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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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By Scott Langley

My first memory of learning yoko geri keage (side snap kick) was being paired up with a friend of mine, hand in hand, facing each other, kicking each other under the armpit. Since that time I have been in many classes where the instructor has taught yoko geri keage. Each time the explanation has been different. Some feel that it is merely a fast, snapping kick which can be used to attack under opponent's chins and armpits. Others believe it could be used to knock a knife out of the hands of an attacker! And others resign themselves to the impracticality of the kick in any situation.

In the early ‘90’s I was exposed to a different way of doing yoko geri keage. Kagawa sensei and then Aramoto sensei taught extensively during that time throughout the UK and during their lessons many of the attending karate-ka’s side kicks were changed forever. I then moved to Japan in the summer of 1997 and for five years trained at the hombu dojo in Tokyo. During my time at normal training and then subsequently on the instructor’s course, this “new” way of doing keage was drilled home. At the time I thought it was radical and revolutionary, however, over time I came to understand that this was they way that side kick has been done for many, many years… Unfortunately, in the west many karate-ka are still performing keage as if they wanted to kick someone under the chin.

As I see it the problem with yoko geri keage, as many people do it, is that they do not use their hips, so consequently the direction of one's power only goes upwards. If we use mae geri keage as a comparison, we can see that if we do not use the hips in a fast, forward snapping action, then the power of the kick will go upwards, not forward to the target, therefore, losing distance and power. This is a mistake often made by beginners, where the lack of hip movement forward prevents the foot from penetrating the target. In fact most kicks in Shotokan karate derive their power from either the snapping of the hips or the thrusting of the hips. Therefore, why should yoko geri keage be any different? However, I have observed many people do yoko geri keage without the use of the hips. They rely on a sharp knee lift, followed by a fast snapping action of the leg upwards, with the foot kicking at a 45 degree angle. This type of kick, although very fast and aesthetically pleasing, lacks power and distance and would not be effective.

Therefore, in order to make yoko geri keage effective, it is imperative to use the hips. The idea is quite straightforward, however, as many people have long been used to doing the kick without hip use, they often find the change difficult. Nevertheless, it is worth persevering. The principle of using the hips in yoko geri keage is very similar to the hip movement in mawashi geri. In mawashi geri if one was kicking with the right leg, at the moment of kime, the right side hip would be snapped forward then back with the snapping action of the foot/leg, yoko geri keage is exactly the same. If one was kicking with yoko geri keage to the side with the right leg, the supporting left leg must always remain relaxed and slightly bent, (as the supporting leg helps us to rotate and push the hips) with the supporting foot facing forward. As one pulls the right leg up to ready position (photo Yoko 1), so the knee is facing to the side (to the target), one must allow the right side hip to rotate backwards, with a similar feeling to hanme position in zenkutsu dachi. As the foot is released in a fast snapping action, keep the right side hip back (photo Yoko 2) until the very end of the kick and then release the hip in a snapping action (photo Yoko 3 a or Yoko 3 b), forward then back again (like hanme – shomen – hanme in zenkutsu dachi and the hip snap in mawashi geri). Like all snap kicks the hip movement in yoko geri keage must be left until the very end of the technique to gain maximum power and distance. The key to maximising the power of this kick is to synchronise the hip movement with the push of the supporting leg. As mentioned before the supporting leg must remain relaxed and bent throughout the kick. However at the moment of kime the leg must be used to push the body into the direction of the target, thus generating penetration power. At the same time one must rotate the hip so that they push - snap the foot further forward into the target. If these two things are done simultaneously then a line of power is formed from the ground into the target.

(The term line of power is used to describe the principle which is fundamental to all karate techniques, whereby one’s foundations – stance - uses the floor to push the power into the target in a direct line. For example, in oie zuki the back leg pushes straight, so pushing the hips and the punching arm straight to target in one line of power from the ground to the target). If this is done successfully one's power no longer travels upwards, but instead travels forward. (If you would like to check this have someone hold a football and attempt to kick it with yoko geri keage. If the ball goes upwards you are kicking with the top of the foot and doing it wrong. If the ball travels horizontally in the direction of the line of power, then you are kicking with the side of the foot or heel and doing it right).

This way of doing yoko geri keage also enables the power of the kick to travel along the leg and out of the heel like yoko geri kekomi, making the foot kick at a horizontal position rather than at 45 degrees, as many people do when not using their hips. With practice yoko geri keage can become a very powerful technique, with the speed of mae geri keage and the power of yoko geri kekomi. It is important to master the synchronisation between the snapping hip movement and the push off the supporting leg and, with practice, it can be incorporated within the shotokan arsenal, rather than being designated the impractical task of kicking knives out of attackers' hands.

Email contact: scott@thejks.com

Website: www.thejks.com