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Training the Legs

(The Original of the article was published in The Journal of Asian Martial Arts with photographs-due to interest and until I can get that up I insert this old draft here with photos I can find)

The Lower Body; Training from Traditions and Science

The purpose of this article is to present various training methods for the lower body. The lower body will be defined here generally as the region of the body from the waist (area between short rib and hip bone) downward. This may -depending on the kind of movement – include aspects of the human musculature which are indirectly involved with this region like the muscles of the upper abdomen including the obliques and mid-thoracic extensor muscles. The training methods presented will work along two lines-that of time or history i.e. modern methods verses traditional methods, and that of geography and culture or “East verses West”. For the reader’s ease the presentation will follow a sequence going from ideas common to martial arts practitioners to less common ideas. In this way a reader can bridge familiar and unfamiliar concepts without losing orientation to the main theme. We will begin with what is one of the most common positions for training the lower body in Asian Martial Arts – the Horse Stance.


The Horse Stance; Fact from Fiction

Many of the readers may be familiar with the stories circulated about various schools and methods’ teaching of the “Horse Stance” or “Horse Step”. In all of these tales and analysis I have yet to find one that actually addresses the core of it’s significance. I would state plainly here that the horse stance is- in essence- for fighting from horseback. It seems forgotten among some martial arts teachers that the chief mode of transport before the car was the horse. And the horse prevailed as a main form of transport in both East and West for well over a thousand years. For this stance to be a standard position and/or training in Shaolin Temple Boxing would only follow the fashion and needs of the time. The Shaolin Militia which often supported the emperors army – used them too. Hence it only makes sense these men would be required to know how to fight on horseback. Horses however were expensive and lacking a horse one could practice maneuvers in the horse-riding stance before adding the complication of the horse. In the West this pre-training for horse riding resulted in the Olympic event of the Pommel Horse, which is simply how to maneuver in the saddle and mount and dismount. In the East what seems to have occurred is simply the placement of the horse stance as the basis of combative training.

The horse is an incredibly sensitive animal and as riding a horse is an art in itself it makes sense that the art of riding and the art of hand/weapon techniques against an adversary would- at least in the beginning- be separated. The horse stance training indeed gives one incredibly strong legs but legs trained to do only one thing – stand in the stirrups and balance someone in the saddle. Interestingly, outside of horse riding this type of stance functions in various widths as something all power lifters in the weight lifting fraternity know as The Squat. To make my point clearer I ask the reader to visualize a horse race and note the jockey’s position on the horse with knees well bent and the shortened stirrups. The jockey’s shortened stirrups require a much deeper squat than other types of saddles. But all types of riding require the legs out and knees bent. Often the knees are slightly in and give further steering cues to the horse.

The muscles used and “tuned” in the horse stance training are generally the same ones used for the squat. The squat is arguably the foundation (with the dead lift) of all power lifting. I suspect some of the old masters and teachers knew this and that is why they emphasized horse stance training as good or essential foundation work. This may indeed by why Thomas Jefferson advised two hours a day of horseback riding to maintain maximum fitness! the horse stance training addresses both an extremely practical function-fighting on horse back- but also a sort of universal strengthening aspect too as the legs and low back are the foundation of all upper body movement and activity in a standing body. I was taught by power lifter and circus strongman Tim Geoghegan that if I reached a plateau in strength with my upper body I should go back and work with heavy squatting for a few sessions. There seems to be a triggering mechanism between the lower and upper body which then allows one to break through previous limitations with the upper body.

In the context of squatting heavy weight to optimize the load bearing capacity of the skeleton via the legs and hips the width of the squatting stance/squat must be narrow – shoulder width – to channel the weight straight through the knees to the feet. The wider the horse stance is- the more the knees are pushed out or in by the descending weight. The stress on the knees – in too wide a stance – can result in injury so it’s best to have the legs as straight under the shoulders as possible. Also the wider the stance the less practical for empty hand combat it becomes. Too wide a stance and the waist/hips cannot rotate at all and so pulling and defensive turning of the torso are minimalized. Too wide a stance and one cannot shift weight without moving the head. This results in you letting your opponent know when you are about to do something whether it is a punch or a kick. Li Shou-tien (Rose Li – student of Hsing-I master Teng Yun-feng) once said to me, “In Tai Chi Chuan if you have to move your head to lift your foot then your stance is too wide.” So the compact stance has many reasons including support of heavy weight and particular control of the head position.

