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I'm really struggling to perform a yoko geri. My hips and flexibility simply don't allow my legs to kick sideways.

Any tips to improve my position and flexibility ?

  • Does it feel like a lack of flexibility? Lack of power? Lack of control? Does it feel like a physical impingement? Just general advice? youtube.com/watch?v=igHNNYIgrmY and youtube.com/watch?v=8ZzAEfRlB_s are two general tutorials I've found. – Macaco Branco Dec 16 '18 at 18:42
  • Well plenty of exercise needed here.... – Jorge Canelhas Dec 16 '18 at 19:45
  • ^_^ You probably won't need all of them. What problem are you experiencing specifically? – Macaco Branco Dec 16 '18 at 21:07
  • When you say your hips don't allow...please clarify. Is it giving you pain? At which point does the pain happen? During chamber, extension or retraction? Do different levels of yoko geri have different levels of pain? – Kristina Lex Dec 17 '18 at 5:22
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    diagnosing a potential hip problem over the internet is tough - try a local Physio - Having had similar issues with side kick I tried Physio and Bowen - the latter working fantastically and I can now kick much higher. (it was not a problem with a kick but with the soft tissues around my joints) – Collett89 Dec 17 '18 at 12:05
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You didn't give a specific problem you're having, so, it's hard to say what might be the problem.

There are two primary elements to the kick: the chamber and the thrust. There is your starting position, but, there can be many. Do you kick with the front leg or the back? Is it a stepping behind or a stepping ahead? Is it a standing front leg kick? Are you turning backwards? Forwards? Jumping? There are many variations. But in all of them, the position just before the thrust is the chamber. Since you're asking, I'll assume you're a beginner, and therefore, won't need to concern with nuances of jumping, turning, and other complex movements in the more difficult variations of the kick.

Chamber

I've been to many a school who teaches the chamber different - even within a style, so, I would forego any corrections or tips on chambers. Whether you point your knee toward your target, or completely away from it depends on application and instructor - but there's a case for both methods, as well as pointing anywhere in between. I would only say that whatever method you use, you ought to be consistent.

And in the chamber, no matter the style, you need to keep the toes "alive" - that is, pulled back such that your ankle is stiff at 90 degrees, and your toes bent backward also close to 90 degrees as you can get. If your foot is limp, you could injure it through whiplash if you do air kicking; or you could sprain it if you strike a target. Thus, keep the ankle stiff, strong, and bent as far as you can.

As to your standing leg, preference governs here too. You can keep your standing foot at 90 degree angle from your target, or you can push it at 180 degrees away from the target. The closer to 90 degrees you keep your standing foot, the less you'll be able to lift the kicking leg - but you will generally have the best balance. The closer to 180 degrees, the higher the kick will result at the expense of less balance. I try to get beginners up into the 120 degree range when kicking high.

You need not start out at 120 or 180 degrees; indeed, while chambering, it is common to see people chambering at 90 degrees. It is entirely up to you how you want to do this.

Thrust

By now, you ought to be thinking where your standing foot should be facing. If you started chambering at close to 90 degrees, then, during your thrust, you'll want to pivot more so that the standing foot turns to the 120 - 180 degree angle from your target, and this is done as the kicking leg is thrusting.

As to the kicking leg, the ankle remains rigid and bent, as are the toes. As you thrust, extend the foot as far as you can, as quickly as you can, and (during practice) as high as you can. At the final inch of your thrust should come in synch with the final degree of standing foot rotation: they should essentially be moving at the same time.

As to the target, this depends on your instruction and preference. Some will have you kick the target with the heel, others with the knifeblade of the foot. There is no best way, only a best preference, so I'll leave that out here. Whichever you decide to use, be consistent. As for me, my decision is based on this: If I'm kicking to break boards, I use the heel. There is less springy action on the foot, which can absorb some of the power. Also, the power is more focused in a 3cm x 3cm area. However, if I'm sparring, i'm not looking to kill someone, so a gentler kick is warranted by using the knifeblade. This increases the surface area to around 8-10cm, which means the force is disbursed over a larger area. This will come across as less painful to the receiver. In addition, if I'm sparring with electronic sensors, I'm increasing the chances to hit more sensors with larger surface area.

To lock the knee or not lock the knee?

Well, if you like to hear that fancy snap as the kick is extended, you'll want to lock that knee. There's no better sound than the uniform's reaction to that snap. However, keep your orthopedist on speed-dial, because you'll screw up your knees in no time. To avoid that, you'll want to extend to up to 1" of your final extension, preventing your knee from absorbing too much force. If you suffer from back knee (genu recurvatum) then, you should allow for several more inches before full extension.

