Are your kicks like a short legged troll doing the can-can or “wam bam thank you Van Damme”?
The last few sessions we’ve been practising our kicks (keri waza) and having a great deal of discussion over flexibility. I’ve noticed during stretching that a number of you have improved significantly over the last few weeks which is great to see.
Kicking is one of the hardest techniques in martial arts but usually very effective. The key is the balance of flexibility for speed and conditioning for power. The toughest opponents I’ve fought over the years often have fast, powerful kicks which hit from unpredictable angles. In self defence, hand techniques tend to be more useful and practical but knowing how to use your legs well opens up a whole different game.
I started martial arts as a kid, so have always been fairly flexible. However, it was only when I took up Taekwondo that I properly learnt how to condition my legs. I often find that many styles do limited stretching and almost no conditioning. Suffice to say this often results in average kicking ability and leaves you prone to injury.
With age catching up with me and a tin knee, I now find stretching and conditioning more important. Little and often is key. You should work out a routine and do it every day. The main thing is be consistent…e.g. maintenance work 5-10 mins a day and deeper stretches 2 or 3 times a week.
There are hundreds of ways to stretch and many different theories. You can use a partner to push you further or equipment such as stretching machines which are very effective if used correctly. However, in my opinion, nothing beats basic solo stretching using your own body weight. You should also realise which muscle groups to work. For kicking I find the glutes far more important than the abductors.
I have two simple rules: specific stretching and preparation. Why do static stretching when you want to kick dynamically? Stretching should match your goal…passive stretching for flexibility, static stretching for held positions, dynamic stretching for kicking etc. Preparation is also very important and you should stretch in accordance with how warm your body and legs are. There’s no point trying to do a deep static stretch if you’ve just done a 5 minute warm up. In class, I always do stretching after a good hour of training.
For me, the most effective types of stretching are:
- Dynamic stretching. Straight leg raises to front, side and rear, done in a smooth controlled fashion. This can be done before your routine and is a great way to warm up joints, re-set your muscles for the day and maintain your kicking flexibility.
- PNF stretching. Front and side splits (plus others if you need). Hold for five seconds then relax and stretch immediately after. This is basically the hardest but most effective kind of stretch you can do, as it works on power and flexibility. If you want more, you can combine it with longer passive stretches. This should only be done at the end of the routine and when your body is properly warm.
Set yourself some targets and work towards them. With a bit of effort I guarantee you’ll improve. Build a wall and kick it down!