UFC 161 Judo Chop: James Krause lands a cartwheel kick

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

At UFC 161, James Krause made an impressive UFC debut, including landing a rare cartwheel kick. In this Bloody Elbow Judo Chop, Fraser Coffeen breaks down the cartwheel kick, what Krause did right, and how it could have been improved.

UFC 161 was, generally speaking, a dud, but there were a few real highlights to the show none the less. One of those highlights: James Krause. The debuting Krause put on a show against Sam Stout, outstriking the veteran before submitting him late in the fight. It was a confident, commanding performance from Krause, and for me, one moment truly captured that confidence - the cartwheel kick. And so here, in this Bloody Elbow Judo Chop, we take a look at the cartwheel kick, breaking down how this strike can be used effectively.

Before diving into this Chop, let's get this out of the way - the cartwheel kick is a pretty ridiculous strike. It's considerably more flash than substance - a strike that looks good and wows the crowd, but seldom does much damage. That said, if landed correctly, it can indeed do real damage, as Brian Ebersole demonstrated with this cartwheel kick KO back in 2009:

So when it succeeds, what is it that actually makes the cartwheel kick effective? It has two things going for it, and both are important elements of any effective striking: rotation, and misdirection.


1. ROTATION - I have talked about this in a previous Judo Chop, but this is a huge aspect of striking. Truly effective shots are not thrown from just the leg or arm. The power comes from the entire body, rotating through to maximize the impact. Take a basic leg kick as a great example - the power there starts with the attacker pivoting on his lead leg. At the same time, he swivels his hips, turns his body, and throws the kick. Essentially, the foot becomes the end of a giant whip made up of the attacker's entire body.This is what gives power to a strike, just as it gives power when swinging a golf club or a baseball bat.

For the cartwheel kick, the attacker again uses this rotation, he just shifts it to a vertical rotation. As you can see in the image above, Krause is twisting his whole body, getting all of his momentum behind this one kick.


2. MISDIRECTION - The most effective strike is the one that lands clean. Getting through an opponent's defense is pivotal to successful striking. You can have the perfect technique, but if your opponent has the defense to counter everything you throw, it won't be effective. One way to deal with this issue is misdirection - getting your opponent to think a strike is coming to one area, then surprising him by targeting a different area. An easy example here: throw a series of low kicks, and once your opponent drops his hands to defend the low kick, deliver a head kick to the now exposed head.

The cartwheel kick is great for this, simply because it is so unexpected. As you can see from the first image, as Krause goes into the cartwheel, Stout, normally a very technically sound fighter on the feet, has his hands in a very awkward position. He's simply unsure what to defend because he doesn't know what's coming. The result can be seen just above - Stout has let his left arm drop completely, exposing his head for the kick.

GIF of James Krause Cartwheel Kick

These then are the plusses of the cartwheel kick, yet it's still an extremely low percentage kick. Krause's kick is a good example of that - he lands it clean, yet still doesn't do much damage, merely off-balancing Stout. Why? Because he simply doesn't have much power on it. Krause makes two mistakes that make the kick ineffective, both related to rotation:

1. He kicks with the lead leg. Contrast that with Ebersole's KO above where it is the rear leg of the cartwheel that connects. The lead leg should be used to generate more momentum in the cartwheel, the rear leg to channel that momentum into a strike. Ebersole captures more spin in his rear leg, making it a harder shot.

2. He doesn't actually kick. Essentially, Krause just does a cartwheel and along the way moves his foot towards Stout's head. Again, this is not effectively maximizing the rotation. Think once more of the whip analogy I used earlier. In a whip, it's the motion of the entire whip that makes the strike so effective, but it's that final flip of the tip that focuses all of the energy into once place. The is true of kicks as well. On a leg kick, your entire body gives you the momentum, but it's that final kick of the lower part of your leg that focuses all of that momentum into one spot. Krause creates momentum, but he doesn't snap it into the kick.

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one name. Mention the words "cartwheel kick" to any Muay Thai fan, and they will immediately think of one fighter: Saenchai. One of the greatest pure Muay Thai fighters competing today, Saenchai is an absolute master of the Art of 8 Limbs. And one of his signature strikes is the cartwheel kick. Saenchai does not simply throw it for show, using it effectively and with real power in the strike. Here's Saenchai accidentally knocking out a sparring partner with it:

Here's one more video of Saenchai demonstrating the technique:

Notice that Saenchai lands it with the lead leg instead of the rear, but he also throws it with tremendous speed, resulting in increased power. What he gives up in momentum by using the lead leg he more than makes up for with both accuracy and speed. Also, watch his left shoulder. As he goes down to plant his right hand, he ducks that left shoulder. This is a great example of that rotation, as Saenchai is twisting his entire body to maximize the force in the kick. He is creating energy throw the motion of his entire body, then funneling that energy into the strike by slamming the shin home at the end. He also only does a half cartwheel, coming straight back to his base and keeping himself in better defensive position.

For my money, Saenchai's method is the best way to throw the kick, as it uses those elements of rotation and misdirection, while also adding in a greater sense of control and accuracy, plus putting yourself in a better defensive position coming out of the strike. Krause may not have been quite there, but I still give him points for the attempt.

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