The MMA world has just been introduced to calf kicks in the last 5 years, meanwhile in Thailand, Muay Thai fighters have been using those for ages.
In this article we are going to be talking about all the different tips that you should be paying attention to if you want to cripple your opponent’s legs and who knows, maybe earn a good TKO with using calf kicks.
While the mechanism of the kick is almost the same in both kicks, the target is different. The thigh kick aims at the end side of the quadriceps, a couple of inches above the knee, while the calf kick, as the name suggests, targets the side of the calf and the area below the calf.
The sciatic nerve has its root right in the side of the calf without any muscle over to protect it, once you hit the nerve, the limping begins immediately.
We have seen this in MMA and Muay Thai over and over again, it takes only 2 or 3 clean and stiff kicks to the sciatic nerve and the fighter is crippled instantly.
2. Calf kicks in MMA Vs. Muay Thai and Kickboxing
Although the mechanisms of the calf kick are the same in MMA and Muay Thai, the damage it inflicts is different.
Muay Thai fighters adopt a stance where they have all their weight shifted to the rear leg, they are very light on their lead leg. In traditional Muay Thai, the lead leg is almost off the ground, only the tip of the foot makes contact with the ground.
When the leg doesn’t carry much weight, the impact of the kick on the leg is reduced to the minimum.
Now let’s see the impact in MMA.
MMA fighters adopt a completely different stance than Muay Thai fighters, the stance is lower and the legs are wider and the weight is distributed on both legs, sometimes the lead leg carries more weight.
MMA fighters adopt this stance to be able to defend takedowns. The upright tall Muay Thai stance will get you taken down easily, because you are exposing your hips to your opponent.
Your hips are the center of your gravity, so you have to lower your center of gravity and keep the opponent away from controlling it.
That’s why, we’ve seen top level MMA fighters limping in title defense matches after eating just 2 or 3 kicks e.g. Max Holloway Vs. Alexander Volkanovski.
3. What part of your leg should you hit your opponent with?
There are two bones attaching the knee to the foot, the tibia and the fibula. The biggest of these two is the tibia, but you have to be very careful about which part of the tibia you should hit with.
The tibia is not a round bone, it’s an oval bone, very narrow and sharp in the front.
The front is very solid and difficult to break, the intention you should have while throwing the kick is as if you are chopping your opponent’s leg with an axe, target the softest part of their leg with the sharpest part of yours.
4. Don’t break your leg
We have seen many fighters breaking their legs when trying to throw a calf kick. Everybody saw Anderson Silva’s horrible leg injury when he attempted that low kick against Chris Weidman.
Here are some important tips to avoid breaking your leg with a calf kick:
- Don’t throw sloppy calf kicks: Your kicks shouldn’t be thrown at 50% power, if you throw a sloppy kick and your opponent checks it with the blade of their tibia, you might be risking a broken leg.
- Use momentum in your favour: Momentum is key to avoid injury, make sure to play it in your favour, a very powerful calf kick thrown at high speed has small to no chance of getting you injured in the exchange.
- Avoid hitting the knee at all costs: Anderson Silva paid a heavy price for that, he threw a sloppy kick and aimed it at the knee, the result was extremely horrible.
- Avoid hitting with the lower part of your tibia: The lower part of the tibia is not as big and thick as the higher and middle part, the lower you go the narrowest it is.
- Don’t throw a calf kick from very far: Why? If the distance between you and and your opponent is very far and you throw a calf kick, you will be at risk of catching your opponent with the end part of your leg which is the foot. The foot is a complex web of small and short bones, so if you hit those small bones against a big bone, the tibia, your chances of continuing the fight are very slim.
5. How to hit the side of the calf?
When attempting a calf kick, it is strongly recommended to make a step outside then launch your attack.
- We will suppose that both you and your opponent are squared up in orthodox stances and you want to throw a right kick to chop their left lead kick
- Your step will be to your right side, out of your opponent’s center line
- Disguise your step with a jab. This is important! The jab will blind and distract your opponent. Don’t telegraph it.
