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In Hapkido we have a variety of striking positions for the foot using a front-kick-like motion. What we use for a front kick is to point the ball of the foot, curling back the toes, and using the ball of the foot to impact the target (e.g., knee or groin).

The other day another student and I were discussing: How does this change when using a boot, particularly one with a plate or a steel toe, since this would both limit the range of movement for the toe and also the optimal striking surface.

The question is: When wearing such footwear, what is the optimal foot position(s) and striking surfaces to avoid damaging yourself while inflicting damage to the enemy, contrasted with what you can do barefoot?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

It depends on your target area and your intended results. I use two different types of front kicks, which I refer to as a snap and a thrust. The thrusting front kick is much like a side kick, where you lift your leg and fire the kick straight towards your target area. The snap kick, on the other hand, is comparable to a round-house kick, focusing more on using the knee as a pivoting point, rather than the knee acting as a piston.

The foot position of a thrust kick, to the knee, perhaps, would be the same with a boot on as it would be barefoot. You would still lead with the ball of the foot, pulling back the toes (as much as possible with the boot restricting your movement) to get them out of your way. If you have some type of metal plated boot, the striking with the ball of your foot is still likely to include some of the metal plating, but it depends on the boot itself.

A snap kick, great for targeting the groin, might be more likely to strike more on the toe of the boot, but I would still recommend pulling your toes back, within to boot, to avoid injuring yourself with your own metal plated boots.

Basically, I guess I would keep the foot position the same, or as close as possible, when adding a boot to the situation. Hopefully this helps.

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You need to shift your thinking slightly. When wearing a boot, stop thinking about striking with the toes back, down, etc. You want to focus more on what part of the shoe will be striking for the most effect. Read flody's answer, it's pretty good.

The other thing to think about is striking for maximum damage. When we practice street sparring, I rarely go for a groin shot. For it to be debilitating, you generally need to strike the area dead on, and most guys are reflexive about avoiding strikes there. A simple hip shift and your target is inaccessible.

I much prefer round kicks to the side of the knee, then you can hit it with anything from the knee down and still do some good damage. If you're already to the side, a low side kick/stomp is preferable. Even if you end up striking high on the side of the leg, there's a good chance you'll hit the pressure point there.

You also want to consider adapting the strike for the type of footwear. If you are wearing typical running sneakers, they usually have decent padding on the sole, so I'd prefer to strike with the top of the shoe. With boots as you describe, toe to sole would be a preferable striking point.

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Quite simply, use the tip of the boot, make the boot work for you. Make sure you point your toes and they are quite rigid, because depending on the fit of the boot you will get some force coming back as the boot shifts upon impact. This technique should be useable for just about all closed footwear types except the very soft, like soft casual shoes or kung fu slippers.

Remember that your kick will be significantly slower when wearing boots, so don't try fancy kicks - for example I would tend to avoid snap kicks and even big round house kicks, instead I would use powerful thrusting front or side kicks - even if you don't manage to get perfect focus and penetration it will inflict pain and give you room to move.

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Typical boots, if they are the correct size, heavily restrict your toes movement.

When performing any of the two, I would aim to hit with the sharpest edge available, which is typically the edge of the sole. Reducing the hitting area in fact greatly increases the damage inflicted. This is especially true in this case, because you do not have to worry about injuring a part of your body, like might be the case with e.g. fingertips strikes.

If the boot constrains your ankle movement, I would avoid a thrusting kick, as the foot cannot achieve the desired final position. Limit yourself to shin kicks: they do miracles in boots. If your opponent is unaware/slow/elderly you can use a snap kick to the chin: it also does miracles.

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Savate trains kicking with shoes with hardened toes, which for the toe part is close enough to a steel toed boot (however I'd be concerned about how a high laced ankle boot would influence mobility and how that would affect the technique - as you mentioned). In Savate, as a result, one of the striking surfaces is the toe. That makes a lot of sense to me, if I were using brass knuckles I'd use a conventional punch over a palm heel strike.

If you spend a lot of time training barefoot though, that could introduce a bad habit that could leave you with a broken toe in training, even though it's a sensible idea while wearing shoes. For that I would lean towards kicking with the heel. The biggest effect on the technique of the boots for that I imagine would be the weight of the boot. Training kicks with heavy duty Muay Thai style shin guards on would likely lead to appropriate adaptations to deal with the added weight.

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