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A kick is a physical strike using the leg: foot, heel, tibia, thigh or knee (the latter is also known as a knee strike). This type of attack is used frequently by hooved animals as well as humans in the context of stand-up fighting. Kicks play a significant role in many forms of martial arts, such as savate, taekwondo, MMA, sikaran, karate, Pankration, Kung fu, Vovinam, kickboxing, Muay Thai, capoeira, silat, and kalaripayattu.
Kicking is also prominent from its use in many sports, especially those called football. The best known of these sports is association football, also known as soccer.
The English verb to kick appears only in the late 14th century, apparently as a loan from Old Norse, originally in the sense of a hooved animal delivering strikes with his hind legs; the oldest use is Biblical.
Kicks as an act of human aggression have likely existed worldwide since prehistory. However, high kicks, aiming above the waist or to the head appear to have originated from Asian martial arts. Such kicks were introduced to the west in the 19th century with early hybrid martial arts inspired by Asian styles such as Bartitsu and Savate. Practice of high kicks became more universal in the second half of the 20th century with the more widespread development of hybrid styles such as kickboxing and eventually mixed martial arts.
The history of the high kick in Asian martial arts is difficult to trace. It appears to be prevalent in all traditional forms of Indochinese kickboxing, but these cannot be traced with any technical detail to pre-modern times. For example, Muay Boran or “ancient boxing” in Thailand was developed under Rama V (r. 1868-1910). While it is known that earlier forms of “boxing” existed during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the details regarding these techniques are unclear. Some stances that look like low kicks, but not high kicks, are visible in the Shaolin temple frescoes, dated to the 17th century. The Mahabharata (4.13), an Indian epic compiled at some point before the 5th century AD, describes an unarmed hand-to-hand battle, including the sentence “and they gave each other violent kicks” (without providing any further detail).
As the human leg is longer and stronger than the arm, kicks are generally used to keep an opponent at a distance, surprise him or her with their range, and inflict substantial damage. On the other hand, stance is very important in any combat system, and any attempt to deliver a kick will necessarily compromise one’s stability of stance. The application of kicks is thus a question of the tradeoff between the power that can be delivered vs. the cost incurred to balance. Since combat situations are fluid, understanding this tradeoff and making the appropriate decision to adjust to each moment is key.
Kicks are commonly directed against helpless or downed targets, while for more general self-defense applications, the consensus is that simple kicks aimed at vulnerable targets below the chest may be highly efficient, but should be executed with a degree of care. Self-defense experts, such as author and teacher Marc Macyoung, claim that kicks should be aimed no higher than the waist/stomach. Thus, the fighter should not compromise their balance while delivering a kick, and retract the leg properly to avoid grappling. It is often recommended to build and drill simple combinations that involve attacking different levels of an opponent. A common example would be distracting an opponent’s focus via a fake jab, following up with a powerful attack at the opponent’s legs and punching.
Further, since low kicks are inherently quicker and harder to see and dodge in general they are often emphasized in a street fight scenario.
Practicality of high kicks
The utility of high kicks (above chest level) has been debated.
Proponents have viewed that some high front snap kicks are effective for striking the face or throat, particularly against charging opponents, and flying kicks can be effective to scare off attackers. Martial arts systems that utilize high kicks also emphasize training of very efficient and technically perfected forms of kicks, include recovery techniques in the event of a miss or block, and will employ a wide repertoire of kicks adapted to specific situations.
Detractors have asserted that the flying/jumping kicks performed in synthesis styles are primarily performed for conditioning or aesthetic reasons while the high kicks as practiced in sport martial arts are privileged due to specialized tournament rules, such as limiting the contest to stand-up fighting, or reducing the penalty resulting from a failed attempt at delivering a kick.
Although kicks can result in an easy takedown for the opponent if they are caught or the resulting imbalance is exploited, kicks to all parts of the body are very present in mixed martial arts, with some fighters employing them sporadically, while others, like Lyoto Machida, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone rely heav