clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Essential MMA techniques: High Kicks, part 1

In the third part of this series we will continue our analysis of the most effective MMA techniques. This week: Basic kicks to the head.

In part one of this series we analyzed basic low kick attacks for MMA and kickboxing. In the second part we continued our analysis of basic striking techniques by focusing on kicks to the body. In this post, it’s time to examine basic kicks to the head. Next week we will continue with some spectacular flying and spinning kicks to the head.

Several video tutorials from YouTube are included in this post. Instructional videos are a great source of information for athletes and coaches alike, but it is not easy to identify quality content between a large number of available videos. We reviewed hundreds of videos and have collected here the most efficient ones for your viewing pleasure.

Please note that these techniques are provided in isolation, meaning that they are not explained within the context of a combination or counter. We will focus on combinations in follow-up posts.

Kicking the head: some thoughts on effectiveness

High kicks are some of the most spectacular martial arts techniques out there and you can see them everywhere from combat sports to movies. One thing is certain: everybody loves high kicks. But are they an effective means of offense?

One of my coaches told me more than 20 years ago: “In order for me to determine if you can punch hard or not, I will ask you to punch a training mitt. In order to find out if your kicks to the body are hard, I need to test you on the Thai pads. But when it comes to high kicks, I can tell just by looking at the execution of the kick whether it’s a good kick or not.”

I totally agree with his assessment. Sometimes kicks barely connect to the head and still knock down an opponent. High kicks rely on flexibility and they land in a way that results in whip-like damage. Once the foot travels high and lands on the opponent’s head, results can be devastating due to factors like torque and angular velocity – or rotational force & speed.

A good thing with high kicks is that opponents cannot see them coming, the kicks just land from unexpected angles. We must also note that high kicks have a greater impact when landing on a head that is moving towards the opposite direction.

So yes, high kicks can be effective in sports competition but I would not recommend using them in self-defense situations. Whenever you launch a high kick, you run the risk of slipping and falling down. Landing on the floor can be fatal in a self-defense scenario. In fighting sports like Muay Thai, if you fall down you just get to stand back up. In self-defense and MMA though, things can get complicated when you go for a kick and instead you end up landing on the floor or canvas.

If you train kicks for MMA you need to be ready to react when your opponent grabs your foot or when you miss, slip, and fall down on your butt. And it helps if you are a good grappler. Fighters with a good ground game tend to be more relaxed when attacking with kicks in MMA as they are not afraid of falling down.


High impact kicking requires flexibility. There is no need for you to be able to do the full splits but flexibility certainly helps. It is also important to warm up your hips and leg joints before you train high kicks in order to avoid injuries. Take it easy at first and go for faster and stronger kicks as your body gets used to the motion.

Here are some good exercises that can help your ability to kick higher:

The importance of control and kicking in slow motion

A good way to improve your high kicks is to kick in slow motion. This helps build tremendous leg control and conditioning. Here is such an exercise:

High kicks and a fighter’s age

The main problem with high kicks is that they are techniques that are more suitable for the younger athlete’s game. After a long career, injuries tend to compromise a fighter’s ability to kick high in an efficient manner. Hip and knee injuries take their toll on a fighter’s body.

How to train high kicks

Most kicks to the head can be trained on the heavy bag and on the double Thai pads. A single focus mitt can be used when training for speed and flexibility. A Taekwondo double kicking target mitt can also be a very effective tool for this kind of training. As far as high kicks are concerned, speed is more important than power so there is no need to train them on heavier targets all the time.

Importance of distance and kicking at an angle

Unlike body kicks, it is more difficult for your opponent to reach your head with a punch when you kick high. That is, of course, if you are using proper form. Nevertheless, it is important to set-up high kicks with other strikes (mostly kicks to the body or low kicks) and also attack from a safe angle. Remember: a fighter’s head needs to move with every strike.

Please take a look at my video below. Although I shot this using kicks to the body as an example, these angles also work with left high kicks. Add movement and angles to your game and your effectiveness will increase significantly.

That being said, it’s time to list the basic kicks to the head and watch some videos. Please take your time and watch all videos below. Most offer unique details on how to properly apply these kicks but a combination of videos is often needed in order to get full picture.

Lead left round kick (no switch)

Here is an effective left round kick version by Pat Barry:

Left switch kick (roundhouse)

Here is a detailed explanation of the left high kick (at the 5:53 mark)

Below, you can watch a video tutorial explaining how to combine all left round kicks including the left high round kick, Donald Cerrone style:

Here is an example in action:

The right round high kick

This is a very strong kick. Sometimes Thai fighters land with the shin and this makes the kick even more devastating. See video below:

The Aerts kick

This is a right cross to a right high kick. Although it is a combination of moves, the two techniques are executed as one.

Here is my extensive analysis of this kick:

Technical Analysis: A kick to remember, Andre ‘Touchy’ Fili edition

Click on the tweet below in order to watch the kick in action:

Side kick to the head

I do not consider a side-kick to the head to be an effective technique for MMA. That being said, I’ve seen the kick land in competition (without doing significant damage). Here are two examples:

Here is a basic instructional video:

Question-mark kick

Also known as the Brazilian kick, this kick was made famous by Kyokushin Karate and K-1 fighter Glaube Feitosa. This is a very deceptive kick and is highly recommended. There is a lead left and a right kick version.

Here is Glaube Feitosa applying a lead left version:

Here is Luke Rockhold training the right kick version:

In the following video you can learn the basic details on landing the kick with the lead and the back foot:

More details by Stephen Thompson:

Front snap kicks to the face

These kicks were popularized by Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. You can either use a lead front kick or a front kick with your right leg.

Below, you can see Anderson explaining the kick:

Here are more details:

Finally, “Wonderboy” Thompson analyzes all variations of the kick in the video bellow:

Fake right low kick to left high kick AKA scissor kick

This is a great kick combining both unpredictability and power. Here is Firas Zahabi with a basic tutorial:

And here is a fight clip analysis:

You can see a spectacular Capoeira version below:

Finally, here is Paige VanZant with a jumping version:

That will be all for now. In our next post we will analyze spinning and various unconventional high kicks to the head.

For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.

About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

Follow Kostas on Twitter: and search #fantmoves for more techniques.