One of the distinguishing characters of Martial Arts from other fighting styles, such as fencing or boxing, is kicks. In almost every, if not every, Martial Arts style, there is some form of legs as both an offensive and defensive tool.
Kicks are an important part of a well-rounded fighting style. There are often times when either distance, positioning, or situation makes any hand-to-hand combat impossible. This is where kicks come into play and find their strength.
There are many different types of kicks. How kicks are used in Martial Arts can vary greatly depending upon the style and intent. For instance, close-ranged combat styles, like Wing Chun, tend to keep the kicks low and never above the waist. In longer-stance styles like kung fu, the emphasis is often on using kicks to close distance and prevent the opponent from entering the “sweet” spots close to the body.
The height and style of the kick affects what part of the foot is being used. When the kick is low to the body and straight forward, it is generally a snap kick. In this formation, the foot is pointed and the topside of the foot or the shin is used in the attack. Likewise, most frontal kicks will maintain a pointed foot structure, with an emphasis to using the top-side of the foot. However, as the kick gets higher and the distance to cover between the opponent and the attack grows, the power comes from the full momentum of the body and not just the initial snap.
When a kick is to the side, the side of the foot is used. Low ranging kicks will often use the “knife edge” of the foot in a cutting manner against the opponent. The toes are pulled back in this position to both created the “edge” and to protect the toes from direct contact on their weakest side. As the kick goes higher and longer range to the side, more of the bottom of the foot is used as opposed to the side.
Kicks can also be delivered behind. This position is obviously not optimal and is entirely a lower level attack. When done backwards, the kick focuses primarily on the heel. Like the sidekick, the toes are pulled back to help prevent them accidentally getting hit and broken.
Most people think of kicks as an offensive technique. In truth, it can be used in defense and much as in offense. In many situations, such as grappling situations, kicks can take on both an offensive and defensive position to help while the arms are locked up. Throwing a kick at the right time is one of the best defenses against an incoming kick as it keeps you still at range.
Overall, kicks are a very versatile tool in Martial Arts and one that distinguishes it from other fighting styles out there.