How to teach front kick

Here’s a quick karate exercise to help your students develop their front kick.

We all know that true karate power comes from using our body, and not just our limbs, right? Do this exercise with your white belts when they first learn front kick. It will get them using their body to develop power.

While I’ve got a dozen drills to help develop front kick (mae geri) , this exercise below stands head and shoulders above the rest. And the neat thing is that it’s so simple.

But first… the problem.

Let’s assume you’re teaching mae geri from heisoku dachi (feet together). The way I teach is to first have students twist their body 45 degrees to bring their kicking hip forward. Then raise the knee and point it straight ahead, and then finally make the snapping motion of the kick.

However, in my experience 90% of beginners have a hard time keeping the hip “forward” and kicking straight. One of two things usually happens:

  1. The hip stays forward but the kick goes across at 45 degrees (think stage girls performing the can-can)
  2. The kick goes straight, but the hip collapses (reverts back) to being square on.

Rarely are beginners able to keep their hip forward, their body rotated and their kick straight.

Ever had this problem, or is it just me?

So, here’s how you fix it. This is how I learned to make mae geri in my first class 25 years ago…

Take a bo staff and place it behind your back by wrapping your arms over the top and hold both of your fists by your side in the usual “hikite” position.

(Remember those stories your parents would tell you about how their teachers would make them sit up straight at school, by placing the ruler behind their back? Or is it just me again?)


Anyway, once you’re in position and standing in heisoku dachi turn your body 45 degrees so that one end of the bo staff faces 45 degrees relative to the direction you’re facing. Your hip should be “forward” at this point. Now pick up your knee, keeping the bo pointing diagonally, and make the kick.stickfigure2

(Just in case you want to do it wrong, the examples below show how to do the kick incorrectly with the bo staff.)stickfigure3

Now to make sure this doesn’t happen with your students, stand behind them and assist by turning the bo staff 45 degrees and then have them kick straight. Then twist it back the other way and have them kick again. Repeat as many times as necessary until they can turn and kick with their hip in the forward position. I do this exercise with my students in pairs. One is the assistant while one kicks. They do 20 kicks and change roles.

This is a really *simple* exercise but extremely effective in developing good technique with plenty of power.

Try it and let me know how you go…





10 thoughts on “How to teach front kick”

  1. wouldnt this kick only engage the hip of the leg thats kicking? we’re trained to use both hips into the kick (ie hips are square) or did i miss read it?


    • Hi Craig,

      Thanks for your question.

      Turning the body on the center axis as described in the article gets your weight forward into the kick, thereby increasing your mass.

      The greater the mass, the more kinetic energy you’ll exert on the target.

      I guess I’m not sure how you engage both hips at once?

      Wouldn’t leaving your hips square-on only be using your leg’s mass, and not the combined mass of your leg and body?


      • I think this underscores a fundamental issue with any “Martial Arts” tutorial- it’s too broad a subject and encompasses many, many different ideas and definitions. As an instructor in the traditional Japanese Kosho Shorei Ryu, we train our students to execute a front kick with the hips squared. Rarely do we kick from a feet-together dachi (unless it’s nekoashi- cat stance where feet are close together0. That’s not saying your system’s way is wrong and mine is right. Merely pointing out that the diverse interpretation of martial arts could hamper the effective communication of a point because it is alien to a differing system.

        • Hi Jim,

          I agree that each system has their way of practicing technique, so perhaps I should have added something like ”if your style makes use of turning the body during execution of front kick, you will find this exercise useful”.

          We practice this kick from heisoku dachi to teach the basic action as described in the article… To teach students to put the ”hip” into the technique. Once they have gotten this down, it’s much easier for them to do it from forward stance with the motion described in the article.

          Thanks for your input…


  2. We use both the hip not turned and the hip into the kick. By the way, I teach that if someone shows you a different way to do a kick you should never think one is right and one is wrong. Instead you should look at it as ‘now I know two good ways to do that!’ However I am old school (American Karate, Jhoon Rhee TKD) so I always consider using the technique in a real situation or in sparring. I also believe that we are teaching ‘habit’ so I want to develop good habits from the start. I teach the kick from the front stance to develop quick movement from a stance. The student always sets the foot forward after the technique to learn to develop reach with the kick. I tell my students that if they could stop and hold good balance at any point they are doing it wrong. Finally, I always teach a from knee attack first (again, from the stance, steeping froward) to develop the high chamber.

  3. In our dojo, we teach the kick both ways….straight forward where your hips swivel forward….and front kick where the hip turns 45 degrees. Also we teach it from many different positions and stances. In self-defense, rarely are you going to be in a standard stance position, so you need be adaptable to the situation.

  4. Thanks for your replies guys…

    I agree you must be able to practice all ranges when making front kick, short, middle and long – which of course determines the stance you might be in, whether the hip drives forward as described in the article, and whether you land forward or back, etc.

    When I teach it for the first time to new students I’ll use this exercise to teach the “basic” body mechanics. I also agree, rarely would you be in such a situation where you would stand with feet together for self defense.

    However, the reason I teach it this way in the beginning is to isolate the mechanics of the technique in it’s most basic form. Students don’t have to worry about anything else at that time.

    Once that is learned, then I teach it from forward stance, cat stance, or whatever, moving forward, backward, etc. Of course sometimes you can’t get full extension when your opponent is close, but if you have the range to kick “using the hip” and land forward you can impact the target with more kinetic energy .


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