Your legs are powerful, long-range weapons that can be used to fight attackers at a distance, before they get close enough to strike or grab you. For this reason, kicks and leg sweeps are some of the most effective weapons in Choy Li Fut Kung-Fu’s arsenal of self-defense techniques.
Using the legs as weapons can give you several advantages over opponents who rely mostly on their hands for their attack. For example, a well placed low kick to the knee joint can be the ideal way to disable an attacker trying to move in close enough to punch or stab you. Dislocating a knee joint can also end the attack immediately because your opponent will be unable to pursue you with a broken leg.
You can also use the range advantage that kicks afford you to make blocking or striking with your hands completely unnecessary. For example, if your assailant is attempting to punch you in the face, you could simply step out of punching range, while simultaneously delivering a powerful kick to the groin or solar plexus. This kind of response leaves no time for your opponent to do anything other than get hit.
Understand though, that if you want to be effective at defending yourself with your legs, you’ve got to practice your kicks to develop both accuracy as well as strength of impact. This means doing regular heavy bag workouts that build up the leg muscles and condition you to make contact with the proper parts of your feet so that you don’t injure yourself when doing a kick.
It’s a good idea to wear lightweight mat or wrestling shoes to help protect your toes and give support to your ankles during bag workouts. Always begin kicking the heavy bag by making light to medium contact first, to make sure you’re hitting with the proper parts of your foot before you start kicking with full force. You can easily dislocate an ankle or toe by making improper contact with a heavy bag. So, always take your time building up to full speed and power when kicking a bag.
Another skill you’ll need for effective kicking is flexibility. I always advise my students to spend about 15 to 20 minutes thoroughly warming up and stretching out all the muscles of the legs before doing any kind of kicking workout. Begin by doing joint rotation exercises to warm up your ankles, knees, and hip joints before starting in with static leg stretches. This is accomplished by doing medium speed, clockwise and counterclockwise circles with each joint in your leg to help circulate the synovial fluid in your joints. Additionally, the circling motions will help increase body temperature as well as blood flow to the muscles, which will help you avoid muscle pulls that can result from jumping into strenuous activity too quickly.
My favorite exercise combines both stretching and leg strengthening into a single exercise. First, open a ladder and place your foot in a side kick position on one of the rungs at a level that gives you a moderate stretch in your adductors and groin. Keep your back straight as you stretch forward toward your foot. Hold for 30 seconds as you breathe deeply and relax into the stretch. Then lift the foot above the rung of the ladder and hold for a count of 5. Repeat this 5 to 10 times before switching legs. As you become more flexible, graduate to the next highest rung on the ladder until you reach head height. You should repeat this exercise using your front kick and rear kick positions so that you evenly develop your muscles for each of those important kicks. The value of this exercise is that it helps you build the flexibility in your legs needed to reach all of your opponent’s body targets, while at the same time developing the leg and core strength required for powerful, effective kicks. This exercise, when done regularly, can also markedly improve your balance over time.
One final exercise I’d like to share with you is the interactive kicking shield workout. This is where one person holds a kicking shield while moving unpredictably to challenge the ability of the kicker to react correctly to sudden changes in direction. By adding the element of unpredictability combined with the resistance of the kicking shield itself, you dramatically increase the intensity of the workout. When holding the shield for your workout partner, try to move erratically to see if your partner can change with you and react with the correct kick. Sometimes try to jamb your partner to see if he or she can switch to close-in kicks with the front leg or even use a knee to stop you as you try to charge in. At other times, retreat quickly to see if your partner can use rapid distance covering footwork to catch up to you and land his or her kick. This drill is excellent for dramatically improving your ability to react to the changing circumstances of an attack.
Finally, my teacher’s teacher, Great Grandmaster Hu Yuen Chou, used to always say that we age from our legs up. But, thanks to the many types of leg strengthening workouts of Choy Li Fut Kung-Fu, there is a multitude of ways to keep fit and spry!