Low Kicking for Self Defense!

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
3 May 2009


I have been reviewing photos for use with this post and I was amazed by the number of high-kicks that people upload. I saw pictures of two people sparring where both where trying to kick right next to each other – kicking each other in the head! My first reaction is why? I mean the easiest way to win when one person kicks high is to take a half-step back or to the side and kick the groin! That is still a legal kick in most point karate matches.


One of my former students, Jim Martinez, had a knack for scoop-kicking my nuts whenever I would throw a high kick on him while sparring. It got to the point that I really started questioning the effectiveness of high kicks! More on this later but in this post I am going to explore some low kicking options, how to throw them and the probable results. I will of course talk about low kicking in self defense. I found this photo on Flickr here that seems to demonstrate a low side thrust kick to the knee or shin.




Lets start out looking at groin kicks. The groin (male or female) is were the pubis bone is at the bottom of the pelvis. I recall that when practicing kicking and punching, one was suppose to visualize going though the target. That means if a person was kicking the groin – he or she was suppose to ideally be trying to break the pubis bone. What would happen if a pubis bone broke? Well there would probably be swelling and walking might be difficult, depending on the severity. If found some more information here.


What about the male and female groin organs? Arguably (at least from the male perspective) getting kicked in the groin is intensely painful for men but I understand it is fairly painful for women too. There are cups for men’s sports and female groin protectors for women. If a man or woman is kicked to the groin – it is likely to be painful but the groin kick is an ideal weapon for women’s self-defense. Here is a video of how to do a groin kick.



As this instructor states, it is important to be relaxed and exhale. As you may have heard before, speed equals power. What this means is a relaxed – snapping kick will be more power full then a tensed – “full power” kick. The full power kick Muay Thai kick has a wider arch and arguable would be more powerful but the point I am trying to make is the snapping kicks are faster and more powerful than if thrown tensed. Here is an example of a snapping kick to the inside of the leg.



Do you see how quickly this kick can come in at your opponent? This same type of kick can be thrown at the groin or be adjusted to strike the knee or shin (for self-defense applications). Another kick that is ideal for knees and shins is the side kick. This kick can be thrown with your front or back leg and use snapping or thrusting methods. In the following video you can see the sport application of this kick – targeted at the opponents side.



Now imagine if you had thrown this kick at the knee or shin! At the very least you would have severely impaired your opponents ability to take the fight to you! I use various side kicks but generally use my heel instead of the side edge of my foot to increase the kicks power… the downside is I have to make sure my aim is right on or I will miss. Now here is a Muay Thai application of a low leg kick (as well as some other strikes).



Now I like the low leg kicks, elbows and knees but I shy away from any offensive flying moves (a defensive flying spinning rear kick is good) and I don’t think much of the double uppercuts (a single uppercut would be more powerful I think). Did you notice how powerful those Muay Thai low-leg shin kicks were? As a karate practitioner, I use to hate getting kicked in the shins. I wore shin guards but they would be kicked sideways and I’d still take a hard shin shot now and then. Now you might be wondering how hard it would be to break the shin? Here are some links of fighters breaking their shins my full-contact/MMA types of matches you can see if you want.


1st Example


2nd Example


Ouch! I do believe that a good side thrust  or well placed front snap kick can break a leg defensively. If you watched these two videos, you will notice that the reason for the broken shins in these instances were the combined speed – power of two low shin kicks colliding! I provided these links for people that did not realize the power of leg kicks.


Now for my sparring partner kicking me in the family jewels! Jim was shorter than me and he knew I liked to kick people in the face while sparring. He would just lie in wait until he noticed my knee going up and jam in with a scoop kick!  A scoop kick is one that snap kicks past the groin and then pulls back in an upwards circle. In effect squashing the balls even more than the more traditional snap kick! Well let me just say – even with the cup – I still ended up rolling around on the mat at times so I got to where I would not throw a high kick when I sparred against Jim.


