The Leg Kick, the Bouncer’s Secret Weapon

Back in the early 1980’s, I was first introduced to the combat sport of muay Thai. I was already training in traditional martial arts, but what these fighters were doing was new to me: they kicked using their shins and did so full power. What’s more, they didn’t use any shin guards, which was unusual at the time. The most peculiar technique was one that looked like a sloppy soccer kick aimed at the opponent’s upper leg. It didn’t make sense to me but, as an inquisitive young man, it didn’t take me long to start experimenting and learning as much as I could about “The Art of Eight Limbs.”

I soon discovered a few things:

  • That soccer kick was called a “leg kick” or “low kick” and it hurt like hell when it landed.
  • Though it looks easy to do, it is an extremely difficult technique to master and use correctly.

With lots of training and patience, the leg kick eventually became one of my favorite techniques. I’ve used it on numerous occasions, both inside and outside of a combat sports context and can attest to its effectiveness. Thanks to the help of other practitioners and instructors I met along the way, I made a lot of progress refining the leg kick and learned to apply it using different effective tactics. One of these instructors had a particularly interesting take on the leg kick and I’d like to share it with you here. I’m going to refer to my book here for more in-depth information, so if you haven’t got it yet, you can buy it here:

The Leg Kick: Your Ultimate Guide to Using The Leg Kick for Mixed Martial Arts

For all the details on the leg kick, go here.

He was a bouncer and used the leg kick to handle certain types of conflicts that were about to escalate into violence. In fact, he turned it into a handy (though nasty…) little trick to calm down the kind of patrons who were too young to know the true dangers of violence, but too old not to take seriously. I’ll explain the trick at the end, but first some thoughts on the technical details:

  • He used the half-hip turn instead of the full hip turn. This allowed him a faster delivery, non-telegraphic movement and the ability to strike from his de-escalation stance (which had the kicking leg slightly to the back.)
  • The retraction is just as important. His leg would explode into the kick, but he paid equal attention to retracting it right away. That way he was able to get back to either his de-escalation stance if he got the result he wanted, or flow into a fighting stance to follow-up with appropriate techniques.
  • Follow-up. When the kick was delivered correctly, the patron dropped to the floor or bent over to clutch his leg. But just in case something went wrong, he always brought his hands up as he retracted his leg, ready to strike, defend or control the patron or any others who might want to intervene.
  • Appropriate targeting. Given the trick he used, he didn’t aim for the knee as that joint and its ligaments will tear and snap when struck with sufficient force. Nobody wants to pay for expensive surgery if law enforcement gets involved after the incident. Instead, he aimed for the sciatic nerve. When properly hit, it shuts people down and they tend to fall or limp heavily. As such a technique attacks the nervous system directly, it tends to override whatever mindset they were in the moment before and usually adjusts their attitude for the better. At the very least, they are in no position to think of attacking.

He had great success working with the leg kick like this and still uses the technique.

 

Why use the leg kick as a bouncer?

Hitting a patron in the head can end badly for both you and him. If you breaks his nose, teeth or orbital bone, you might be up on charges and pay heavy medical costs along with facing a lawsuit. If you knock him out and he cracks his skull on the floor as he falls, he could end up in a coma or in the morgue. that would mean a court date for you, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and if convicted, years in prison for manslaughter.

The benefit of the leg kick is that it avoids cosmetic damage to the face, so you don’t have to worry about those medical costs. If the patron falls, he is generally conscious and instinctively tries to catch his fall using his arms and hands. In most cases, he doesn’t suffer serious injuries. At worst, you break or fracture his femur, which though painful is typically not a lethal injury.

But most of all: the owner of the establishment needs his patrons to return to spend more money in his place. If they see you smashing in faces, they will more than likely take their business elsewhere and you will eventually be out of a job. Kicking them in the leg, though painful and embarrassing if they limp away, is usually not seen as perceived as excessive violence. So bystanders might actually give beneficial testimony if the police investigate what happened.

That said, you still have to be justified in your use of force. Case in point:

This video shows a bouncer being effective with the technique, but you could argue if kicking the patron was the right choice.

All that said, the leg kick is just another tool in the toolbox: use it when appropriate, leave it alone when it’s not.

 

The trick that bouncer used to make the leg kick his secret weapon?