So the width and depth of this rather universal position depends on application. It can be used for both physical training and combat – including horse riding. The stance is also used to test a students determination by having them hold it for extended lengths of time. Some teachers have written of holding it for “hours” but on a more practical note “minutes” is more reasonable.

Stance verses Step- importance of the foot

Martial Arts require the practitioner to have more than the ability to squat and ride and so there are other ways to train the legs. Various moving sequences, “shadow boxing”, (Japanese; Kata) in all arts show a variety of what have been come to known as “stances”. Most of these “stances” function as strengthening exercises when done statically. And with an opponent of equal weight the ability to sink into a stance is excellent for pushing or driving them back with strikes. However the various stances most practically function against a larger opponent as stepping movements. The front weighted stance of Karate actually works as a lunge, especially when the rear leg is allowed to follow step or drag behind for balance. This is also seen in Western Fencing. The back weighted stances work best as diagonal retreats which not only keep the head safe but also prepare the front leg for kicking. Others stances show remarkable usefulness once they are perceived as stepping movements rather than static training. So from this we can understand two distinct ways to train the legs; one is static training or holding postures and the other is moving or stepping and jumping postures.

Once we make the transition from standing to stepping or leaping or lunging new factors arise. Foot and ankle injuries become more prevalent. I recall in my discussions with a baseball scout the repeated broken feet of pro and semi pro baseball players. The torque on the ankles and feet of running the bases and sliding in took it’s toll on the feet. Indeed, the forces acting on the foot and ankle and knee increase exponentially with the demands of jumping and leaping and lunging. This new level of demand was likely the neccesity that created some of the more specialized work on the legs and feet as we see in the training of Wan Lai-sheng.

Wan Lai-sheng in his text “Inner and Outer Work” writes of this training and demonstrates some of it. Though Wan was a specialist in Tzu Ren Chuan or “Spontaneous Boxing” he considered the specialized training of the feet the fastest accelerator in “foothold training” for all boxing arts. The specificity of Wan’s instructions is noteworthy. In paraphrase he advocates using wooden rods about 2 inches in thickness driven into the ground with flat tops and copper wire wrapped around the tops to prevent splintering.


One stands on these with soft shoes each day as one can -increasing the time. The reader will find even a few minutes effective as an isometric exercise! The first 33 days one stands with the middle sole, the second 33 days the heel, then the final 34 days the front sole of the foot. 100 days is one cycle. The full routine is 300 days. According to Wan this does to the feet and legs what normally takes 5-6 years of stance or “foot-hold” training. Most significant is the simple fact that the entire bottom of the foot is pressed open, and the muscles are made more sensitive and articulate through the pressure. It is sort of the opposite or reverse-engineering of Chinese “foot-binding”! It is a practical way to reconstruct or entrain all of the muscles of the foot.

The direction of pressure going up from the foot into the knee and hip and spine has its effect too- the part of the foot one stands on- totally changes the muscular forces which go up into the knee joint and hip. So the entire leg is thoroughly trained to bear the body’s weight in three distinct places in the foot. This in turn requires precise adjustments of the entire leg and it’s muscular connections in the low back. So not only does the foot and leg get specific muscular training, the nerves which sense positioning of the leg,hip,knee,ankle – the proprioceptors- are precisely entrained to three positions. Even more intensely trained are the nerves which detect pressure, the baroreceptors in the feet. These nerves not only are chiefly responsible for your balance on your feet but also have immense psychological value as they literally tell you “you are here” that is – how you standing and where you are bearing your weight.

