Oh, the pain! If you're a dude, you know what we're talking about. The agony buckles your knees, sucks the breath out of your lungs, and makes you go more pigeon-toed than Marilyn Monroe in her white, blown skirt. For most guys, the first introduction to the anguish of testicle crushing comes in the form of a kick — intentional or otherwise.

And when someone says “kick,” one tends to think of either soccer or the martial arts. Mainstream entertainment has certainly played up the latter, from Jean Claude Van Damme's trademark helicopter attack to any number of mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts ending with devastating head kicks.

But how effective are they in a life-and-death situation? How do you use them? And when should you use them? Read on to get a “leg up” on the topic.


Tied Up But Not Out: The author shows the advantages of kicking. Hands bound, keeping the attacker at bay, and the low risk of injury makes using your feet a no-brainer.

Tied Up But Not Out: The author shows the advantages of kicking. Hands bound, keeping the attacker at bay, and the low...

Effective Footwork

Martial arts (especially from Asia) often utilize the feet as weapons. Not only are some of these techniques aesthetically appealing, they can be downright deadly. In a dynamic critical incident, having more options will improve your chance of surviving. In extreme close-quarters combat situations, learning to use every appendage you were born with makes sense. Let's explore why kicks are effective.

Look, Ma, No Hands: In certain situations, kicking may be your only viable weapon. Your hands might be bound. Your arms could be injured. Or maybe you're carrying your child. You just never know when your hooves will come in handy.

Leg Strength: The muscles in your lower limbs are stronger and more powerful than the ones in your arms. Daily walking, running, and stair-climbing strengthen the legs. Stronger pistons will cause more damage and can even break down doors. Try that with your knuckles.

Increased Reach: In most violent situations, distance is your friend. Compared to your arms, the extra inches with your legs improve your odds of landing an effective blow. At the same time, your leg attack will keep distance between your vital organs and the attacking scoundrel.

Deceptive: The trajectory of the legs comes from below the visual field (especially if he or she is staring you down), reducing the likelihood of your opponent blocking or evading the strike.

Look, Ma, No Hands Part 2: Injuries of any kind suck, but will suck worse during the apocalypse. Considering the bones in the hands are small and delicate, punching can produce fractures. The constant physiologic stress (from the weight of the body) during walking and running creates higher density in the bones of the feet, especially the heel (aka calcaneus). This constant pounding makes the feet more durable, resilient, and less likely to break upon contact.

Sole Armor: Compared to our naked hands, our feet are usually surrounded by extra layers of shielding called footwear. Furthermore, hiking boots or steel-toed work shoes can “weaponize” our hooves, while at the same time creating that one-of-a-kind fashion statement.

Achilles' Heel

Kicking can be a lifesaver, but it's not the holy grail of combatives techniques. Dangling one leg in the air can leave you vulnerable in a number of ways.

Balancing Act: When performed incorrectly or on slippery or uneven terrain, booting someone can land you on your bottom. If you find yourself on the ground from a kick gone wrong, your mobility and options will be limited — severely. This risk/reward must be calculated before engaging.

Lack of Mobility: Movement is hampered with one leg stuck to the ground while the other is in the air. This is dangerous because movement is your friend during a violent encounter. That split second of standing on one leg will leave you vulnerable to being swarmed by multiple attackers.

Lumbering Log: Kicks are slow when compared to punches. If the kick is too slow or telegraphed, the bad guy can avoid it or, worse yet, grab your leg. Once your leg is captured, you'll most likely find yourself landing on your butt, being hit in the gonads, or both.

Off Target: Legs are clumsier than hands and lack the fine motor skills of fingers. When kicking, missing the target is more likely compared to striking with the hands. Training to kick effectively requires time to perfect.

The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to learn from a reputable instructor then train. A lot. Proper training will improve efficiency, timing, power, and speed, as well as increasing your odds of landing any type of devastating blow.

Kick Starter

We certainly want to adhere to the KISS principle when it comes to leg attacks. There are dozens of kicks in the martial arts. All are effective at the right time in the right place. Alas, we cannot always pick the time or place, so focusing on a few effective kicks that can be used in a multitude of situations increases our odds of making the strike successful.

Here are four high-percentage kicks that can save your life:

Front Kick

This is the often the first kick you learn in many martial arts systems, and for good reason — the linear attack's intuitive motion makes this a go-to move for many street encounters.

How: From a ready stance, raise a knee forward with your toes pointing down. Flick the leg forward, striking with the instep. Immediately retract your foot back and put it down (for stability and movement or for a second kick if needed). Re-chambering your kick quickly also makes grabbing your leg more difficult.

Target: With a fast and stealthy vertical trajectory, the groin makes an ideal candidate for this weapon.

When: Any time your opponent is in front of you, yet too far for a knee to the groin. A wrist or purse grab also offers another opening for a front kick to the ‘nads.






The big right haymaker is possibly the most common empty hand attack you will face. Conrad Bui gets his hands up and slips the punch, leaving the attacker off-balance. A quick kick to the groin is enough to stop the threat and allow Bui to make his escape.