So what do I think of throwing low kicks for self-defense? I think that anyone if they learn how to throw the low kicks, should be albe to defend themselves against an attacker! Most bad guys have had some fighting training but they have learned the rules about not kicking the legs during practice. I believe that even if a bad guy is bigger, stronger, meaner than you – you still should be able to time a well placed kick or two and then have a great chance at getting away!


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6 Responses to “Low Kicking for Self Defense!”

  1. Neal Martin Says:

    Hey John. I agree with what you are saying about using the low kicks for self-defense purposes. To my mind a low kick to the leg or groin is one of the most effective self-defense techniques there is. Not only does it allow you to strike from a relatively safe distance (as opposed to stepping in to punch) it is also quick and, as you say, is effective against even bigger opponents.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t write of the high kicks altogether. I have used them a couple of times without really thinking and they have worked. In one instance the other guy backed of when he realized I could do that. Not something I would ever intentionally do again, but sometimes you just react and that’s that.

    If you are practiced enough and fast enough you can make high kicks (especially of the front leg) work for you. Some of my best techniques are high kicks so I would never dismiss them as being useless. At the same time I would never recommend them for self-defense purposes either. Why take the risk?

    I’m also glad you recommended staying relaxed while kicking to facilitate speed. I make the same suggestion in an article on kicking I wrote for my blog (Urban Samurai). People too often miss the importance of keeping relaxed while kicking so it’s nice to know someone else feels the same way.

    Great blog! I’ll continue to read your stuff!

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Neil,
    You are right about the using the high kicks without really thinking. I found when I was a doorman for 2 years, I would fight like a was sparring. The good thing is I was in great shape and fighting guys with beer muscle!

    I took a look at your blog and it looks like good information!

  3. Are High Kicks Pointless? | urbansamurai.org.uk Says:

    […] this article after reading something that John Zimmer posted on his My Self Defense blog. John wrote an article extolling the virtues of the low kick whilst also more or less dismissing the high kick as being of little value in most situations. So I […]

  4. Zara Says:

    I think high kicks could work but only against inexperienced opponents or in cases of severe disparity in skill between the two fighters. If you’re up against an experienced opponent or against someone whose style is very low-kick orientated (even if they haven’t been training for very long) you’ll lose and self-defense situations this usually means you’ll be demolished (kick someone in the knee or groin and he’s basically at your mercy). That being said against drunken people or the untrained nearly everything will work and a high-kick that does connect is a very cool sight. In our dojo (I train in modern ju-jutsu with elements of other styles, especially various types of kickboxing) we only use low-kicks and since we do not spend the majority of our training kickboxing the kicks that are used in application are nearly always variants of the snapping front-kick, either to the knee or groin. This works especially well against high-kicks (as you said evade and kick the groin from underneath, if you have any training in it there’s very little he can do about it), another tactic we use is catching the leg and performing a throw. Since most kickers do not know how to break-fall properly and fights usually occur on the street (which means landing on a hard surface) this would be pretty devastating, that’s even without any follow-ups (strikes to the groin, leglocks).

    Of course if he’s very good and throws punching-combinations combined with feints and kicks (both high and low) you’ll be in trouble but then again fighting against a trained opponent is always risky and difficult. If you are going to use high-kicks I would advise first checking your opponent’s skill and reaction-time (feint a few times and see what he does) and never use them as stand-alone techniques. A jab-cross combination followed by a high roundhouse has resulted in quite a few knock-outs in the ring so I’d imagine there’s a relatively high chance you’ll be able to pull it off in the streets too but I’d still be careful. If you’re wearing heavy trousers or boots it’ll be more difficult and chances are you’ll be tired or intoxicated and this combined with the lack of a proper warm-up will make your attack slower. Is it possible? Yes, Is it safe? Hardly.

  5. Urban Samurai Says:

    Some excellent points made there. High kicking in jeans is probably not a good idea. Neither is doing so while drunk. Well argued.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara, All good points!

    Hey Neil, Spot on!