Kicking Offence And Defence For The Street

I’ve always liked kicking. Ever since I started martial arts at the age of seven I’ve had a fondness for, as well as a predilection towards, kicking. It’s something I’ve always been good at. A natural flexibility means I can easily pull off head kicks at speed, and this has always given me a natural advantage when it came to sparring. Here’s an old video of a competition I did.


Most people who spar me end up becoming quite wary of my left leg. But that’s in sparring. I’ve never kicked anyone in the head in a street fight. It’s not that I couldn’t manage it, I probably could, but it always seemed like an unacceptable risk to me, so I refrained from using high kicks in a fight.

I have however, used other kicks in fights, and it’s those kicks we are going to look at in the first part of this article, before we move on to looking at defences against kicks (which don’t really exist, as we’ll soon see).

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t use kicks in a street fight, or more specifically, you must never kick above the waist in a street fight. This is basically good advice. You need to be fast to pull off a head kick. And even if you are fast enough to do it, it’s still a risky move for obvious reasons.

That isn’t to say high kicks don’t work. They do. Of course they do. It’s just that very few people could pull them off successfully without loosing balance, loosing their footing or recover quickly enough to follow up if need be. This makes kicking to the head in a street fight a risky proposition. Didn’t stop this guy though.

So the consensus seems to be that kicks should be kept below the waist, to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, and in most cases, this usually means kicking to the legs of your attacker.

Low kicks are less risky to do so you have a greater chance of pulling them of successfully.


Kicks To The Body

This isn’t to say you can’t kick to the body. You can of course, and I’ve done so in the past a few times, but they have never been finishing moves.

I tend to use kicks to the body as warning shots only. Attacking the torso in a fight is not really recommended anyway. The torso is quite padded on most people and can take a lot of impact, unlike the head. In a fight, when an attacker is adrenalized, it would be hard to kick the body to any real effect because your attacker probably wouldn’t feel it enough to stop them. This is reason enough not to target the body.

Kicks to the body should be considered warning shots only. I used to use front kicks to the body quite a lot when I was bouncing. A good push kick to the gut of your aggressor can often be enough to make them think twice about attacking you. More often than not they will develop “sticky feet” as they are unable to press forward due to the adrenaline rush your kick gave them. Back this up with a bit of verbal and you have a useful way of keeping someone at a distance or persuading them not to take things any further.

A good way to practice this kick is to have a partner hold a kick shield and rush in towards you as if they are trying to close distance to attack. As they come in use a lead leg front kick to drive them back, then back this up with verbal, telling them to stay back.


Groin Kicks

I’ve always been fond of kicking to the groin as well. When in close I have often used a very quick front snap kick to my attacker’s groin. It’s not a finishing move, but it gets enough of a reaction that you can press forward with shots to the head.

A more powerful groin kick is to go right up the middle, so to speak. You kick right in between your opponents legs using your instep or ankle to deliver a full power kick. It’s very possible to end a fight using this technique, but it’s also possible that your attacker will carry right on attacking as if they hadn’t been hit. Groin kicks don’t always work.


Kicks To The Legs

Kicks to your attacker’s legs will obviously have a greater effect than a kick to the body. It is easier to cause hurt and damage to the legs, not to mention upsetting the balance. This makes them a better proposition as far as targeting goes.

The obvious leg kick is the Thai kick to the outside of the thigh. This is the kick that is taught in most self defence classes. It’s an effective kick if landed properly and you get enough power behind it, especially if you catch the other person of guard.

I know of one instance where a guy got his leg broke from one of these kicks. I also know of other instances where the kick has had little effect. Like any other technique, it depends on who is doing it and on the person receiving it.

For maximum power you can slide across your opponents centre line, winding yourself up before releasing the kick. If you connect in this way, there is a high chance it will drop your opponent, especially if you connect with the shin. But that’s only if you have the space to take such a step.

Throwing the kick from a static position without any step will generate less power but may still be enough to off balance your attacker long enough for you to make your escape.

To me, that’s how leg kicks can be most useful, to distract the other person long enough so you can escape the situation. And obviously, if you really do need to follow up on it, the opportunity has now been created to do so.

Also bear in mind that this kick will not have the same effect on everyone. Say you’re up against someone who trains in MMA (a likely scenario these days). This person would be well conditioned against such kicks and it’s doubtful it would drop them.

If you are close in (as you often would be in a confrontation) it can be near impossible to pull of the thigh kick due to a lack of space. In this case, a lead leg kick to the inside of the thigh is an option, but it’s doubtful such a kick would have much impact and it would need to be followed up immediately with something a bit more substantial, like a palm strike to the head.

A better option at this distance would be to target even lower down, namely the inside of the shin. This is done with the rear leg and is highly effective, mainly because it can completely break your opponents balance. Watch the video for Mick Coups breakdown of this kick.


Defences Against Kicks

Kick defences are a bit like knife defences in that there are no real techniques as such, only general strategies. Yes there are a ton of techniques out there that apparently can be used to defend against kicks, but these exist mainly in the martial arts classes and are only effective because you know they are coming. It’s easy to make a technique work when you know when the attack is coming and what the attack will be. (Which again, is the problem with most knife defences as well.)

