Why your sidekick still sucks and how to improve it

I’ve been where you are myself, I can empathize. You feel like you’ve tried everything, and you’ve just finished recording yourself doing a sidekick, but when you look back at the recording, you still think it looks… off. You can’t understand why. But eventually, I got through it, and I am sure that with this guide, you will too. Let’s start off with some common issues as to why the sidekick could look or feel weird to you.

Focusing on kicking height rather than technique

Many of us love to scroll through martial arts related Facebook, Twitter, Instagram accounts and all manners of social media pages for “inspiration”, an all-too-common excuse for wasting hours on our phones at a time. But this may do more harm than good.

How many posts have you seen by taekwondo/karate/etc pages which feature a man or woman doing a sidekick with insane height? We all know the posts I am talking about – the ones with the hyper-flexible karatekas kicking at split height like they were training to fight an 8-foot giant. The answer is all too many. I’ve seen them too. But the problem was that this led me to kicking at heights at which I was simply not flexible enough to kick at, and this subsequently leads to a lack of balance and technique. It also leads to leaning too far back to compensate for a lack of hip strength and flexibility.

What’s the answer to this issue? Stop looking at posts like this (at least until you nail your technique), and focus on the markers that make a good sidekick:

  • Good, open, hip rotation
  • Aligning your butt, shoulder and kicking heel in a straight line when chambering
  • Pivoting the root foot, so that your heel is facing the target
  • Balance
  • Lack of rotation

At one point I was under the illusion that if I became flexible enough my technique would drastically improve. However, a very simple technical mishap caused me a lot of trouble and it took me a surprisingly large amount of time to become aware of it. It is a common mistake that beginners to martial arts make: Not rotating the foot you’re standing on.

In every single kick, the rotation of the foot which you’re standing on (the root foot as I like to call it) must rotate. Some people rotate it, but don’t rotate it enough – their kicks might still be good if they have good hip flexibility. For the side kick, the heel of the root foot must be facing your opponent. The reason for the rotation is because it opens up your hips in a more natural position for you to raise your leg.

Focusing on stretching, not kicking

When a boxer has trouble with the execution of his jab, what’s the solution? It certainly isn’t stretching his arm like a rubber band. It’s practice. Start kicking more and stretching less. Or continue to stretch as much as you do, but focus just as much on practicing the actual kicks you want to improve. Kicks are best improved by kicking, punches by punching and flexibility by stretching. These abilities may overlap, but they are not directly responsible for each other. Try to kick targets rather than the air when practicing, to avoid unnecessary stress on the knees, or injuries.

Part of having good technique, is building the muscle memory required for you to execute the movement you are focusing on without having to think about it. In order to truly master a technique, you must be able to do it as easily as you breathe. You can breathe in your sleep, while blindfolded, walking, running and more. This doesn’t mean you need to start a Van Damme style training montage to improve, but constantly aiming for this level of sublimity will shift your perceptions – what you aim at, is what you see.

Not enough hip strength

I use two main exercises to increases both of these factors.

  • Frog Splits (for hip flexibility):
  • Lateral Raises (for hip strength):

Another thing I look to do to work on hip strength, whenever I practice my kicks (at a training session, or at home, wherever) I might, for example, do ten kicks on each side, and hold the last kick for as long as I can. If I can’t hold my leg out (and completely straight) for more than 5-10 seconds then the conclusion is that either:

I am not strong enough to be kicking at the height I am kicking at
or
I don’t have enough balance to use this technique effectively

Of course, everyone might stumble. If you choose to judge yourself in the same method, don’t do it just off of one trial, but of a number of trials spread out across a couple of days and attempts. Sometimes you’re just tired or just not warmed up enough. I also like to do the box splits, and hold them for about 30 seconds (repeating this 2-3 times) to open up my hips as much as possible.

Not ‘blading’ your foot

When you execute a side kick, you should be making sure your kicking foot is angled with the pinky toe higher than your big toe. This provides an emphasis on kicking with the blade of your foot. Some schools or martial styles will tell you to kick with the heel of your foot, which is a perfectly valid technique too. However, if you’re aiming to get your sidekick to look better or flashier, the bladed variant looks better.

Some styles, such as distinct variations of karate, will teach you both kicks. They claim kicking with the heel delivers more punishment, but the blade allows for faster kicks that can be used to counter or interrupt an opponent’s attacks. It’s really down to personal preference. Use what works best for you, or make them both work.

Conclusion

The side kick is a very difficult kick to learn, and an even more difficult kick to master. This is because it is one of the only linear kicks there are; in contrast with most other kicks that involve an arching motion which allows you to use your bodyweight to compensate for lack of technique to generate power and kick higher,the sidekick doesn’t allow for such comfort. Be sure to check if you’re doing everything above, and I gurantee you’re side kick will already feel much better. It might feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but your body needs time to get used to new movements.

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Comments

@peepso_user_10(MartialQuest)
Thank you for the contribution to our blog! Excellent article for our members.
1 month ago
@peepso_user_2(Tim Martin)
@peepso_user_130(Ivan) Thanks for this advice on the side kick. This is a great article for practitioners of striking arts, especially those focused on traditional East Asian systems like karate and Taekwon-do.

In my youth I was training heavily in the traditional ITF style of Taekwon-Do. This was in the '80s, and it was really the only style that was available near near the small town where I grew up. It was, however, a blessing for me. It gave me a outlet for all my youthful energy and it gave me a solid base of fitness. Of course, the side kick was extremely important in my TKD training. Speaking of which, on of the best ever....Bill "Superfoot" Wallace. He has an excellent side kick, even now that he is much older. He is a testament to how training in the methods that you describe can be beneficial for longevity in the arts!

As I grew older, my interest shifted to more grappling based arts. What suffered because of this
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