The photos demonstrate my updated version of this kind of training done with car jacks. The placement of these is about shoulder width…about the same you would use for heavy squatting. Wan advocates a toe’d out low horse which is fine if you have the knees for it. If not you can modify the training, standing higher with the feet parallel to protect the knees. I position the car jacks in front of a column so I have something to touch for balance. Holding this position will cause you to adjust your breathing for balance. Initially you might sway forward and backward but you can stop this uncontrolled swaying by changing your way of breathing. By this I mean how your ribs and diaphragm move when you breathe. Because the diaphragm attaches to the low back and exerts pressure into the pelvic cavity the practitioner can feel this amplified by the deep squat. Eventually you will develop a way to breathe which will not shift your weight. This is one explanation of the Chinese phrase of “keeping your Ch’i down”. I advocate experimenting with pelvic angels in this low squat. “Butt Out” and “Butt Down” are essentially articulations of the tail bone. Most of the uncertainty of how far out your butt should go “out” in this position will be resolved by simply finding what part of your foot the weight is pressing into. This training will resolve any issues the student may have of stance width and general posture by making them completely conscious of where in their feet their weight actually is. This training will also reduce – if not eliminate – any kind of flat footedness or tendency for the foot to roll in or out during form practice or daily life. So this simple training protocol goes a long way to avoid future ankle and knee injury. Because of it’s intensity this training must be approached with intelligence and gradualness. A little every day or every other day, gradually increasing the difficulty. I don’t think the practitioner needs more than a minute in each position to “get the idea”. But doing it every day will condition the habit of position and the sensitivity- hence the 300 day regimen.

What Wan does not include in his routine is what I would call the compensatory or “balancing exercises”. Modern athletic training takes these into consideration. Muscles and tendons work in complementary pairs or sets (sometimes called antagonistic and agonistic). The compensatory leg exercise for the squat is the leg extension or straightening of the leg. Power lifters do it automatically. But martial arts practitioner who simply hold the horse stance position as an isometric exercise do not. One possible effect of training long term static squatting which the author has encountered is the loosening of the patella or knee cap. To keep the patella tight and maintain knee joint integrity leg extension exercise is very important. This can be done with a weight-lifting machine but much of the same effect on the kneecap/joint can be done by jumping exercises, specifically those that involve jumping upwards rather than outwards.

The compensatory foot exercise for this kind of standing practice is contracting the toes DOWNWARD like picking up small stones or marbles with your bare toes. An exercise often given by Doctors for patients with “flat feet” or lack of tone in their instep. The Cherokee Indian used a similar exercise by putting smooth creek stones in a soft bag of skin or cloth and “grabbing” it with their toes.

The 300 Day Training is used by Wan as the foundation for running and jumping. In other words, once you have developed “the super foot” you then progress to “the super leg”. Wan advocates running on the pegs- 23 of them- in a row and then adding weight – a sand vest or something like that. The point, I believe to the training is that once the pressure on the foot is precise- the leg is strengthened in all manner of ways, running and jumping being primary. Running with ankle weights or a sand vest is advocated again- as a gradual build up- going up to about 70 lbs with the vest. I know of no one currently doing this “extreme” long term kind of training in the US or China. But I do hope someone experiments with this kind of training as I think the outcome will be both fascinating and useful for all athletes. Wan advocates training jumping technique by either jumping over an object or digging a hole and jumping out of it. The Tibetans in their “Lung Gom ” (“Air Training”) practices do this sitting in a hole -cross legged and jumping straight up). Weight Vests were/are also used in traditional Chinese training. Depending on the desired ability both height and length of the jump are gradually increased. The difference between this kind of jumping and that seen in the movies is purely practical. These skills were for jumping over objects as opposed to looking good in the movies. There are no gymnastic flips or turns listed in the jumping training. The reader would do well to keep in mind all of this training was outside of “form” or “kata” practice. However the strength and the skill of this training would be present in the practitioner when they did forms, hence a man doing a Tai Chi chuan form may be known for this kind of jumpingability and have it wrongly attributed to the practice of Tai Chi chuan rather than specific agility or “Ching-gung”/”Lightness” training.

