Turning on your heels – Part 2

So a couple of weeks ago I told you about when somebody once told me to make rear leg mawashi geri it’s best to turn on the heel of the supporting leg.

I think we all agree that advice was absolute %$%3!

I then talked about my preference for turning on the balls of the feet for EVERY other transition (kihon and kata) as in my experience it gives more control and balance. However, I did discover one time when turning on the heel can actually be a good thing, and I promised to share that with you today.

I’m sure you’re familiar with at least some of the following kata:

  1. Pinan Godan / Heian Godan
  2. Kanku Sho
  3. Kosokun Shiho (Shiho Kosokun)
  4. Kokokun Dai / Kushanku
  5. Chatanyara Kushanku
  6. Empi

Can you tell me what all of these kata have in common?

They all have a turn with a JUMP.

I’m not going to go into the purpose or bunkai of the jump as there are many interpretations, but typically the person performing the kata will do one of two things immediately preceding the jump.

  1. They take a small step with the launching leg to gain momentum to give height to the jump.
  2. They shift both legs, bend both knees and then jump, again to give height to the jump.

Take a look at these videos below and note the launching leg each time. First the Japanese team at the WKF World Champs performing the kata Empi. Watch at 1:25.

See the little step before the jump?  

What about this one of Rika Usami in her instructional video, shifting BOTH legs before the jump? Watch the video at 5:13. You’ll have to watch it a few times to catch it, pause it to see. She moves both feet closer together before the jump, then takes a step to gain momentum!

Some time back someone asked me how to get height in the jump without taking the step?

I’m glad I’ve now got the answer. Check out this video from Jesse Enkamp of the Turkish team at the 21st WKF World Championships.

Watch at 1:08 and you’ll see both the guys on the left use a heel turn and the guy on the right seems to use the ball. Either way, nice clean jump.

Then watch again at 1:30 and you’ll see them all use the heel turn before the jump.

I like this because I like simple, clean and sharp karate. There is no extra step and no double leg shift. Just a simple, clean turn and jump using the HEEL as they pivot. And they get some serious air!

The reason this works so nicely is because the weight is not over the ball of the foot during the 180 pivot. The heel provides the swivel point which allows the ball of the foot to whip around and then make contact with the floor and launch the players into orbit. It gives the momentum without the need for the extra step.

(It’s a little different to Taikyoku kata in that the 180 deg turn goes counter clockwise, not clockwise, in which case I still prefer to use the ball during that time of 180 turn.)

Pretty neat, huh?

Nice one Turkish Team!

Finally I just found this one of the female Serbian Team doing Unsu. This is really nice. No noticeable heel turn, or ball of the foot turn. Very clean. Watch at around 2:45.

So there you have it… there are times to use the heel and times to use the ball of the foot.

Like the old adage says, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

(Weird visual – who thought of that anyway?)

Until next time…

– Jason


5 thoughts on “Turning on your heels – Part 2”

  1. Hi Jason,

    Apparently you see the effectiveness of first turning on the heel (in stead of stepping) for getting momentum then (added) turning (and jumping) on the ball of the foot with a turning jump. The same mechanics can however be applied to a mawashi geri. So you can (start to) turn on your heel with a mawashi geri to get momentum.

    Onegai shimasu.


    • Hi Paul,

      I see the effectiveness in the situation where you are turning 180 BEHIND you, so your foot turns from HEEL FACING the direction you want to go to TOES FACING the direction you want to go. This facilitates the weight transfer from the back to the forward part of the foot.

      Making rear leg mawashi is completely different in that your TOES are facing the direction you want to go with the kick, then turning through 180 so the HEEL is then facing the target (assuming you’re performing a 180 rotation with the foot and not a 90 deg rotation as some styles teach). Again this is helping weight transfer from BEHIND you to in FRONT of you as you make the pivot and kick.

      These are polar opposites in application.

      I really can’t imagine how you can pivot on your HEEL and keep your weight forward while making a rear leg mawashi geri? Perhaps you could shoot a video to demonstrate it?



  2. I love the videos in this post. I never had a chance to respond to last post.. part 1.. so I will try to keep it short here..

