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How to Roundhouse Kick: Olympic Style Taekwondo

Introduction to the Olympic Taekwondo Roundhouse Kick

The roundhouse kick or “dolryo cha gi” in Korean is tied with the axe kick for the second most basic kick in a Taekwondo fighter’s arsenal. The roundhouse kick starts with the same chambering motion as the front kick and should be learned after. This kick is slightly more complicated but still fairly easy to perform compared to more advanced kicks like jump, spinning back hook kicks and such. In competition, the roundhouse kick is the most used kick, is the easiest to land, and thus accounts for more KOs and TKOs (along with most points scored) than any other kick. A solid roundhouse kick to the head can easily give someone a concussion even through the foot pads and helmet Olympic Taekwondo players wear.

The chambering motion of the roundhouse kick hides what kick it is and helps generate its power. Unlike a Karate or Tang Soo Do roundhouse kick, the Olympic Taekwondo roundhouse kick starts with the leg chambering straight up like a front kick. As the leg goes out, the back foot twists, opening the hips and naturally turning the kicking leg parallel to the ground by the time it impacts with the target.

The roundhouse kick is the most thrown kick in Olympic Taekwondo matches, sparring and even pretty much any combat sport that allows kicking. Even if a relatively small percentage of roundhouse kicks actually get through the opponent’s guard, the force of the roundhouse kick hitting the guard tires the opponent and even more importantly, stops them momentarily to hit them with a combination. Just like with boxing, you need solid combinations to score, and the roundhouse kick is the Taekwondo equivalent of the jab, cross and hook all in one.

How to Perform an Olympic Taekwondo Roundhouse Kick

  1. Assume a basic fighting stance. Hands up (as always), feet about shoulder width apart, and body at an approximately 30 degree angle to the opponent. Keep your weight evenly distributed to avoid telegraphing and bounce lightly on the balls of your feet. There are actually three variations of the fighting stance used in Taekwondo but I will get into them on their own page.
  2. Just like with the front kick, lift your back leg, knee first, towards your opponent. This is the vital chamber that gives the Olympic roundhouse kick its snap, speed and power. If throwing at body level, the roundhouse kick only takes shape as that kick once the thigh hits approximately parallel to the ground. When thrown to the head, the thigh will be at an approximately 135 degree angle when measuring from the ground to the thigh or 45 degree angle if measuring from your own head to the thigh. Once the kick reaches this point it becomes the roundhouse. Until that point it could be a front kick, axe kick, side kick, step, shin block, reverse roundhouse, etc.
  3. The instep of the foot is the impact surface with the Olympic roundhouse kick. As the thigh crosses parallel with the ground in the chamber, use the momentum of the rising knee to rotate open the hip on the planted foot. The planted foot will naturally turn when this happens. This allows you to turn the kicking leg parallel to the ground. You can’t throw any proper roundhouse without the hips opening from this. Like with the front kick, you are using your foot as a weight attached to the end of a whip. Avoid any unnecessary tension in the kicking leg to maximize speed.
  4. On impact, the planted foot will be turned to face away from the target you are hitting with the kicking leg. Tense up at the moment of impact to snap the kick into the target like a bullwhip and use the natural stretch reflex to pull the kicking leg back. A great roundhouse kick can do some serious damage to the ribs, liver, kidneys, etc. The target that you are snapping into isn’t the surface of the opponent’s body or the hogu (chest protector); it is the several inches behind the ribs, where the internal organs are.

At the very least, a decent roundhouse kick will stun or knock the wind out of an opponent, setting them up for a more powerful kick to a more vital point. My personal favorite is throwing a solid roundhouse to the solar plexus when in an open stance (when you and the opponent are in mirrored stances, both fighting southpaw or orthodox) and especially after winding up my legs and torso with footwork to maximize the stretch reflex (think the Mohammed Ali Shuffle), causing the opponent to lean forward from the shock to the nervous system and cardio vascular system (of which the solar plexus is the “eye”), followed up with an axe kick to the unprotected, lowered head. Almost a guaranteed KO. This usually results in a stoppage in sparring or even possibly a no-contest when competing as the chance of killing the opponent becomes real.

Diagnosing Problems with Your Roundhouse Kick

Weak muscles

The primary muscles used are the abdominals, hip flexors, hip abductors and quadriceps. There is also a much stronger twisting motion involved and more torque placed on the body than with the front kick. This is one reason it is learned after white belt.

Twisting crunches, leg lifts and twisting leg lifts (where the legs go side to side while you are on your back and your legs and torso form a 90 degree angle) will get the abdominals into shape. For the hip abductors (the muscles that pull your legs apart), grab onto a chair or something and practice extending your legs to each side while standing on the opposite one. The side stretch kick is also an excellent exercise for the hip abductors.

Tight hips

Your hamstrings should be plenty loose to perform this kick if you’ve already become proficient at the front and axe kicks. What may not be loose enough however is the hip socket. Butterfly stretches for the groin, front and side splits and stretches for the hip flexors are key.

Using the leg as a whip

Just imagine the roundhouse kick to be the same as the front snap kick, except your leg is parallel to the floor instead of perpendicular to it at the moment of impact. The knee comes up into the same chamber as a front kick, and as the hips open to deliver the kick, the loose leg shoots out with hip and abdominal power, driving the thigh, and the lower leg follows. Tighten on impact to rebound back with the whip motion. While Thai and Karate fighters may complain, this kick variation can still easily hit at over 300 PSI over the instep for even smaller framed fighters and the deeper impact point can be devastating for someone unprepared or untrained to absorb such a hit.

Variations of the Roundhouse Kick

Like with the front kick, there are a number of roundhouse kick variations. The one described above is the Olympic style roundhouse. Here are all of the different roundhouse kick variations:

Taekwondo roundhouse kick (Olympic style)

The one described throughout this page. It’s the fastest, longest range version and also best for targeting high like the head. Also nice to sneak in to vital points on the body when the opponent isn’t expecting it.

Karate roundhouse kick (Tang Soo Do style)

The old style roundhouse kick, as it is often called, can strike with the top of the foot between the foot and shin (instep) like with an Olympic style roundhouse, or it can also strike with the ball of the foot. The ball of the foot version takes time to be able to pull off without breaking your toes (think angles of attack, toe flexibility and appropriate targeting) but can easily break the ribs without worrying about cracking your foot on a blocking elbow tucked into the body. In fact it can easily shatter an elbow that is blocking if not blocked properly.

What really sets apart the Karate roundhouse from the Taekwondo one, is there is less of a snap, less of a chamber with the knee coming up, and an opening of the hips initiating on the opposite side of the kicking leg. Basically, take a half step with your planted leg while opening your hips and drag the kicking leg behind, while it is parallel to the ground.

It’s best at mid-range and when the opponent is stunned or off-balance because it is the slowest version. This kick is great for breaking hard objects however like the ribs, jaw or bricks in a competition when the ball of the foot is used.

Muy Thai roundhouse kick (Pro Kickboxing and MMA style)

This version uses the shin as the impacting surface and more often targets the legs, as those are legal to kick in Thai kickboxing. Another crucial difference is that because the striking lever is shortened (the shin impacting instead of the instep), more hip torque is used instead of thigh strength. Think of a figure skater when they spin. They bring their arms and legs in close to spin faster and extend them to slow down. Keeping the leg in close causes a faster spin and more torque. You drag the leg behind the hip rotation in this variation, causing more force and torque damage with less speed and snap. Unfortunately, the range is 18-24″ shorter than the Olympic version so you need footwork and strength in the clinch range to land it.

Reverse roundhouse kick

The reverse roundhouse kick is actually a type of front kick.

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