Real Kicks, the Kung Fu Way

I certainly kick better now that I ever did in my life. That’s counting the days of serial Tornado and Ax kicks, the ground rolling flowers and the quick combinations fast enough to blur the vision.

I don’t do many  jump kicks, nor do I kick head high as much as I used to. Yet I consider my kicks to be many times better than they ever were. The reason? Well, first is simply that I am kicking in the Kung Fu way, in the same way I practice and not a mixed bag of stunts stolen from other styles and even movies. But. On a much deeper level, I have learned how different the same kick may be when executed from different styles. The Kung Fu way of kicking, for instance, is very different. I’m not saying better or worse but, as in much Kung Fu, there is a way of thinking going on here that many people don’t see…

Chuo Jiao Kung FuWhen I examine my progress I find that there’ more to it than just eliminating the trivial. The Kung Fu method is no one’s fool. It encompasses many clever ideas. Here are some of them…

Natural cocking motion. To kick someone in the face you have to either life the leg or lower the face or some fortuitous combination of the same. Think about the first kick you ever learned, probabloy a front kick. You were taught to lift your knee, aim, and deliver the hinged swinging action of the lower leg. The action is like something you would see in Zumba. Kung Fu kicking moves the torso and hips in such a way that the leg is lifted. In actuality my experience has been that this way of movement may or may not be a conscious form of practice in some styles but it is ALWAYS the type of movement you see in accomplished kickers. You can tell the difference by the analogies. For the beginners we say lift, aim kick (mostly for their safety, not to mislead). For the advanced we say things like, throw your leg over the bike seat, take a step, let your foot slip, sit in a chair. The actions are all just movements, augmented and directed, but never unnatural. Be suspicious of kicks that look like kicks.

Kung Fu Staff KickI like to retell a story that Adam Hsu tells. In his early days when working with Han Ching Tan he would practice a lot of kicks. His teacher would often shake his head. Adam, crestfallen, would ask what was wrong. The kick was high. It had some power at the end. It even looked good. “Your hands were in the wrong position”, he was told and couldn’t help wondering what the heck that had to do with a good kick. Well, for a start, there are no kicks where the hands are held stable in, say, a boxing guard, and the kick is thrown independently. Every Kung Fu kick has at least one hand position implying among other things that the whole body is always involved. The formality of these hand positions doesn’t matter. They look beautiful but that’s not the point. They set the hips and torso into the proper alignments. And, just as a side note, you might remember the old Kung Fu adage so often quoted and so often misunderstood: “The Hands are windows but the legs are doors”. Just a hint about the entirely inverted world of Kung Fu, you look through the window before you enter the door.

Counter kicking Kung Fu styleFlexible Feet. A good Judo man can thread a needle with his feet. If you’ve engaged in randori with someone skilled you’ve had the experience of feeling like you are fighting a chimpanzee with opposable feet as well as hands. People studying Kung Fu often note the unusual and intricate footwork which, the moment the lift their legs to kick, they completely abandon. But your hand has many martial uses and, as the ancient Shaolin monks said, can be a spear, a dagger or a club. The foot should be treated as a malleable tool like a Swiss knife, not a like a brick you pick up and throw at someone. Take the toe kick, a Kung Fu favorite. The moment you teach it the beginner always says, as though he’s the first person in three thousand years to think of this, “You can’t actually HIT someone with your toes can you?” Before he starts to spin off into considering toe conditioning methods in buckets of pebbles, you remind him, “That depends on how far away you start.” The toe kick can be a very nasty little jab from three inches away while a kick coming from half the length of the room might never make it to the target. Kung Fu feet are flexible tools with the foot acting more like a drill bit than a hammer.

Shuai Jiao and Tai ChiTo change from a horse stance to a bow stance requires kinetic energy. To step forward creates a shift of the center of gravity. To turn your head and look over your back shoulder initiates spinal rotation. These natural movements are all represented in the saying that, in Kung Fu, “Every stance is a leg action, every step is a kick.” I hope the comments above allows you to think about this last point because, like certain pleasures, it is best discovered yourself. All I can suggest is it will change you entire practice. The common expression is wrong, there ARE secrets in the martial arts though sometimes they can be found right under your feet.

(I had written and finished this before I remembered that we were posting tutorials for that famous kicking set, Tan Tui. Hope this gives some insight into those “kinda simple” kicks.)


One Response to “Real Kicks, the Kung Fu Way”

  1. patrick hodges says:

    Excellent advice. Example, look at Southern Mantis-quite a bit of ankle sweeps in the practice.

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