When it comes to kicks, Taekwondo has the widest variety of kicking techniques amongst all martial arts.
This is due to the fact that kicks are the main focus of Taekwondo.
This is a list of Taekwondo kicks in English and Korean along with their functionality and applicability in self-defense and real life situations.
All kicks are finished with the word “chagi” which means “kick” in Korean.
Please note that names might vary slightly from a school to another due to the existence of more than one Taekwondo organization.
This is the easiest and first kick you learn in Taekwondo.
Sometimes called “Front snap kick” because it is performed with a snap to strike the chin, the solar plexus, or the groin.
This kick is the opposite of the “Front push kick” which is used to push the opponent away.
Ap chagi is used mainly to target the groin or when the opponent is leaning their head forward.
This kick can be very useful against kickboxers and Muay Thai fighters who adopt a square stance where their chest is heading forward and their head is tucked in between their shoulders.
This kick has the same trajectory as an uppercut except that the force behind it is much significant and more devastating than the uppercut.
The front kick can also be used as a “jab” in self-defense and Muay Thai to blind the opponent before throwing a surprising roundhouse kick.
When doing ap chagi the strike must land with the ball of the foot while bending the toes backwards in order to inflict the most significant damage and protect the toes from injury.
This kick uses almost the same mechanisms as an Ap Chagi (front kick) except that this kick finishes with a push, not a snap, mostly to the body in order to create space for other kicks.
The front push kick is used also as a defense mechanism to abort the opponent’s attack and interrupt their combinations of kicks and punches and reset the distance between you and the opponent.
The front kick can also be used in offense by doing a slight slide on the supporting leg or skipping steps to gain more momentum for the push.
In order for the push kick to be successful, the opponent has to have their chest looking forward, if they are fighting sideways the push will slide and you will end up in a vulnerable position open to counters.
Also if the fight is in kickboxing or MMA where fighters have to fight shirtless and the opponent is sweaty the push kick might not be a good option, this strike requires a dry surface in order for the push to be efficient.
This kick is widely used in Muay Thai under the name of Teep.
This kick is the bread and butter of every martial art using kicks in its arsenal. It is one of the most powerful kicks adopted in kickboxing and MMA.
Dollyo Chagi has two variations depending on the context of use:
1- In Olympic Taekwondo where point scoring is the main goal Dollyo chagi is thrown as a snap kick, relying on speed and explosiveness more than power to score a point.
The kick lands with the instep of the foot to gain longer reach.
Before turning the hips, the taekwondo practitioner lifts the knee without revealing which kick is going to be thrown to avoid telegraphing.
This method leaves the opponent guessing and not knowing if the kick is going to be an Ap Chagi (Front kick), Dollyo Chagi (Roundhouse kick) or a yeop chagi (side kick).
After hitting the target, the practitioner has to pull the foot back so the opponent can’t catch it.
2- In self-defense Taekwondo there is more emphasis on power, therefore the practitioner has to engage the hips fully and land the strike with the shin to inflict more damage on the target.
The kick has to be in full momentum as if it is going to drive through the target in order to cause great damage.
Dollyo chagi can cause head concussion if it hits the head in full force without being blocked. Sometimes knockouts occur even if the kick is blocked. Many martial artists compare this kick to getting hit by a baseball bat.
This variation of Dollyo chagi is also adopted by Muay Thai, Kyokushin Karate and many other martial arts.
This kick is exclusive to taekwondo. It has the same execution as a Dollyo chagi (roundhouse kick) except that a Dollyo Chagi requires the heel to pivot 180° until it faces the opponent while Bandal Chagi requires the heel to pivot only around 90° or 100°.
Since the hips are not fully turned, the mechanism of the kick does not allow it to be aimed at higher targets.
Bandal chagi targets usually the midsection with the intention of scoring a very fast point and getting away with it.
It is also used as a setting kick to the body to distract the opponent and follow up with another significant strike.
Example of use of Bandal chagi in MMA
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida is famous for using this kick to the body as a distracting technique before striking with a strong punch.
He used it successfully to knockdown Rashad Evans which resulted in Machida winning the UFC light heavyweight title
This kick has the same function as a front push kick
Yeop Chagi is used in competitive matches to push the opponent away in order to create space and reset the distance.
One of the best ways to use Yeop Chagi is after throwing a roundhouse and missing. Usually when you miss a roundhouse you end up close to your opponent in a vulnerable position.
This is where the side kick comes into use, it can be thrown directly with the same leg you used for the roundhouse to push your opponent away and escape the vulnerable position.
Yeop chagi can also be very useful in self-defense especially when the attacker is carrying a weapon, it can be used as a push kick to the body of the attacker in order to create space for upcoming kicks or as a strike to the head.
When thrown as a strike a snap should be added to the kick so it can hit the jaw with effectiveness.
