(front snap kick)
by Assistant instructer Scott Lieuallen
Mae-geri-keage, the front snap kick (sometimes called shomen-geri) is the most important kicking technique in all of Okinawan karate. Mae-geri-keage probably has the most combat applications of any kick and its importance is underscored by the fact that it is included in almost all of the Goju-ryu kaishu kata. Because it is so important, students need to have a clear understanding of the correct body mechanics so that the kick can be executed efficiently and effectively. The purpose of this article is to review the technical aspects of mae-geri-keage and provide you with some practical advice on how to develop these kicks for yourself.
The Japanese word "Mae" means front or forward, "Geri" means kick, and "Keage" means snapping/rising motion. So, it might help you if you remember that the term "mae-geri-keage" means "kicking forwards with a rising, snapping action."
To be most effective, mae-geri-keage needs to be executed in one seamless action. However for learning purposes (only) the kick is broken down into three separate actions. First, after assuming either a deep zenkutsu-dachi (front stance) or sanchin-dachi (triangular stance) the knee of the rear leg is quickly raised forward to a point in front of your chest. It is important that the kicking foot passes by the knee, not the shin or ankle, of your supporting leg. This technique in itself is a very effective combat called hiza uchi or ate (knee strike or smash). It is also important to keep the toes of the kicking foot up and the foot parallel to the floor during this entire action.
Second, with the knee high in front of the chest start to thrust your hips forward while at the same time extending the ball of your foot (koshi) towards the target. The importance of thrusting the hips is twofold. First, it mobilizes the big muscles of the abdomen and lower back, adding power to the speed of the kick, and second, it extends the range of the kick by several inches. As you thrust your hips forward you snap your leg straight, striking into the target. A common error at this point is for the foot to skim upwards merely brushing along the surface of the target. The foot must penetrate into the target on an upward arc to be truly effective.
Third, after striking the target the foot must be snapped back to a defensive posture in front of your body, prepared to strike again or drive forward with a hand technique using your upraised knee as protection. It is this forward and backwards snapping element which distinguishes this kick from kekome (thrust style kicks.) As the Sensei has said many times, "...the foot needs to come back faster than
it goes out."
The Supporting Leg
These are the obvious elements of mae-geri-keage. Let us look more closely to see what else is involved in order to make mae-geri effective. Let's look at your supporting leg for a moment. It should be bent and the toes of your support foot should grip the floor. As you extend your kicking leg, don't raise the heel of your supporting leg. Rather, let your weight push down on the heel of your supporting leg as you strike. This weight shift will prevent your foot from pivoting. It will also provide you with a firmer platform and increase the power of your technique. The bent knee will also act as a shock absorber to the reaction of the impact at the moment of contact.
Raising the Knee
Continue to raise the knee of the kicking leg high and let it continue to rise until the target is struck and the technique focused (kime). There are both combat and training reasons for raising your knee. In simple sparring or other training techniques with your partner, if you execute mae-geri with your knee low, your kick will be low and you may strike your partner in the knee or the groin. Also, if your knee is too low it will not afford you much protection from a counter-attack. Remember, you can always kick low if you train with your knee high, but if you neglect this element, you may not be able to kick high when you want to.
Kick From Your Center Line
There may be times when you want to strike your opponent from an angle but even then you will want to begin your attack from your centerline. For training, learn to kick on your centerline. If you leave your centerline unguarded during your attack, you may be vulnerable to a counter-strike. This means that your kicking foot should brush the knee of your support leg as it passes by. You should not leave a gap between them. Remember, the old masters told us that every karate technique is complete in and of itself. This means that the elements of defense and attack are implicit in every technique irrespective of its standardized designation as a block, strike, or kick. So, moving your knee across your center and then raising it high is the action of slipping an incoming kick This then opens your opponent up to your own mae-geri counter kick.
