The first time you watched your favorite martial arts star wipe out a horde of bad guys with a string of jump-spinning back kicks on the silver screen, you probably were impressed. I know I was. On the other hand, you probably weren’t quite as inspired the first time you saw a real martial artist knock out his opponent with a plain old punch.
There are so many self-defense techniques that it’s only natural that some are going to work better than others. It’s also natural that some are going to look flashier than others. The following are my observations on the qualities of the most popular ones.
Jump-Spinning Back Kick
This is probably the most overrated self-defense technique. Don’t get me wrong—it’s an absolutely beautiful technique. However, it has several problems. If your opponent is very quick, he’ll have no problem getting out of the way before you nail him with it. Or he’ll rush in and jam the technique before you make contact.
Because you’re essentially blind for a second while you’re spinning, you don’t know where the other guy is or what he’s up to. There’s no way to defend yourself if you miss or if he counters while you’re in the air. If you lose your balance during the landing and he punches you as you fall, he’ll get a point for knocking you down.
Rear-Leg Roundhouse Kick
The rear-leg roundhouse kick is very powerful because you can put your entire body rotation into it, but that’s not the end of the story. Because your kicking foot begins its motion so far away from your opponent, he has plenty of time to see it coming, then avoid and counter it. Experienced kickboxers like to throw a rear-leg roundhouse kick to the knee or body, but they seldom aim for the head because of the distance that must be traversed.
The front kick is one of the first techniques kickboxers learn, but hardly anyone uses it in a match. It’s a terrific self-defense technique for fending off an aggressor on the street, provided he doesn’t know any martial arts. However, another kickboxer will have no trouble countering it. Indeed, everybody I’ve ever seen throw a front kick in competition has limped out of the ring because his toes got mangled or because his elbow, hip or knee got caught.
The jab is easy to learn and execute. Not only can it set up virtually every technique you can think of, but it’s also very hard to defend against. It’s fast and subtle. As you snap it out at your opponent, he has to fight hard to deal with it, especially if he’s in a boxing stance.
Nevertheless, very few people throw jabs in kickboxing bouts, probably because the association between kicks and knockouts is so strong. It definitely could be used more often. I know because I’m left-handed and left-legged and have used it to set up numerous techniques. For example, I can throw a series of jabs and then stick a side kick in right behind the punches, coming under the guy’s arms and hitting him in the gut.
Also known as the forward-hand hook, the left hook is a phenomenal weapon. It makes a particularly good counter because you’re already standing sideways; all you have to do is create the hook, bring your hand up and turn. Don “The Dragon” Wilson destroyed his opponents with this technique because he was so fast. Since I fought as a middleweight, I nailed my opponents with it because I could hit really hard.
The side kick is a great weapon because when you land it on the other fighter’s body, usually in the rib area, it really takes the wind out of him. However, it’s very difficult to throw if you’re in a kickboxing or boxing stance, which is facing forward. You must turn sideways before you can launch the kick. Unfortunately, shifting your stance will immediately warn your opponent that a side kick is coming, and he might be able to defend against it.
These brief descriptions are meant to be guidelines, not absolutes. Knowing when, where and how to throw a punch or kick is what ultimately wins the match. Timing and distancing count most in the ring as well as on the street.
(Bill Wallace is a former kickboxing champion and Black Belt Hall of Fame member who now teaches seminars around the world.)