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A View on Kicks

Fu Mei Gerk 1

Kicks - strikes with the lower limbs - can refer to a very large variety of types of strikes across the spectrum of martial arts. In Wing Chun Kuen, as with many other aspects of the art, there seem to be interesting variations/disagreements concerning the kicking aspect.
Originally, when I first learnt Wing Chun back in the 1960s, my sifu then, a direct Yip Man and Wong Sheung Leung student, told us that in Wing Chun there was only a front kick at two levels (knee and stomach) and a side kick (with no pivot) to the same two levels laterally - period! And, that was it - no discussion! Even the scoop kick in the dummy form he described as a type of front kick. And, in one sense, I can see how he was correct. Nowadays it seems most Wing Chun trainees ascribe to the view that there are a wider number of kicks. (And it is my opinion that some practitioners have borrowed some non-Wing Chun kicks from other arts and imported them into Wing Chun or devised Wing Chun look-alikes - but that is a discussion for another day).
Let us look then in more detail at the descriptive categorisation of Wing Chun kicks as they are, in my experience, most commonly practised by a majority of Wing Chun Kuen trainees. Kicks can be categorised in various ways. Common descriptors used to traditionally categorise them in most martial arts include the direction (front, side, back); height (high - usually the head and neck; middle - usually the torso to the navel, but sometimes including the whole torso and groin; low - usually the legs); the attacking tool - the position of the foot/ankle or part of the foot impacting (instep, ankle, knee, ball of foot, heel), the trajectory (straight, round, scooping), the type of power employed (snapping, thrusting, stamping), and, the target (usually restricted in the Wing Chun nomenclature of kicks to "throat-cutting" - in some branches; "heart-piercing"; "groin" or "knee"). Another descriptor nowadays used by eclectic (but honest) martial artists (with the blending of traditional martial arts through technique collecting and so-called "cross-training"), is the art to which a given kick was originally unique (e.g. "Muay Thai round kick", "savate kick", "Tae Kwon Do kick"). The JKD folk and modern eclectic or non-traditional martial arts practitioners tend to employ this type of nomenclature.
In keeping with the linguistics' notion that "the limits of my language are the limits of my world", the larger the number of descriptive categories simultaneously applied to a kick the larger the number of kicks one can discriminate and label. If one takes the ultimate combat reality view that any part of the lower limb can strike the opponent anywhere along any trajectory contingent on the demands placed on you by your attacker, then what we arrive at is there being a vast number of kicks. However, it is simpler to categorise them until one arrives at that stage of thinking, and being able to act, as if "a kick is just a kick" or even more general: "a strike is just strike". At this point there is just one kick because any and every lower limb attack is thought of as simply yet another variation of the limb's motion - a reaction in response to the opponent's actions. Names are then, in essence, simply that - arbitrary sounds with some consensual linguistic agreement later ascribed to a physical action to describe what was done.
Until we reach mastery, however, it seems we must think differently. For example, we could describe the same kick progressively as:
1.    low kick
2.    low instep kick
3.    low instep round kick
4.    low instep round thrusting kick
5.    low instep round thrusting savate kick to the knee.
Obviously this can become somewhat of a mouthful and inevitably abbreviated or the original poetic language names can be used in those lineages in which they have been preserved (e.g. in Wing Chun: "tigertail kick" or "fu mei gerk"). In the Korean martial sport of Tae Kwon Do, for example, they have devised a very large number of kicks and seem to delight in devising and finely differentiating kicks by several simultaneous categorisation labels. In karate they have divided kicks into thrusting and snapping ("kekomi" and "keage"), high, middle and low ("jodan", "chudan", "gedan"), frontwards, sidewards, rearwards ("mae", "yoko", ushiro"), whether whilst jumping ("tobi-geri"), and also often describe them by the impacting area of the foot (e.g. "sokuto geri") or target area (e.g. groin kick - "kingeri"). Hence we can, for example, have a forward snapping high roundhouse with the instep ("mae jodan haisoku mawashi keage geri"). In actual classes these jaw busters are usually shortened (e.g. "mawashi" or "mawashi geri") along with a visual demonstration to clarify which exact kick, often from a categorised group of kicks (e.g. the roundhouses, "mawashi", or flying kicks - "tobi-geri"), the instructor is requesting the trainees perform.
At the very simplest level, as my first sifu did, we can obviously categorise our Wing Chun kicks by referring to the height. In Wing Chun we rarely kick above the waist. (Although I have been - uneasily, at first, I must add! - convinced that if the opportunity presents, and if we can do it without losing structure and it is the move required by the situation - it might be an alternative to kick higher). Thus we can describe our kicks as either:
•    low, or
•    middle level.
Some specific kicks within the parameters of Wing Chun's guidelines, of course, can only be executed at one level (e.g. a stamp (downwards), a knee lift (middle level - to target groin or stomach - or if we have doubled the opponent over at our stomach level - to target their chest or face areas).