What to do with the hands?

This is big in some schools. Heated (useless) arguments over what to do with the hands. As a beginner, just keep your guard up and don't worry about anything else, or anybody else. There's a reason for keeping the hands in guard, and that's to protect you. So that is a valid justification.

However, some forms call for a "punch" with the top/leading hand toward the target. Others might have you swing the rear hand backward - like a tail to help you keep balance. You can do this, but it represents that you're relying on that to keep balance, rather than tweaking the nuances of your kicking and standing legs to maintain balance. I never swing my hand back - that robs me of protection I might need.

As to the leading hand punch, though, that's another matter. You'll see this mechanism in some forms, and there's bunkai for that. One of which is that it's not technically a punch, but a reach-and-pull. Here, you're intending to do as much damage to your opponent as you can, and so, you're reaching for hair or clothing, pulling them close to you as you extend a kick. It's easy to do in forms, but try putting an opponent in front of you and try it out, you'll find it's a very difficult thing to do.

There's one more variation of that leading hand. And that is a motion of punching downward along the standing foot (rear hip). Here, it's not really punching so much as the person is trying to maintain balance. I would stay away from this method as much as possible. There is no protection as keeping guard would do; and there's no pull of the opponent. You're simply giving your opponent an opening. In addition, there's the inevitable roll of the torso; this keeps the head from seeing the target. This can rob you of aim and balance. In short: it's poor form, so watch out for this. Beginners do this all the time.

What to do with the head?

This is easy: keep looking at the target. It's easy to see a beginner kick in the northern direction, but project the head in the southern direction. The body follows the head, so, if the head is moving away from the target, so too will much of the force needed to go toward the target. You can easily miss the target because of this error in technique.

Strength in the legs

Kick straight out, as high as you can - and hold it for 4 or 5 seconds, then retract. If you can keep your leg as high after the 4 second mark as you did in the first half second, then that means you have strong muscles - specifically, the abductor muscles. With weak abductors, then, your kicking leg will drop several inches. This suggests you have the flexibility to get as high as you started, but you don't have the strength to keep it there. You can become injured if you kick at that height, because you have few muscles to control your kick. Either you or your opponent could get hurt - possibly both. Therefore, your side kicks should include abductor exercises and flexibility routines.

Flexibility building

I mentioned before about the abductor muscles. To increase mobility, flexibility, and strength, PNF and isometric exercises are important here. Use a partner or ankle weights to lift and build strength. Also, to build up that speed and snap, you want to also incorporate plyometric exercises. You can do that with very heavy ankle weights: Lift as high as you can go as quickly as you can, and do that as many times as you can in, say, 30 seconds. Give yourself a 1-minute rest, then repeat for another 30 seconds, then again for a 3rd set. For each set, your goal is to repeat the same number of exercises in each set as you did for the first set. If you find that easy, increase the set duration to 45 seconds, or maybe a minute. Or shorten the time between each set. Or add one or more sets. This develops the fast-twitch muscles, thereby improving speed of execution of the kicks.

Use your partner and targets properly

When using a heavy bag, your goal is power and precision. Kick a logo or tape or some marking on the bag, and kick that as hard as you can. At first, start slowly as you build technique, then slowly increase the speed. Kick through the target. Be sure you aren't "pushing", but rather, kicking through. When you have a partner, your goal is speed and precision. Get in under or over his guard; or kick through the guard.

Other tips

Breathing. Side kicks are power kicks. As such, you want the full force of you - your spirit, your passion, your intent - to be concentrated at the moment of impact. To support that, you need to be expelling air, and should be at less than 50% lung capacity of air. If you fill up, it'll be like carrying around a stability ball. You'll just bounce backwards at every kick you throw.

Your eyes. Keep your eye on the target, never veer off to the mirror, the clock on the wall, or even the instructor. Keep your eyes fixed on the target. The body follows the head, the head follows the eyes, the eyes follow the target.

Your retraction. After you kick and hold, retract it back to chamber. From there, you can issue another kick, or you can step down to do something else. This shows control. What you don't want to do is leave your kick extended and then you "fall" into a step on the floor. Retract, then step forward, or wherever you want to go.

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Without knowing what art you're practicing or your goal for the kick (look good/classically proper technique vs. power/practicality?), I would blindly advise you to turn your hips more. You can get a lot out of a side kick with relatively inflexible hips by turning your pelvis enough to make it a kind of side-back kick. Speaking from experience. My hips are super stiff, but I can land a mean side kick if I turn my hips a little extra.

But I'm more into krav/MMA type of stuff, so if you're trying to perfect your technique for a kata, this might not be the best choice.

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