Underneath his trousers, worn in such a way nobody could spot it, he wore field hockey shin guards like this:

The Leg Kick, the Bouncer's Secret Weapon

Hard, field hockey shin guards

These are made out of a hard exterior shell and a soft, padded lining on the inside. They are usually long enough to cover your entire shin, which means that if you leg kick somebody while wearing them, it feels like getting hit with a baseball bat made out of steel.

I did mention that the trick was nasty…

The best part is that to the other patrons, it looks like the bouncer just dropped a guy with a kick that shouldn’t have packed that much power. Sure, it was fast, but it wasn’t a big move. In their minds, it creates a narrative of “Damn, that dude hits hard!” followed right along with a bunch of reasons why they better not mess with him. As a result, the need for more violence was often averted. Not always though and you need to know when the leg kick is not the right way to go, but that’s beyond the topic of this article.

Fun side-benefit: you can block certain kicks with your shin without sustaining damage, so this trick is not just good for offense.

 

Making it work.

Start by finding a shin guard that fits you well. They have to be comfortable as you wear them for hours on end during a shift. That’s why I suggest spending a bit more and getting shin guards that allow some airflow to avoid profuse sweating and the rashes that can come from it. This obviously also means you take care of them after each use, cleaning them out and letting them dry completely. I suggest starting your search here and also here.

Wear the right pair of trousers so they stay hidden. Depending on the dress code of your establishment, this might be a frustrating challenge and take some experimenting. Do it anyway, because it’s of little use to give away your secret trick by making it obvious for all to see you’re wearing those shin guards.

On a final note:

Another bouncer didn’t think the shin guards were hard enough to get consistent results, so he rigged them for better performance:

He attached several steel corner brackets to the shin guard with the edge of the corners facing outward. This took some tinkering to get it right, but eventually, he did. As a result, he would kick unruly patrons real fast, just once, and everybody he kicked went down after just one strike. It tended to impress the other patrons to the point of quieting down any other brooding fight that was ready to boil over.

As far as I know, nobody ever figured out his secret.

How not to train the leg kick

I’m busy working on the leg kick book and came across this video below. It features an unknown genius who tries to train the leg kick on a hard object that has no ability to move upon impact. You can imagine the rest…

Let’s just say this isn’t the smartest thing to do…

I think we can safely say Jean-Claude Van Damme is to blame for this thing still going on. For those of you who didn’t see the movie, here’s the relevant scene:

The movie had a bunch more nonsense that no true muay Thai fighter would ever do, but the tree kicking scene spoke to the imagination of youngsters all over the world and started leading a life of its own. To be clear, there is no upside to train the leg kick this way, none at all.

You can still find videos of Thai’s kicking banana trees, but mostly, this is a training relic from the past. Nowadays, virtually all gyms use heavy bags, which are both more practical and versatile to train the leg kick on.

The worst offender I’ve seen was in this video here in which a fighter (or trainer, I don’t remember) tries to show off hitting a wooden pole:

Please don’t do that. Ever.

The only thing this does is damage joints, bones and ligaments in the long run. He mitigates some of it by rolling his arms and legs to take the brunt of the impact on the muscle as opposed to the bone, but his shoulders, hips and knees still take a beating.

When I started training some 30 years ago, I did a lot of this kind of stuff. My teacher was hardcore into body conditioning and we’d hit and kick wooden poles like this or concrete pillars. Let me put it this way: osteoarthritis sucks and this guy is heading straight towards it. If he’s unlucky, it will be there before he hits 40, with an ever decreasing quality of daily life from then on out.

If you want to train the leg kick effectively in a safe manner: kick the heavy bag and the kicking shield. Do so regularly and build up the power of the kick gradually. For most people, that is the safest way to condition the shins while you also develop good technique.

how not to train the leg kick

Damaging your shins, not a good idea..

 

Just a quick update on my leg kick book, this is the current chapter list:

Introduction.

Chapter 1: Fundamental principles.

Chapter 2: The weapon.

Chapter 3: The lead arm.

Chapter 4: The rear arm.

Chapter 5: The hips.

Chapter 6: The torso.

Chapter 7: The legs.

Chapter 8: Variations.

Chapter 9: Footwork.

Chapter 10: Conditioning.

Chapter 11: Drills.

Chapter 12: Combinations.

Chapter 13: How to defend against the leg kick.

Chapter 14: Basic tactics.

Chapter 15: Advanced strategies.

Chapter 16: Case studies.

Chapter 17: Troubleshooting your leg kick.

