Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekly Wushu Talk: Kicks

Hello Everyone! Due to last week's retreat, I didn't get around to writing here. Not that many people read this blog, but if you were looking forward for another post and didn't get one last week, I apologize (and you're awesome, whoever you are, for reading this blog weekly).

This week I'd like to talk about kicking techniques.

Wushu kicks are one of the very first things people learn if they are new to Wushu. While I'm not entirely sure why, I do have my own thoughts.

Kicking techniques are perhaps one of the hardest techniques to get familiar with. Not only does it take time and lots of stretching to kick up to a reasonable height, there is a lot of body mechanics involved that require one a long time to get used to (mainly controlling your muscles, as talked about in the previous post). I know that for a lot of people, me included, kicking with your non-dominate leg (left leg for most people) is really awkward and completely sloppy. I know when I do outside and inside slap kicks with my left leg, my body wobbles, I can't put out power, and just overall embarrassingly sloppy. But the interesting thing is, once you can kick with power and accuracy and control your body well enough for both legs, you know that you have achieved a high level of technique.

This is perhaps why they teach kicks first, due to its high difficulty, but I believe there's more than that. Because kicks are the hardest to control, it means that if you can control your kicks and place power to the right places, you can control essentially every single other movement. If you can focus your kick and create a loud slap, you can focus your punch and create a very powerful, sharp punch, and create a firm hammer fist etc.

Also, kicks are a good way to gauge how flexible you are. Since flexibility is the fundamentals of the fundamentals, being able to see how high you kick is a nice way to see how you are progressing in your stretches. Furthermore, learning to kick powerfully eliminates a practitioner from over-focusing on the flexibility, and not concentrating on the power at all. If you are flexible you can definitely kick high, but you won't necessarily kick powerfully.

Anyways, below are some tips on kicking techniques:

First: The Golden Rule of Kicks
I actually learned this detail 6 years into learning Wushu. By then, I had already built a strong foundation, however an incorrect one. I had to re-stretch my muscles, and rebuild my foundations. This is very, VERY important:

Golden Rule: Your hips must be square at all times.

With the exception of side kicks.

What I mean by "hips must be square" is that your hips should not extend sideways. Try this: practice a few front stretch kicks with your thumbs on your hip bones and your hands directly pointing sideways (essentially making an L with your thumb and hand and having your thumb parallel to your hips and your palm parallel to the ground). If your hands move forward or backwards, you will notice that it is because your hips extended outwards. You do not want to do this. If you throw your hips forward when you kick, you will lose all the control of your leg and will be unable to produce any power. Another test is to do a front stretch kick as high as you can. If your toe's trajectory is going to hit your forehead, it means that you're good. However if it's going above your head, then it means that you're extending your hips.

To fix this, well, of course be more aware when you kick, but also start stretching with your hips square. It will hurt a lot to change and stretch a muscle you've never stretch before (it was hell for me), but in the end it's worth it.

So, keeping the golden rule in mind:

Front stretch kick:

Most important thing is to do the golden rule, especially for this kick. If you don't it will appear very obviously in your kick that your hips are not square. Another very important is that you have to kick downwards after you kick up. A lot of people think that kicks are simple kicking upwards and thus let their leg fall naturally downwards. This is wrong. The downward motion of the kick is just as important, if not more important that the upward motion. The downward motion creates the maximum dynamics in your movement, and if you can kick downward with power and have your foot return to neutral position, it displays a high level of control. Speaking of which, your foot should always return to your other foot's side without making any noise. You can accomplish this by either gently letting your foot contact the ground, or have your foot hover just very slightly above the ground so it's not touching the ground at all. The latter is of course a lot harder, and require a lot of balance an control, but looks a lot better.

Outside / inside slap :

If you weren't here when the founder, Chi To, was here, you missed a really good analogy. With the outside (and inside) slap kick, you should be drawing a snow cone with your foot (like an ice cream cone with the ice cream). This is exactly what you should do (though I doubt the Chinese coaches use this analogy, it will just sound comical I think: 用你的腳畫個冰淇凌甜筒!Yep, it sounds silly). Here's the reason why: the snow cone's shape perfectly splits the kick into its essential elements. When your foot is drawing the cone part (the triangle), you should be simply raising and lowering your leg (though when you lower your leg, you should apply a bit of power to pull your leg back). During the ice cream part (the half circle) is where you should apply all your power for the slap. The half circle should be a very, very fast and powerful movement, and thus creating the slap. Applying power at the ice cream part also follows the concept of using power at the last second (最後用力). Only by doing so are you able to create the loud and powerful slap

Front Slap:

The most important aspect is the coordination of your arms and steps. If you're not coordinated, it just looks like your tripping over your foot. Make sure that when you take your last slap is when your hands come together above your head. The kick should be, again, having your hips tucked in. If you feel that you're having trouble making a loud slap for the front slap kick, it is probably because your hips are extended and therefore you are unable to bring out the power needed.

Side Extension:

Make sure that you do split the movement into its two distinct elements: The raising of the leg, and then the kick. Do not try to kick while you raise your leg, otherwise it will become a stretch kick instead of a extension kick. Also, focus on the edge of your foot and the edge of your opposite hand. Imagine having a rope tied onto your kicking leg and opposite hand and the rope pulling your foot and hand in opposite directions. You should feel this outward force in your movement.
Look towards where you are kicking.

Well, that's it for the major kicking techniques. If you want me to cover any other kicking techniques (side stretch, front extension etc), leave a comment and I'll add on to it.

Until next time, 加油 and fight on!

-Stephen

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