Martial arts and kicks go hand and hand. Some martial arts have even dedicated the majority of their training to practicing spectacular kicks. To ignore the two strongest limbs on our body would be ridiculous. Kicks have various uses. High and low kicks, fast kicks and hard kicks all have their application.

Sometimes, I find in my social media feeds videos of high kicks in practice from Krav Maga and self-defense colleagues. For most of them, I have the utmost respect, but I still wonder how they come to the conclusion that this is practical self-defense method, let alone Krav Maga.

How practical is applying kicks in a self-defense situation?

My belief is that when it comes to Krav Maga, kicks should generally be kept below the waist, with the exception of maybe a push kick to the gut. There is one reason I don’t teach high kicks. One basic concept I have been taught and teach my own students is to avoid the ground at all costs, and if you end up on the ground you get up as quickly as possible. While our legs are the most powerful limbs of our body, and can certainly land a powerful one-hit KO, a poorly delivered kick would leave you exposed to a counter. A successfully landed kick reaps a high reward. A failed or sloppy kick poses a high risk. This basic Krav Maga philosophy is why I do not endorse high kicks. On the street, with weapons and multiple attackers, it is an unnecessary risk.

Great high kicks are possible, but are you a Bruce Lee?

High kicks also compromise other important things: balance and stability on your feet. Sure, if you train for years it is possible to throw accurate and well-balanced high kicks, but the reality is that you take a huge risk again. If your opponent uses a good counter or you simply slip, there goes your kick (and possibly your life). I have witnessed countless black belt fighters fall on their ass when attempting high kicks. On the street, in a survival situation, it is simply an unnecessary risk.

In Krav Maga, we teach students to attack with aggression and commit to strikes in order to attempt to stop the threat. However, overcommitting with a power strike like a knockout kick is just a bad strategy. It also ignores another basic Krav Maga philosophy of retzev, which is Hebrew for continuous attacks. An overcommitted attack breaks the ideal retzev pattern, which forces you to reset your attack strategy and allows your opponent to advance their strategy.

Many argue that if you can do the kick, then why not do it? Well, sure you can. People train for it and they can have very high accuracy and success rates. If it works for you, then it is certainly an option for you. Unfortunately, the reality is that high kicks take a long time to train and are not realistic for everyone. Take me, for example, a fairly small individual standing at 5’6 ft (167cm). While I might be able to pull off a front snap kick to most people’s faces, I do have a limit as my legs are fairly short for my body. Thus, if a would-be attacker is standing at say 6’5 (195cm), it is obviously unlikely I could even pull off a kick to the face, let alone a roundhouse kick to the head.

Another type of kick I don’t like much

Matt Riddle Spinning Back Kicks John Maguire UFC 154.gifBack kicks. While I teach upward heel kicks toward a person who has gotten behind you, I don’t like to teach or endorse kicking behind you. It looks fancy and works sometimes, but I would rather teach someone to be alert and think, rather than throw blind kicks that may not succeed. Your body is not optimized for back kicks. Also, if you have time to kick behind you, then you should have time to turn around to face your opponent.

A person who has successfully gotten behind you not only has applied more successful tactics from the get-go but is also positioned much more ideally to succeed in their attack. If your back kick fails, then you have now sacrificed your balance and ability to stay on your feet since many attacks from behind will result in one or both of you ending up on the ground.

Let’s recap

The benefits of kicks:

  • Comes from the strongest limbs of your body
  • Powerful
  • High reward if successful
  • Aiming below the waist is ideal

The disadvantages of kicks:

  • High risk – compromises balance and stability
  • Possibility of going to the ground
  • Fancy, but not practical

Because of these reasons, when I teach kicks in Krav Maga (roundhouse, groin kick, push kick, etc.) I keep them practical. Kicks are initial attacks, from your personal long-range or just outside your range, and used to close the distance or keeping the distance between you and the opponent(s). They should target vulnerable parts of the body that have greater chances of immediate results, such as the knee or groin. In addition, if you are going to throw a kick, it should be with retzev in mind. The aim of a kick should be to close the distance from long to medium range, then move to close range, and then a control position so that you can better assess your situation while also keeping the threat at bay.

While I am sure many will disagree with me, I truly believe that it is impractical to learn and teach kicks that are difficult and compromise balance. No matter what style of self-defense you practice or teach, a priority of practical self-defense should be movements that are quick and easy to learn and keeps you well balanced.