I have seven chapters left to finish, with 4 of those already half-written. Some chapters might still get lumped together or get deleted depending on how things go. Writing a book can be a bit weird like that sometimes. Once that’s done, I can shoot the pictures and if possible do some videos too, as a bonus.

If you want to be notified for the release, sign up for my notification list here. Don’t forget to click the link in the confirmation mail you’ll receive right after signing up, or you won’t be on the list.

 

The evolution of combat sports

Just recently, I watched the fight between one of my favorite boxers, Roy Jones Jr. and his opponent, Enzo Maccarinelli, which got me thinking about the evolution of combat sports. I always liked Jones a lot. In his prime, he was a master of the ring, dancing around his opponents as he pleased. Both his offense and defense was impressive but most of all, he seemed to land punches at will. He was arrogant and a showboat, but he had the skills to back it up so people didn’t mind as much as he always tried to give viewers a great show.

Here are some highlights of him at his best:

This video doesn’t do him justice though. Watch some of his full fight videos to get a better idea of just how impressive he was.

Then watch this video of his last fight…

Roy is still a great boxer, much better than most people who ever stepped into a boxing ring. But at almost 47 years old, he is becoming a shadow of his former self. When you watch his last few fights, you’ll see he is almost flat-footed compared to how he moved in his prime. He still hits fast and hard, but that’s not enough anymore against those younger opponents.

There are two points I want to make about this: [Read more…]

Gas station clerk uses MMA to stop robbers

This video of gas station clerk/MMA fighter Mayura Dissanyake using his MMA techniques to stop a couple robbers has been going the rounds and several people asked me to comment on it. I’ve also seen MMA enthusiasts go nuts over this video and claim it as ultimate proof of the superiority of MMA over anything else. I’ll cover that a little bit as well.

But first, take a look at the video:

As far as I can tell, his co-worker went to the bank and came back to the station when the robbers jumped him. That’s when Dissanyake came rushing to his aid and the fight to stop the robbers started. One of the robbers ends up on the ground and his buddy first drives away, then tries to come back but eventually takes off.

Some thoughts: [Read more…]

How to Be More Aggressive in Sparring

A while ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page if there was anything they were struggling with in their training so I could do a blog post about it. Here’s what Jonathan said:

I find it challenging to develop an attacking mentality – I tend to be quite passive in sparring. Any advice on how to develop that?

A great question and this “How to be more aggressive in sparring” article is my answer to it. Let’s start with some basics first.

how to be more aggressive in sparring

Sparring with one of my students.

 

Why are you passive during sparring?

There are a bunch of reasons why you might not feel like attacking your partner when you spar. It’s hard to say with certainty which one is the case with you as each person is different, but here are some of the most common reasons:

  • You’re scared. Getting punched in the face hurts and it can be scary if this is new to you. When it happens during a sparring session, many people tend to become passive and defensive to avoid receiving more of those punches. This is perfectly natural human behavior but it doesn’t help you get better. You need to work through the fear and conquer it.
  • He hits too hard. This is similar to the previous. Not only are you scared of getting hit because it hurts, you’re scared of getting injured because he hits really, really hard. Fear of injury is also a natural reaction, but you need to accept it at a gut level as martial arts and combat sports are contact sports. Injury is always a possibility, no matter how hard or soft you spar.
  • He counters everything you do. Even if he doesn’t hit you hard, if he hits you every time you make a move, it can be so frustrating you just stop attacking. Frankly, if this is the case then you’re mismatched. If your partner is so good that he lands every technique at will and avoids all of yours, there’s no upside to sparring him. In this case, I would suggest going slower or getting another partner.
  • Your defense sucks and you keep on getting tagged. This is a biggie. Look at a muay Thai or MMA match: in most cases, a fighter gets hit through the holes in his defense as opposed to inherent openings in a technique. E.g.: every time you throw a right punch, the right side of your body is open, nothing you can do about that. But you can keep your chin low, your other hand high and raise your shoulder to protect your chin. It’s usually these technical details that people make mistakes against and the opponent sees it. And then he uses those against you.
  • You don’t know what to do. Sparring can be overwhelming and make your brain freeze up to the point of almost paralyzing you. Especially if you are afraid, it can be extremely difficult to figure out something as basic as picking the right technique to throw next. Getting used to adrenal stress and having a strong grasp of the basics goes a long way to solve this.

These are some of the most common reasons that get in the way of being more aggressive when you spar.  Fortunately, there are solutions for these and I’ll give you a couple of them here below. Let’s take a look at those now. [Read more…]