Karate Case Study: Front Snap Kicks
Hey Karate folks (and other Japanese martial artists). This is an article that went up on my blog a couple of weeks ago. Not the best piece in the world but it was an area I was passionate about since my background is mainly in Karate. The article is from www.fightsgoneby.com where there are lots more like it. All feedback is greatly appreciated as it's how I try to improve!
It's a wonderful thing as a practitioner of traditional martial arts to see a classical technique come back into vogue and be used to great effect in full contact combative sports. John Smith reintroduced the low single leg take-down which appears in dozens of Eastern martial arts forms to the world of amateur wrestling, Jon Jones is bringing back the savate style push kick or "Chassee" to the knee, and between them Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva have brought the front snap kick back into vogue. Following their use of it so masterfully we have seen a proliferation of it's use in mixed martial arts particularly. Even one dimensional grappler Rousimar Palhares landed it out of nowhere, stunning Dan Miller in the UFC. Just the other night Dong Hyun "Stun Gun" Kim, known somewhat for having turned into a "decision fighter" since his move state side, managed to land a Lyoto Machida style jumping kick or "Tobi-Geri". The only thing that made Stun Gun's attempt less impressive was the fact that he had already attempted to land the crane kick over ten times before in the same fight.
The main difference between the front kick that Machida and Anderson threw and the Muay Thai style front kick which is much more common place in combat sports today is in the chambering of the leg. Notice how Machida and Anderson both bring their heel almost to their buttock and then use the bucking forward of their hips to throw the foot out, as opposed to the driving push kick or "teep" of traditional Muay Thai and kickboxing. That is not to say that teeps have not been used to score knockouts before. Witness the kick Kohiruimaki drives into the face of Nitta at 4:44 in this 2005 K-1 Max match. The key difference is that where the Mae-Geri Keage or Front Snap Kick whips up and under the opponent's chin like an uppercut, often cutting through the blind angle, the Muay Thai teep drives straight through the target. The teep is traditionally used to push an opponent back in hopes of him becoming more determined to push forward - walking into strikes as he does, or to push him into the ropes or corner. The snap kick is intended to cause a knockout or punish the body. Though the teep is used more routinely, it is also hard to find fighters who use the kick to it's full potential - Buakaw Por Pramuk being the most notable push kicker in common knowledge.
The front snap kick existed before Anderson and Lyoto (or Steven Seagal if you're feeling particularly gullible) stormed our living rooms with it in 2011, and had been used on the big stages of kickboxing and mma before, but never as effectively to the jaw. Semmy Schilt - the towering Dutch kickboxer - came to the 2009 K-1 Grand Prix with a front kick that he never before or since demonstrated. In three fights with three top kickboxers Schilt brutalised their bodies with snap kicks to the floating ribs and beat each fighter in under 3 minutes, making the total time he spent in the ring that night under ten minutes. In this fight with Badr Hari - the consensus best in the world at the time of the tournament final, having already KO'd Schilt earlier that year, Semmy brutalises the mid-section of Hari which had never previously been thought to be a weakness. After avoiding Hari's initial charge Schilt connects his first good front kick at 3:08, falling into the clinch. He lands it against the ropes at 3:13 and again at 3:42. Though Hari does not appear wounded, his hands drop in an attempt to defend further uses of his foe's unfamiliar weapon - this allows Schilt to land a huge left straight (I would scarcely call it a jab) that drops Hari. Hari has been down before in fights, his chin being the biggest challenge his career has faced, but it is the wince of pain and the gasps that he is seen to give while sitting up after the knockdown that show the effect of Schilt's front kick. Schilt peppers Hari with jabs, delivers another front kick, some more jabs and then a high kick - Hari's usually high guard is absent though, further indicating the efficacy of Schilt's body work with the front kick. The final kick comes in shortly after - again a front kick to the floating rib, and Hari falls swinging, and writhes in agony once he hits the deck.
The best example of the front kick in MMA that I can offer is not Anderson or Lyoto, but a Japanese lightweight named Katsunori Kikuno. For those of you unfamiliar with Kikuno's work - he is a solidly entertaining fighter and has fought some top names. Suffering a robbery loss to JZ Calvan and outstriking Eddie Alvarez - the consensus best boxer and at the time best all around fighter at lightweight in the world - for almost 10 whole minutes, forcing Alvarez to take the fight to the ground, something he is rarely seen to do. Is Kikuno a great boxer or kickboxer? Hell no. Kikuno fights (or used to fight) from what fans referred to as "Zombie stance", with his hands open, palm facing the opponent in front of him. Kikuno's entire game was the front kick for the first part of his career - and it worked against top fighters. He winded kickboxing ace Andre Dida with one before throwing him to the floor and pounding him out. he brutalised Alvarez and kept him at range with it for the almost ten minutes in their match, and he used it almost exclusively to win his DEEP lightweight title. In recent fights he has abandoned his best weapon and fought almost exclusively with his hands down by his thighs, relying on his chin and punching power, but having seen him at his best it is clear he is wasting his talent in this way. Though it's a losing effort, this is a brilliant example of how the front snap kick can throw even the best strikers off:
Kikuno throws and lands the front kick at 2:32, 2:35, 2:52, 3:16, 3:28, 3:47, 4:55, 5:00, 5:05, and 7:06. Eddie eventually catches Kikuno and changes strategy by wearing him down on the ground, but this is a career defining performance by Kikuno. Few have made Alvarez suffer so much for a win in recent years, and it was almost entirely Kikuno's front snap kick that did it. One more front kick to finish; 5:02 for the money shot.
Well done on the article. This is something that I would expect to see in a technical MA magazine. I think you were very thorough in your fighter analysis. I would like to maybe see a "side by side" diagram of the main differences in the two different style kicks. Good explanation of the hips driving the more karate-based kick. I'm a fan of mae-geri as well. Even in the sport karate, I feel it is neglected and has the ability to be more effective as a power kick (especially to the body).
Nice read. This is probably one of the most fun techniques I've used when sparring.