Over the last 20 years or so I have been trying to incorporate several styles into one that is suited for my needs. My stance is now pretty much a Karate’s one, but my kicks have elements of Karate, Tae-kwon-do and Muay Thai. Tae-kwon-do kicks are very fast and offer great control for the person who has mastered their way of hip rotation. They also have a good principle of having almost all kicks starting from the same position, with the knee up in front of the body. Thai kicks can be extremely powerful with the leg switches and the sweeping motion. Karate ones have a lot of power behind as well.

I would like to know people’s opinions on the advantages and disadvantages between Mawashi Gheri from Karate and Dollyo Chagi from Tae-kwon-do. Basically, as the links show, the Karate style uses the balls of the feet to hit, by pulling the toes back, whereas the Tae-kwon-do’s style is by using the instep of the foot.

  • My current TKD style (Rhee, an offshoot of ITF) uses the ball of the foot, with toes pulled back to strike a Dollyo Chagi. Earlier in my life I studied WTF TKD which taught us the Dollyo Chagi with the instep. My preference is to strike with the instep because it runs a lower risk of hurting my toes.
    – Rob Gray
    Feb 24, 2015 at 0:35

4 Answers 4


Jammed toes

I can't speak to the TKD technique, but I found trouble during years of karate with the ball-of-the-foot recommended mawashi geri technique. Many others have done fine with it. For instance, Shokei Matsui shows it to be a formidable technique against the body and the head in his 100-man kumite; he uses it to devastating effect about a half-dozen times starting at 3:00 in this YouTube highlight of the event.

However, I found that in my practice, pulling the toes back resulted in jammed toes more frequently than the other versions of the kick. Stretching and diligence can reduce the incidence of this phenomenon, but it's a common issue. I understand that reducing the surface area of the striking surface increases the effectiveness of blows, but that benefit didn't seem worth the repeated pain. People were plenty unhappy with my instep or ankle hitting them.


Another factor to consider is training gear. If you wear shoes, boots, or foot padding of any kind, your ability to train the toes-back version of many kicks is greatly diminished. I found this not to be a problem with front kicks, but very much an issue with dipped-foam gear combined with mawashigeri. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend working with your equipment rather than against it. If you spar with shinguards or foot protection, I recommend using the shin or instep/ankle as a striking surface for this kick.

  • 2
    Excellent answer. +1. Amazing video. I had heard about, but never saw it to be honest. I also noticed that by using the balls of the foot, your distance has to be shortened a bit too. It is interesting to see that the kick he hits the guy (at 3:05) comes from the front just like the tae-kwon-do style (knee up to the front, then the hip rotation to whip the foot to the face). Thanks for that, Dave.
    – Lex
    Mar 22, 2013 at 17:12
  • @Lex You're right about the distance element; I'd forgotten. Of course that's even more of an issue with the muay Thai round kick using the shin, which is still very effective. Personally I get a lot of mileage out of the "question mark" setup (i.e., chambering like a front kick) for the roundhouse kick to the head. Mar 22, 2013 at 17:17
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    I think this answer is great, but I would like to throw out that from the Taekwondo perspective, traditional styles use both the instep and the ball of the foot for striking - different techniques for different activities (flat foot for training/sparring with partners, ball of foot for breaking things and opponents).
    – rjstreet
    Mar 22, 2013 at 18:34
  • Confucius say: man with toe jam must wash feet. Dec 2, 2014 at 18:33

I'm a Taekwondo instructor and I would disagree with your premise that "Karate style uses the balls of the feet to hit, by pulling the toes back, whereas the Tae-kwon-do’s style is by using the instep of the foot". We often use the ball of the foot, particularly when hitting something hard like bricks or boards.

However, against soft targets such as the head (although the skull is hard, because of the mobility of the neck hitting the head allows for free movement so I'd consider it a soft target) there's no need for the ball of the foot and using the instep is better.

The reason that kicking with the instep is better is that when the foot is pulled back it adds stretching pressure to the whole back of the leg. This is why gymnasts and dancers stretch with their feet pointed, they want to allow the maximum flexibility they can without nerve tension (nerves don't generally stretch very far if at all) be a part of it.

So, that discusses the foot position, now another key difference for me between the two is the hip movement and therefore range. In Karate they often keep their hips completely square and thus the kick doesn't come as far forward. It also therefore reduces the rotational force generated by the body. In Taekwondo we bring the knee through forward and then rapidly turn it over to convert that forward momentum and trunk twisting force in to power in the kick. Aside from power - allowing the hips to turn further through and pointing the foot all add to extra range.

Anyway, just my opinion - I have never studied Karate (although I have a lot of friends in that world).


I am going to attract flak for this statement, but I stand behind it nonetheless: Taekwondo's kicks are not only different from their Karate counterparts, they are also superior in every sense:

  1. they are faster
  2. they strike harder/are more devastating
  3. they have more reach
  4. their initial movements are harder for your opponent to tell apart

The only critique I have of TKD kicks vis. other martial arts is that they expend more energy (Muay Thai possibly excepted) and thus you have to be in better shape, or refrain from throwing unnecessary kicks.

