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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

10,000 Side Kicks: Part 1

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

Welcome back to the 10,000 Kicks series here on Rhetorical Roundhouse!

It's been a long time coming, but I'm happy to share with you today the beginning stages of my work towards perfecting my side kick or, yeop chagi in Korean. So, of all the high-flying, spectacular kicks in Tae Kwon Do, why did I choose to start here?

One answer is pretty simple: the side kick is objectively my worst basic kick. I'm not ashamed to say this because I don't mean to betray some secret that I was a lazy student as a color belt, instead, I want to start a discussion about the preference of different techniques from dojang to dojang.

I'll detail this more when I add to the My Martial Arts Journey section of this blog, but when I first started Tae Kwon Do, I trained at a school that was very adamant about the side kick being an ineffective or outdated technique.

I just heard the collective cringe of all martial artists reading that sentence, but it's true, that's what I was taught.

And, honestly, at that time in competitive Tae Kwon Do (2004-2008), the traditional side kick was all but ABSENT at the highest levels of competition. This is due, in part, to the way Olympic sparring was scored and the rules regarding "push kicks" and kicking to the face. Additionally, if a Tae Kwon Do player used a linear kick defensively, it was almost always a turning back kick.

Given just a few more years, the side kick (especially the quicker lead-leg side kick) returned with a vengeance. Fast-forward to the present, and you can't watch a competitive match without seeing side kicks operating as a sort of jab for most combinations. This is partly because the sensitivity for electronic chest guards has been dramatically increased and transitioning from a side kick to a roundhouse mid-technique is now a more effective way to score points. Below are some highlights from last year's World Tae Kwon Do Grand Slam series. Compared to highlights from Athens in 2004, for instance, the prevalence of the side kick has dramatically increased.

This changing nature of Tae Kwon Do frustrates some masters and students who long for a more traditional and fixed art. That said, the concept of a "living art" is one that excites many practitioners and motivates competitors at all stages to innovate. Personally, I love that Tae Kwon Do changes so often because it means there is always something new to learn. That's the spirit of this blog series and to me, the spirit of life-long education.

So, now that I've given a decent excuse about why my technique isn't all it could be, I'll share with you the very first kicks of this series!

The video above was recorded last AUGUST! That's how long I've been dragging my feet on this. At the time, I thought I could complete the 10,000 kicks in a relatively short amount of time. I know this because this next video update was filmed only a week later and my kick count was approaching 400.

As you can tell, the technique didn't really change all that much. My kicking height is decent, but my hips are obviously tighter on the left side. You can tell by checking my toes--if they're pointed up, it means my hips aren't turning over all the way. I try to overcompensate for this on the left side by pushing my shoulder over, but that just causes my torso to over-rotate.

In a nutshell, I discovered something about my training because of the difficulty of this kick--I need to develop more hip flexibility and strengthen the supporting/ stabilizing muscles involved in extending a side kick. To do that, I've obtained a copy of a flexibility routine that I will discuss more in depth next time. For now, I'll simply say that I'm comfortable taking my time with this process because, unfortunately, I'm dealing with a collection of strained/pulled muscles that, until fully healed, won't allow me to train the way I want to.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait! But the Gan principle of palgwe reminds us to commit to action as well as inaction--make a decision and stick to it. My decision is to walk the long path of full-body flexibility and practical strength.

Next time I'll give an update on the flexibility/strength training I've incorporated and show you my progress at the 1,000 kick mark. I hope this series inspires you to embark on your own journey of 10,000 to perfect a practice important to you. If so, please document the experience and share with us! I'll be setting up a 10,000 kicks playlist on Youtube to accompany the Poomse Poetry Playlist to feature my own progress montages (as they develop) and anyone else who submits.

Thanks as always for reading/watching.


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