In hapkido we have a large number of kicking techniques, ranging from sweeps and kicks from the ground up to and including spinning kicks, skip kicks, jump techniques, etc.

My question here is in respect to some of what we think of as the more advanced spinning kicks (e.g., Spinning Heel Kick, hook kicks, sit-down-backspinning-heel-kicks).

There are three reasons commonly given for practicing these in my school:

  • Tradition (it's part of the art)
  • In case someone ever uses one on you, you'll know what it looks like and be prepared to counter it.
  • Improves your balance and muscle coordination.

It is explicitly stated by my instructor that you are unlikely to ever actually use the advanced spinning kicks in reality (reality here being defined as "in self defense situations," not in a ring or a duel).

I see the first one: There's more to a martial art than what is currently considered practical. The second one I consider a low-margin game considering how few people seem to use them, though I understand it (e.g., if you've never seen a passata soto, you can end up quite dead to it before realizing how to counter it).

I am wondering, however, if there is any validity to the last one or if there might be other reasons that we haven't discussed for training in these techniques?

9 Answers 9


I think this nicely illustrates the mental conflict between drills and practical application.

Consider one of the key points of a high spinning kick (taekwondo in my case but the commonality with hapkido is obvious): a high spin draws your upper body down and away from your target. Obviously, the movement of your upper body will differ based on flexibility and the situation.

Now consider a threat: a baseball bat swung at your face. In that case, you are naturally inclined to withdraw the upper body and counter-attack with the big muscles in your legs. I find that a variant of the sparring back spinning kick serves as an acceptable compromise between speed and power: the back kick provides the power and the spin allows me to position the strike at an off angle.

Is this a risky maneuver? Of course. It requires finicky timing. However, it accomplishes one of my major goals (i.e., keeping the bat away from my face) and there's an excellent chance that I'm going to hit the bad guy somewhere and quite hard.

Nothing in the real world will ever match your training. By learning a variety of techniques, you have the fundamentals required to adjust and adapt to the situation at hand.

Or, in this case, at foot.

EDIT: I found the link for the 2004 Olympic heavyweight match. In this case (at about 4:40), the Korean victor saw his opponent commit to an attack and was able to counter with a knockout. As always, you have to remember that sparring is not real life. That said, this video serves as a clear lesson that an aggressor is often more vulnerable than he realizes.

It is explicitly stated by my instructor that you are unlikely to ever actually use the advanced spinning kicks in reality (reality here being defined as "in self defense situations," not in a ring or a duel).

I have been thinking about your instructor's comment quite a lot lately. I have to agree that these are not techniques that you are likely to have to use in real life but not because they aren't practical. These are killing techniques. Look at the knockout in that video: a highly trained expert wearing full head protection was knocked unconscious with one blow. It is likely that a normal person would be dead or permanently disabled.

Hopefully, you'll never be in a position where that seems like a desirable outcome.

  • 1
    "In that case, you are naturally inclined to withdraw the upper body and counter-attack with the big muscles in your legs" -- That's not a _natural_response. It's a trained one. It's certainly not what I would have done when I had no training, and it's not what I do now, because it's not the training I received.
    – Anon
    Feb 19, 2012 at 2:56
  • It is, however, a sensible response.
    – Rophuine
    Feb 19, 2012 at 10:07
  • @Trevoke, if you're speaking about the overall population, sure, they are not inclined to back kick. They are, however, inclined to get their head out of the way. The OP was asking from the point of view of someone who is being trained in spinning kicks and does not understand the motivation. That is not the average person. So, when I say "you" in that sentence, you can substitute "David H. Clements."
    – Bob Cross
    Feb 19, 2012 at 16:27
  • @Rophuine Sensible, no doubt about it! As I said, not what I would do, but that's because my body has been trained to do different things :)
    – Anon
    Feb 20, 2012 at 15:46
  • Awesome bout @BobCross - thanks for the link. Will have to show it to my kids. As an aside - did you see the pattern videos I popped up on our local TKD website? tkdbroxburn.co.uk/patterns.html (that isn't me in the videos, by the way :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 22, 2012 at 12:47

As a MMA practicionner with 20 years of combat sports, here's my 2 cents/ideas :

  • kicking practice helps keeps legs strong, FLEXIBLE and AGILE (very important)
  • the fact that 'they are rarely used' does not mean u can't use them if your good enough not to get caught when throwing them (therefore you really need to practice)

A kick can be as effective as you want it to be, as long as you're good enought at it. And there are examples everywhere (whether you like kicking or not).

Good luck :)


In many ways, what comes natural to us may not be natural to others. And vice-versa. As such there will be techniques you have to learn and teach that might not be great for you, but will be for your student. When it comes to the spinning techniques, my "grand-sensei", if you will, was a natural at them. My direct sensei much less so. And I am even less comfortable with them--but that may change with practice.