Thus far the role of the horse stance, squat, lunge, run and jump have been discussed. We have looked at some traditional Chinese techniques for developing these abilities but we have also looked at some modern Western physical education techniques as well. Keep in mind the chief differences between the two are this: the Traditional Chinese Way is gradual and long term over many years oriented to a long life. The Western weight lifting techniques are oriented to rapid results and also focused on games and athletic competition with a tendency to cease or lessen training when the competitive days are over. Both kinds of training are useful and in our day are coming together to form a new hybrid kind of training. But the previous methods of training the leg are not complete. So now we will proceed on to look at using the leg to kick. And we will look at kicking again through the lens of both East and West and Past and Present.


The Two Main Kicks

All of the above leg training does not directly touch on the art of Kicking. Assuming the practitioner has the above training we can be sure they will have an above-the-normal-potency low front kick as the low front kick is simply an exaggerated step forward. And that kick in both French Savate, Greek Pankration and “Chinese Boxing” appears the most important one as it is the most natural and easy to gain proficiency in. It is also easy to mix with hand techniques and hand feints.The most often seen articulation is with the leg rotated slightly outward, in a stamping or scraping style. It is not a flamboyant kick and due to it’s lethality is actually illegal in most of the sport “martial arts”. It is more effective, like all kicks, with the shoes on.

The low side kick, also seen often in Asian methods but rarely in Western methods can be viewed as a simple extension of side stepping. In fact the movement can be developed beautifully from skipping sideways in horse stance.


These two low kicks are the “workhorses” of the Chinese Boxing curriculum and universal throughout Asia though the side kick is not always emphasized in some systems. Given these are the easiest and also the most useful kicks the question remains of how you train them.

Wan Lai-sheng lists wrapping wooden stakes driven into the ground (three feet submerged and two feet above ground) and wrapped with twined linen as the padded target of choice. He advises to kick them for a little time each day-not too hard at first – for as many days as required to work them out of the ground.

Then when they finally get “kicked out” of the ground. You have a good kick! Or as the Chinese would say “You have leg Kung-fu” or “Leg Work with Time”. A more accurate translation is “the skill which you can develop with your legs over a long time”. I would duct-tape these “kicking cylinders” for further weather proofing and longevity. Remember you are wearing shoes so your feet are actually protected when kicking these objects. One could use pvc pipe lengths instead of wood but it may spring less on each kick and when weathered- tend to splinter more easily. So again I would duct tape the pvc in case it dries and begin to splinter. You could try steel posts but remember wood has a certain amount of “give” just as your bones do. Steel does not. So you would have to compensate with a lot more padding. I’d advocate double or triple layers of piper insulation wrapped in duct tape and then add the twined linen. I would not anticipate kicking them out of the ground – depending on how deep they are placed of course.

So we have the low front and low side kick as primary skills and to this we could add the low back kick as it is useful in a crowd.


These allow good hard low kicking to any of the four directions around the body. These kicks use the musculature largely developed from stance and step training and do not require exceptional flexibility. All body types and especially larger and heavier body types can perfect these kicks with little difficulty. Lighter and leaner body types along with the more petite muscular types however can add other skills to their martial repertoire and so we have next the high kicks.


High Kicks-Why and How

High kicking is less important in any combat (war) system as it leaves the kickers testicles and kicking leg too vulnerable to being hit or grabbed. But if the high kick is fast and precise it can work beautifully as a surprise tactic, especially to the face. Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido some Northern Shaolin, Ba-gua all have high kicking. In the West French Savate has high kicking and among the legends of Ireland the tribe of Finn had to be able to touch their own foreheads with a kick of their foot!

To high kick one often has to raise the knee higher than normal (for a step) on any kick. Once you do this- a new repertoire is revealed. This brings us to the array of kicks which “chamber” the leg before releasing.


By this I mean raising one foot to the height of the opposite knee or higher – and then kicking outward and retracting the foot straight back. This kind of jabbing or stabbing kick is a much more specialized movement, takes longer and demands more energy as high repetitions will show. The reader is invited to try a dozen a high kicks of any kind and a dozen low kicks of any kind and see how they feel! As soon as the knee is raised to waist height or higher the muscles of the low back, hips (rotators, hamstrings, quads, lower abdomen including piriformus, gammelis, other adductors and abductors) and sides (obliques, low back extensors) become much more involved and activated with the kick. So the art of what I would term middle-level kicking in which the knee of the kicking foot is raised to the height of the waist or higher necessitates the further training of the hips, midsection and low back as well as the legs (which should already be in good shape from the previous squat,stance and step training).

