Many martial arts spend time in practicing high kicks, for instance to the face. Is there a situation in a street fight where high kicks would be the best choice? Why not prefer low kicks? With low kicks, you have fewer chances to lose your balance, fewer chances to miss the kick, and higher strength in the contact. In addition, you don't have to be flexible for kicking with a low kick.
One possible use for a high kick is intimidation. A high kick delivered cleanly is impressive-looking, and may convince other attackers to back off. That said, I'd only recommend it if you're really certain of your ability to pull it off, and to recover if it doesn't come off cleanly.
Of course, there is another purpose to training high kicks, namely stretching out your body to make it less likely that you'll pull something kicking something lower while not warmed-up. If you can kick 6 feet in the air when warmed-up, 3 feet isn't as bad when not warmed-up. But if you train for kicking at 3 feet when warmed-up, you're more likely to strain something.
Unfortunately, some martial arts as practiced in the training hall are unsuitable for general use in street fights.
The danger with high kicks is not just the surface as mentioned by cs1971, there are other factors too:
- high kicks are slower (they have further to travel)
- you are more vulnerable during the delivery and retraction stages of the kick
- there is a good probability you may be faced with multiple opponents in the street
- street fights are far more unstructured
- there can be environmental factors like crowds, bystanders, furniture, etc. in the way
It is my understanding that historically high kicks are a relatively recent addition in karate; the Okinawan masters were never documented kicking above the waist. It's not because they couldn't, it's because they didn't need to. If they needed to kick someone in the head they would take the opponents head down to waist level or lower!
So fundamentally you are right - a low kick is faster, more stable and safer to execute than a high kick, especially in a street fight situation. That doesn't mean you shouldn't train in high kicks, but it does mean that you shouldn't make them a priority (depending on the intention of your study).
This is going to vary from individual to individual. What is going to matter most is one's training and comfort level. I don't advocate throwing a spinning jump kick when your life is on the line, but if you are a taekwondoin and you are really comfortable with busting out a roundhouse kick to your assailant's brainpan, then by all means do so. I have trained in a wide variety of martial arts over my life, and while I am comfortable throwing out a variety of kicks at varying heights, in an unfriendly conflict I rarely discharge a 'high' kick. In those situations, I consider my footwork to be paramount, and any kick I release is likely to either be an attempt to foil my opponents footwork as I close on them, or a feint to setup something else. That said, if there was a golden opportunity for me to end a fight with one kick to the head I might be tempted to take it. I'm operating with about 30 years of experience though, and a younger me may well have given you a very different answer to this question.
Outside the training hall the ground surface is unpredictable. Inside it's completely predictable, you can kick all day and on every step it'll behave the same. You can throw any kick you like and your supporting foot will remain planted. Exactly the same kick outside, on damp or dusty, or gritty, or whatever ground wearing whatever footwear, will put you on your back and your assailant will walk over and stab you.
I recommend you practice kicking outside, on pavements, in parking lots, outside pubs at night, with your normal footwear and then decide for yourself if it's a good idea.
Is there a situation in a street fight where high kicks would be the best choice?
Lots of them. I once had an opponent charge at me from about 10 metres away, right hand raised obviously intending a big hook: I delivered a gliding side kick to his chest - laying him flat. If I'd wanted to hurt him seriously, I'd have gone higher. It had the advantage of closing the gap towards him and engaging him earlier than expected, he had no chance to adjust his movement. The longer reach of my leg meant he had no chance to throw a punch earlier (he was taller with more reach, so it was best not to give him the chance as I'd be the one who had to dodge or deflect it before making contact myself).
This reach aspect - the contrast with arms reach - is an important benefit of kicking, be it high or low.
Simply having a larger variety of ways to attack the head is a fundamental advantage.
Consider full contact karate, kickboxing, Muay Thai etc. - I've not heard of rules under which competitors have to kick high, and yet it happens quite a lot, obviously because - on balance - it helps win fights. While there's massively more variety in street fight situations, there's plenty of times when you've got good footing, and enough awareness of the situation to make informed, rational decisions about the pros and cons of using high kicks, or any other techniques.
Front kicks / mae geri in particular are very easily and powerfully delivered at chest or chin level with little compromise to your position, it's easy to watch how the opponent's moving and decide whether to kick, the recovery is fast, you can keep your hands in a decent guard and block or punch freely. If they're moving to stay just out of arm's length, it's easy to bring a front kick through.
Another benefit of kicking is that you're likely to be wearing shoes, and a kick to face doesn't have the risk of teeth cutting you and their blood getting onto those cuts, the way a punch to the face has.
Why not prefer low kicks? With low kicks, you have fewer chances to lose your balance, fewer chances to miss the kick, and higher strength in the contact.
I disagree with "fewer chances to miss the kick", if you consider low roundhouse/turning/mawashi geri jammed by a raised leg a miss. Further, given humans' centre of mass, if you kick between the waist and sternum the defender can't just pivot out of the way with a switch-step, or lean their torso this way or that.... it requires a good block or significant power against the ground to move their core.