Raise your Toes
Next, as you kick, your toes should be pulled back in order to strike with koshi or josokutei, the ball of your foot. There are other ways to strike and you should learn them all, but initially, practice with koshi. Pulling your toes back and keeping your foot parallel to the floor protects the vital point on the front of the ankle joint. As you begin the forward snap toward the target, you also begin to concentrate your power as you tighten your hara (abdominal region) for that moment of kime (focus). Kime needs to occur the instant your kick contacts and begins to penetrate the target. Once this has occurred release the tension and return your foot.
Coordinating Hip and Leg
Pay attention to the coordination of your hip thrust and the leg snap. If you do not coordinate these two elements, your power will dissipate. Hip thrust must precede leg snap, but not by much. Remember, power is the result of the speed and thrust -- speed of the kick combined with the thrusting power produced by hips, abdomen, and lower back. If you have executed these elements correctly, you will find that your hara is slightly ahead of your chest, and your head is back. I find a good way to practice this coordination is on the heavy bag. Raise your kicking knee and kick the bag not so much by extending your leg as by thrusting your hips. You will find that you do not have to extend your leg very much in order to deliver a powerful kick. Retract your knee and kick again. Repeat this exercise several times without returning your kicking foot to the floor. Switch legs and repeat.
Remember to snap your leg back with your knee high into a defensive posture. As you practice mae-geri-keage, concentrate on snapping your leg back. Don't concentrate on your foot other than to ensure that it is parallel to ground when it returns close to the body. It will take care of itself if you have executed correctly to this point. Don't leave your foot out where it can be grabbed or swept but rather bring it back close to the back of your thigh. To develop this element it may help to practice raising your knee high from the floor as if you are delivering a powerful knee attack to your opponent's solar plexus. From this posture you can kick again, step back quickly or step forward with a hand technique.
If you do step forward but do not intend renzuko-geri (continuous kicking) then land with the ball of your foot first and then the heel. This will provide a firm root to the floor for any hand techniques you want to do. However, if you intend renzuko-geri, then land with your heel first, then the ball of your foot. This will facilitate your forward motion. If you land on the ball of your foot under these circumstances then your momentum will be slowed. Of course, landing flat-footed will temporarily stall any technique you wish to follow up with.
If your opponent does grab your leg, a possible counter move is to drive your hips forward and stamp down to the floor or into your opponent. This movement is similar to a variation of mae-geri-keage called mae-geri-kekome.(front thrust kick). Finally, after you have learned the elements of mae-geri-keage, practice at getting faster and faster. Mae-geri-keage is meant to be an extremely fast kick and should be performed so quickly that the opponent does not have time to react or respond. You may want to think of the quick, relaxed portion of the kick as the soft or Ju aspect, and the point of kime as the hard or Go aspect of the technique. You must learn to relax as you execute this technique. Trying to be powerful will slow you down.
Be sure to keep your hands in a defensive kamae (guard) position throughout the execution of mae-geri. It is a common fault for students to open their arms and expose their centerline during the performance of mae-geri.
As with most Goju-ryu techniques there are basic and advanced ways of execution and mae-geri-keage is no exception. To give you just one example of the advanced execution of this technique, start the kick with a fast kakato-geri (heel kick) to the rear before raising the knee. You must imagine you have been grabbed from the rear and you respond with kakato-geri to your attacker's groin. There are several advantages to this application. First, it hides the beginning of the attack from your opponent. adding to the element of surprise. Second, it moves the kicking foot faster, over a longer trajectory and therefore increases the speed and shocking power of the kick. Don't take my word for it, try it for yourself.... but only after perfecting the basic form.
It is important to practice strength and flexibility exercises to improve your mae-geri. Any of the stretching exercises that we practice during the warmup session will help. Using the iron geta (shoes) or ankle weights will help increase strength. A cheap but effective alternative is to use a bicycle inner tube and attach it to each ankle. A word of advice, though. For every kick that you perform with an ankle weight, you must follow up with an equivalent number without the weight. Remember, speed is an essential element in effective performance of mae-geri-keage. In order to get faster, you must go faster.
Call me or talk to Sensei if you have any questions.
*above article by OKK Assistant Sensei Scott Lieuallen, all rights reserved*
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