The Higher Kicks to all directions-Front and Side Kicks-the application of ankle weights

The higher front kick

The front kick to the belly or groin with the toe from the rear foot (illegal in Savate now) is probably the most potent of the higher kicks. It was said Vigneron, a Savate teacher in France “disemboweled” a man in the ring with it. (Vigneron was a big and powerful man who could fire a small cannon of his shoulder – remember also they wore shoes in the ring). The French trained their kicks by wearing heavy boots and kicking a string hanging in a door way. The same method can be used for training the faster front kick- the one done with the front foot.


The key muscle group of the mid to high front kick is in the lifting muscles of the leg especially the psoas muscles. This kick like many other kicks is much faster if you do not chamber it first. However a kick which lifts the foot right into a line to the target-with minimal “chambering” requires special training for the hips, abs and back. Slow kicking with ankle weights can really give you the strength you need for this kick. Training at full speed with ankle weights is not recommended as it can injure all the joints and provide all sorts of tearing and “whip lash” effects to the low back, particularly the 3rd Lumbar bone (which takes a lot of the stress of articulating the upper trunk) and also to the hamstring attachments behind the knee as well as injury to the knee joint itself. I recall my favorite Hapkido practitioner Bong Soo Han (in an article in Black Belt magazine) could not kick at all in his last years and he spoke of how “hard” the old training of Hapkido was—sand bags on the back and legs, running and kicking like mad, etc. But apparently NOT trained with intelligence. (It is truly up to modern martial arts practitioners to avoid the mistakes of their elders).

The advantage to “chambering” the kick is that you can kick quickly and retract your foot – making it difficult to grab or block. But the hamstrings have to be built up slowly for this kind of action especially as the hamstring muscles are rarely used in a complete range of movement (that is fully extended and then fully contracted). Running up hill is one way to make hamstrings stronger. The less aerobic way is a leg curl machine. If you are holding your opponents arm or arms/jacket or neck – as in some systems of Chinese Boxing – the speed of the kick’s retraction is not as relevant. However if you are wearing gloves – as in kick boxing – the retraction of the leg becomes extremely important.

The Higher Side Kick

The stamping side kick with the sole of the foot or heel used to the opponent’s midsection is found in Karate, Savate and variations of Chinese Shaolin.

The French like to skip into this kick and the films taken between WWI and WWII of Count Baruzy show this (they were on youtube). The Indonesians in their Pentjak-like the French- practice stepping behind the base leg or in front of the base leg to move into the kick (see Draeger and Chamber’s “Pentjak-Silat”). Sometimes this kick uses the outer edge of the foot. The Japanese version “snaps” the kick out and in from the height of the opposite knee.


For this kick ankle weights used in slow movements and particularly the Nautilus Abduction-Adduction (to separate and bring the legs together) machine is useful. There are many pulley type devices available to stretch the leg and hip which can be useful if used intelligently.

The back kick is a naturally strong movement and extremely effective particularly if the hands/wrists are grabbed from behind.

The element of surprise is present if you do it low so as to avoid your head moving.


In World War II W. E. Fairbairn taught this kick as a response to a bear hug from behind. His version was a shin scraping kick downward with combat boots on. It also works well as a direct “Donkey Kick” straight back. Both the slow balanced stepping of Tai chi and the use of ankle weights can assist the back kicking ability. Necessity may require you to duck/bow as you kick and if that is the case balance is best achieved by aligning the torso with the kicking leg. (the alignment of the torso and leg is significant as an alignment for balance of the entire body. In the West Agrippa and some of the early Masters of Fencing demonstrate it in their texts).

Circular Kicks

The circular kicks, cinematic and beautiful to watch like the “round-house” with ball of foot or instep, Thai shin kicks, spinning back kick, frontal crescent kicks the “Ax kick” etc all require the hips and low back to do an extraordinary amount of movement outside the normal physical range of walking. Both mobility and strength of the hips and low back- in difficult positions- is tested to the maximum. This becomes more true as the kicks get higher and less practical. Slow motion work of these kicking motions with ankle weights of 2-4 lbs is very much recommended. This will develop both the balance and musculature. Body structure is a big consideration on these kicks and they are not generally the big man’s forte.

