Checking (blocking with the legs) is the safest and most effective way to block circular kicking techniques that target your legs or torso. Checks can also be used to prevent front kicks or “teeps” from traveling down the center (using a cross-check). The goal when checking your opponent’s kick is to cause as much damage to them as possible by using the hardest part of your shin bone (tibia) to take the bulk of the force delivered by their kick. When done correctly and from the correct stance, a solid check of your opponent’s kick will deter them from throwing powerful kicks in the future, and can also leave them with fight-ending fractures in their shin or foot.
There are two main types of checks: Outside Checks and Inside Checks. Both outside and inside checks can be performed optimally from a squared stance (neutral stance), but only checks to the inside can be effectively performed from a side stance. This is one of the reasons the side stance is particularly vulnerable to low kicks when in close range – the user can only properly check kicks on the side that their chest is angled towards (aka their inside).
An outside check is when you block your opponent’s kick with your leg that is on the same side that their kick is striking. For example: If you are in an orthodox stance (left leg forward) and your opponent throws a right roundhouse kick – you would raise your left leg (lead leg) 45° degrees outward and meet their kick using the uppermost part of your shin bone. You can protect your leg with a low check, or your torso with a high check. A high check is done properly by lifting the knee up to the inside of the elbow, creating a full barrier from the head, down to the foot.
An inside or cross-check is when you block your opponent’s kick with your leg that is on the opposite side that their kick is striking. For example: If you are in an orthodox stance and your opponent throws a left roundhouse kick – you would raise your left leg (lead leg) 45 degrees inward and meet their kick using the uppermost part of your shin bone. This is the best way to block inside leg kicks that are targeting the inside on the thigh. You can also lift your left leg up high, if they are throwing a left roundhouse kick to your torso — or outside check with your rear leg.
How to Check
The most important component to a successful check is your stance. You need to be in a position to where you can properly block at an angle (45° degrees or more). When in a squared stance, your hips are aligned in a way where you can easily check at an angle with both the lead and rear legs. If you fail to block at an angle, and instead block by raising your knee straight in front of you, the impact of the opponent’s kick will likely spin you off-balance or completely knock you off your feet. Not only that, but you’ll fail to cause any significant damage to the opponent’s shin or instep giving them no reason to stop kicking you. And needless to say, you’ll also fail to prevent the opponent from damaging your legs or body. For now, let’s start in an orthodox squared stance. Our opponent will throw a right roundhouse kick, and we’ll block using an outside check with our left leg (lead leg).
First, raise your lead knee up about 45 degrees outward and chamber it with a 90 degree bend or slightly more narrow. Blocking outward allows your hips to absorb the impact of the opponent’s kick in order to keep you from being spun off-balance. The outward angle also helps properly align your shin bone to meet their kick, instead of meeting their kick with your calf muscle. Muscle breaks down quickly; bone much less so.
Next, make sure your base is strong. Don’t reach with your leg to meet the kick, instead let the kick come to you. Also, don’t let the power of their kick knock you off balance — keep your head over your support leg.
Finally, aim to meet the uppermost part of your shin to the lower half of their shin. This is the spot most likely to do damage to your opponent. You can still block successfully using the lower parts of your shin, but there’s more of a chance your leg will buckle inward when it’s struck. This could result in getting your support leg swept out from underneath of you. When you finish the block, quickly lower your leg and reset your stance.
Toes up or Down?
This is a common dispute many people have about checking kicks. Some will argue that checking with the toes pointing down to the floor is best because:
- It provides maximum coverage
- It creates a sharper surface on the shin
- Keeps the toes safe
While other believe flexing the toes up (dorsiflexion) is better:
- The muscle recruitment provides more structure
- The “hook” shape prevents the leg from sliding underneath
- There is less overall movement
We recommend that you watch what the top level Muay Thai fighters do, and try both to decide what feels best for you.
Common Mistakes when Checking Kicks
A bladed or side stance makes it very difficult to check kicks. The closer you are to the opponent, the more squared your stance needs to be in order to properly align your hips to absorb the impact of your opponent’s kicks. Failing to square up in close range will make your outside (the side your back is facing) extremely vulnerable to low kicks and sweeps.
Another mistake people often make is lifting the leg straight up (instead of at an angle). Taking the impact of the kick on the calf muscle instead of the shin bone will cause your calf muscle to break down after only a few kicks, and will completely hinder your ability to move in any significantly agile way.
Deadening the nerves on the shin instead of practicing proper bone conditioning techniques. Shin conditioning is not just about numbing the pain you feel when your shin gets kicked. Instead, it is about gradually hardening your bones so that you can take repeated impacts to your shins without them breaking. Deadening the nerves of the shin (by rolling glass bottles on them or some other nonsense) instead of conditioning them by repeatedly placing them under dynamic loads, is equal to taking the batteries out of a smoke detector. Sure, it’ll stop making that annoying noise – but it also won’t stop your house from burning down.
Drills for Conditioning Your Shins
- Roundhouse kicks on a heavybag or Thai pads: Start with 50 to 100 kicks on each side, but take your time and pace yourself so you can complete each set without gassing out. If you find it is too painful at first, find a softer target or remove some of the inside padding. If this is still too painful, do the drill wearing shin guards.
- Jump Squats and jogging: not only should you condition the tibia with direct impact, but also with dynamic loads. Exercises like box jumps, jump squats, and jogging should be a part of your training routine.
- Proper recovery and diet: shin conditioning is a long and gradual process. Jogging can lead to shin-splints, so you must allow your body to fully recover. Rest, ice, and massage are best. In addition, make sure you are getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and protein in your diet.
Practice checking kicks in Lesson 3 (Rear Roundhouse Kick) of Shane’s Hybrid Striking Course.