I don’t really teach defences against kicks for those reasons. Instead, I tell people to rely on their natural reactions and instincts. How good these will be will depend on how long you’ve been training and the type of training you have done. I’ve done a lot of kickboxing over the years, so when someone kicks me my natural instinct is to get out of the road of it or to block it.

The only real defence against a fast front kick is to get out of the road of it, to step off-line and avoid it. Trying to block it may result in broken fingers, so avoidance is a better strategy. Once you avoid the kick you immediately follow up with your own attack, again targeting your attackers head area. It will usually take your attacker a second to recover from the kick, especially if it was sloppy, so you can use this time to press forward aggressively with your own attack.

Obviously, if a kick is thrown slow enough, you may catch the leg and throw your attacker off balance. It’s actually quite an instinctive thing with most people, trained or not, to try to catch the leg when someone kicks them. I don’t know why this is. It just seems to be a hardwired response. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, press forward with your attack anyway.

The same applies to roundhouse kicks. Again, with so many doing MMA and other types of training now, a roundhouse kick is a high possibility in a fight. If you are quick enough (or your attacker is slow enough) you can catch the kick and then use your lead arm to press forward into your attacker to throw them off-balance and to the floor.

If you didn’t avoid the kick or you weren’t quick enough to catch it then you will probably take the hit. Kicks to the body can be absorbed, so take the hit and press forward immediately with your own attack. (This is also a good reason to work on your physical conditioning.)

That’s basically all there is to kick defences. No matter what happens, your main priority should be to launch your own counter-attack as quickly and as aggressively as possible.

People do get hit in fights, you know. It’s not the end of the world because you didn’t block or avoid a kick. Press on regardless.



  1. Zara says

    Low kicks (to the shin, knee, groin or tigh) can be quite surprising and are not easy to defend against, especially when used in combination with striking. If I were to use this on the offence I’d probably go with the lead foot (more of a distraction than a disabeling technique) followed by punches. If he’s retreating in response to your striking combo’s kicks are great to close the gap and get back to the range where you can do the most damage. Low kicks are a great defence against someone who’s good at boxing (they’re not used to defending the lowline and you’ll have a lot more succes than when you try to box with them), or against kicks since many kicking techniques cause the kicker to expose the groin (prime target in SD) and affect his balance.

    We do teach and train defenses against kicks: just like defences against punches these need to be simple and trained to such a degree that they become automatic. Against kicks avoidance is key since a) kicks are generally slower than punches so they’re easier to see (giving you time to move) and b) they’re more powerful than hand techniques so you really don’t want to eat them. I’d train most on defending against groinkicks and thai lowkicks since that’s probably what you’re going to encounter on the street.

    Kicking high is pretty much suicidal imo: either your opponent is a chump who doesn’t know anything (like the guy who got knocked out in the video) and hence anything will do or he’s had training (which you probably won’t know beforehand) in which case you’re likely to get counterkicked, thrown or simply lose your balance and take a beating because of it. If you’re hell-bent on kicking high it’s a good idea to distract him first, preferably with a couple of punches to the head. I’d love an opponent who kicks high: even if he’s very fast and/or uses combinations (taekwondoka do this a lot) you’ll be fine aslong as you keep your guard up and immidiately press forward. Even if he manages to hit you the power of the kick will be greatly diminished.

  2. Zara says

    Another argument against high kicking is that you’d have to be well conditioned to pull it off in the first place, let alone when you’re not warmed up and wearing heavy shoes, jeans etcetera. High kicking is flashy and good for controlled enviroments such as karate, taekwondo and kickboxing competitions: very entertaining for the crowds, although I’m fairly sure they’d also leave it be if the surface on which they fought wasn’t well padded.

    I taught a class this friday (in the absence of my teacher) and I focussed on a quick groinkick from the front foot: this really should be very quick with less emphasis on power (not needed if you hit correctly) and the foot should either be pulled back asap or planted forward to allow for further offence. In application I told them to react to the partner as if he were a potential attacker: step back into a defensive stance with a clear verbal warning (stay away, back off…) and a retreat of a few paces. Next the ‘attacker’ would advance and present a mitt for the defender to kick, later on followed by a cross-hook-cross with open hands. This could either be a pre-emptive attack or a stopkick if the attack was already in motion. In either case there’s little danger in this approach since a) you don’t telegrap the kick by pulling the knee up and b) it’s low so the kick flashes out and returns immidiately.

    Obviously you won’t always have the room to use this tactic (in which case hand techniques would be more useful as a first response, something I also covered in that class) but if you can step back you can create the distance you need to kick effectively and it’s quite effective. It doesn’t even matter if you connect with the kick or not: in the latter case it’s likely he’ll drop his hands and this will create an opening to hit high. It’s basically what my sensei always tells us: vary the zone of attack (high-middle-low, low-high, middle…) in order to confuse and overwhelm him.

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