Kicking with the heel

My brother Nenad demonstrates his typically excellent
form on the front heel kick.  Note the slight outward
angle of the foot.
Something that crops up every now and again is the debate about heel kicks vs ball of foot kicks.

I hear practitioners of some arts (particularly certain Chinese systems) insisting that the heel kick is better.  (Sometimes this is based on the persistent myth that kicking with the ball of foot requires bare feet, which of course it doesn't, but usually this simply reflects a technical preference.)

I hear other practitioners (particularly karateka) insisting that the ball of foot is better. (Sometimes this is based on the "snap kick non-issue" to which I refer below, but again, usually this reflects a mere technical preference.)

As far as I'm concerned the truth of the matter is that both are excellent weapons: their applicability depends principally on range.

The ball of foot kick is suitable for a longer range because it gives a longer reach.  The heel kick is suitable for a slightly closer range because it reduces reach relative to the ball of foot variation.

Some will argue that that the ball of foot kick is preferable because it is the only one that can be used as a front snap kick, but this is not correct.  As I demonstrate below, the use of a snap is equally applicable to both heel and ball of foot formations: the snap is totally irrelevant to one's preference for a "default".

Do I have such a preference?  Yes I do.  It is the ball of foot.  So what is my reason for this preference?  Well it has nothing to do with snapping or range.  It might have something to do with the fact that I started in karate, but I prefer to think there is a more logical reason than that.  As I discuss in the above video at 0:20 (and in my article about kicking with the ball of foot in shoes), I think it has to do with the natural shape your foot as you extend it.  To my mind, pushing the heel forward is actually quite a difficult thing to do: more difficult even than learning the ball of foot kick and its correct chamber.

Not only does the heel kick require considerable Achilles tendon flexibility, it is also subject to some important details, the most relevant being the fact that this kick ideally has the top of the foot angled slightly outward from the heel when you impact.

You'll see this detail in the above video as well as in the photo at the start of the article.

Whether low or high, the
foot should be angled
slightly outward
on a heel kick.
Why is it preferable to have this angle?  Kicking with the heel requires you to push into prominence the rear part of your foot - ie. the part that is not normally in prominence.

This requires great care to avoid the (almost inevitable) tendency of the fore part of your foot contacting with the target before, or more likely at the same time as, your heel.  The latter will result in a simple "flat foot strike" which spreads the force over too great an area.  This will reduce your impact to a "teep" style push rather than a strike.

As practitioners of wing chun and many other Chinese arts will tell you, your best chance of avoiding a "flat-footed" type of impact of this kind lies in a slight outward bias.  This puts the fore part of your foot slightly farther out of the way by pulling it to the side as well as back, enabling you to focus your blow on the small area that is your heel.

In the above video I also discuss how heel kicks come into their own in the "melee range" where you are also close enough to punch as well as kick.

In the end, I might prefer the ball of foot kick as my "default" but I will by no means discount the heel kick as a fantastic technique that has its own benefits, especially in close range fighting.  Accordingly I feel it is important to be able to perform this kick with as much competence as the ball of foot variety.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic