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I am learning martial arts (specifically, Kajukenbo) and in class, we went over a move called a mule kick, which is where you look backwards, and then strike behind you with your leg. I don't know exactly where this would be helpful, considering if my target was in front of me, I could just use a push kick.

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I only encountered this kick in combination with a turn, ie. in combination with a (faked or real) roundhouse kick or the like. Can be used as a recovery movement for a properly missed, committed roundhouse as well since it clears the range, interrupts the rhythm and gives you time to fully recover, even if it does not connect. The basic movement can be seen in this video but as explained, I have seen it rather as a recovery or combination than a standalone technique, so the coach's main criticism is moot.

There are three rationales involved in that:

  1. It is probable that your opponent tries to capitalise on the fact that you shortly lose line of sight and tries to move in. If so, they will be caught by surprise by a kick executed after only half a full turn with rather good range.
  2. The turn adds some extra inertia that goes into the power of the kick.
  3. Most people expect a high spin hook kick as a combination in that situation, so they will be caught with open body due to the different attack angle.

I have been caught by that in full-contact sparring once or twice by a guy who used it quite expertly, so I can attest to the fact that it works.

I see no reason to train it without proper setup and turn, though. The applications will reduce drastically to some theoretical "multiple attackers" or "pursuit" scenarios.

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One strong use case is striking a pursuing opponent whether because you've faked a retreat, or because you started one, and then realized that it was not feasible (the opponent will catch up to you, your route is blocked, etc). As you turn to retreat, the opponent moves to close the distance, pulling them into your mule kick.

Speaking from Capoeira experience (admittedly an art that's more ritualized in general use rather than oriented toward the most efficient self defense techniques), we also sometimes use it when an opponent is too close for a regular forward kick. The turning backwards creates additional space to deploy the kick, and if you're doing a traditional mule kick involving placing your hands on the ground and kicking up, you're also often kicking up inside their guard, particularly if they've overshot their mark in stepping into you.

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