The roundhouse is the most frequently used kicking technique seen in martial arts. It can be thrown from a variety of stances, angles and ranges, and has dozens of variations. Its versatility makes it a must-know technique for anyone interested in becoming a complete striker. There are two main types of roundhouse kicks that all other variations derive from – the linear roundhouse and the circular (or “Thai style”) roundhouse. The first is quick and precise – the latter is heavy and powerful.
Which parts of your leg should you strike with?
When striking a target with any variation of the roundhouse kick, point your foot and flatten your toes. This is to help brace your ankle joint and protect your toes from getting jammed or broken.
Depending on the target you are striking and the range it is at, you will either be striking using the upper instep or “talus” bone (the largest part near the ankle) or the lower shin (either the sharp side or the flat side).
Avoid striking with the middle of your shin because you’ll greatly increase your chances of breaking your tibia in half if your kick gets checked properly by the opponent.
Avoid striking with the smaller part of the instep near your toes, because you’ll put tremendous pressure on your ankle joint and increase your chances of a serious ankle injury. You’ll also risk injury to your toes should they impact at an awkward angle.
There are a few specialized variations of the roundhouse kick that use the ball of the foot to strike with, but we won’t be covering those variations in this article.
How to Roundhouse Kick (Linear)
The linear round kick is a precision technique and is often used more like a quick jab or cross. It can be used to find and/or keep range, to distract, as a quick sniper attack, or used in a combination to setup other more powerful kicking or punching techniques. While easily capable of scoring KOs when landed cleanly to the head, the linear roundhouse becomes less effective when used to target the body. Linear roundhouses can be thrown from both a squared stance and a side stance using either the lead or rear legs. For now we’ll start in more of a side stance (but still facing somewhat forward).
From a side stance, rotate your lead foot slightly outward. This will give you better balance during the kick and help prevent you from twisting and injuring your knee joint.
Next, lift your rear knee up in front of you as you shift your bodyweight directly over your supporting leg. If you raise your knee up, but fail to shift your bodyweight over your supporting leg, you will lose your balance and fall over. Make sure you point your foot, flatten your toes, and fully chamber your leg (tucking your heel to your butt).
Now, simultaneously rotate your supporting heel 180 degrees toward your target, and turn your chambered shin over (parallel with the ground). Your chambered knee should be just past your center line.
Finally, extend your lower leg into the target. Your kick should travel parallel with the ground for the base variation of the round kick. You should be t-boning your target, creating two right angles at impact. After you’ve fully extended your kick into the target, re-chamber your kick. When advancing toward your opponent, your leg will usually be placed down in front of you after you’ve completed the strike. When kicking while anchored in place, the lower leg will usually be retracted and brought back into its starting position.
After mastering the base variation, it becomes much easier to change the angle at which the kick travels, allowing you to use upward and downward variations (often referred to as the “question mark kick”) of the roundhouse kick as needed. Regardless of the angle, the goal should always be to t-bone the target for maximum impact. For example, if your opponent is hunched over at an angle, you should be using an upward angled roundhouse kick so you can properly t-bone the target. This applies to both linear and circular roundhouse kicks and all their sub-variations.
How to Roundhouse Kick (Circular)
The circular roundhouse is a powerful technique used like a club to attack any open area on the opponent, or used to gradually wear down their guard or their legs. With the circular roundhouse, the instep is generally used for attacking the head (which has a lot of give). The lower shin is generally used for attacking more rigid parts of the opponent’s body like the thighs and torso (though the lower shin can also be use for the head). The instep and shin can also both be used to strike with simultaneously. Circular roundhouses can be thrown from both a squared stance and a side stance using either the lead or rear legs. For now we’ll start in a squared stance.
Take a small outward step with your lead foot and take a “cheat step” (pre-rotate the foot) so that your heel is pointing slightly inward. As you rotate your hips to throw the kick, you will pivot or even slightly hop on the ball of your foot. This will quicken the rotation and help prevent you from twisting and injuring your knee joint.
Next, with your lead heel still raised, lift your kicking knee up 45° degrees outward in front of you as your shift your bodyweight directly over your supporting leg. Your rear arm (same side as the kicking leg) will reach across to the opposite shoulder, and the lead shoulder will pull back to assist in the circular rotation of the hips and shoulders.
Finally, once your chambered knee has passed its target by a few inches, extend your lower leg outward in a whip like motion, simultaneously swinging your arm in a scissor motion.
When thrown in the air, the circular roundhouse should feel very loose and whip-like. You should mostly be using momentum to power the technique, and should not be rigid or tense.
Common Mistakes with Linear & Circular Roundhouse Kicks
- Don’t retract the lower leg until you have fully extended your linear roundhouse kick: this is often done when trying to decrease the time it takes to complete the kick. You should always try to achieve a full extension of your kick in order to ensure maximum impact into the target (the exceptions being when your goal with the technique is solely to distract the opponent, avoid getting your leg caught, or setting up another technique).
- Don’t worry about height; focus on proper mechanics: Start by kicking at waist level. Once you get used to spinning in place and can throw the kick with relative ease, you can then begin to experiment with height. The higher your knee, the higher your kick.
Drills and Exercises for the Roundhouse Kick
- Kick over a chair: or some other object that is about waist level. This will force your kick trajectory to be correct — otherwise, you’ll kick the chair!
- Warm-up & stretches: squats, lunges, and hip stretches will limber up your muscles and allow for full range of motion.
These are just a 2 generic variations of the roundhouse kick. Practice one of the most effective variations, the “Switch Kick” in Lesson 4 of Shane’s Hybrid Striking Course