My own experience with these indicates that a basic Hatha Yoga routine is helpful to both recuperate from – and develop – the ability to do these kicks. The frontal bend of Hatha Yoga held for at least a minute with the complementary Cobra for the same time along with the “Split” practiced against the wall for the same amount of time and even much longer, after a hot sauna or a good 15-20 minute warm- up run will help with increasing flexibility. Sprinters and those who do a lot of running and nothing else will find the “split” or leg abduction difficult initially as they have developed their musculature for the single activity of running and are now working with activities dedicated to separating their limbs to the sides rather than forward and back.

Those who do Capoiera (the African-Brazilian Martial Art) already combine yoga type range of movement with their kicking. Their slow motion cartwheeling and back bending condition them in the best way to high kick with little difficulty. They are in the best condition to do high kicking safely due to their fine balance and strength and three point positions (one hand on the floor). Incidentally, like Capoiera the French Savate too used the side kick and back kick with one hand on the ground.

Thus far we have looked at stance, step, low and high kicking and methods old and new which can be used to develop them as skills. No kicking skill is complete without the actual ability to kick SOMETHING. So we will look briefly at things to kick. Balls and bags. As kicking the end of a string with heavy boots (from Savate) was mentioned earlier along with kicking stakes in the ground we now go to the heavy bag.

Considerations on heavy bag training for kicking

The issue of impact is a big one. The practitioner obviously wants to be able to continue to use their feet to walk so it is important not too abuse the feet through kicking an object which is too hard. If the practitioner is kicking barefoot the softness of a bag whether it’s leather, canvas or plastic/vinyl is a very important issue. It is advisable, whatever the material you are kicking to build up impact as you become accustomed to kicking an object and only then to kick with more strength. After kicking a heavy bag it is good to massage the feet and check the skin for abrasions or cuts.

All cultures through history use hanging bags of leather or canvas. Both Irish (Celtic) and Chinese traditions* have stipulated a heavy bag of around 300 lb.(notes on the Celt bag from Tim Geoghegan and notes on the Hsing-I heavy bag from Kuo Feng-chih via Robert W. Smith). That is a very heavy bag when compared with the average “heavy bag” used now – most of which run around the 80-100 pound weight. (I am aware of some of the newest heavier designs). However the typical modern “heavy bag” was oriented originally to boxing and use of the hands. The older heavier bag makes sense particularly if it is used for kicking. I believe the reason for such a heavy bag was to learn to stop some one who was already moving toward you i.e. a 150 pound man moving toward you fast enough would be like 300 pounds.

I have found few specifics as to what these bags were filled with. As a very hard bag will break the hands and feet I must assume these bags were soft enough to hit without hurting the hands and feet. Traditional boxing bags – pre 1950 -were stuffed with horse hair, cotton, rags, even saw dust and grain. Incidentally many commercially available bags are MUCH harder than the human body and those who use them must be careful to use protection on the feet too. The ideal bag would not require gloves or foot protection. The water bags now available are body-compatible and recommended as well as foam wrapped bags. The Makiwara of Karate tradition has it’s merits in that is teaches a peculiar kind of punch which can go through a blocking maneuver. I am not altogether sure of it’s relevance to kicking except as a way to learn precision. But the skin hardening it requires (the practitioner is kicking barefoot against a rope fiber pad) needs to be considered as the foot can be de-formed as well as re-formed. The Chinese sometimes made hitting cushions out of dog skin for the hands. I am unsure if they made them for the feet. As most forms of Chinese Boxing wear shoes I would think not.