With more descriptive detail we can further categorise our kicks - as we must to converse about them and learn and teach them - by reference to their foot/ankle position when kicking. Wing Chun employs only three of the limited possibilities:
•    ankle extended with toes extended (foot pointed, toes pointed)
•    ankle extended with toes flexed back (foot pointed toes pulled back)
•    ankle contracted with toes flexed back (foot pulled back, toes pulled back)
We can then logically also think about the attacking tool, the striking surface - area of impact of our weapon on the targeted area of our opponent. This includes:
•    ball of foot
•    instep
•    heel
•    sole
•    ankle
•    shin
•    knee
(With respect to "ball of foot", some say teachers traditionally kick with the "toes". I doubt anyone proffering this advice has had much real fighting experience kicking with the toes! In ancient times in China and Okinawa martial arts masters did indeed kick with the toes - and reportedly with devastating effect. However, they trained their toes with "iron sand" methods and specifically toughened and strengthened them in a way no modern practitioner could, or need, find the time to undertake. Personally I think kicking with the toes is quite anatomically foolish - even given shoes - it can become a bad habit which is reflexive when one is not wearing appropriate protective footwear! Who needs broken toes?!!). If you feel you simply must kick with the toes then go find the hardest boots you can and wear them all the time!!
Thus far, our descriptive categories tell us about the height, foot/ankle position, and striking surface. Now, to be precise, we must add the direction, trajectory, and the target of any kick we wish to describe. So, we must categorise further.
With respect to direction, kicks proceed from steps and all steps can become kicks. Hence we can assert there are:
•    front
•    side
•    back
•    cross-over/diagonal
steps so there must be the same types of kicks. Just as we can step forward, to the side, back or step across our front leg so we can kick as we step. (I would argue that putting our back leg behind our front, as some karate/TKD styles do to crossover step to side kick, is too backward, you can't kick simultaneously as you do this step because your other thigh simply inhibits your range of motion and expression of force. Also, it is not a Wing Chun type of step in my view).
Thus, every time we step, kicking may be an option - consistent with safety and balance. Hence this use of direction is the simplest way to categorise our kicks. Of course, it is a principle of Wing Chun that we must take the simplest, most direct, most energy efficient and most effective option. However, we also need to be precise. And, we need to observe the cardinal rule in Wing Chun Kuen (or any worthwhile martial art) of not sacrificing the structure of our technique or compromising our balance. So, certain kickingmaneuvers common in other martial arts are ruled out as simply too slow, too risky in Wing Chun Kuen or their function being adequately covered by other strikes (sometimes hand strikes).
Although I do not intend furthering the present article to encompass this other aspect of kicking, to complicate things, we can also perform kicks.
•    as we pivot
•    from a stationary stance
•    as we step.
Sometimes my students ask me why Wing Chun does not utilise a particular type of kick or whether it includes a particular type of kick. To my way of thinking, in this kicking aspect of gung fu (as in all others) the Wing Chun practitioner who is impressed with a kick from another art must ask: "Can I perform the same function as this kick which I have observed or been taught with the techniques in the standard Wing Chun repertoire? Can I do it, simpler? More directly (hence, more quickly)? More efficiently (hence, with less energy expenditure)? More effectively (combining the above or adding factors to achieve a better effect - swifter, safer - with less opportunity to be countered? With less opportunity to lose balance? With less opportunity to lose control of the situation/opponent? With more total disablement of the opponent)?" If so, then that way is the way the Wing Chun Kuen practitioner must perform the kick if they are to remain within the principle guidelines of the art. Of course, sometimes language can intrude and confuse us - in describing and teaching the art the descriptive names of techniques, concepts and principles must be consistent with clarity in our communications and mutual understanding.

Application

Thus the most exacting level of categorisation should give us sufficient detail to execute a particular kick if it is requested by the sifu, without seeing a demonstration or to discuss it when we are

conversing by electonic media. We need therefore to specify foot/ankle position, striking surface, target, direction, height, as well as trajectory - the path the kick will follow. This can often be done by the traditional poetic names (e.g. "fu mei gerk"; "mo ying gerk" etc) or by club or lineage specific slang terms when there is consensus on the meaning. However, when we converse outside our gwoons, lineages, or art, we need to be precise if we want to avoid confusion.
And, of course, I would be negligent if I did not make some mention, albeit brief, of martial virtue, the mind and morality in all this - neither ego, as it manifests in the will simply to be different; to be acknowledged as superior; to represent one's version of the art as more "comprehensive"/original, traditional (implying superior or correct whilst others are wrong) etc; or to have the biggest following kow-towing; nor greed, as it manifests in the wish to recruit the greatest number of students to become selfishly wealthy, must be allowed to intrude into the mind of the true master and his teaching and thus set a poor example and lead followers astray.