The Side Kick; Will it Work in a Fight?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
10 Nov 2008


Many of you that have learned karate remember the side kick? In sparring you can keep someone off of you but the kick would mostly encounter elbows and not be truly effective. Has anyone won lots of matches or fights with the side kick? Well yes… have you heard of Joe Lewis? He was famous for his strong, lightening fast, side kick.


The video I found below is of Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris in a point karate match. You will notice they only cared about the first point and do not really cover up much past the clash. Both Joe and Chuck were good at side kicks. I will speak about the mechanics of the side kick and then how to use this kick effectively for self-defense.



You probably had a hard time seeing the kick start as Joe was great at initial movement (where Tracy’s was introduced to the concept). In sport karate the side kick is thrown above the hips (or if you like to fight dirty – you can aim for the hips and then say you are sorry). The point is while the side kick will hurt, it generally will not stop an attacker.


You can throw the side kick from the front or back foot, and use a shuffle or slip (the slip side kick uses initial movement). In my tournament career I have mostly used the front leg slip kick. What about the stricking surface?


Generally most styles teach to strike with the side of the foot directly into the shin, knee, thigh or side. I like the striking targets and think the side of the foot has its place but I want to tell you a way to double the power of your side kick! Here is a quick video of the mechanics of the side kick.



First off if you throw the kick with the side of your foot and hit the knee, you are putting about 3 – 4 square inches of striking area to the knee. Ouch! That will hurt and in the case of this target (the knee cap) it will probably be enough to break the knee and stop the attacker from following. But what if you miss and kick the shin or thigh? The side kick will probably hurt but by no means stop the attacker.


What I like to do (and I would like to thank my friend Terry Crook for being the first to take my accidental strikes – and making me realize the potential) is to use the bottom of my foot and aim about three inches over to hit with my heel! I throw the side kick the same as I would normally but I just adjust the striking surface of my foot.


What this does (assuming my aim is good) is to concentrate the power of my kick (and body weight) into about one square inch (instead of three to four). When I saw how this affected my sparring partner when I was a green or brown belt – I realized that if one of these concentrated side kicks to the thigh could stop him – they could stop anyone!


The danger of using the heel instead of the side of your foot is you can miss the kick easier. So if you decide to try this kick – you will have to practice on the bag (too dangerous to try on a persons knee or shin).


So I do think the side kick can be a very effective kick to use in self-defense if the target is the knee-cap or shin. If you want to double the power (at least) of this kick for some real stopping power, you might want to consider learning how to adjust your aim and throw this bone crushing side kick with your heal.


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5 Responses to “The Side Kick; Will it Work in a Fight?”

  1. Tom Gerace Says:

    My thoughts exactly regarding the side kick. I think that the dominance of MMA has made some techniques seem ineffective because they do not work within the rulesets of that form of competition. If kicking to the knee was allowed I believe that we would see different opinions on the matter.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Yep… rules are everything… Self-defense is wide open but hard to practice (or you might run out of sparring partners).

    Thanks for the comment Tom.

  3. Doug Arcidino Says:

    I have always thought that it is never the style but the person behind the style. I remember “Chicken “talking about how point fighters would blame the referee’s when they lost. He explained that it was never really valid. I realize that there were some real bad calls. But with the right determination you could overcome even bad calls. That is why there were some fighters that always won and some that did not. I have tried to live my life with that thought. I could not imagine anyone being able to continue a fight with a well placed (Terry Crook) side kick to the thigh. In MMA I have only seen wheel kicks and front thrust kicks. Guys that do the Tai style of kicking Most kicking I have witnessed has been telegraphed. MMA is really developing also so many of the fighters so well rounded and they do seem to stand up more and trade blows. Now I am quite bias since I love the sidekick. But no matter what type of fight it is boxing, karate, MMA, or even a street fight. I believe it is always about distance, timing and commitment to the attack.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Great points Doug!
    I don’t think the style matters either… good fighter’s pickup or borrow good methods from any source.
    Terry’s side kicks are famous… take one of those babies and you are down for the count.
    I always used to wonder about full-contact and now MMA… in the boxing world, you did not find skill level mismatches as much as in the MMA world. My guess has always been there are just way more tools and stuff to go wrong than just using two arms in fighting (like boxing).
    It is amazing how the caliber of UFC has increased from the 90’s but it still has a way to go I think.
    My side kick is my secret weapon as most people on the street do not know what it is capable of… I can keep someone off of me or attack with it without committing too much (if they have a weapon).

  5. Matt Klein Says:

    Love the side kick! It is one hell of a technique on the street and in the ring. The beauty of it in point karate is you can score to the body if your opponent is in the open or closed position (right or left foot forward). The wheel kick(front roundhouse)you can only score in the closed position because it is illegal to kick in the back. You can use the side kick as a jab to set your opponent up for a backfist or reverse punch. A slip side kick is super fast, very difficult to see coming, and packs a lot of power as anyone who has sparred Terry Crook can attest. I remember Trey also had a really good slip side kick.

    On the street combine it with a shuffle and you get knockout power. I ‘ve used it to end fights as most people do not expect it or see it coming. The Kenpo crossing rear kick can be adapted into a side kick with phenomenal power. I have seen full contact tournament fights end with a spinning side kick (very close to a spinning back kick) to the solar plexus or stomach.

    It has one weakness–if you leave your leg out there too long, just like any other kick, a good fighter can scoop kick you right in the jewels.