The side kick is a linear kicking technique seen in traditional martial arts styles like Karate, Taekwondo & Kung Fu. It is mostly a side stance technique and can be used in multiple ways. The traditional variation allows for quick, jab-like thrusts at the cost of power so you can more swiftly disrupt the opponent’s balance. The modern variation allows you to use your leg like a battering ram to launch your opponent backward (even if they properly defend), but at the cost of speed. The side kick can also be thrown with both the lead and rear legs.
How to Side Kick (Traditional Variation / Speed Emphasis)
The traditional side kick works much like a teep or jab. One benefit over the teep is that the side kick uses the heel to strike with, which is a more solid impact point than the ball of the foot. The traditional side kick is also easier to quickly employ after a missed roundhouse kick than the teep is, because the side kick is thrown from your side instead of a frontal squared stance. When striking with a side kick it is important to knife-edge your foot to stabilize your ankle joint, and to strike with the edge or bottom of the heel. We’ll start with the lead leg in a side stance with a middle guard.
Point your non-kicking heel at your target as you raise your kicking leg up with a tight chamber. Your chambered knee should be pointing off to the side about 90 degrees for this variation. The higher you raise your knee, the higher you can kick. Try to keep your torso more upright too. Make sure your guard is in tight. Knife-edge your foot to stabilize your ankle joint.
Now, extend your kick to your target in a linear motion by stomping outward with your heel, while keeping your foot-blade horizontal. Your kick should travel in a straight line similar to a straight punch or a teep. Your lower leg should not be traveling in a circular motion like a roundhouse kick.
Finally, shift your hips forward a bit as you make contact with the edge or bottom of your heel. This will help transfer your bodyweight through your kick and into the target, making it less likely you’ll be knocked off balance by your own kick. When the strike is complete, re-chamber your leg quickly to avoid getting it caught by the opponent. Remember, for this variation speed is the emphasis. Strike swiftly with your side kick like you would with a jab. Once you’ve re-chambered your kick, set your leg down in front of you and get back into your original stance.
How to Side Kick (Modern Variation / Power Emphasis)
The modern variation of the side kick works much like a back kick, but without the turn. It has a longer range of motion than the traditional variant, and has the potential to launch an opponent across the ring. It is also chainable with opposite-leg back kicks and spinning kicks. Another benefit over the traditional variation is that it makes the user safer from counters after a missed kick, because the torso is leaned away from the opponent during the technique (instead of remaining upright). We’ll start with the lead leg in a side stance with a middle guard.
Point the backside of your lead hip at the target and both heels at your target. Your lead and rear feet should be nearly 160-180 degrees, with your toes pointing in the opposite direction of your target. Lean your torso slightly away from the target as you chamber your kicking knee up to hip level or just below it. Make sure your kicking knee is pointing back behind you, not out to the side like the traditional variation. Pointing the kicking knee behind you allows for increased range of motion, and more time for the kick to accelerate before impact.
Now, extend your leg to your target in a linear motion by stomping outward with your heel, while keeping your kicking foot and knee pointing at least 45 degrees downward (your heel should be above your toes). You should be looking over your lead shoulder as you extend your leg. Your kick should travel in a straight line similar to a straight punch or a teep. Think of a modern side kick as being similar to a back kick, but without the turn. Try to keep your torso behind your hips, and your hips behind your foot during the strike.
Finally, shift your hips forward as you make contact with the edge or bottom of your heel. This will help transfer your bodyweight through your kick and into the target, making it less likely you’ll be knocked off balance by your own kick. For additional power, allow your supporting foot to slide torward the target as you strike. Remember, for this variation power is the emphasis. Be sure to extend your kick fully through your target before re-chambering.
These two variations of the side kick can be combined with certain footwork techniques to create sub-variations of the kick, like a sliding or stepping side kick. These sub-variations will be more or less useful depedning on your changing circumstances. Doing the side kick with the rear leg is also mechanically similar to the lead leg, but with one extra movement before the kick (bringing your rear foot forward and out in front of you as you chamber it into position).
Common Side Kick Mistakes
Striking with the flat bottom of the entire foot. This will disperse the kick’s force over a larger surface area drastically decreasing its penetrating power.
Striking with the knife-edge of the foot blade. This will make it easier for the ankle joint to give way or bend during impact, creating a shock absorption effect and risking injury to the ankle. You should only ever use the foot blade to strike with against softer, more vulnerable targets (like the throat).
Failure to shift your weight as you fully extend your leg into the target. Forgetting these steps will cause you to lose your balance and fall backward during the kick, leaving you open to a counter attack.
Drills and Exercises for the Side Kick
Face a wall, lean over slightly and place your hands on the wall with your arms fully extended. Look over your shoulder and practice kicking and holding your side kick in the air for as long as you can. Alternate doing this on both sides. This will help build mobility and control in the technique.
Practice kicking a hanging heavybag. If you kick the bag and the bag pushes you back and cause you to fall over, it means you aren’t shifting your bodyweight forward into the strike. A heavy hanging bag will help simulate the feel of a real opponent.