    I personally use ball of foot AND heel. I simple pick the proper moments to do so.

    Ball of the foot “pivots” as you mentioned are usually better when more weight is on the foot that is pivoting. It is nearly impossible to turn or pivot on the heel especially in a CAT STANCE where the majority of your weight is on the same as the pivot leg.

    It is also the same when moving into 3rd movement of Kihon Kata after first punch… (180) into right hand gedan barai. I prefer, lifting heel slightly up to allow freedom of the move then after pivoting, placing heel down again to complete technique. After training Judo for a while, I learned many things that apply in our Karate Kata and KIHON alike.. since most turns are not just turns they are actually Throws and hip tosses, the way a person prepares for the positioning to throw some one is actually very simple, 1 foot placement, 2, pivoting in to final position for throw, and 3 placing heels down for the final PUSH to lift opponent of the floor. I see it the same way in many KATA.

    As for pivot with the lighter leg (one without as much pressure on it) like in Back stance by using heel to pivot 90 degree to the left or to the right, I feel that is the PERFECT TIME to use Heel, you are NOT depending on that leg for stability or Balance. Rather, that leg and foot are being used as a REFERENCE point for placement and you are setting that leg up to be the NEXT balance point, NOT the CURRENT balance point.

    So Just like in Judo, where techniques are ACTUALLY APPLIED in real life, SO SHOULD KARATE KATA techniques. The main issue I see is debating on the subject rather than finding answers through practice… TOO much theory and not enough Physical proof.

    I practice and teach via MY own discoveries from physical study.

    Even then, it all goes back to Personal preference from person to person.

    GOD created us all slightly different even though we are all the same. I think flexibility plays a big part in how you perform or NOT.

    We must all make adjustments to fit our own bodies as well as try to mold out bodies in similar fashion for a common goal but within reason.

    As for MAWASHI GERI… PIVOTING on HEEL is ABSOLUTELY incorrect.. (I MY Opinion)

    But again it goes back to ACTUAL study not theory. I had to RE-learn many ways how to kick after TEARING my hamstring to a bloody ball of purple and red while competing in KATA GANKAKU.. Tearing my leg while doing a TOKO GERI KEAGE.

    I still ale from that injury from 1997. I have been forced how to perform kicks without re injuring my legs, I found that this not only changed my Karate for life but I discovered many of what we all learned is factually bad for our bodies..

    FACT: I now kick easier, Stronger, Faster, I have more spring in my body for kicks, than I did BEFORE my injury.. Any High Kicks in photos I have are all after TEARING my legs to pieces after not being able to walk for 6 months.

    ERGONOMIC KARATE is what I call MY karate. IF it is not ERGONOMIC , it is INCORRECT.

    Ball of foot on Mawashi not only allows you to relax more, it also allows you to reach more, pivot with more balance, giving you more power, more effectiveness and in turn more ability to kick in a more natural state.

    Pivoting on ball also allows hamstring to relax too. HEEL on floor restricts TUG on legs to one point and a limit increasing risk for tear if you go beyond your limit in kick.

    Where pivoting on ball of foot allows slightly more lift and stretch in motion in case your muscle reaches its limit while kicking.. (another point to ponder)

    Pivoting on the Heel also demands more mental capacity and awareness to perform yet ball of foot is thoughtless. Just like walking is from heel to toe, which takes no thinking, this works similarly.

    I have tried kicking on the heel, it works, but not as effectively. I feel it is less ERGONOMIC and less natural.

    It takes lifting the rest of the foot off the ground to do it and your body alignment is also not in the center. Believe it or not, When you kick with your ball of the foot your body gets in to full alignment when rotating your hip for the kick. Kicking hip is in line with ball of foot on floor while impacting target.

    If you don’t believe me, record your self on video and just try kicking both ways on a 150 Pound banana bag like to see for yourself.

    You will not only see less power on the heel, but less balance after impact and less upper body control during and after the kick too.

    If your intention is just to pivot fast on the heel with no impact, then what is the kick for anyway??

    I’m stopping now, my short reply turned into a book again.. LOL

    Cheers everyone.. OSS


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