The big right haymaker is possibly the most common empty hand attack you will face. Conrad Bui gets his hands up and...

Push Kick

Fan of the TV show Cops? You've likely seen a police officer kick a door open with the push kick. This kick makes use of the strongest muscles, namely the glutes and quadriceps. If kicking in a door or stunning an attacker in their tracks is the goal, the push kick is your move.

How: From a ready stance, bring up your knee as close to your chest as possible. Pull your toes back and extend your leg explosively while thrusting your hip forward. The heel is the striking surface for this technique. Once the kick has reached full extension, quickly retract the leg so it can't be grabbed easily, it's ready to fire again, or it can be set down to run.

Targets: For maximum devastation, aim for the solar plexus, the groin, and knees. However, the power generated from this kick can make any target a good candidate.

When: Use the push kick whenever an attacker is straight in front of you. A push kick to the above targets can create enough distance for you to access a weapon or leave the scene. Strong and explosive push kicks to the knee can dislocate the knee joint.






A hammer attack is no joke. Conrad Bui has no time to draw his firearm, so he must

A hammer attack is no joke. Conrad Bui has no time to draw his firearm, so he must “fight to his weapon.”...

Side Kick

Bruce Lee was a big fan of this kick, along with just about every other martial artist. MMA stars like Jon “Bones” Jones, Conor McGregor, and Holly Holm are also big proponents of this weapon. The reason? Side kicks reduces the risk of counterstrike by increasing reach and reducing your vulnerability (achieved by turning the body sideways).

How: Bring your knee up, pointing your foot slightly out to your side. The side kick shoots out like an arrow with your heel as the arrowhead and your shin as the shaft. Pull your toes back toward you to expose your heel. Once full extension is achieved, immediately re-chamber your leg.

Targets: A side kick delivered to the knee at any angle can cause devastating results. The groin, thigh, and shin will likewise yield positive outcomes.

When: Side kicks are best used when the target is to your side. The bad guy could have approached you from either side or you purposely angled laterally to provide a slimmer profile. Additionally, you may unleash this beast whenever someone tries to grab your wrist.





Sherman Chin grabs the author's wrist. Using the closest weapon to the closest target, Conrad Bui launches a side kick to Chin's knee. The damage forces him to keep his hands to himself.

Sherman Chin grabs the author's wrist. Using the closest weapon to the closest target, Conrad Bui launches a side...

Back Kick

So far, we covered your front and sides. Now it's now time to watch your six. The back kick is a destructive attack because it's powered by your glutes and legs. Think of a horse or donkey, explosively kicking backward. (Who would like to be smacked by that?) This is the type of force that can be replicated with correct technique.

How: From a comfortable stance, look behind you to identify the threat and raise your knee up toward the front of your body. Aim your heel behind you and explosively extend your leg to the rear. Imagine the kick is an arrow, with your heel as the arrowhead and your shin as the shaft. Forcefully, fire the kick straight back, keeping your toes down and pulled back to expose your heel. Lean forward slightly for balance and immediately re-chamber your leg.

Targets: Although a well-executed kick will be a danger to anything in its path, targeting will yield better results. The groin, hip, thigh, knee, and shin are all acceptable shots.

When: The back kick is the strike of choice any time an identified threat is behind you. The bad guy may have snuck up on you or you may have made the choice to turn from the danger to run. Either way, back kicks have your six.





Sherman Chin attempts to sneak up and skewer Conrad Bui. But he hears him coming, checks his six, and quickly back kicks the goods. The proper re-chambering position leaves Bui in the perfect position for a mad dash to safety.

Sherman Chin attempts to sneak up and skewer Conrad Bui. But he hears him coming, checks his six, and quickly back...

If the Shoe Fits

Hollywood and MMA matches have made kicks mainstream. Still, some combatives instructors shy away from teaching kicks. They claim kicks are vulnerable to counterstrikes or slips and falls. However, there are times when the only answer may be to give someone the boot. Training this oft-neglected combatives tool can improve your odds of prevailing a close encounter of the worst kind.

Anyone who doesn't respect kicks has never been kicked properly. Just ask any dude about his first gut-churning crotch shot.

About the Author

Dr. Conrad Bui — a San Francisco-based doctor of chiropractic and frequent contributor to RECOIL OFFGRID — has been serving up kicks at karate tournaments since his youth. He later used them as a bar bouncer and continues to teach kicking techniques as a Muay Thai instructor at World Team USA. A self-proclaimed combatives junkie, he placed third in the featherweight brown-belt division of the 2016 World No-Gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship. He is also a certified full instructor in Indonesian Kuntao Silat, Filipino Kali, and Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do, as well as a fifth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Get a Leg Up Online

Did you get a kick out of this feature? We have more exclusive web content on kicks, combatives, and self-defense. To learn how to practice your kicking techniques safely and avoid some brutal mistakes in a life-and-death situation, go to www.offgridweb.com/survival/kicking-drills-mistakes.

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