How to Front Kick: Olympic Style Taekwondo

Introduction to the Olympic Taekwondo Front Kick

The front kick or “ahp cha gi” in Korean is the most basic kick in a fighter’s arsenal. While some variation of the axe kick (usually outside-to-inside) is often taught first, this is to develop the hip flexors and stretch the hamstrings, as they are generally in need of serious work for a novice. Why not the front stretch kick? Well the front stretch kick isn’t a real kick, it is an exercise, and you can’t break a board or knock someone out with a front stretch kick–that’s call an axe kick!

The front kick is the best kick to develop the proper kick chamber motion. In fact, nearly every kick you throw will start just like a front kick–even the more advanced, Olympic axe kick. This is because the chamber is so important for power generation and keeping your opponent from knowing which kick is coming. Learn how to throw a good front kick and all your kicks will benefit.

The roundhouse kick might be thrown more in sparring or proper matches but the first half of the kick is the same as the front kick. Developing confidence in your front kick and actually throwing it against an opponent will open up an entirely new line of attack. Lots of people are good at blocking roundhouse kicks because they come from the sides. Front kicks come from the front (duh!). With twice as many lines of attack, that’s twice as much mental processing your opponent has to do, slowing him or her down.

How to Perform the Olympic Taekwondo Front Kick

  1. Assume a fighting stance. Feet shoulder width apart. I like to think of the fighting stance as something between a cat stance and a front stance. The cat stance is great when you’re exhausted and blocking incoming kicks with your front leg’s shin. The front stance is great when you’re trying to throw your most powerful block or strike for traditional practice purposes. Combine the two and you have your fighting stance. Hands up near your face, feet shoulder width apart, and your body at maybe a 30 degree angle to your opponent.
  2. Lift your rear leg forward with the knee bent in one fluid motion. Once the top of your thigh hits parallel, this is when whatever kick you are throwing takes shape. Until this point you can throw a front kick, a roundhouse kick, block with your shin, side kick, axe kick, reverse roundhouse kick, or heck, just take a step if you see your opponent react and fall back.
  3. Using the momentum from your knee lifting, snap the leg forward to the target with the toes pulled back. You are striking with the ball of the foot. The entire motion should be like a whip, using the hips to throw the foot. Extra tension in the leg only slows the kick down and helps telegraph it
  4. Upon impact, tighten the body and drop your weight onto your supporting leg. This puts your bodyweight into the strike. You’re not striking with the ball of the foot, you’re striking with your entire body like a whip that weighs as much as you. A solid front kick can easily break ribs but you shouldn’t be trying to break ribs. You should be trying to make your opponent’s internal organs explode from the impact driven into them. A great front kick will rupture spleens, stop the heart, break the jaw and cause a severe concussion or death, rupture intestines, or destroy a liver. Hitting the solar plexus with a half-decent front kick will cause a technical knockout even through the hogu (chest protector in Olympic Taekwondo) against an opponent similar or lower to your level. Part of being good at Taekwondo is teaching your body to absorb blows through subtle movements and ki expression (breathing and tensing with focus).

Diagnosing Problems with Your Front Kick

Most problems with the front kick involve weak hip flexor and abdominal muscles or tight hamstrings. There are also problems with technique–such as throwing a pushing front kick instead of an Olympic style one. I will address each of these problems below.

Weak muscles

The primary muscles used are the abdominals, hip flexors and quadriceps. Strengthen your abs and hip flexors by doing leg lifts, twisting situps, crunches, etc. Your quadriceps can be strengthened with running, sprints, squats, jumps, etc.

Tight hamstrings

You should be stretching your hips, hamstrings and quadriceps daily. Touching your toes and the hurdler’s stretch are two of the best.

Using the leg as a whip

Imagine that your leg is a whip with a light weight on the end that you’re striking with (the ball of your foot). Whip the leg out while keeping it as loose as possible and then on the moment of impact, snap it into the target and back. Work on this mechanic after you are fully stretched out and warmed up. The end of regular class or a StrongKicks session is a great time to work on this for a few minutes.

Variations of the Front Kick

There are a number of different front kicks, actually. The one described above is technically the front snap kick. The variations of the front kick are:

Front snap kick (Olympic style)

I’ve already described the basic snap variation throughout this page so scroll up to read about it. It’s the fastest, longest range version of the front kick.

Front thrust kick

The front thrust kick has less snap and more push than the front snap kick. It is used when there is not appropriate distance to fully extend the leg for a proper snap and also when the opponent is charging the gap and you have to push them away as they come in without losing your own balance. More of the full foot can be used instead of just the ball. It’s the intermediate range version between kicking and punching distance.

Front push kick

The front push kick is used when the opponent is up close within punching and grappling range. It still has to be quick to avoid the foot being trapped, depending on the rule set, or lack of one in the case of self-defense, but it performed by placing the bottom of your foot on the opponent’s body and putting your full weight into to push them away as hard as you can. It’s the close range version between punching and grappling distance.

Soccer kick front kick

This is kind of the bastard version of the front kick. Instead of any chamber, you skip into it, tossing your body weight behind your hips like kicking a soccer ball (or football, depending on where you are from). The impact point it above the knuckle of your big toe and the target is almost invariably the head. Great for when your opponent is trying to get off the ground after being downed, but pretty much useless in a combat sport with a referee. When the opponent is wobbled and leaning forward to avoid falling down, with the arms at the sides, axe kick to the head instead.

Skipping front kick

This is basically the Olympic front snap kick except you skip into it with the step change motion learned in the step change kicking drill. Probably the strongest, longest range and fastest front kick version actually, but requires little to no movement on the part of the opponent to land successfully. Actually makes a lead leg kick to the body useful if you are comfortable with a more open (squared stance) in sparring, which can take a lot of practice.

Jumping front kick

Non-kicking leg goes up like you are stepping up and then the foot on the ground shoots out to kick. Looks cool for low colored belts (especially in breaking) but you don’t want to leave the ground when actually fighting.

Double front kick

Throwing two successive front kicks without putting the first kicking leg down before throwing the second. Requires the jumping front kick as a requisite. It’s a little more useful in sparring as it can confuse some opponents but a high level competitor will simple back kick counter you into a hard down and 8 count.

Reverse roundhouse kick

The reverse roundhouse kick is actually a front snap kick where the hip and knee are is rotated outward as the leg extends from the chamber and the instep is used as the striking surface. This kick actually shares nothing with the roundhouse kick except the striking surfaces (instep or ball of the foot). The only really viable target is the jaw or side of the head. Can be very hard to anticipate so toss a few into your next sparring session and see if they land. The force generated by this kick is upwards and to the outside of your body. Practice on the kicking dummy first to make sure you have the motion down or you can end up hurting your knee.

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