When throwing a Yeop Chagi make sure not to stick your buttocks out, the hips have to be fully engaged.
A well-executed side kick is where the torso, the hips, the striking leg, and the supporting leg are all in the same line.
When striking with a Yeop chagi make sure to position your upper body away from the opponent to avoid any counterattacks like back kicks or spinning hook kicks.
When doing so your torso will slightly turn in the opposite direction from your opponent automatically and your shoulder will turn inward to protect your chin, this will be an extra precaution against any kind of counterattacks.
Also when you position your upper body away from the opponent while throwing a side kick, your torso will serve you as a counterbalance.
Yeop Chagi can be executed with two variations:
- Yeop Chagi with the rear leg
- Skipping Yeop chagi with the front leg: This side kick is used in order to travel the distance rapidly towards the opponent while generating more momentum and force into the kick.
The Axe Kick requires a great amount of flexibility in order to be executed correctly.
The leg has to travel vertically upwards until it reaches its highest point then slam it down hard onto target.
It is used to target the head from above or the clavicle through the opponent’s guard. The clavicle is one of the most sensitive and most broken bones in fights.
The kick has to land with the heel which is a very solid and dense bone in the human body.
Examples of use of Axe kicks
Swiss Karateka and Kickboxer Andy Hug was famous for using the axe kick as a lethal weapon in his fights
This variation of Naeryo Chagi/Axe kick is executed with the same mechanisms except that the crescent kick follows a crescent path as its name suggests.
There are two variations of the crescent kick:
- Outward crescent kick : The motion of the kick has to be from inside to the outside, following a circular path.
- Inward crescent kick: The motion of the kick has to be from outside to the inside, following a circular path.
Functionality and purpose
The idea behind the circular motion is to counter the opponent if they are throwing a dollyo chagi (Roundhouse kick). The circular motion helps to deviate from the opponent’s strike.
Limitations of the crescent kick
This kick has its own limitations as it leaves the groin exposed while executing it.
Andy Hug was famous for using the axe kick as a lethal weapon in his fighting career.
1. This kick is one of the less effective kicks in self-defense as it does not generate a lot force to cause any significant damage.
2. Being one of the less effective kicks in Taekwondo does not mean that it should be neglected, the hook kick is the basis of one of the most devastating kicks in taekwondo and all martial arts, the spinning hook kick/wheel kick.
3. The strike should land with the heel not the sole of the foot.
A hook kick can be executed with the rear leg, but since it is not a powerhouse move it is preferable to execute it with the lead leg along with step skipping in order to gain more momentum and cover more distance rapidly.
4. In self-defense it is recommended to avoid the hook kick, since it does not have knockout power behind it.
How to use a hook kick in a Taekwondo match?
The best way to use a hook kick in a Taekwondo match is after executing a Dollyo Chagi (Roundhouse kick).
If you engage your hips fully into a roundhouse kick to generate more knockout power but you end up missing the target, your kick will throw you off balance because it will rotate beyond 180°.
So the hook kick would be a great surprising strike to the opponent before getting back to a normal stance.
The idea is that the opponent would be thinking that since you have already missed the roundhouse, you will just retreat and go back to your normal stance, it’s only then when the hook kick comes in surprise.
The back kick is one of the most powerful kicks and one of the most adopted kicks in all martial arts. The potential of damage that this kick has is one of the greatest.
Even though some call it a spinning back kick, the striking leg should go in a linear path.
The supporting foot should pivot until the heel faces the opponent. The striking leg should not be doing a 180° circle as in the wheel kick.
The back kick should land with the bottom of the heel not the ball of the foot. The bottom of the heel is an extremely solid and dense bone.
In order to have knockout power behind the back kick, when hitting the target you should not retreat the leg, instead, you have to drive through it and thrust all your weight into it (The leg retreat is a common technique in sparring in order to avoid injuring sparring partners).
Dwi chagi is generally aimed at the midsection (Solar plexus, liver, kidneys, etc.)
Back kicks require a great amount of accuracy, therefore a great amount of practice.
The back kick is a high risk move when it does not hit the target since it leaves the back exposed, that is why it should be executed surgically to the liver, solar plexus or the kidneys.
A back Dwi chagi is not a proactive move, it is mainly a reactive move. It is used mainly as a counter kick especially when the opponent throws a dollyo chagi (roundhouse kick) and their leg is flying in the air.
Do not use back kicks while going forward, it will throw you off balance and your opponent will see it a mile away. Use it only when going backwards or when stationary.
Spinning Hook kick is one of the best inventions of martial arts, it is one of the most beautiful kicks to watch and in the same time one of the most devastating kicks.
This kick is destined for advanced practitioners, you cannot start learning it before mastering the basic hook kick because they both end with the same mechanism.
