I'm interested in kicks to the knee joint in particular from a self-defense standpoint, with the goal of removing mobility and ending combat, and interested in the number of applications for this.

Because karate has the ideal of single strike victory, I'm interested in attacks targeting the knees in this system specifically.

  • What are the types of kicks in karate that target the knees?

Are they purely snapping kicks, or are there cross-kicks that target the inside of the opposite knee? If not, are other types of heel kicks utilized? Are they allowed in competition? Sparring? Are there instances of this being used successfully in MMA?

(My experience of this technique in MMA is that they are often essentially feints/probes from the outside with little effect, as opposed to powerful, disabling strikes.)

  • If you can hit a knee while the weight is on it you can do an injury that will require surgery for your opponent to be able to walk again. It's a personal thing, but I would much rather avoid using these even in most self defence situations. I guess it depends on situation though.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 12:04

3 Answers 3


Kicks that target the knees - kansetsu geri. It's a direct kick to the joint with the blade of the foot. No, not allowed in competition. Karate and Taekwondo do not allow it.

However since the knee is close to the outer thigh, it is a grey area. You could be aiming for the outer thigh and if your opponent moves, you unintentionally kicked his knee. Even then, you would only be doing a turning kick or mawashi geri so the damage is not as great compared to if you were to use direct kick to the knee.


Kicking the knee in karate: mostly a joke

When I taught Isshinryu karate we talked a lot about kicking the knee. We didn't practice it much, however, because it was against our sparring rules. When we did practice kicks to the knee it was in slow, choreographed, dead patterns.

Issinryu's knee-targeting kicks include:

  • a low side kick (internally called a "45-degree side blade kick")
  • a front snap kick (internally called a "straight forward kick")
  • a crossing-over stomp (from Naihanchi)
  • low round kick (not indigenous to karate; stolen from muay Thai)

Since I'm interested in learning to do things and doing them rather than talking about things and then kind-of-miming them, the way karate "taught" these kicks frustrated me. How could I trust them? However lapsed my affiliation as a skeptic, I eventually noticed the lack of any evidence whatsoever that these techniques worked as advertised. After this slow realization, I came to see that all this tough talk about how devastating these kicks are is central to the delusional "we are so deadly!" belief that non-contact martial arts rely on.

Karate is wrong that kicking the knee is a reliable way to disable the opponent. It can, but not reliably and not the way nearly every karate school practices them. The "single strike victory" philosophy (ikken hissatsu) -- always more aspirational than true -- distorts clear thinking on this issue. Each of the kicks listed can be effective, but only if trained in an alive manner and without fantasy thinking about knee ligaments spontaneously exploding.

Kicking the knee: how it really works

To properly understand kicks to the knee in real fighting, I recommend a deep understanding of sports which allow full-contact strikes to the knee, such as muay Thai, some sorts of kickboxing, and mixed martial arts. Many thousands of people kick the legs full force in those sports, in both training and competition. They kick the knee as hard as they can, with the goal of rendering the opponent unable to continue. If there were a way to reliably kick the knee so it stops functioning, they would know, and they would do it.

What we find in those sports is a fairly clear and nuanced view of kicks to the thigh (inside and outside), calf (and peroneal nerve), and knee (including the oblique kick) — how damaging they are, how reliable, and so on. These kicks work, but not in the fantasy sense that karate and RBSD teachers say they do. The knee can be damaged, even severely, but not usually with one kick and not reliably. On the other hand, they are not only probes; there are plenty of victories or significant advantage by leg kick in each category:

Jose Aldo's early career is full of decisive leg kicks (see The Night We Faced Aldo); his bout with Urijah Faber is merely the most obvious.

The low outside calf kick recently became quite popular when fighters noticed it introduced the possibility of temporary loss of limb control. From most to least successful, here are three examples: Chito Vera defeated O'Malley with it, Primus beat Chandler (notice that the loser scored a knockdown while fighting on one leg!), and DJ "Mighty Mouse" Johnson turned off Henry Cejudo's leg but couldn't close the deal

Stomping oblique kicks to the knee are a staple of Jon Jones and the Jackson/Wink fight team. Jones had the most success with them against Rampage. See also Whittaker/Romero and Whittaker/Romero II.

A mature view of kicking the knee shows that it is effective, but not disproportionately so. Like a right straight punch, we know it can end the fight on its own, but few fighters have the incredible athleticism and skill to lean heavily on it as a single skill. It's important to avoid a mythological or video-game conception of such skills unless you are definitely one of those rare, ridiculously talented people.

  • Yeah. I can't disagree with this. Kicks to the back of the knee are somewhat better I guess because you actually have a good way to practice them.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 10:24

A kick or stomp to the knee is a devastating fight ending move if you get it right. It causes permanent damage and it will generally require surgery to get the injured person even walking again. If they ever walk again.

That said this is probably my least favourite technique ever because there is no good way to train it.

The way I look at it there are three schools of thought about how to train martial arts.

  1. train the techniques that can be pressure tested.
  2. train any technique, but in a way that is safe.
  3. train any technique and don't worry about safety.

This technique does not come under 1. There is no real way to make it come under 2 while learning the proper timing. And the problem with 3 is that you get to do the technique exactly once per victim and they will never walk again.

You can practice kicking or stomping single form but that won't teach you the timing required to actually pull of this technique under pressure.

There are an lot of techniques out there that can be practiced using method 1.
There are even more that can be practiced under 2. So why learn a technique that requires method 3?

You may try to pull this off while holding your enemy by their clothing in a manner similar to a sacrifice throw. ie. you pull them onto their front leg and then stamp to their kneecap. However there are so many other techniques you could be doing from this position I see no reason to use this one ever. It will never be a technique you know well (unless you work in a concentration camp perhaps) and a technique you don't know well puts you in danger.

  • How do you know any of what you say in the first paragraph? In ten years of karate I was told the same stories, but I still haven't met anyone crippled by a stomp to the knee. Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 6:27
  • That is a perfectly healthy level of scepticism @dave_liepmann. I have not mey anyone who was crippled by a kick to the knee either. I have met people though who have been crippled by injuring their knees for example by falling off their bikes or lifting a heavy object incorrectly. Also if you look at a anatomical diagram of the knee it it can be seen that it is structurally week to sideways force.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 10:17

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