The most widely known and used kick in martial arts is the roundhouse kick, and it’s the most damaging kick that you can throw and land with regularity. It’s the foundation upon which the entire art of Muay Thai is based upon, and it’s no surprise that most MMA fighters and kickboxers today use that version of the kick.
While it’s not the prettiest strike, it’s destructive and efficient. Learning how to throw a proper roundhouse kick will be the base you will then step upon to build your kicking as a part of your complete striking arsenal.
Technically speaking, a roundhouse kick is any kick that uses semicircular motion and comes from the side. This includes many variations and many targets, which means the leg kick and head kick are also roundhouse kicks.
We will take care of these two in detail in separate articles, focusing only on the basic round kick to the body.
How To Throw A Roundhouse Kick
Throwing a roundhouse is relatively easy, but it takes years to truly master. The most important part is the pivot. A powerful round kick comes from the body’s momentum created by the rotation around your base foot.
The leg itself doesn’t contribute to the overall power of the kick. You can do a powerful kick even without chambering at the knee. Here is how to throw a roundhouse kick with the back leg:
- From a neutral fighting stance, shift your weight to the ball of the front foot. You can also do this with a little step forward, which adds power but gives the opponent more time to react.
- Open up the rear hip with the leg chambered at the knee.
- Swing your rear knee towards the opponent as you pivot on the front foot.
- Extend the leg shortly before the kick lands. The back leg, belly button, and rear shoulder should be parallel at the point of impact.
- Land with the shin.
- Extend the arm closer to the opponent towards him. The other hand should be close to the head, protecting it from counterattacks.
- After the kick lands, return to a balanced stance as quickly as possible.
The roundhouse is a very powerful kick, and just like we said, the power comes from the pivot. At the endpoint of the kick, the heel of the support foot should point towards the opponent. To gather more momentum, the front arm extended towards the opponent can be swung down, but it’s riskier to leave your side completely unguarded.
Remember to always kick through the target, not on it. Imagine your kick going through the entire body of the opponent, just like you would swing a bat.
The roundhouse is best thrown from just outside of punching range if used without a setup. Always aim to land with the lower or middle part of the shin. There is a good chance the kick is blocked, and the instep is much more vulnerable in the clash with elbows or forearms. Sometimes, a kick can land with the toes, which is worse because it hyperextends the ankle.
The roundhouse to the body is relatively safe to use on its own because it’s powerful, and it leaves you in a safe range, making it hard to counter. But it’s even better to first set it up with punches that will occupy and lift the guard, leaving enough space for the shin to dig deep in the opponent’s ribs.
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How To Throw The Lead Roundhouse Kick
The lead roundhouse is a bit trickier than the back one because the lead leg does not have the way to generate momentum like the back leg. There are a couple of ways to throw a lead-round kick.
The first one is the traditional Thai style, the most commonly used. The mechanics of the kick based on the pivot are the same, but to load it up, you need to perform a quick skip switching up your two feet. Here is how.
- The front foot moves back first, then the back foot moves to the front, switching positions.
- The two feet are very close together. The hips are twisted towards the kicking leg loading it up.
- The move needs to be very quick, but it’s not entirely simultaneous. Don’t leave the ground with both feet at the same time.
- Kick with the now back leg pivoting entirely on the base leg. Extend the closer arm towards the opponent.
The other option to throw the lead round kick is to first step forward with the back leg close in front of your lead foot. This brings the two feet in the same position as the switch outlined above but also covers some distance.
The lead kick may be less powerful, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with and, from an orthodox stance, is the perfect weapon to destroy the liver. And the liver is one of those spots where no amount of grit and determination can get the body back running once it shuts down. The jab-cross-lead roundhouse kick to the liver is a classic combination that never gets old.
Karate vs. Kickboxing Roundhouse Kick
Different martial art styles have quite different interpretations of the roundhouse kick. Most fighters use the Muay Thai version exclusively for its power and effectiveness in modern-day MMA and kickboxing.
The more traditional karate kick is done differently. The chamber of the leg at the knee takes a central part of the execution. With a chambered leg, pivot on the front foot until the knee points to the opponent, then quickly extend the leg and land with the foot. This kicking style comes with some benefits and shortcomings as opposed to the Muay Thai kick.
Pros Of The Karate Kick
- It’s faster
- No telegraphing, which makes it harder to block
- Quick retraction even if the kick misses
- Easier to sneak under the blocking arms
Cons Of The Karate Kick
- Less powerful
- Higher chance to injure your leg landing with the instep
- Requires more skill and precision to use effectively
Although not as widely used in combat sports, fighters like Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thompson in the UFC have demonstrated the deadly accuracy of the karate kick. Especially throwing with the lead leg, the karate round kick to the head is difficult to react to and can be used effectively even without any setup.
Where To Land The Roundhouse Kick To The Body
Like I said, although the head and leg kicks are also considered roundhouse kicks, we look at the basic strike targeting the body. In most cases, the kick should land on the ribs, just below the elbow. The kick’s trajectory is parallel to the ground. Still, you can also throw it in a little diagonal and upwards motion to increase the chance of landing under the elbow.
Many beginners kick too high, and the kicks are easily blocked. Even if the opponent hasn’t raised his hand and maintains a neutral stance, there is usually enough space for the kick to land flush in the body. Always try to aim with precision.
There are fighters, mainly Thai’s, who deliberately kick higher and target the arms. This is an excellent strategy for them to tire out or break the defender’s arm, but you need an insane amount of shin conditioning to do that. Unless you are a seasoned fighter with confidence in the power and durability of your legs, aim at the body.
The roundhouse kick is one of the most powerful attacks you can unleash and is used in many situations. After you grasp the basics, start experimenting with the ranges and setups, slowly condition your shins, and you will have an indispensable and devastating weapon in your arsenal.