WRT the specific turning kick discussed, TKD's is superior because kicking with your foot pointed relaxes your hamstring and calf muscles, allowing you to perform the kick with more snap. The TKD way of leading all kicks with the hip means that your reach is increased significantly and the fact that you are generating the bulk of the kick's power from the muscles surrounding your hips and below your bellybutton means you have more raw power than if you generated the bulk of it using your leg muscles. NOTE: I said the bulk of the kick's force is generated via one or other method. This does not mean that I think all of the force is generated in either way. I am saying MOST of the force comes from the hips or the legs, respectively.

Kicking with the ball of the foot versus the instep has pros and cons. I wouldn't tell a student to use just one technique. The instep makes for a harder contact, but the force is spread out over a larger area. It would be better to employ it if your target is something soft like the neck or cheek. The ball of the foot can be used when aiming for something hard like the jaw or the side of the head. The rule of thumb is Hard against soft and soft against hard. Though I also like to teach kicking with the bottom of the shin. I found it to be a more effective kick, even though it has slightly less range. It's much more versatile because you can condition the shin to take lots of abuse, plus it's a nice and "sharp" contact area. This means you can use the exact same kick to bruise muscles and inflict a potential knockout (i.e. you can use the same kick against the neck or the side of the head). It also requires much less pinpoint accuracy because you don't have to worry about contacting the chin with your instep, which will cause you to limp if it was a particularly hard impact.

  • 3
    It would be extremely beneficial for you to discuss why/how the body mechanics of TKD kicks make them harder/better/faster/stronger than Karate, with emphasis on the round kicks being discussed. Dec 1, 2014 at 15:45
  • 2
    Updated with the requested info. Dec 2, 2014 at 7:08

TKD and karate stylists both form very large and diverse communities making it hard to meaningfully generalise about their technique, so I'll initially focus very specifically on the WTF-style dollyo chagi and the Shotokan mawashi-geri as demonstrated by Kagawa-sensei as in the videos the question links to.

The WTF kick in the video brings the kicking knee directly forwards past the supporting knee with the lower leg hanging down, then roughly keeps a line from kicking hip through the upper leg and knee towards the target while pivoting, then swinging the lower leg around to make contact. If you watch carefully the transition from 0:09 to 0:10, you can see the knee moves very little, and the rotation of the body is predominantly involved in reaching the knee forwards an extra foot or so rather than driving the knee strongly sideways and promoting power into the target. Consequences of this technique are:

  • power generation is pretty pathetic - most of the power comes from the thigh muscle; there's a degree of "slap" with relatively little follow through, but - unlike most of my comments here, that's in absolute terms and not relative to Kagawa-sensei's mawashi geri, which doesn't have a lot of follow through either

  • time between the preparatory position at 0:09 - where the defender still needs to be ready to defend against a front kick or side kick or even hooking kick, axe kick, or slapping/vertical kick, and it's still easy to step down and use a hand technique instead - is minimised, but

    • the shared forwards knee-raise movement itself is relatively easily jammed with feet or hands - especially if it becomes predictable

    • a back leg kick also needs more overall rotation of the hips than Kagawa-sensei's mawashi-geri, with much earlier and more obvious telegraphing of the intent to kick

    • it's impractical to deliver a really strong low-section kick or sweep using this preparation

  • recovery time is a mixed bag - because the leg isn't swung sideways strongly into the target, there's less to stop - especially if it doesn't meet expected resistance - and it can be drawn straight back towards the hip relatively quickly and easily, but the forward movement and leaning back make it harder to mix in punches, hand strikes, elbows etc, blocks, grabbing/trapping moves etc. while doing so

The mawashi-geri video is unusual in that Kagawa-sensei's approach to the technique is not practical for the average martial artist, requiring way too much flexibility, so in a sense you're comparing recommended-for-average-TKD-practitioner technique to barely-attainable-for-advanced-fulltime-Shotokan-practitioner technique. The mawashi-geri illustrated is distinctive for raising the knee sideways towards the shoulder without rotating the shoulders much. It's specialised for use at close quarters where it can come up and knock someone out without them even noticing a shift in balance or upper-body position that signals a kick coming. That technique is not intended to generate that much power - the idea is to strike the head and get a clean unexpected strike in past the guard.

This contrasts markedly with the much stronger kyokushin karate mawashi geri, or the Muay Thai kick, where the knee describes an arcs with more sideways movement during the kick. Indeed, their movement for a mawashi geri with the knee itself is more consistent with that used when striking with the foot, and their kicks can be targetted at any height low in the kick - they're very powerful at low section, unlike the WTF dollyo chagi. Clearly the WTF kick can't be changed into a sideways-striking knee kick if the opponent gets too close - it only moves forwards.

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