Turning on your heels…

Years ago someone tried to tell me that in order to make a mawashi geri (roundhouse kick) from the rear leg, it’s best to turn on the heel of the supporting foot.


As I contemplated this concept, I wondered why someone could ever believe this could help? I could think of several reasons why this was complete nonsense.

  1. Any effective rear leg kick requires forward weight transfer. Keeping weight on the back part of the foot violates that concept.
  2. Turning on the heel shortens the range of the technique compared to turning on the ball of the foot, by 6-10 inches (depending on the size of your foot – might be more if you’re a Hobbit).
  3. Turning on the ball of the foot allows quick engagement of your toes to the ground to help you keep balance. Turning on the heel disengages your toes. Therefore more control over the technique is available when your weight is forward on the ball of the foot and toes gripping the floor, especially for recoiling the technique. It’s extremely difficult to pull the leg back when off balance and without the toes engaged.
  4. It’s also a slower technique because of the weight distribution. Remember your weight should centered over your foot and toes engaged for an explosive forward push. Consider a sprinter wanting to launch quickly – is their weight back on their heels or forward on the front part of their feet?

TEACHING TIP: Teach your students to ENGAGE the front part of their feet no matter if it’s basics, kata or kumite. It gives better control, balance and connection. 

Here’s a little experiment you can do to get your point across. Have your students put their weight on their heels and lift their feet up. Then have them attempt to run on their heels. They’ll immediately realize their weight needs to be forward over the front part of their feet, no matter if it’s running or making any forward karate technique.

HOWEVER… recently I discovered ONE situation in which TURNING ON THE HEELS works better than turning on the balls of the feet.

(Yes, there is always an exception to the rule, right?)

In fact when I saw people doing this, I had an “a-ha” moment. They were getting incredible results for a specific karate technique by turning on their heels.

Wanna hazard a guess?

Next week I’ll reveal the answer…

– Jason



24 thoughts on “Turning on your heels…”

    • There are no such movement in any of our katas and I know for a fact none of our kicks would ever have you on your heel unless you got kicked and set back on your heels. Lol. I really look forward to the helpful hints you give each week. Always looking forward to the next tidbit. Yours Sincerely in the Martial Arts . David Frazier. Please like us on Facebook at americanmidwesttkd.com

  1. I know Matt emit talked about using heels on spinning crescent kicks – I think it’s more dangerous than it is helpful to finish any type of explosive movement from the heels, the only kick I could think of would be a stomp or ax kick because of how it
    Engages the hamstring, but even with the ax kick from the heels your hips are pushed back and away from your target limiting your range and flexibility to deliver a powerful/efficient kick. I’m interested to know what this kick is

  2. I agree. Pivoting on the ball of the foot is correct. For maximum power and balance return heel to floor after pivot is complete and just before impact or focus point is reached. Can’t wait to see what situation works best while turning on the heel

  3. I can’t think of a kick that uses a heel spin (in my form). Some of our stance shifts (esp. horse to front and front to horse or 180 turns in kata) require turning on the heel of one foot and the ball of the other to maintain a good stance width.

    • Have you ever considered using the balls of the feet (for both feet) for the 180 turn?

      Just means you gotta tuck the leg tight behind you as you turn and transfer weight onto the ball of the supporting foot as you transfer your weight…

      (Works nicely for both a step-behind 180 turn and also for a pivot 180)

  4. There are so few times that it is a good idea to be only on your heels that it falls into the “exceptions” category, and right now I can’t think of any.
    I would never want to try to get into Jason’s head, but I am guessing that the answer has to do with a hasty retreat. (I’m basing that on the maniacal laughter at the bottom of the above post).

    • Close Jim, but no cigar…


      And you’re wise not to try to get inside my head. It’s a very busy, confusing place. I become lost in there quite often…

  5. Aside from the mechanical disadvantages of being on the heel with the post leg, the biggest concern I have is the torque that builds up in the knee. When on the heel, the leg must be nearly straight and the rotational force build in the knee first before it transfers to the foot. Being on the ball of the foot creates a natural bend in the knee, forcing the connective tissue to adapt to the troque and release it as the pressure builds. I have seen my fair share of “blown out” knees by students turning on the wrong part of the foot. I also think that you are less likely to be “flat footed” when on the ball of the foot that when on the heel.