Taking Care of the Skin

Traditionally in Chinese Boxing the hands were treated with “Jiao” or “hitting medicine” an alcohol based herb linament which has it’s commercial version “Gin Gui Shui”. These linaments not only protect the skin but also disinfect it. The same analgesic medicine can also benefit the foot but is less necessary if you are wearing shoes when you kick. Sometimes modern folk forget the blessings of modern sanitation. Infections of all kinds, particularly the skin were something soldiers, boxers and wrestlers have always been acutely aware of. Combative Fencers found cuts to the shin- though not debilitating often led to long term fatal infections (from an interview with Harry Snowise, Jujitsu teacher and fencer in Capetown, S. Africa). Wrestlers of the pre 1950 era were well aware of the trichinosis or fungus which came off the horse hair wrestling mats and went into the throat and eyes (talk with Tim Geoghegan). In Ancient times African, Greek and Indian martial arts men were careful to oil their skin using almond or olive oil to help prevent tearing, maintain heat and extend endurance. (interview with Tara Singh, Indian Wrestling Champion in Bombay, 1995/see Joseph Alter’s “Wrestlers Body”) Some traditions-notably-Greek and African- put wood ash- either directly on the skin or over the oil as a sterilizer of cuts. It is no coincidence that Shiva, the god of war in India has a body covered with Ash. The Christian “Ash Wednesday” has some connections to this ancient idea of curing cuts and healing with the sterilizing power of ashes. How all this relates to kicking can be summed up by saying, “Oil the legs and hips and feet to protect the skin, pay particular attention to any cuts on the feet or shins and use appropriate medicines for them.” Naturally this advice extends to the rest of the body as well.

Some mechanical considerations on kicking-protect your knee joints

Probably the single most important aspect of kicking the heavy bag is be sure the knee stays bent even at impact. The spinning back or “wheel” kick with the heel has sometimes been taught with a straight leg and this basically cracks the knee joint in the opposite direction it moves.

Bad Idea. Keep the leg bent on impact on this kick.


Crescent kicks with the sole or edge of the foot torque the collateral ligaments which stabilize the knee. I would avoid these on the heavy bag and use them only on focus pads or mitts. The shin kicks of Thailand or kicking with the instep are safe on soft bags but will create arthritis/cracking/micro-tears on the tibia if done on overly hard bags. The knees should be aligned from the foothold training but the knee joints themselves can be lubricated, aligned and strengthened by doing leg extensions on a weight machine with emphasis on the final ten degrees of movement and “locking out” the joint-to keep the patella and it’s attachments strong. Wan Lai-sheng advises massaging the knees, sitting on the ground with legs extended straight out in front, massaging the kneecap with the two fingers of the opposite hand approximately 20-40 circles with each hand on each knee. I have found this remarkably helpful in that it seems to “tune-up” or sensitize both baro and proprioceptor nerves of the knee joint.

Those with knee problems of any kind will find this helpful. Add lineament to this massage to make it even more nurturing.

In summary it is important to realize thorough training of the leg includes work on the sole of the foot, even the toes as well as the hip and low back. The articulation and strength of the leg depends not only on the leg but on what is at either end of the leg – both the hip and even the toes. The more we understand how parts connect to the whole in history, geography and in our body – the better we can train safely and continue to train throughout our lives.Traditional martial arts have left methods and techniques along their paths. Modern research and physical education also continues to contribute extremely useful tools and techniques. By putting these two together I believe we can fuse the best of tradition and science to create a new paradigm of physical power, health and longevity.

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Tara Singh 1995 at his home in Bombay, India
Dean Gruell, Baseball Scout at his home in Long Beach, CA 1989
Li, Shou-tien (“Rose”)teacher of Chinese Martial Arts, from lessons in 1980, London
Harry Snowise, Fencer, Jujitsu teacher, horseman interview Capetown, S.A. 2003
Marnix Wells, Chinese Scholar at his home East Croydon, London 2008
Tim Geoghegan, Osteopath and Wrestler/Strongman from his home in Black Mountain,N.C. 1992

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    1. only if increasing weight by large amounts of 10-20 lbs increments…your comment is specific-and I agree- to heavier weight lifting and higher reps. The old routine of strong men was 3 sets of 25 every seven days going up to body weight…with modern training using lighter weight and fewer reps perhaps twice a week depending on what other movement is used…Indian Wrestlers do 1000 squats no weight every day. So for them it is an aerobic warm up but at a bodyweight of 200 pounds or more still impressive…IF I am understanding what you mean. ?