Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The dreaded toe kick

gosh, that looks painful!

Kim used to tell the story about a famous public demonstration of karate given by (Chojun) Miyagi in 1924 (another source gives the date of 1927). Miyagi performed several superhuman feats, such as thrusting his hands into a bunch bamboo and pulling one out of the center, and jumping up and kicking the ceiling of the demonstration hall. To many, however, it was Miyagi’s toe kick that was most impressive. Kicking with his big toe, he punctured holes in a kerosene can.

During our Tan Tui review class on Sunday, there was much interest in the delivery of kicks in the form. Much like in Tang Soo Do, various parts of the foot - ball, heel, instep, outer edge -- are used during kicks. The one that really caught a few people's attention was that of the toe kick. More than a few people winced at the thought of the pain caused by a toe kick. Although, I'd reckon more people cringed how much the kicker's toes would hurt rather than the person receiving the kick.

The more I think about it, the more a toe kick makes sense. When you look at the culture surrounding martial arts, it would be very likely that you would perform a kick barefoot if caught indoors, etc. Anyone who has ever sparred knows the pain of getting a toe jammed by a block, pulled back, caught on a mat, etc. Imagine if a little conditioning could go towards preventing such problems.

In modern times, we mostly wear shoes. I have a pair of wingtip dress shoes that are quite pointy at the top. Now my toe kick is reinforced by leather and rubber sole. Imagine that pointy shoe driving up into your juevos or perenium. Thoughts like that keep me warm at night!

I remember playing soccer in little leagues. It was a very common thing for new kids to use the infamous "toe ball" kick. It was extremely powerful, and usually a lot easier than the instep kick. The only problem, it was very unpredictable because of the spin. Also unless you hit the ball dead center, who knows exactly where it was going to go! From that experience I know that I can kick something with my toe and get a fair amount of power behind it. Of course, that was a leather padded air bladder, and not something extremely hard. Very much unlike THIS guy:

(check it our especially at :30 and 1:20 for the relevant bits)

I've never attempted the conditioning needed for a strong toe kick. I have, on occasion tried a type of reinforced toe kick which I found in Nagamine's book on Okinawan karate. Take your 2nd toe, and cross it over the top of your big toe and squeeze the two together. Jam that into your opponent, especially into a floating rib point, and they will be unhappy. I've yet to try this again since breaking my toe on a mat this spring.

This sort of thing interests me on many levels. Above all is the dedication it must take to hone such a sensitive part of the body into a powerful weapon. This isn't something you can do in one class and add to your toolbox. Once you acquire the skill, you then have to continually polish it or your toes will return to being floppy little pain receptors that find furniture in the middle of the night.

For more info on toe kicks, I encourage you to check out this 3 part article by Christopher Caile. Here are Parts 2 and 3.
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