- Once you are at your opponent’s left side you are safe from counters, now rotate on your left foot and unleash hell
6. A good antidote against wrestlers
One of the biggest advantages of the calf kick compared to the thigh kick is that it has a low risk of getting caught and causing you to be taken down.
Thigh kicks are great to cripple wrestlers and reduce their explosiveness and mobility, but the downside of thigh kicks is that they get catched easily, all a wrestler needs to do is to lower their stance a little bit and the kick will be in their hand’s reach.
The calf kick does the job even better, it hits right in the nerve with no risk of being catched.
7. Be gentle with your sparring partner
A calf kick is very damaging to the leg, if the injury is minor it might take weeks to heal, sometimes major injuries require surgery.
With that being said, be very careful in sparring and don’t use the kick in full force.
Also, use shin guards in sparring. Avoid the ones that have no protection of the side calf, use round shin guards like these.
8. Deceive your opponent with your eyes
Don’t ever look where you intend to kick! That’s a golden rule to add to your arsenal. When you want to kick low, look high and when you want to kick high look low.
You can use the same rule against your opponents if they are not very experienced.
Beginners and intermediate fighters often telegraph their attacks by looking at the target, if you assimilate this rule and drill it enough you will be able to anticipate your opponent’s next attack a fraction of a second before they launch it and intercept it with an instant counter.
9. How to counter a calf kick?
If you want to counter your opponent you need to be very present in the fight, you need to have eagle eye skills to see where they are looking and what adjustment have they made to their stance to launch the attack.
Don’t let these skills scare you! Repetition is the mother of mastery, if you drill it enough, you will get to read your opponent and intercept their attacks.
Now, how to counter your opponent?
One of the most used counters against low kicks is the cross. It’s simple and doesn’t require much skill, it doesn’t even need to be thrown at full force. A well timed and precise cross to your opponent’s chin can do wonders.
The counter-punch has to catch the opponent off guard. Don’t anticipate the kick before it’s thrown and don’t wait until you are stunned with it.
There is a great quote by Conor McGregor that applies perfectly on this counter: “Timing beats speed, precision beats power”.
10. How to defend against the calf kick?
- If you are fighting under Muay Thai/Kickboxing rules, just shift your weight to your rear leg, this will spare your leg the extreme damage
- If you are fighting under MMA rules and you are not worried about your opponent taking you down, you can also shift your weight to your rear leg.
- If you are fighting under MMA rules and you know your opponent wants to take you down, adopt a square stance and turn your foot towards the direction that the kicks are coming from, and plant your foot firmly on the ground. Now the impact will be shin against shin, it’s a fifty/fifty situation where there is no winner. Surely you will feel some pain on your shin, but your opponent will also taste their own medicine.
- Avoid adopting a sideway stance at all costs: if you are a counter striker and you like fighting sideways like Conor McGregor or Wonderboy Thompson, avoid doing that against a leg kicker. You will simply give them your calf on a silver plate. Your opponent won’t even need to shift to the side to set up the kick and hit the side of your calf, you will be giving it to them directly.
- Sometimes you just can’t handle a calf kick! Sometimes you get to fight a devil who has a baseball bat for a leg and hits like a truck. If you find yourself unable to check their kicks with your shin, just switch your stance. Assuming you are both fighting orthodox, just switch to southpaw stance and this will make your leg far away from danger. being in southpaw means that your lead leg is your right leg, if your opponent wants to chop your right leg too, they’ll have to kick it with their left leg, and it is extremely rare to find a fighter who can kick with the same power with both legs, most fighters have devastating power in one leg only, depending if they are right-handed or left-handed. So just switch your stance and you will be safe!
11. Shin conditioning
It goes without saying that none of the tips mentioned above will be effective if you have pillow shins. If you want to chop like an axe you need to have an axe for a leg. If you want to defend a calf kick you need to have shins made of granite.
The main key to all this is shin conditioning, obviously it needs another whole article for encompassing all the necessary details. Please check my article on how to condition your shin.