of difficulties and hip pain among beginners attempting
this kick. Those who are not shown this leg raise or raising side kick
in its combat application tend to do it this way.
To dramatically increase the height of the raising side kick, you need
to tilt your pelvis forward as you raise your leg sideways. To learn its
proper form do this: Stand with your feet together, extend your right
arm to the side, hand at your hip level, palm down. Slightly bend your
right leg in the hip and knee joints. Form your foot correctly (knife
foot, sokuto in karate, balnal in taekwondo) for the side kick. Raise
the right leg such that you kick your palm with the side of your foot.
Start from hip level, and gradually increase the height of your kicks.
Make sure that you lean forward and your knee is slightly bent, and that
it raises ahead of your foot. Kicking your palm forces you to align your
trunk, pelvis, and thigh just right for the greatest range of motion in
your hip joints. Note especially the amount and direction of the forward
lean in the drawings below.
Another purpose of kicking your palm is to keep this dynamic stretch
from turning into a ballistic, uncontrolled stretch and to prevent overstretching.
By the way, the cause of the pain and the limitation of the movement
sideways in both the raising side kick and the side split is the same.
It is caused by spreading (abducting) the thighs without tilting the pelvis
forward. The cure for the pain on the outside of the hip is
to tilt the pelvis forward (which is the same as flexing the hips) while
attempting the side kick or side split. The alignment of hip, thigh, lower
leg, and foot in a raising side kick should be the same as shown in a
side view of the horse-riding stance (see the second
article of this column in TaeKwonDo Times May 1999).
Children below age 11 do not experience this limitation of movement because
the angle that the necks of their thigh bones make with their hip bones
is different than in adults. In children, the neck of the thigh bone goes
more sharply down and slightly forward. This makes the neck of the thigh
contact the upper edge of the hip socket at a greater range of abduction
than in adults and keeps the trochanter away from the hipbone so it does
not restrict motion as much as for adults. As the children grow, that
angle gradually changes. The neck of the thigh becomes closer to a horizontal
plane and rotates more forward. These changes reduce the abduction of
the thigh, as well as the outside rotation of the thigh (also known as
turn-out or first position in ballet). Around
age 11, that angle gets set. I explain how the outside rotation relates
to a side split on page 17 of Stretching Scientifically.
Read the next installment of this column
Draeger, D. F. 1974. Modern Bujutsu & Budo. New York,
Kurtz, T. 1994. Stretching Scientifically: A Guide to Flexibility
Training. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co. Inc.
Mierzejewski, M. 1996. Power High Kicks with No Warm-Up!
Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing Co. Inc.