"higher strength in contact" is true for roundhouse kicks, but isn't true of front kicks, side kicks, spinning back kicks (all of which have greatest power around sternum height), spinning hooking kicks with the heel (which most naturally and powerfully target the head), vertical/slapping/uchi mawashi and crescent/soto mawashi....
Even if you get a low kick in, they're less likely to end a fight than a strike to the head. If your opponent is a conditioned full-contact fighter, they can probably take many minutes of such strikes, and - in street fight situations sans gloves - it's the head strike whether with hands or feet, that's likely to be decisive.
In addition, you don't have to be flexible for kicking with a low kick.
Sure, but that's a bit like saying "we shouldn't punch because some people have soft, unconditioned hands". If you're not flexible, either put the work in at stretching or don't use high kicks - whatever works for you. There are technical aspects that affect how much flexibility and leg strength is needed for high kicks too - for example with a side thrusting kick, the right footwork sling-shots the leg using hip rotation, making it easy and effortless to kick high, but of course such footwork may constitute telegraphing, depending on the situation and opponent's skill.
While a low kick is a great go-to first option for a street fight, it's not a good idea to take high kicks off the table. Still, nobody can be a master of every martial skill - if you've been developing other skills, it may be better to stick with what you're comfortable with, but under-estimating the utility of high kicks is not wise, even if you're not planning to use them yourself. If you think you perceive disadvantages, get in the ring for some full-contact sparring with people who kick high, and put your ideas to the test. Whatever you learn there will be worth more to you personally than all the replies here.
If you can kick high, you can kick low.
If you can kick high, then you have achieved good flexibility. So if you fall or otherwise end up being bent about, things are less likely to go snap.
If you can kick high, and in a brief moment in the heat of a skirmish you see one brief opening in an otherwise strong guard, and that opening happens to be high, you can take it. Even if you abort the kick in transit, it's going to bring the opponents guard high, making more opportunity for your low kicks or any other move.
If two big chaps have restrained your arms, and a third is about to crack your face, if you can kick high, you can crack his face first, which might buy you some time.
Kicking high requires more energy and strength than kicking low. So by training it, you are potentially developing greater stamina and muscle strength than if you practiced exclusively low.
There are many reasons to train to kick high. Even if you never had to use a high kick, it has to be nice to know it's available to you, and that all the strength, stamina, balance and flexibility that goes with it is there at your disposal, should you need it.
In the street, I prefer to use low or middle kick, since we use jeans and clothes that are not completely comfortable not like trainning clothes, if the pants are a much fitting closely you can fall down. In addition with the high kicks, you have little low posibilities of success, and i think it is a excesive energy loss. I prefer to use kick with high percent of success like low kick. You cannot send your opponent to ground with one of this kicks, but him loss energy whith every kick.
There are already a lot of excellent answers describing how the two compare in balance etc. Her I would like to advocate the a single technique instead of comparing the two in general. This technique is often forgotten, because it is not allowed in most sports-based martial arts: the kick to the groin, which is of course a low kick. It is the single most effective technique in self-defense (after running away). Here are some of it's advantages:
- Speed: it requires nothing more than a snap kick with the lower leg, which is faster than any kind of roundkick or roundhouse kick, even slightly faster than the higher aiming front kick. The only kick that comes close in speed is a kick to the knee, but that requires more force, which brings us to the second point.
- Damage per power: even if it is only a light kick that hits correctly, the damage is fatal to the extent that any opponent (unless he/she is a crazy shaolin monk who practices this sort of thing...) will at least cringe, which sets up for further attacks/punches. So even if the opponent is significantly stronger this will be the kick of choice.
- Reach: Due to not requiring a lot of power, one can train to make this one of the highest reach kicks in your repertoire.
- Required precision: Depends on the distance, but as long as the kick ends up between the legs, it is not very hard to hit.
- Lack of fatal damage: A factor that is not to be underestimated in self-defence is that unlike for kicks/punches to the head, the opponent can easily recover from a kick to the groin on the long term. This is important since in unclear legal situations (i.e. it is not obvious that you were the defender), you would not be sued for having used inappropriate measures for your defense. Especially in Germany beating up an attacker too hard can get you in quite a bit of trouble.
How does this answer the question?
Why not prefer low kicks?
You should, in fact you should prefer a very specific kick as elaborated above. This is for real self-defense situations. Of course if you are fighting in a bar kicking to the groin might count as cowardly.
Is there a situation in a street fight where high kicks would be the best choice?
There are, specific examples are opponents that charge at you, against which the best defense is a step to the side and a high/medium-high round kick. Of course if the situation is a 1vs1 fight rather than an actual street self-defense situation (the distinction is that in the latter there will usually be not much facing off, it is just an attack and a defense maybe with some follow up) then you should use all the tools at your disposal and have a fight strategy. If high kicks are part of that depends entirely on you.