Back to basics: front kick

Introduction: the basic front kick

Following my recent "back to basics" theme and my article "Enter the front snap kick", I thought I'd discuss how to go about doing a basic front kick. Apart from discussing the basic form and some of the finer points (eg. hip use), I thought I'd also go into the differences between (and the relevant uses of) the front ball of foot kick vs. the heel kick.

Step 1

Start by raising one knee (in this case the right) with your knee fully bent and the underside of your foot parallel to the ground.

The most common mistake at this point is where the underside of the foot is not parallel to the ground; instead the ankle is pointing downwards. The consequence of this is that your kick effects a scooping action which can damage your toes and is generally ineffective.

Make sure that you maintain your guard - ie. you should keep your arms up in a defensive posture.

You should maintain the same guard throughout the kick.

Step 2

Snap your leg out, making sure that your ankle is forward but your toes are pulled back, so that you are kicking with the ball of the foot.

The 2 most common mistakes relate to the above, ie:
  1. the ankle is not thrust forward, meaning that you end up kicking with the flat underside of your foot (which spreads the impact over too large a surface area); or
  2. the toes are not pulled back, meaning that your toes impact on the target (which can and does result in broken toes on impact).
Step 3

Return your kick to the chambered position referred to in step 1, then return your kicking foot to the ground.

The most common mistake here is that students can delay the return of the foot to the ground, choosing to hold the chambered position. It is imperative that there be no pause in this chambered position (which is a transitional position).

Hip use/orientation

The hips are, obviously, critical to the success or failure of your front kick. On impact, they should be thrust forward so that your body and leg form a sideways "Y" shape. Note that this does not mean that you will be leaning back. Rather, your hips will be pushed forward of your central axis. Because your head and shoulders are left behind you will appear to "lean" back, but this is not due to any backward motion: it is purely as a result of the forward motion of the hips. I discuss this in the video below:

I discuss the correct form of the mae geri or front kick, in particular the use of the hips

The importance of minimal body movement

It is critically important with your front kick that your body movement does not telegraph your intention by bobbing up and down before and during your kick. This not only gives advance warning to your opponent, it also robs your movement of efficiency.

I discuss this in the video below:

I discuss the importance of "disguising" your front kick

Ball of foot vs. heel

It is traditional in China for kicks to be performed either with the toes or with the heel - not the ball of the foot. It is said by many that this was also originally true of traditional Okinawan karate.

I'll start by making the observation that toe kicks, when performed with most types of shoes, inevitably lead to your toes curling back, not under, thereby putting your ball of foot into prominence. Accordingly I don't see most "toe" kicks as being real "toe kicks". Rather, they are (necessarily) ball of foot kicks. This is my experience when kicking objects while wearing shoes (which is something I regularly do on training camps in the wilderness, for example, and in many internal arts classes).

As to heel kicks, they have their time and place. In particular, they are very useful when your range is slightly shorter than that which would permit a full ball of foot kick. They are also more useful for thrusting than the ball of foot variety (for some reason it is hard to thrust with the ball of foot - it has something to do with a different tension in your muscles). Correspondingly, snap kicks are easier with the ball of foot or toes than with the heel.

In the end, you should be comfortable doing either. However if you were to ask me which is the more useful, I would say it is the ball of the foot - probably because I incline to the view that snap kicks are the most useful type of kick for civilian defence. It is for this reason that I tend to teach the ball of the foot kick first and the heel kick second.

I discuss this issue in the video below:

I discuss heel vs. ball of foot kicks

Further reading:
Visible force vs. applied force

Copyright © 2011 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Hello Dan!

    Great article! I have one question regarding this segment:
    "The most common mistake here is that students can delay the return of the foot to the ground, choosing to hold the chambered position. It is imperative that there be no pause in this chambered position (which is a transitional position)."

    In my school of Shotokan we're thought to stay on one leg after retracting the leg. Supposedly to teach us to return with our balance in our control and thus allowing us to choose to return down forward or backward.

    Why would that be bad?

  2. Hi there, and thanks for your most pertinent query.

    It is important to learn balance and to gain strong core muscles. So there is nothing wrong with practising that aspect while kicking.

    However, one should always perform one's kick so that the speed is uniform/consistent throughout the movement. So if you want to practise balance, your whole kick should be slow; you shouldn't slow down or pause only at the chamber.

    Why? If you groove your kick so that every time you do it, you pause at the chamber, this is how you will kick under pressure. Trust me when I say you really want to minimise the amount of time you are standing on one leg; it is very weak and you are very vulnerable.

    I will cover this in a future article.

    Thanks again - Dan

  3. Hello Dan!.. Again.

    I've been writing alot of questions these past few days as "anonymous" and I thought It's time to start posting in my real Name.

    I've another question about the kick. Something that's not very clear is when to introduce the hip movement.
    Is it on impact? If it is, does that not contradict the "whip"-principle. Shouldn't the largest movement involved be the first?

    Cheers and keep up the great work!

  4. Thanks Elon. The hip starts moving immediately. It can't do otherwise! But when it comes to staged activation, it is most important to observe that the hip finishes its movement first; this occurs just after you've lifted your kick into the full chamber. Your knee then straightens and then your ankle extends! Thanks again!

  5. Hi Dan,

    My first post on your excellent blog. Front kick has always been a mystery to me.

    I have 2 questions.

    What is your opinion of the TKD style front kick where the ankle is fully locked so that the instep and shin are in one straight line and the toes curled up? At the chamber position, the feet points down except for the toes. For high targets, won’t this method give the maximum penetration?

    I find that when using the karate method of the feet parallel to the ground during chamber for high targets, the sole or heel hits the target instead of the ball, thus removing a lot of the power from the kick. The position of the feet during chambering has to be adjusted for targets at different heights to achieve maximum penetration.

    Problem with the TKD version is that for lower targets, the toes hit the target first, render the kick ineffective.

    Second question. I was once showed a front kick where the body is leaned forward towards the target. The kick is similar to the karate version except for the deliberate forward leaning motion of the body.
    Some reasons for the forward leaning body:
    1. Speed. The natural backward movement of the traditional front kick (due to the hip) slows the kick and telegraphs it.
    2. Power. With the body in front, it supposedly adds more power to the kick due to the kicker’s bodyweight.
    3. Balance. With the body in front towards the target, it helps the kicker keeps his balance especially if his kick is blocked or the opponent rushes forward during the kick.
    4. Groin protection. With the body leaning forward, the groin is less exposed.
    4. Lastly, related to point 3, with the bodyweight in front towards the target, it makes the kicker less vulnerable to a takedown. Also, if the kicker’s leg is grabbed, his body position allows him to strike/ grab the opponent.
    Any opinions?

  6. Hi Dave. Thank you for those questions - they are often posed by students, so I have answered them in a separate post which you can find here.

    All the best!



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