The spinning hook kick has tremendous knockout power, if landed correctly it causes a knockout in most cases. Even if blocked it can still penetrate and cause significant damage.
The spinning hook kick is mainly targeted at the head and rarely to the body.
As in the back kick, the spinning hook kick is a counter move used against a roundhouse kick (Dollyo chagi) and in many other counterattack situations.
When executing the kick lean your body away from the opponent to avoid any risks of getting countered in case you miss the target.
Many practitioners, especially from disciplines other than taekwondo, make the error of telegraphing when they want to do a spinning technique, some make the error of making a step forward before throwing the kick.
Taekwondo teaches to execute spinning techniques without telegraphing.
In self-defense do not use this kick unless you are highly proficient in it. This kick will put you in great danger and leave your back exposed if you throw it incorrectly.
Spinning hook kicks can cause knee injury in the striking leg if you practice it regularly on a heavy bag.
All jumping kicks have the prefix “Twimyo” or “Twio” or sometimes “Idan” which means in Korean “Jump”.
Twimyo Ap Chagi or Idan Ap Chagi – Jump Front Kick
In terms of practicality and efficacy this kick is one of the most powerful techniques amongst jumping kicks.
In the World of MMA, former UFC champion introduced this kick when he knockout out Randy Couture by the same kick.
This kick generates more power than the regular Ap Chagi (Front Kick).
All instructions above concerning Ap Chagi apply to Twimyo Ap Chagi.
When to use Twimyo Ap Chagi – Jump Front Kick?
1. The jump front kick is used when the opponent is facing forward and the distance between you and the opponent is longer than your leg reach.
In this case a standard Ap Chagi will not reach the target, therefore a jump forward is added to it in order to land the strike.
2. Also, this technique is applied to reach taller opponents. In this case, instead of jumping forwards, the kick is performed by doing a vertical jump while still going slightly forward.
Twimyo Dwi Chagi – Jump Back Kick
The jump back kick is not a demonstration kick as some might think, this kick has its own purpose which is counter-kicking an advancing opponent while going backwards without losing balance.
Sometimes an opponent might advance with great velocity, throwing a regular back kick could throw you out of balance if the opponent absorbs it and still pushes forward. That’s when the jumping back kick comes into use.
Twimyo Yeop Chagi – Jump Side Kick/Flying Side Kick
The prerequisite of this kick is the basic side kick (Yeop Chagi).
This kick is used when there is a long distance to cover in order to reach the opponent.
The flying side kick relies mainly on momentum, so the more momentum you create the more powerful it is. Therefore you have to execute a short run towards the target in order to generate greater momentum and thrust all your weight into the target.
All the principles of the basic side kick apply to the flying side kick.
Tornado kick or 360 kick
The modern version of a tornado kick finishes with a roundhouse kick.
There is another less effective version executed with a crescent kick at the end, this version does not have much power behind it because it does not engage the hips like the one executed with a roundhouse kick.
The prerequisite to learning this kick is to master the roundhouse (Dollyo Chagi) because the 360 turn ends with the exact mechanisms of a roundhouse.
In order to perform a tornado kick, you need to adopt a side stance, not a square stance as in Muay Thai and kickboxing.
If you are in a Muay Thai or a kickboxing fight and you want to throw a tornado kick while still in a square stance, don’t switch to a side stance with a sudden move without reason, your opponent will guess that you are about to spin.
Always blind your opponent with feints, jabs, non-engaging kicks, etc. before switching to a side stance. Once you are in a side stance and you see an opening throw your kick, you might be surprised of how much damage the tornado kick can do to a human skull.
The jump should be towards the opponent not vertical.
The tornado move is an extremely advanced move in Taekwondo, do not attempt to use it in a self-defense situation unless you have absolute certainty that you are going to hit your target surgically.
If not, stick to the basics, Dollyo Chagi (Roundhouse kick), Ap Chagi (Front Kick), etc.
This kick, as any other turning kick, is mainly used for countering. But It can also be used rarely as part of an offensive combination of kicks e.g. Roundhouse followed by a spinning hook kick then followed by a tornado kick.
By throwing all those three kicks in combination, you give less opportunity for the opponent to enter in your leg reach without getting hit with one of these powerful kicks.
Most Taekwondo practitioners, even the advanced ones tend to only master this kick with one leg, depending on if they are right-handed or left-handed.
It is recommended to practice and master the kick perfectly with both legs so you can counter every leg your opponent uses accordingly.
The art of Taekwondo has invented a great number of kicks, the ones mentioned above are the most used and the most practical in Taekwondo matches and self-defense.
There are other beautiful kicks that can’t be used effectively in self-defense situations such as 540 kick, 720 kick, scissor kick, jump double front kick, etc. But they are still used in Taekwondo demonstrations as an assertion of the superiority and high level athleticism of Taekwondo as a martial art.