One of the most common kicks in Karate is a front kick or ‘mae geri’ in Japanese. In this article I would like to provide my take on how we perform mae geris in our style.
There are a few ways of performing this kick. The two most common are:
- Mae geri keage, which is quick and powerful but snappy.
- Mae geri kekomi, which is a thrust kick.
Both of these methods are useful for different situations. From these two basic methods we have a few variations like a stopping kick, a toe kick, a kick that changes trajectory as executed and so on.
In describing these kicks, let’s start with the body mechanics. Mae geri is a kick to the front and our focus is to deliver most efficiently maximum power, to do so we need good posture, appropriate muscle contraction and accuracy.
There are a few variants of foot positioning within this technique. Nowadays the most popular form is kicking with the ball of the foot, where the toes are pulled back upwards.
In the old days the preference was different, with some schools preferring to use a foot position where the toes were pulled back in a similar fashion to the fingers of a fist.
In my opinion this was a very dangerous way of performing this kick as the toes are very fragile in this position. Older Okinawan styles use the tsumasaki method (as shown below).
Personally this is my favourite way of kicking. The small surface area created by the top of the toes makes for very painful kicks. This method needs practicing and conditioning to be able to perform it properly and safely. This setup works great when wearing shoes in a street confrontation.
Another often used surface is the whole sole of the foot (mostly in kick boxing). This setup gives great support for stopping kicks or stamping.
Given that mae geri keage is the most popular form of front kick in Karate I will focus on the mechanics of this method.
Starting with a proper base for the kick is very important, some Karate styles teach that the supporting foot should face straight forward when kicking. From my point of view this is less powerful and reduces freedom of movement as our hips are closed and therefore block each other. From anatomy we know that our hips open up when we walk, that is why our feet turn outwards to allow the maximum range of movement.
We want to take advantage of this range of movement when kicking. By doing this we have quicker, stronger kicks with a longer reach and the additional benefit of not putting stress on our supporting knee. When kicking without a target (in the air) we must concentrate to make sure that we do not straighten our knee as this dynamic movement is bad for our joints.
When we execute a mae geri we do the following:
- Turn our supporting foot outwards (opening our hips)
- Raise our kicking knee up whilst bringing the heel of our kicking foot towards our glutes (stretching our quads, which provides for a more explosive release of the foot as we kick as the quads go back to their natural tension). Aside from making our technique powerful and quick, by raising our heel up to our glutes and our knee to our stomach we essentially hide our foot from our opponent and then as we kick in a straight line it is difficult for our opponent to see. This is because our eyes have evolved to detect motion from side-to-side at a distance (to identify potential threats or prey), but we are not good at judging the distance of an object moving directly towards.
- As we raise the knee we also pull the kicking hip back slightly, as we execute the kick the hip will rotate forwards bring more speed to the kick. We make sure that supporting leg is little bit bent, as this gives us stability.
- As we move the foot forwards to strike the target, we ensure that our foot position is set (depending on the type of kick we decided to use) and that the foot muscles are tense to protect our joints. As mentioned in point 2, as we kick our hips move forwards to help drive the kick forwards.
- As we hit the target we tense our leg, back and stomach muscles to help transfer energy into the kick.
- Keeping the knee up we then pull back the kicking foot. This pull back should be even quicker than when we drove the foot forwards. This is partly to create a shorter impulse of energy, which is more painful, but also to ensure that our leg is not caught by our opponent.
- We then place the foot back down.
Some common mistakes that occur when people kick a mae geri is that their upper body is leaning too far forwards or back. Leaning forwards too much makes us vulnerable to a punch in the head.
On the other hand tilting back too much will make it impossible to tense our stomach muscles and keep balance. If in a fighting position, it is also important for us to keep our hands protecting our head.
Mae geri is a great weapon in fighting and can be used in different ways, as an attack, for defence or as a distraction. We can perform it on the move forward or backing up and it can be snappy or thrusting.
I hope you found my description of a mae geri useful, however describing how to kick is no replacement for feeling how a kick works for you through training and under the supervision of a good instructor. Please feel free to share.