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While I was practicing drills tonight, it occurred to me that I have not seen roundhouse kicks in any form we do. All the forms I have seen in our system thus far, whether beginner forms or the more advanced ones, do not feature any roundhouse kicks at all. Though our style (a Northern Chinese praying mantis system that also descends from Northern Shaolin) features kicking that involves striking with the toe or instep, I can't ever recall seeing kicking movements that involve rotating the hip and body to strike.

When when I studied wushu from Bow Sim Mark (I can't remember exactly what style is was, but I do remember elements of Shaolin in it), I don't recall doing any type of roundhouse kick at all. Most of the kicks were, in general, straightforward in terms of delivery and execution.

Is the roundhouse kick common in traditional kung fu styles? If so, how widespread is it? What are the reasons why roundhouse kicks are not commonly performed if my assumption is actually true?

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Yes. There are many different forms of kung fu and some do certainly contain techniques reminiscent of the roundhouse kick.

I studied a system called Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Wu Su and one of the kicks we were taught was called the "bow leg kick". It had all the elements of a roundhouse kick. From in stance, you would pivot onto one leg so you are facing sideways from your opponent, chamber (or "table") your leg (as if it's on a table) with the knee bent back, and then strike out with your instep/shin. Of course the steps are broken down for beginners and as you advance in skill you will perform it more fluidly and with more power.

It has all the elements of a roundhouse kick, complete with power generation from turning your hips over as you strike.

This particular kick was taught later on in our curriculum, as it involved more advanced stepping and balance. The beginner classes always focused on straight front kicks, back kicks, and side kicks. So if you were training in a style such as mine, you may not have been exposed to the kick until later on. Of course, some styles forgo those kinds of kicks altogether. If you are curious if your style has a technique like the roundhouse kick, it's always best to ask your Sifu.

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Why is a technique included or not included in a style?

  • What was the terrain like in the area where the style was born? Swamps, mountains, plains, rivers, beaches, all these things will influence the available techniques.
  • What was the founder like? Tall? Flexible? Strong? Wide of shoulders? Big-bellied? Did he have arms the size of tree trunks? This will also influence the available techniques.
  • What did the founder like doing? Come straight in? Go around? Joint locks? Arrows to the knee? This will also influence the available techniques.

Then of course there's my thoughts on the roundhouse kick: you give up the centerline, mobility and stability/balance for this kick. Unless you can make it go REALLY FAST and to the head, there's very little stopping the opponent from just hitting you in the nose.

Mind you - I am not talking about kicks below the waistline, to wit: to the quads, the knees, the ankles, the shins, as well as sweeps. These have some superficial resemblance to the roundhouse kick and are infinitely more useful, and can be done from much closer in.

What is the essence of the technique? What is the essence of the style? Do these two mesh? (Quick example: northern shaolin, monkey form - would you expect this essence to match the essence of the roundhouse kick?).

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+1 I used to be a shaolin monk. Then I took an arrow to the knee. –  The Wudang Kid May 28 at 17:09
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Yes, of course. ALL kicks that are practiced in every other form of martial art, exist in the gung-fu family of arts somewhere. In the system that I learned, it has all kicks whether standing, jumping, spinning, ground kicks and more.

Though individual styles will be limited in kicks and/or punches and other strikes as that is simply part of what makes a style, as long as the fighting drills and discipline techniques are practiced as well, so effective.

In gung-fu, the round house kick, which is a karate name, is known as either a bow leg, or whirlwind kick. Various systems and styles will call it by others name too.

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