What is the historical reason Karate and Taekwondo recommend kicking with foot instead of shins for Round kicks (different from Muay Thai)?

In Krav Maga, they teach to kick with foot, since most of the Israeli soldiers are wearing sturdy thick army boots, and the small bones will not break, while giving longer kicking range. Is there a reason, Karate and TKD recommend this? Maybe warriors wear metal samarai boots during ancient times?

I see many young adults especially in TKD learning, and last thing people want are kids having injury in self defense.

Note: Prefer post not be about which martial art is better, and more professional about understanding the historical context.

  • 'metal samarai boots' sound unlikely.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 16:55

6 Answers 6


From what I was taught, we kick with the feet instead of the shin because of physics. The longer a lever is, the more force it can apply. Kicking with the shin shortens the lever thus decreasing the amount of force applicable. The idea being to generate the greatest amount of force using the least amount of energy.

If you ever want an example of how much force can be applied look up "Insane KO Hook Kick" on youtube.

Furthermore when we would kick with the shin it would usually be done to leg check an opponent and weaken their leading leg.

Another reason why it's taught this way is partially because these disciplines are traditionally rigid in technique, my dojo growing up stemmed from the International TKD Alliance (afaik an off-shoot of South Korean TKD), and then our next off-shoot of that broke away from the rigidity and taught MMA.

Edit Another good point to make is that Tae Kwon Do is not a self-defense discipline (or even combative in nature like Krav Maga). TKD is a sport and exhibitionary discipline. It may be true that TKD houses some powerful techniques, but it is not to be confused with self defense.

The idea of self-defense entails the concept of "last ditch efforts" to preserve ones self. TKD does not embrace this concept in any regard and as a 4th degree (or 4th dan if you'd prefer), over 15 years experience, a handful of tournament experiences, and a handful of real life fights. Do not use TKD for self defense.


Typically, you kick with the foot due to the extended reach you get. Also, the physics favors the foot in terms of striking power.

Having said that, there are rules in competitive sparring. In Taekwondo, for example, kicking is only allowed to strike with any part of the foot below the ankle. Accidental shin kicks are overlooked, and knee strikes are penalized. But in self-defense, you kick with what you are comfortable with; with what is safe; and with what is available. If your only option is to use the knee, then, so be it - use the knee. I'm not sure of Karate rules.

You didn't ask, but it is related to your question. With the foot, there are two contentious areas people argue about: instep or ball-of-toe. This is the case for Taekwondo; I am unaware of the issue in other styles.

In this case, the instep gives you speed and reach. But if you hit the target in the wrong place (eg chin) or are blocked (eg elbow) you'll be in absolute pain for a long time. But many a knockout has been scored with the instep. Nevertheless, you are generally free to use whichever you are comfortable with.

I will also note that the instep covers more surface area. This was important in previous Olympics, due to the problem with the electronic scoring sensors in the hogu (chest protector). So to ensure you hit more sensors, you were taught to use the instep. This isn't so much of a problem nowadays, and most people seem to prefer the instep anyway: you get a faster kick due to the antagoninst muscles used in ball-of-toe method which can slow the kick down, even if ever so slightly.

Getting back to style-agnostic considerations, there seems a discussion on the sensitivity and pain threshold of shin vs foot. The foot is comprised of more delicate bones. A checked kick will hurt the instep, ankle, and shin. The question is, in what context?

Your kata ought to reflect which part of the leg you are kicking with: kata won't hurt you or your imaginary opponent.

And in sparring, I wonder what kind of sparring you're doing where this is problematic? If you are an elite sparrer, then, this is a consideration, since your opponent will also be an elite sparrer. For all other folks, an occasional hard shin check, or an elbow in the instep will surely change your mind to use the alternative, and that's the point: be prepared to use both.


For tae kwon do, it basically stems from physics. If you kick with the ball of your foot for a roundhouse kick, then the bones of your foot all face your target, so support the kick. If you kick with the shin or instep (we teach to kick with the instep to start with), then you could injure your shin or instep if you kick a solid enough target with enough force.

It is also true that kicks with the feet have inherently longer range than with the shin.

You specifically asked about roundhouse kick, but the pe-chagi, or slash kick, does use the shin. That is the only tae kwon do kick I know of that uses it. Other parts of the foot are used for other kicks, though.

  • This doesn't sound right to me. Range is a good reason, but saying you could break your shin if you land a kick with it sounds like a terrible reason. If there is enough force to break a shin there is also enough to break the foot irrespective of angle. The instep I agree is fairly weak.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jan 3 at 21:35
  • @HuwEvans You may break a baseball bat by hitting a steel railing with it, but try ramming the steel railing with one end of the bat. If you kick, say, someone's stronger leg with your shin hard enough, like you want to harm them, then you absolutely could break your own shin instead. Commented Jan 3 at 21:38
  • But you can't even possibly do a straight kick with the shin. This question doesn't make sense if you compare a straight kick landing the ball with a roundhouse landing the shin. It's about roundhouse kicks as the OP specifies.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jan 3 at 21:41
  • @HuwEvans If you do a roundhouse kick with the shin the motion is the same as if you do it with the foot, except the foot position matters less because you're hitting with the shin. I don't understand the objection. You would hit at shorter distance because the shin is closer to you than the foot. Commented Jan 4 at 12:38
  • 1
    I am fully aware what you spoke about, it just does not make much sense as a general assertion. The shin generally points in the same direction as the bones of the foot as your ankle has no rotational potential. Also, you generally kick with a part of the shin about one third down from patella towards ankle, where the shin is thick and triangular, being one of the most stable bones in our body. While I buy both the range and the speed argument (speed due to lever), structural stability certainly speaks against kicking with the foot in all circumstances where it matters (esp. when blocked) Commented Jan 29 at 18:13

Karate doesn't limit its kicks to either foot or shin. Some forms of karate - such as sport-oriented styles - might emphasise feet as a means of maximising reach, but most full-contact and traditional schools train to employ the shin, top of ankle, instep, heel, both sides of the foot, ball of foot and toes.

  • ok cool, guess remaining question is why tkd teaches this way, etc, appreciate it
    – mattsmith5
    Commented Nov 27, 2021 at 19:37

It is much easier to break your shin against someone who checks a kick than it is to break your foot. With your foot the impact is cushioned & absorbed some by your ankle & foot bending when checked. Your shin however has no means to disperse with some of the impact therefor taking a localized 100% of the trauma. If you are solely wanting to cause more damage with your kicks against an un trained attacker then you can dig with your shins on your kicks as it will hit & impact harder than your foot, but if you are fighting someone that knows how to check a kick then always hit with the foot, as the damage is not quite as much as your shin can cause but you aren't at risk of getting your leg broke in half either. Even without breaking your leg, the pain from a normal leg kick check with your shin will do some damage & cause swelling, welts, pain, & problems posting & applying weight to it properly. Alex Peirera is THE BEST at it. Watch his fights once he checks 1 leg kick sometimes you can see how bad it hurts his opponents that are kicking him with full shin, even as he is tearing their leg off with leg kicks himself. You can see a clear grimace on their face when he checks a leg kick & they start limping slightly just from ONE check. Watch his fight against Jiri Prochazka.

  • 2
    I would disagree, feet have small bones which break easier than shin, its been proven most UFC fighters use shin (which can still break but less)
    – mattsmith5
    Commented Jan 31 at 6:58
  • 2
    That's evidently false. The shin, as structural bone, is much, much more stable than any foot will ever be Commented Jan 31 at 11:48

it depends on what target you want to achieve. how do you kick enemy's upper body with your shin ? no, you use feet instead of shin.

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