5 posts / 0 new
Last post
Anf's picture
Side kick origins vs modern

Hi all.

I was thinking today about possible origins of the opening 2 moves in the first pinan form. We step out to the left into a front stance and simultaneously execute a low block, then step forward and punch with the right.

Taken literally, it just seems so wrong. We know from Iain's videos, as well as common sense, that it makes no sense that you're blocking an incoming kick from the side, so I think we can rule that out.

While playing with it out in my garden today, it occurs to me that as we step out, if we just exaggerate that step very slightly, it almost becomes a side kick. And if that apparent low block is a bit more exaggerated, it doesn't seem to me to be inconceivable that it becomes either a hammer fist strike or a block and grab. We see exactly that at least twice in later pinan forms.

But this generates a problem. Slightly. If we make that step into a side kick, then it kind of kicks and then just lands. There's no return to chamber. It just lands when it runs out of energy at the end of the extension phase. On the plus side, it does kind of land in something between a front stance and a horse stance, which is where the text book step and block puts us.

So now I'm wondering about the side kick. I know Funakoshi describes a variant of it as a trample kick, and we know that it can be used to strike and then scrape down the opponents leg. From this then, is it fair to say that the old side kick didn't necessarily return to chamber? And if that's the case, also taking into account that Funakoshi said that kicking is the last resort, that the modern, snappy version that has us fire it out, sometimes head height, and snap it back again, is a later, competition oriented adaptation? Equally, is it possible I've gone off on a ridiculous tangent?

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

No idea on the history, but W.E. Fairbairn decribes a boot kick in All-in Fighting that looks very similar. I can't paste the picture in here due to the security settings at work but it is described this way:

"Turn sideways to your opponent... bending your leg slightly raise your foot 2 - 4 inches off the ground. Shoot the foot outwards aiming to strike just below the knee cap. Follow the blow through scraping your opponent's shin with the edge of the boot from the knee to the instep finishing up with all your weight on your foot and smash the bones of the foot. Follow up with a chin jab with the [other side] hand." 

The picture looks like move 3 - 5 of Heian Shodan / Pinan Nidan.. 

You can see a partial image here http://thortrains.blogspot.com/2015/10/classic-hand-to-hand-combat.html, part way down the page in the old three stage photo that begins "The knee kick is simple". Check out the other pictures from the old books on this page - many looking very similar to bunkai interpretations.

Anf's picture

Hi Neil. Thanks for the excellent input. And what a website you've found. That's excellent. I'll be on the lookout for the book referenced in it.

Marc's picture

Hi Anf,

there are four different topics in your post.

a) Is there a kicking technique in kata that stamps to the knee and scrapes down the shin.

This is certainly a viable technique and we can certainly see it in katas where we raise the knee and then stamp down, e.g. Heian-Sandan.

b) Is there an older version of side kicks, like those we find in Heian-Nidan/Pinan-Shodan or Heian-Yondan, that did not snap back but instead stamp down?

Maybe, but I have not yet seen any evidence of it. Also all Heian/Pinan versions I've seen do snapping kicks.

The actual side kicks (as in your body does not turn and you hit with the edge of the foot) seem to be a newer version, introduced by Yoshitaka Funakoshi. The older version as well as most non-Shotokan styles turn the body into the direction of the kick and then do a kind of front kick.

c) Is the modern kicking style at head height a modern competition oriented adaptation.

Yes, certainly. Originally all the kicks were low.

d) Has the first step in Heian-Shodan/Pinan-Nidan historically been a kind of stomping side kick?

I don't belive it has. I'm not aware of any version of the kata or its derivates (Taekwondo etc.) that does any sort of kick with the first step to the left. If it once had been a kick, I would expect it to have been retained in some lineage somewhere.

There are variations, however, that start the kata to the left with moves #1-3 as a hammerfist, followed by a stepping punch and a turning Gedan-Barai, just like moves #4-6 to the right. So the sequence would be mirrored left and right, like the other two sequences that go left and right in the middle of the kata and at the end. To me that makes a lot of sense.

All the best,


Heath White
Heath White's picture

I've been reading a bit about side kicks, here is the best I can  reconstruct the history.

In Itosu's Pinan forms, the "side kicks" in P1 and P4 were like front kicks but  delivered out to the side.  Funakoshi seems to have turned them into genuine side kicks, delivered with the blade of the foot.  They are presented this way in the earliest edition of Karate-do Kyohan and also in his 1925 book.  

Why would he do this?  Maybe just to make it different or more challenging.  But here is another theory.  Funakoshi is also big on "trample steps", fumikomi, to the side.  He puts these in where older versions of forms just have steps, for example in H3 (stepping with the elbow wing) and in Bassai (on the U-punches); he also performs them recovering from the "returning wave kicks" in Naihanchi.  (So the leg comes up and in for the wave kick, then a big stomp returning to earth.)  The side kick is sort of a fumikomi but higher, and it retracts where the fumikomi stomps straight down. 

All this suggests an emphasis on attacking to the side with the leg.  Maybe that in turn suggests that Funakoshi liked to fight from a bladed stance.  I have seen it suggested that Funakoshi might have gotten this particular set of techniques from his primary master, Anko Azato.  As far as I know, there are no other significant students of Azato, and this side-attack-with-legs might be his legacy.