One man's attempt to introduce one of his favourite traditional techniques into modern MMA's striking vernacular
So, let's start with some background.
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by violence. Growing up among liberal intellectuals in the middle of a backwater, nowhere, mountain town I was steeped in the media and culture of asian martial arts and grew up emulating the moves of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Benny the Jet, Samo Hung and countless others. Soon I was signed up to the local Tang Soo Do Class (Traditional variant of Tae Kwon Do), complemented by enthusiastic pursuits in gymnastics and rugby. I found out that I was a natural when it came to kicking and possessed the kind of inherent flexibility and leg power that I'm sure many Professionals would literally have killed me for, were the metaphysics of the situation actually workable.
Years of training and a fast rise up through the belts was suddenly halted when physical malady would go hand in hand with mental instability and immediately preceding the maturation into my physical adulthood I was relegated to becoming a housebound hermit, who would undo all his prior efforts with a few years quite literally spent on a sofa.
Fast forward many years; college, work, uni and I'll finally tune into MMA. I'd say it's been about five years now that I've been following it and about three years that I've been making the transition into the "hardcore" category. The last year and a half I have had my head stuck in every bit of technical striking analysis that I could get my hands on. Drawn in by the genius of Jack Slack and endlessly entertained by the excellent work of the Bloody Elbow staff (Thanks to Connor, Dallas, Frazer and the others) and a host of absolutely brilliant and professional fan posts which have been really exceptional. The last six months I've been throwing combinations, working on my footwork, shadow boxing, stretching and practicing in my bedroom alone and in the last month I joined an MMA striking class at an MMA gym near where I live.
Now my reasons for joining were manifold. I needed to be doing something for fitness (I hate working out for the sake of working out). I needed to have some form of physical, emotional catharsis (since the band stopped touring I just don't get to scream myself into a sweaty coma like I used to). I needed to improve on my basic physical competencies (With a doughy frame at 5'7 I came to realise that banking on my prior TSD prowess, now more than a decade removed from training was not a real good idea). But the seed that really pushed me into an MMA gym and not any other less dangerous, less damaging and less intense sport of my choice, was that I had an idea. And try as I might to prove myself wrong with purely cerebral pursuits, it was no use, I had to find out for myself.
The idea stems from the most basic principle of competitive striking, the double threat. Mirko Cro Cop, Dan Henderson and countless others have built their game around and become hugely successful by utilizing planned double threat attacks. Combinations of strikes in which good defensive posture and response to strike A, results in poor positioning for the inevitable strike B (A fine example here). A simple premise and one which you'll see used just about everywhere. Well, I came up with my own and I just had to test it.
Everyone loves low kicks right? Yeah I know....ARGH!!! WHY!!! Annnnnnnndddddyyyyyyy! But seriously. Low kicks have become one of the central tenets of MMA and their intelligent use has made close match ups look completely lopsided. Its efficacy is a result of its simplicity and versatility. For my purposes this kick will be the set up, the patsy, the fall guy.
And from the ubiquitous to the absurdly underused, part two of my double threat attack is the turning side kick (or Tollyo Yup Cha Ki). For clarities sake, as definitions vary, this is thrown from the back leg and features no spinning or turning of the back. The "Turning" refers to your body and knee, as the body turns to bring the leg up and the knee into the body. This is one of the first things you learn in TSD and as such the biomechanics of it are etched indelibly into my muscle memory far more so than any more commonly used MMA techniques. I have always bemoaned its lack of use in MMA but until recently I had not devised a suitable vehicle for its delivery. But as my understanding of low kicks, both offensive and defensive, improved, I started to see possibilities.
So offensively it is well understood that you should not throw your low kicks without a set up. This is a good way to eat a counter right hand, or break your leg. Defensively your options are to plant the foot, turn the leg, eat the kick and throw the right hand; check the kick; or just eat it, lose your balance and act like it doesn't matter (We'll call this one the Diaz Defense).
For my double threat attack the leg kick is thrown without power or set up. The leg kick is throw to invite the right hand counter. Obviously this is fundamentally a little risky, but considering you're aware of the most potent danger that is likely to come back at you, it is a managed risk. No power in order to keep up the speed and discourage the check. As we've seen, in MMA, a fighter will almost exclusively prefer to eat the leg kick over checking it, until said kick hurts him. Once you have established your fast leg kick (and possibly see a right hand come a little too close for comfort) this is when we turn the hip, bring the leg up and through into your body and in a piston like motion fire the leg from its chambered position, straight as a dye into your opponent's midsection with the blade of the foot, as you extend your head and body in the opposite direction.
Mechanically they are a match made in heaven. The motion used to throw a rear leg kick is perfectly suited to being the first step of the turning side kick. Meanwhile the way that the head extends away from the opponent makes the chances of a right hand landing (either to the head or the body) basically zero. And the forward momentum inherent in the counter right hand, along with the front foot planted ready to eat the kick, exaggerate the impact of the kick. Meanwhile the distance required for the leg kick and the counter right hand to have been viable, absolutely ensures that you are in ideal range to extend your kick into and through the body of your opponent.
That's the theory and tonight I finally got to see if it worked. Bare in mind that I am really, really awful. I may know a bit, have a background in striking and some fairly gifted legs, but none of that stops me from being dreadfully out of shape, having terrible boxing, kickboxing and muay thai form and generally being too soft minded and nice about stuff to be in a gym with the kind of tough guys and physical beasts that MMA can attract in a valley like this. Regardless of these facts, it worked like a charm.
It worked on everyone I sparred against, even the guys who were country miles ahead of me in every department of the game. They'd never seen it before and you could see that they really weren't sure what they were supposed to do about it. And even better than I expected, it started to screw with their basic leg kicking defense. It opened up my kicking game really nicely as they were never sure what was going to be a feint and what was coming at them. Right at the end I realised that I could start working a question mark kick into the equation and landed it first time.
Unfortunately landing a really solid shot to the body, with an unorthodox technique, against a guy who is, well, an actual fighter, training for professional competition, is kind of a bad idea and as you might expect I took a bit of a beating as a result of it. Hopefully my fat lip and bruised ribs won't look too bad next time I'm in work.
Obviously this is not any kind of definitive proof, or even really an anecdotal assertion that this kind of move would be applicable at the highest levels of the sport. I might go back there next week and fight myself getting crucified just for trying it. But my plan did not fall at the first hurdle and I even in my exhausted, shattered state it made me able present a threat against guys who drastically outclassed me.
Anyway. Seeing as the work on this website inspired today's minor victory it felt fitting that I should share in my sore celebrations here with all of you.
Thanks for reading.