  6. Gyaku Tsuki in turning for example lets say 90° left should / can be done by turning on the heel of the right foot. Same reason as for the mawashi. You gain distance and all the energy / power goes in the direction you want it to go …..

    By the way Jason, thanks for your thoughtfullness about one of the most important things in my life 😉

  7. You might want to turn out your foot by turning the toes as you step on to it which is similar to a pivot without full weight bearing then do a mawashi kick, which entails the usual ball of the foot pivot.

  8. I agree totally with your points and cannot think of any techniques that would be more effective on the heels with maybe the exception of a side sokuto geri where a balance between heel and ball of foot might be a bit more stable. Looking forward to the hidden heel turning technique!

  9. Turning on your heel for a Mawashi geri is ridiculous, you don’t get full range of motion, and you lose your balance doing so. It is definitely correctly done on the ball of your foot as you have full range of motion, quicker maneuvers and full balance.

  10. There is no doubt in my mind that turning on the ball of the foot provides a stronger impact and leaves the practitioner in a far better and more balanced position to continue into their next offensive or defensive move. The reasons that you gave are clear, strong and concise. I would enjoy seeing a video demonstration from anyone advocating the heel pivot and its perceived benefits.

  11. Cant wait till next week. I have a suspicion it is about turning on your heels when doing kata. I have a habit of using my heels when turning while performing kihon kata…makes me a faster without sacrificing control.

  12. This discussion is deceptive as it seems to rely on a rather false concept that any turn should be all heel or all ball. In doing so, we ignore the reality of our body and its basic bio-mecanics. The reality is that if you disconnect the heal from the floor the whole body is balanced on a small area , which is itself connected to a spring loaded joint (the ankle). To keep balance you have to tension the ankle and that means power from the kick is absorbed there rather than in the target. Furthermore the karateka is easy to unbalance. Remember the legs are designed for running and fast changes of direction, not for round house kicks. On the other hand if the heal is on the ground during the kick all momentum is transferred into the target, because the leg is anchored to ground. But that could lead to knee damage. Furthermore if you then study the nature of the axis of revolution through the body you begin to understand that it is through the heal.
    So why do we turn of the ball of the foot? because in normal motion, even fast motion, being unbalanced gives us an edge. The concept is a bit like a fighter plane. The closer it is to falling out of the sky, the more maneuverable it is in a dog fight. “Ha Ha!” say the ball believers, “So you must turn on the ball”. But the kick is not normal motion! By now many of you must be thinking that I am very confused! So what is the truth. Study real fights and you will see that the real turn on the foot is somewhere in the middle of the foot, but towards the back. The most important point is not the emphasis of where the twist is made, that is more a matter of style, it is that the whole foot surface supports the kick!

  13. Hey Jason Happy New Year to you and your family and your Karate Establishment. Yep I totally agree that you got to be forward to make an effective mawashigeri, your body alignment dictates that you got to be forward for maximum effect.
    I think the exception to the rule is the performance of a shuto- oki in kokutsidachi moving forward or when turning through 180 degrees performing a block or any other technique its faster turning on your heels 🙂 I may be wrong lol

  14. Thinking about what Skip, Brendan and David have said, I tend to turn on my heels when practising Katas like Taikyoku, and Kanku Dai when performing hidari and migi chudan uchi uke after chudan zuki. In our Association when practising Enpi, we perform mawashi geri after kami zukami and I use the ball of my foot without thinking; it just feels natural.

    I’ve tried mawashi geri with the heel of the supporting foot and found it inefficient and unnatural, but when I was younger and flexible I performed a rising kick over my left shoulder with my left foot. I cheated by arching my back and leaning backwards so I figure I must have been on my right heel. I won’t test this theory now, though, because something will snap.


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