Monday Morning Tai Chi Training Tip # 269
Yoga uses a lot of standing on one leg to improve strength, balance, co-ordination. Tai Chi uses Kicks for the same reason. For many, especially older folks, kicks are a challenge, but that doesn’t mean not to do them. Let’s explore the use of kicks in our Tai Chi form – how and why.
When I was young, there weren’t any popular sports in the US that used kicking primarily. It was all upper body – baseball, basketball, boxing, football, track, golf. Soccer just wasn’t known to me and my friends. The legs were for running and moving from place to place.
Most people aren’t studying Tai Chi as a martial art. But it is very important to know applications, thereby clarifying intention. Intention leads chi. Knowing these kicking variations leads to more chi pathways in the body, leading to improvements in health and wellness. Also, it is important to visualize someone about your size so you can figure distance, angle, and placement of the kick.
Most people have a tool box at home containing the basic tools – hammer, screw drivers, levels, pliers, etc. Tai Chi has a tool box also, containing kicks, punches, locks, throws, pushes, etc. The trick is to use the correct tool for the job at the right time.
Kicks are our first line of defense. They are the longest range tool to keep unwanted people or creatures at a distance. We could say that there are three distances – close, medium, and far. We have different kicks for each distance, but generally speaking, Tai Chi is a grappling art which requires the two players to be fairly close to each other. Push Hands tournaments always start with the competitors standing toe to toe, and touching forearms. Tai Chi players generally do not compete in mixed martial arts tournaments which start out with long distances between each other.
If you are like a majority of Tai Chi players, you’ll never be in formal or informal competition and will use the following information to improve your understanding and performance of the form. I hope you agree with me that knowledge of the hows and whys is of interest, fun, and important.
First, I will discuss the basics of kicking, then look at when each type of kick is used for each move in our Long Form. I recommend printing up the list of the Long Form moves I sent out a couple of weeks ago – Tip #266. Or you can make your own list. You can then fill in which kick is used where for later study. Also, the kicks are dependent on the applications I have given for each move. Your applications might be different. It doesn’t matter as long as you know what you are trying to accomplish, visualize clearly, and do it correctly.
General Information
*The three distances are close, medium, and far. The kicks are thrust, snap, horizontal, and stomp. Horizontal is the longest distance, then thrust and snap, and finally stomp.
*Anytime you step, you can kick. Stepping requires all the weight on one leg, as does kicking.
*You can only kick something. That means that if the partner has most of his weight on one leg, say in Bow Stance, that is the target. The most effective kicks (as well as punches) happen when the partner is moving towards you. Or if he has lost some of his balance by your neutralizing his attack, or you have joined with his arm and give a slight pull to bring him into your space and make him more solid.
*Younger people generally are more active kickers, especially for horizontal kicks to the upper body. Older people have developed more sensitivity so they use more joint locks, leg trips, and sweeps.
*Older people generally have made grooves in their hip sockets due to more sitting and less variation of movements. When that happens it becomes more difficult and painful to move across the grooves, so horizontal kicks are usually avoided. Younger people have much smoother hip joints for freer movement.
*Arms are usually held just slightly wider than the shoulders, and about head height. Best position for balance, also good for self-defense. Keep the elbows sinking for more root in the weighted leg.
*Snap kicks can be delivered when moving back, away, sideways. Thrust kicks are delivered when moving inward, usually taking a jump or step in to gather more energy to the kicking hip area. Stomps require the kicker to be close and can be effective even while just standing toe to toe.
*The different kicks are delivered by different parts of the kicker’s body.
Thrust (Heel) Kick: The upper leg (Quadriceps) of the kicking leg is activated by raising the thigh as high as possible with the lower leg hanging, gathering the energy into the hip joint. The heel (sole of the foot) is then thrust forward, usually slightly downward, using the whole body. Be sure not to let the upper body lean backward as you kick. Most effective when delivered to the knee of the opponent’s weighted leg. If you wanted to kick in a door, for instance, you would use a thrust kick. Very strong. Usually done by moving in toward the target.
Snap (Toe) Kick: Fastest kick. One can kick without first lifting the upper leg, but usually the kick is delivered by first lifting the upper leg until it is about level with the floor, then straightening the leg in a snapping manner. The energy for this kick comes from the knee. It is called a Toe kick because it is delivered by that section of the foot, but not with the toes themselves, as it would be easy to jam them. The toes are either pulled up and back so the ball of the foot hits the target (usually the knee), or the toes are pulled down, resulting in the use of the upper part of the foot. Used mostly towards the crotch. It is the leg’s equivalent to the jab with the arms.
Horizontal Kick: This is a very strong horizontal circle kick delivered with the side of the foot. The leg is straight and swings around, gaining momentum as it moves. If aimed towards the upper body, it is easy to block by moving in towards the kicker so the foot can’t connect. The snap kick can be rapid fire, but the horizontal kick is difficult to do more than one. Needs plenty of room for the straight leg to swing. Very powerful if it connects.
Stomp: Hardest to block or defend against since the bodies are very close to each other. Any time you move into Empty Step, it can be a stomp. Generally you close the distance while controlling the partner’s arm, then kick downward with the heel to the foot, ankle, or knee of the partner. Very hard to defend against.
Now that you hopefully have a better idea of the kicks and how and when they are used, let’s examine the Yang Long Form and see if we can become clearer on our intention. We’ll do that next week. Take time this week to examine your form and see if you can figure this out for yourself.