Just for kicks (PUNNNN!!!!!!) I decided to figure out the top 7 foot-smacks doled out in martial arts movie history. These kicks range from the acrobatic to the sheer face crunching. The criteria I used to determine the winners was a combination of style, athleticism, and influence in pop culture.
It was a difficult process as there are many great movies with sweet chin music, but the following stood out to me. Hang around until the end of the article and I’ll give a few runners-up that didn’t quite fit the bill.
Here we go…
7. Billy Jack – Face Whopin’
This iconic kick comes from the Movie “Billy Jack” and is delivered by Tom Laughlin. Laughlin plays an ex-green beret Hapkido do-gooder who runs afoul of the law. Find out what happens next when they back him into the proverbial corner:
6. The Transporter – Bicycle Kicking
When you think of bicycle kicks, you probably envision a skilled soccer player making a diving hit over his own head. This is much different. In the following clip Jason Statham finds a way to put the boots to all of his oiled up opponents:
5. Ong Bak – Knee of Doom
Have you ever heard of a knee technique referred to as a “knee kick”? I hope so, because I am using that as an excuse to include this hit from the movie Ong Bak. After a good minute or two of being taunted by his opponent, Tony Ja prepares something extra spicy once the round starts:
4. Enter the Dragon – Ohara Gets His
Almost every scene in Enter the Dragon is ground breaking and awesome. But there is one kick that actually led to physical injury of the cast and crew. When Bruce Lee finally fights Ohara, he lines him up for an absolutely brutal sidekick. The actor Bob Wall was ok afterwards, but one of the extras in the background broke his hand during the fall. That’s no joke:
3. Karate Kid – The Crane Kick
While it may not be physically impressive, is there any kick more iconic? The crane kick is what every d-bag relies on when they try to mimic or make fun of martial artists. It also inspired a generation of future karateka (yours truly included). It’s over Johhny yea, you did it!!!:
2. Kickboxer – The 360 Split Spinning Hook Heel Foot Kick
Is it possible to build an entire career on one face slapping technique? Yes. JCVD did just that and kicked his way into our hearts. The thing that makes this kick so powerful is that no matter how many times you see it (and no matter how many movies he uses it in), it still rocks. For your pleasure, this montage:
1. Enter the Dragon – Han’s Skull Crusher
I’ve never actually felt the vibrations of a kick through my TV until I saw this armageddon-inducing swat from Bruce Lee. In the final epic fight against Han, Bruce puts the beat knuckle down until Han is in a dazed state. At that point Bruce lines him up and delivers a blow so powerful that my nose is starting to bleed just thinking about it. If you watch carefully it seems obvious that they use a Han-doll as a stunt double, and I don’t blame them. In fact I hope there were no live crew members within a 20 foot radius. Enjoy the number 1 kick ever put on the silver screen:
The martial arts universe is home to a lot of awesome kicks, and here are a few that I thought deserved mention as well. Check out the following links if you want more foot flying action:
Chuck Norris Roundhouse Kick – Certainly Chuck Norris’s famous roundhouse kicking meets the pop culture criteria to be a winner. Yet, despite the fanfare and entertaining jokes, I just don’t think there was enough here to trump the kicks on the list. I also discovered that Chuck Norris throws hook kicks far more often than roundhouse kicks, which made it difficult to find good footage of him from a movie (as opposed to Texas Ranger). I also had a tough time siphoning out all of the spoof and joke videos in order to try to find Chuck actually in action. You’ll notice the video in the link is a spinning hook from Return of the Dragon. Best I could do.
Captain Kirk Dropkick – Seriously famous, but from a TV show so I couldn’t include it.
Drunken Master Kick Fight – There is a fight of massive kicking in the Jackie Chan film “The Legend of Drunken Master”. Unfortunately no one kick stood out so I ultimately decided against it.
Wayne’s World II Flying Kick – The fight between Wayne and Cassandra’s dad is awesome, and everytime I see the dad pull off the flying kick I laugh out loud.
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This one’s wide open – any kicks that stand out in your memory?
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
All martial arts are like paths up the mountain. They begin in different places and wind upward in their own unique way. Yet, as you get closer and closer to the top, there are more points of intersection. Eventually, all styles converge as one at the very peak.
Basically what that classic piece of martial arts wisdom is saying is that even though styles often look different, they share many of the same core principles. If you were to progress far enough in your understanding of one or more arts, you could essentially understand the essence of all arts.
This notion seems a bit lofty for sure, especially when pulling together two arts like…say…BJJ and Taijichuan. Nevertheless, if you train long enough, you will start to have moments that make you wonder if it’s true after all.
I’d like to share an example of that.
If you recall back in the late 60s and early 70s there was both a boom of traditional martial arts around the world and a counterculture led by the man himself, Bruce Lee. The argument made by Bruce and many eclectic stylists after him was that traditional arts were much too rigid and formalized. They didn’t accurately represent the dynamics of combat.
They also believed that their open mindedness and fluidity led them to certain discoveries that traditionalists would not be able to sink their teeth into.
In some ways the eclectic stylists were (and still are) right – there are plenty of stodgy, banal, and outright ill-conceived traditional practices out there. But some eclectics also assumed too much in believing that they were discovering things that were unknown to the fighters of antiquity.
