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 to train the leg kick for MMA

I’m busy editing and shooting the pictures for my Leg Kick book, so I’ve been testing ways to train the leg kick with my students for a while now. There are many possibilities, too many to mention, and what I explain in this article is not the only way to train. But it is something I haven’t seen many coaches use, so I wanted to share it here.

If you want to get an update when the Leg Kick book is released, follow the instructions here to get on my notification list. It’s free and I don’t do spam, only an occasional email when I have a new book or video out.

That said, here goes for the training drill.

How to train the leg kick for MMA

Before we go on, some key points:

  • If you are new to the leg kick, this drill isn’t for you. The assumption is that you have trained the leg kick already and know the different variations of it.
  • This drill isn’t the only way to train the leg kick; there are plenty of other ways. But in this drill we focus on something very specific so you have to follow the instructions. If you want to do other variations, change the drill.
  • I’ll explain my reasons why the combinations are set up the way they are, but that doesn’t mean you always have to do it that way in a fight. The combinations in the drill are like that because they force the student to train in the precise way I want them to train so they learn what I want them to learn. There is a time for improvising and free play; this drill isn’t one of those times.
  • The drill is not supposed to teach you good technique; you should already have that. Instead, it teaches skill within technique. Meaning, having the ability to change and adapt the technique depending on ever changing circumstances and do so instantly, without needing time to think it through.
  • The drill incorporates a key principle: compare/contrast. You might have had to write essays in this manner back in the day, but this method works just as well for training the leg kick in MMA. By comparing two techniques, the similarities and differences become clearer and your understanding improves. You contrast them by putting two versions at opposite ends of the scale next to each other. This makes those similarities/differences stand out even more.

Now that we have the context out of the way, let’s look at the drill itself.

How to train the leg kick for MMA

How to train the leg kick for MMA

The drill

The drill is done in a progressive manner, starting from simple to a bit more complex. You only go to the next phase when you can do the drill consistently without error. [Read more…]

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.

 

Bouncer leg kicks drunk guy

One of the things you hear more and more in combats sports (in particular in MMA) these days is that “leg kicks don’t finish fights.” Somehow, people are under the impression that therefor the leg kick is not a worthwhile technique. Not just in the cage but outside of it as well. I know for a fact this is patently wrong, having use the leg kick both effectively on numerous occasions. As always, it depends on the person throwing that kick, the circumstances, etc.

I’ve written extensively about the leg kick and how to block it so I won’t repeat that here. I’ll post some links in the resources section down below. What I want to show here is the leg kick in a street situation because it can certainly work there to end a fight. There are other videos that demonstrate this, but this one is a great example.

Take a look:

As always, I wasn’t there and neither are you. We also don’t have the entire event on video, nor can we hear clearly what is being said. We can only go by this video and what it looks like. That said, it looks like the bouncer went a bit overboard:

  • The drunk guy is perhaps obnoxious but he doesn’t seem to be aggressive. The bouncer shoves him back and the guy doesn’t seem to respond other than just standing there. His fellow bouncer (I assume) comes in and starts directing the drunk away. Again, no aggressive response.
  • The bouncer announces his intent. You can clearly hear him say “I’m gonna leg kick this guy.” Now I don’t know where this happened or what legal authority bouncers have there, but it seems a bit early in the conflict to go out of your way to make it physical.

Again, I wasn’t there. There might be other factors involved that justify this leg kick, but I don’t see them right now. If you put that aside, let’s look at the technique itself: [Read more…]

Anderson Silva, his leg kick break and how to avoid it


I watched UFC 168 last night and saw Anderson Silva’s leg kick break. Frankly, it didn’t surprise me one bit as he makes a rookie mistake in how he throws it. He isn’t the first, nor the last, not even at that high level of competition. Does that mean he’s a bad fighter? Not at all. But his mistake is a basic one all muay Thai and kickboxing fighters learn in their first couple lessons in the gym:

You do not lead with the leg kick.

There are exceptions to this rule (Gokhan Saki, who’s leg kick is as fast as a jab…) and some people get away with it for a long time but eventually, there is always a price to pay eventually. Anderson Silva paid that price, just like all the others before him have. He now faces surgery and at the very least 3 months of recovery before he can even consider training again. There will be a long rehab process and only then can he resume training. I don’t expect him back in the Octagon in at least 9 months. 12 months is much more likely, if at all.

He’s also 38 right now and coming near the end of his career. There’ a good chance that he just had his last fight. Going out in this way is really sad for a champion of his stature. Even more so because I believe it could have been avoided. I’ll explain why here below, but first the video (not for the faint of heart):

So what went wrong?

Before I answer that, you might want to read up on my “How To do a Leg Kick” guide and a few other articles. I wrote that guide 4 years ago and just spent some time updating the videos because some of them were no longer available. Some of the terminology I use won’t make sense if you skip those posts, so it might be practical to take a look at them first or do so after you finish reading this post. Here they are:

Now let’s get back to the question: What went wrong and lead to Anderson Silva’s leg kick break? [Read more…]