Three Levels of the Front Kick

International Kickboxer Magazine, Vol.17, No.2

The front kick, or push kick is a unique weapon in the skilful kickboxer’s arsenal. It has a smaller contact area than the round kick, which allows as much of the shin as you decide to use. With a push kick, the sole of the foot, its most pronounced areas being the heel and the ball, will focus most or all of the impact. To use it more as a strike, you have to fully flex the ankle joint and pull the toes back in order to contact with the ball. It is essential to keep the spine straight and the weight centered, moving it forward with the extension of the leg. If the back is bent or the hips are back, the kick will effectively push you away from your target, rather than the other way around. This is counter-productive and, in a fight, can be embarrassing!

As I wrote in ‘Fighting as a Taller Fighter’ in the last issue, a push differs from a strike because it has contact before it has velocity. This means it isn’t as useful for smashing and shattering as the round kick. It does, however, have specific uses for positioning an opponent similar to a jab. Use the push kick to control the distance, and follow it up with a more devastating secondary attack.

Starting at the canvas and working up the body, we have the push kick to the thigh. Push kicking to the thigh is especially prevalent in Thai boxing, but the great example that springs to my mind is when Peter Graham fought Badr Hari in New Zealand in the 2007 K1 WGP Qualifier. Hari is very much a fighter in the Thai style, right down to the rhythmic stepping from foot to foot – it’s the click track he times his jab by. As Hari lines up, Graham reaches out intermittently to push kick Hari’s thigh just above the knee. By doing this, Graham prevents him from being able to find his rhythm, which means all of his attacks are frustrated before they come out. Similarly, it can be used to block the leg as it is lifted to kick, but this requires many hours of drilling before you can rely on it for anything other than breaking your toes!

The fundamental use all kickboxers should understand is the push kick to the torso for positioning an opponent. This has levels of its own. An inexperienced fighter, when confident with his legs, will use it to simply push the opponent away. This isn’t much use, outside of establishing dominance. A more sophisticated use is to halt your opponent’s advance and keep them at a length where you can subject them to other intentions. Semmy Schilt is a master of this. He will push kick his opponents as his principal means of keeping them out at the end of his reach. Any smaller fighter will want to get inside to escape the most severe harm, as well as having access to weaknesses and targets. Semmy starts many of his attacks with a heavy push kick to put his opponent where he wants them, frequently against the ropes, and follows up with a thunderous jab. He has used this very combination, both techniques off the left side, to send Peter Aerts to the canvas.

Different targets on the torso will produce different results. A trick popular with Kyokushin Karate fighters is kicking to the hip. Pushing the hips so that they rotate backwards will force an opponent onto their heels and simultaneously bring their head down. It makes the head easier to attack and, of course, once a fighter is on his heels, it is very difficult for him to move out of harm’s way. Push kicking to the upper chest will tip a person off balance, back over their feet and away from you. Buakaw is the master of the push kick. It is lightning fast and he uses it with varying intensities to manipulate his opponents the way a master pianist plays the piano. He uses the full length of the leg and seems to be able to tilt his torso slightly backwards, recruiting all of the leg and hip for maximum extension and power. He digs in with the ball and while primarily controlling the distance, his opponent’s body always caves slightly from the intensity of the strike.

While on the subject of the greatness of Buakaw, one of his great signature techniques is certainly the push kick to the face. Here it is a real front kick in that it figures as a strike which does real damage. It’s the same kick with the same freaky extension, but he keeps his upper body in much the same position, so as to prevent a different posture from telegraphing a different angle. One of the great and frightening moments (most probably for our own John Wayne Parr) in the National Geographic documentary, Kickfighters, is when Buakaw KOs his padholder with just such a front kick. Tyrone Spong possesses a similar kick, which is not quite as awesome. 

One of the most exciting things about standup, whether it be K1, kickboxing or Full Thai, is that different rulesets allow for different possibilities.  These are limited only by the imagination of fighters and trainers. Watch your favourite fighters and by playing around in sparring and training, find out what possibilities are provided by your physique and the physique of your opponent. All really great fighters have their own ways of doing things. They develop these methods and techniques through experience and being aware of what they can do differently. After all, the strike that knocks you out is the one you don’t see, or don’t recognise because you haven’t seen it before. Develop your own techniques and your own ways of using them to develop these advantages.

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