Observe in the following video a man named Paul Vunak. Paul is a skilled Jeet Kune Do practitioner who has trained under Dan Inosanto, one of Bruce Lee’s closest students and friends. Paul provides a few anecdotes about Bruce Lee (0-3:30), and then discusses the concept that there only three times you can hit an opponent: “before, during, and after”. Watch from 3:30-6 for the full idea of what he is discussing (video is a bit loud, perhaps turn down volume at first):
What Paul received from Bruce via Dan is the idea of striking an opponent before, during, or after the initial strike. It breaks down as such:
- BEFORE – As the opponent’s body prepares to attack, you preemptively strike him.
- DURING – As the opponent strikes at you, you in turn strike at him but achieve victory through body position.
- AFTER – As the opponent strikes at you, you deflect or dodge and then send a returning blow.
This is a great concept if you ask me. It’s great according to old school Wado Ryu Karate too. Check this out (video is quiet, turn volume back up):
As demonstrated by Tatsuo Suzuki Sensei, there are three times to strike an opponent:
- SEN SEN NO SEN – As the opponent commits to an attack mentally and gears himself physically, you preemptively strike.
- SEN NO SEN – As the opponent creates his attack, you attack simultaneously in a seeming aiuchi (mutual slaying) but best the opponent through skill.
- GO NO SEN – As the opponent attacks, you avoid or block the technique and return with a counterstrike.
These classical terms are not specific to karate. In the video above the narrator mentions briefly that jujutsu also utilizes them. Not discussed is the importance of SEN in the art of kendo as well. In fact, there are perhaps no arts where the razor thin difference of each SEN is more critical.
Observe the strikes in this kendo match, and see if you can determine which SEN is used:
If you’re able to compute SEN and execute as fast as these kendo players, you’re on your way to becoming a fine martial artist indeed.
One final example comes from the book “Living the Martial Way” (pg. 95 to be exact). In it, author Forrest Morgan discusses a meeting he had with an old expert. One might assume the expert was a Korean stylist as that was Morgan’s background, but we can’t be sure. The old man stated that there are three ways to handle an attack: avoid, evade, or intercept.
- INTERCEPT – As the opponent begins his attack you overwhelm it with your own focus.
- EVADE – As the attack comes in you parry but stay inside the strike range for a counter.
- AVOID – As the attack comes in you remove yourself from danger.
This methodology doesn’t line up verbatim with the previous two, but very much expresses the same ideas. In fact, if you watch the Wado Ryu video again, you’ll see all three of these concepts in play during Sen Sen no Sen, Sen no Sen, and Go no Sen.
I’ve Got It, You’ve Got It
Sometimes methodologies ring true no matter what your style. And, when practiced with vigor, even allow us to share commonalities in our training.
The big question at this point isn’t whether or not your system of martial arts has “before, during, and after”, but moreso how do they go about saying it? (and if they don’t say it, how can YOU go about saying it?).
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Perspective is important.
If you think about it one way, I’ve been involved in the martial arts for a long time (14 years). I’ve been doing kata for longer than I’ve been driving.
If you think about it another way, I’m a karate baby. Bill Hayes knew twice as much as I do now 30 years ago. Sadness and depression for me.
That’s why it’s never too soon to address not just the physical nature of your training, but the mental approach as well. In my opinion, you should think by year and train by day.
Think By Year
In order to access the deepest parts of your martial arts you simply cannot be in a hurry. Everything takes time and the pacing of proper training can’t be done at modern-world-speed.
We have a joke in our dojo called “okinawa time”, which means that things will happen when they happen.
For instance, if a class starts a little late – don’t worry about it. If you can’t figure out a technique, there is no need to stress. You have the rest of your life after all.
Thinking By Year is a process in which you set your goals not a few months ahead but a few years ahead. For example:
- Is there a new kata you’d like to learn? Settle into the idea of focusing on it for two years.
- Would you like to improve your kicking? Set a reasonable regiment of kick drills that you can accomplish every week for a year.
- Do you wish to understand the bunkai of your forms? Pick a form and critically analyze it over the course of three years.
The goal of this process is to reset the mind out of modern pacing and slow…things down…a bit. Instead of hurriedly acquiring the gross movements of a kata, why not examine every little body change and nuance? After all, you’ve got two years to think about this kata so there’s no rush to get on with it.
Now you might be thinking – Matt, it’s a little tough to think in years when my next testing is 3 months away! You’re right about that. In modern training where structured kyu ranking is involved, year-thinking is often not a great option. However, once you achieve black belt, designing your own training should be a top priority.
Train By Day
The main problem with Thinking By Year is procrastination. If you’ve got all the time in the world, it’s easy to wait until next week to put in some real effort. Of course, when next week arrives there are new reasons not to focus. And the week after that will hold new reasons again.
The idea of “surviving” or “coasting” through a class is a big-time disease for many students. It can take the form of physical laziness (which we’ve all seen), or mental laziness. Mental laziness is an acceptance of going through the motions and “getting your workout” without putting any thought into improvement.
Training By Day is a method wherein every time you step onto the dojo floor you strive to improve just a little bit. You reach for a small piece of understanding that you didn’t possess the day before.
One of the great big , mysterious, super inner circle secrets of the martial arts is that improvement takes place in painfully small increments over a hefty amount of time (interspersed with highly valuable ‘ah ha’ moments).
You need the short term fortitude to make those small steps, and the long term commitment to not feel hurried or impatient.
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As a sidenote – living on “okinawa time” has been a great means of stress reduction in my life, and a source of aggravation for my friends and loved ones when they try to make plans with me.
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