Kenpo Budokan Karate: White Belt: Lessons: 22 – Side Kick

Side Kick

Our second fundamental kick in kenpo is the side kick. This kick is designed to strike out your opponent’s legs, as well as being used to push the opponent backwards. With proper form, the set up to the kick can also be used to block an incoming attacker, as well as ensuring that the attacker doesn’t get in close enough to grab you. The uses of the side kick are pretty diverse, and with training, you’ll see the sidekick and its applications in many techniques going forward. Compare this with the roundhouse kick, the motion of the sidekick is a pushing motion out to the side, rather than a circular motion from front to back.


  1. Slide up, bringing your rear foot up to your front foot. Turn your foot away from you (behind you) for balance.
  2. Tuck up your leg for a side kick, the knee should come up to your chest, with the knife edge of your foot (or heal) facing outwards.
  3. Thrust your leg outward as you drive the knife-edge of the foot (or the heal) into your target.
  4. Using the reverse momentum from the kick, bring the kick right back to the tucked position.
  5. Plant your foot down, and slide your rear foot back into position.


Just like the front kick, both the tuck and the part of your foot which you are striking with play an important part. In most cases, you will be striking with the knife edge of the foot – the smaller, linear area allows for a more destructive power to be delivered with the kick. You can use the heal to kick, but when using the heal, the force is more pushing rather than destructive. When striking to the opponent’s leg, you are looking to strike on the inside or outside of the knees (sides). When striking to the opponent’s body, you are looking to strike towards their bladder or their waist trying to force the opponent to buckle over. If you strike any higher than this, you are going to primarily see the kick as a pushing motion to move the opponent backwards. A sidekick to the head can be very effective, but good luck getting the timing and distance down on such a small target – this is why you will see the kicks delivered low and to the body, not up to the head area.

The nice thing about the side kick, is once you have the kick tucked up, even if the opponent charges at you, you can still execute the kick to push yourself off the opponent and give yourself more distance to work with. If you don’t tuck the leg properly (knife edge facing outwards), you can be quickly jammed, and loose effectiveness.

With our front kick (and our back kick), our hips determine the direction that we want our power to go. The same thing applies with our kicks to the side (side kick, round house, hook kick) – however, because we are facing sideways, we aren’t going to be twisting our hips out of shape. This is why we turn our foot behind us when we do our kicks from the side. First, this gives us balance and prevents us from falling over. Remember the lesson on the horse stance. If you face off against an attacker in a horse stance, you have very little lateral balance and can easily be pushed down, turn the body sideways, and you now have a lot more balance and power in your techniques. The same applies with your side kicks. If your foot is facing 90 degrees from your body (e.g. just normally there), you have a very small area on which to derive force and produce balance (up to about half an inch if you have fat feet). Turning your foot away from the direction of the kick transforms this from a small area to balance, into the whole foot being used for balance (since most people’s feet are longer than they are wide, you get all the surface area length-wise for balance and stability).

In addition to providing balance and stability in your kicks, turning your foot away from the direction of your kick, engages the hip flexors to add an additional level of power and torque into your kicks. Remember, everything we do in the martial arts is about body mechanics. Anyone can swing a fist or throw their legs around, being a technician in the martial arts, means that your motions are as effective and efficient as possible.

Things to Work On

One of the most difficult things students have when first encountering the side kicks is getting their foot turned behind them for balance. At first it can feel really weird and doesn’t seem to be something your body should be doing. But after enough practice, the turning of the foot becomes second nature. The second thing which throws off many new students is making sure they are aiming with the knife edge of their foot – this should be out from the body, and not just having your knee tucked straight up. Getting your leg into proper position takes time and practice.

Wall drills

Just as in the front kick, it is recommended to practice your kicks with a wall – what we like to call wall drills. Whereas your back is on the wall for your front kick practice, you will place your hand on the wall for balance for the side kick. Place you hand on the wall, turn your foot behind you for balance, and tuck your leg up for the side kick. Remember, you need to be aiming your kick outward with the knife edge of your foot. Extend your kick, and hold it there for 10-30 seconds. Tuck the leg back, and down. Repeat this drill 10 times (5 times per leg), and you will be well on your way to leg strength and proper form in your kicks.

Concluding Thoughts

Of all the techniques in white belt, the side kick is usually the most difficult for students to master. Many schools omit the side kick at the beginner level, and add it to the more senior levels. Here within Kenpo Budokan Karate, we teach the side kick first because we believe having tools to give you distance between you and your attackers is more important than trying to make the material easier for students. At this level you should be primarily focusing on the form of the kick – don’t worry too much about height, speed, or power at this juncture – with time and practice these will develop. Once you have the form of the kick down (see wall drills), you can start on working on your speed and power (and height with the wall drills). But remember, Kenpo teaches targets of opportunity – and as such our kicks focus primarily to the lower body and below the waist. One of my mentors Bill Wallace has a saying – with speed comes power, but not necessarily with power can you develop speed. Practice, practice, and practice some more and you will eventually develop both the speed and power needed to make these kicks devastating.

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