Sparring Hip Kick and Other Low Kicks

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: karate, Self-defense
18 Mar 2014


When I was fighting lots of tournaments, fighting on the door, and sparring in the school – fighting was fighting was fighting. I did not vary very much from the way I trained and fought. Sure in a real fight I would end up knocking out my opponent instead of holding back a bit in sparring or racking up points in a tournament but I fought the same.


One of my favorite kicks in all venues was the hip and thigh kicks from my side fighting stance. Ok I am dating myself as everyone knows that side stances don’t work right? I mean MMA, boxing, Muay Thai all use forward fighting stances in their sport.


Well let me just say that forward stances can only work in today’s world where groin kicks are not legal and most schools have stopped teaching groin kicks for sport. People have gotten out of practice using groin kicks so forward stances that would not work against any competent karate fighter – flourish (front stances) in today’s sport fighting disciplines.


In this post I will talk about the wonderful low kicks that work in any situation and why you should use them in your fighting, sparring, and tournaments.



Picture this – a guy comes at you with a club. You see him as you are observant. You take a half a step back to miss his attack and kick his hip with your front side kick. You knock him back and you follow up with a wheel kick to whatever is open (body, groin, face) and stomp him into submission. No big deal. You did not have to initially get close to him.


This type of technique works because of the power of a side or rear kick. Works better if you know how to modify the kicks to increase power. I am leaving out all of the normal fighting skills you already have to be good at such as critical distance, initial movement, relaxation, explosion, and the ability to move around like a boxer with your front bow or side stance (not a forward stance that opens your groin).


So in the example above the guy with the club is outside your critical distance. You take a half step back to allow his attack (any kind of attack really) to miss. You then use initial movement to throw your modified side kick (Joe Lewis taught Tracy’s how to throw feet or hands with initial movement – to make the punch or kick hard to see). I modify my side kicks to just use the heel (it takes aiming your kick with an offset to hit your target). The beauty of the modified side kick is instead of the whole side of the foot as the striking surface, you narrow the striking surface to about one square inch (just hour heel) to increase the power of the kick.


So in a nut shell you have one powerful counter kick that can be aimed at whatever is in front of you. Knee, thigh, hip, side, arm in front of the side, or head… whatever is there – it make no difference – but whatever you hit will hurt your opponent if you want it to. The rest of the technique is just follow up. You don’t stop when you have an advantage in a real fight.


My favorite kick is the front side kick with or without my heel. Mostly when I spar I use the side of my foot and during in a fight I use the heel for its stopping power.


Now what you might be thinking about Jiu-Jitsu counter attacks? I think in the 90’s fighters got hared out by ground fighters maybe grabbing your foot. Maybe why a lot of people stopped using basic kicks. There was the rule changes in tournaments that started disallowing kicking. Back in the 70’s there were a lot of wrestlers around that would grab you and try to take you to the ground.


Just like today – back then ground fighting was limiting because once you were on the ground – any kicks to your head by your opponent or bystanders ended the fight. So just keep it in the back of your mind to throw kicks relaxed with some power – if it happens to get grabbed – work your defenses against ground attacks.


Sorry I did not get to other low kicks like the snap kick, wheel kick and rear kick. But you get the idea – get good at each kind of kicking defense or attack and coupled with critical distance and eventually initial movement (when you get good) – and you have a winning combination! There is nothing quite like a good relaxed and thereby powerful low kick to turn the tide in an altercation.

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5 Responses to “Sparring Hip Kick and Other Low Kicks”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Excellent practical advise! From my limited experience what you suggest has worked for me. Whenever I have watched MMA, I look to see what leads to referee stoppages to allow the injured fighter to recover. Seems accidental groin strikes are the most common. If fighters could block them from their forward stance, I’m sure they would!

  2. Zara Says:

    I definitely agree standing too square on your opponent is dangerous: in JKD the bai-jong or on guard stance (also called fighting stance) consists of angling the front foot 45° so as to make it more difficult for the opponent to target the groin (a quick defense against this would be to simply lift the knee into the attack or just turn further and let him hit the tigh) while the upper body stays fairly square with the lead shoulder slightly turned towards him. For me this is the ideal stance since it protects the groin and allows for using the hands in defense and in boxing combo’s while retaining mobility for kicking.

    As to low kicks: in JKD low kicks are the rule, you’re discouraged from kicking high since this is easier to counter and once your leg is caught you’re going down. The only time I’ve seen them taught is when he’s running from you (you succesfully attacked or counterattacked and he’s backing up from boxing into kicking range). Bruce Lee was quite fond of using kicks as interception tools (called stop kicks in JKD), especially with the sidekick from the front leg, and it is pretty great for stopping someone either punching or kicking after which you can go on the offense while his balance is broken.

    I’m still more comfortable using my hands for striking or grabbing someone to grapple but I can see your how your strategy would work given enough practice and high familiarity with kicking techniques.

    As to the example of defence against a club attack: again this may very well work if you’re properly trained but in that case I’d like to get as close to him as possible to avoid a second strike from his weapon. The problem with staying at distance in order to counter with a kick might be that he might step back and strike the leg as it’s coming in but that takes training and against a good stickfighter it’s not likely you’ll be able to mount any form of succesful defense unless it consists of running like the wind or acquiring or pulling another weapon.

    I do have a question: when you say wheel kick do you mean a roundhouse kick, a crescent kick or a spinning heelkick?

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara,

    What I call a wheel kick is not the spinning heel hook like I’ve hear MMA commentators say… so I guess terminology is different in styles or eras… not sure which. :)

    I was emailing a friend about the same… in part here is the explanation I gave him:

    I like the wheel kick – front or back leg depending on the situation. I also like the round house – from my understanding – comes more from the side instead of starting like a snap kick and flipping out.

    The beauty of the wheel kick is it can easily turn into a snap kick, side kick, heel kick or wheel kick from the same position. Really tough to block especially if coupled with initial movement (front foot starts the move independent of the body initially – then the rear foots pivots and slides along – no initial shuffle with the back foot).

    The critique I always heard about the wheel kick is it had no power compared to round house or Muay Thai round kick (unsure what they call it). They can torque body and front foot before or during their kick – it is totally telegraphed but has more power – what they are looking to do.

    My critique back when I was fighting was – they could not hit anything with that kick. Just like a superman punch… one would have to be asleep to get hit with that.

    So my answer has always been – how much power do you need to knock someone out with a kick? The wheel kick is more than sufficient. Even for body shots to unprotected areas.

  4. Jim Says:

    Getting up in age but reading these different posts and comments I have become very interested in getting involved locally in martial arts and self defense training. I took a class at an early age but didn’t stick with it for very long. I always admired and envied those that commit to martial arts and the work that it takes to gain the expertise and the peace of mind that comes from hard work and dedication.

  5. Kim Kimmel Says:

    As a recipient of many a “hip kick” and other painful “low kicks” I can without hesitation, attest to their effectiveness! I was always taught the best way to fight is with both feet on the ground. If you “have” to throw a kick, keep it rib level and below. Very good article John.