Even so, the spin techniques are very good stealth techniques. For example, a back-turn side kick or hook kick looks like someone is just trying to get away from you. When you have a foot in your side, you realize that wasn't the case after all.

As to whether something like that is practical now, you have to consider the environment where you expect to be fighting. Almost anything is practical when you have a ring with a flat surface. The choice of techniques that remain practical can be different if you are fighting in a train (moving platform, confined space, several obstructions). The same could be said about mountainous terrain or grassy fields (more traditional settings). I'd be inclined to argue that a spin kick of any sort would be problematic if you are on a moving platform.


In some ways, I see this as similar to the argument about flips in Parkour. Since the basis of Parkour is the most efficient movement that you can accomplish to get from Point A to Point B, flips are sometimes seen as antithetical to proper Parkour, something to be relegated to "Freerunning" or "Tricking" where your goal is as much about presentation as it is about movement. However, as Amos Rendao has pointed out in his Parkour Ukemi (how to fall when things don't go right) videos, practicing flips teaches you what to do instinctively when you are inverted, say because you missed your landing, or you over-rotated on another movement. Similarly, even if you never plan on throwing a spinning kick in a fight, in the scenario where you are forced into a rotational movement (say, you hve to dodge away from an incoming kick, or get pushed off-line), you will have learned how to continue your rotation and how to accurately throw out a kick or strike from that rotation.


Everything you say is fairly accurate. There is one very interesting further use case, which expands on your idea of balance and muscle coordination - If you think of that sequence of movements as two-player drill, you can begin to examine it in a different light.

Theoretically: this particular low-spinning heel strike might be a follow-up to a high parry and a leg takedown. Practicing this particular sequence would teach you the exact sequence of movements needed to take down someone else.

There is an addition - these kicks are just small parts of a much more complete training curriculum. In martial arts, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Training all these kicks teaches you much more than just a bunch of kicks. But I can't answer that for you -- because that is the path you're on, and you have to find that answer within yourself.


Hook kick is very beneficial as both a "stealth technique" and if you have bad aim with a side kick.

Start by throwing a side kick that misses the opponent such that your foot is in front of his head (heel points to his head, toes point to the audience). If the side kick was high enough, and far enough from his head, he probably blocked the kick with a low block and his head is open, throw the hook part of the kick and you just hooked his head. 2 points for head contact.

Another trick is to use skips and scissors to break the distance quickly.


The only real value in learning the mechanics of big, spinning, haymaker attacks is being able to accurately gauge an opponents telegraphs and punish them accordingly. Mechanically speaking, these techniques tend to be slow and overpowered. Thus, their practicality is low for use against a non-compliant opponent. Plus, it is always, always, always a bad idea to turn your back on an opponent.


Personally, and I think it is a personal thing because we each have very different strengths and weaknesses, I think much of the stuff we learn in class is not meant to be applied literally. I see martial arts training as training the body so as to reduce its physical limitations, and training the mind to be confident in a greater range of abilities. The ultimate goal being the ability to move naturally and instinctively and within your limits in any given situation. Many techniques we train will build muscles that are rarely used, or improve flexibility, or improve coordination, or kind of related, improve the brains ability, through the motor cortex, to turn intention into action. Would I do a 360 jumping roundhouse in a real fight? probably not. But by training it, I'm training balance, coordination, timing, self confidence in my ability to do it without falling over or twisting a hip joint etc.


No. None of these would have existed pre-1950ish. They're for show only. Demonstrating your athleticism is the sole purpose. Attempting to actually make use of one in non ideal conditions; outside the training hall, will demonstrate why.

  • While spinning kicks weren't tremendously popular in sports such as TKD prior to the 1970s, we have photographic proof that they did exist there and in martial arts such as Capoeira. Mar 17, 2016 at 12:14
  • Can you provide a link to a pre 1950's ish example? Mar 17, 2016 at 12:52
  • Here's a video recorded in 1950 itself. youtube.com/watch?v=FCtq7C2_7fU I'll look for some pictures, but finding ones with dates associated with them is trickier. Mar 17, 2016 at 13:17
  • I will give you that it doesn't show up in TKD prior to 1950, namely because TKD really didn't exist before then. ^_^ Taekkyon has references to spinning kicks and "wheel kicks", but I haven't found a picture and a number of people seem to dispute that they actually existed. Mar 17, 2016 at 13:30
  • When martial arts stop being used "in anger", they start adding "cruft" to them. With TKD, it's silly kicks. youtube.com/watch?v=iV2ViNJFZC8 Mar 17, 2016 at 14:51

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