A Technical Analysis of Mawashi Geri
The Shotokan karate syllabus contains several kicks, of which four tend to be practiced almost to the exclusion of all others: mae geri keage, yoko geri kekomi, mawashi geri and ushiro geri. My experience has been that of these four, many people believe their execution of mawashi geri is good when typically it isn’t. Others tend to avoid the kick when possible believing that they are unable to perform the technique correctly. This is, of course, a gross generalisation but has led my desire to examine the kick more closely.
Mawashi Geri – An Introduction
Though the kick may be performed from almost any standing position, it is usually performed from a kamae (fighting) posture once the practitioner has advanced beyond third kyu level; thus this thesis shall concentrate on kicks performed from this stance. Further, it shall be assumed that the kick is part of an offensive technique that brings the attacking leg forward (rather than kicking and then stepping back).
The mawashi geri is a snap kick – the target should be struck with contact being made for the shortest possible time and once the target has been hit the foot should return to the ground as quickly as possible. The striking area used is either the ball of the foot (koshi) or the flat of the foot (heisoku) (some styles of karate and other martial arts use the shin, though this is not usual in the Shotokan standard syllabus). Striking the target using the ball of the foot is typically the harder technique of the two, demanding more accuracy. Using the flat of the foot therefore has advantages, but there is the risk of breaking some of the small bones along the top of the foot if, as is the case in the dojo, the practitioner is in bare feet. Both may be considered effective if a “street” situation where the kicker is wearing shoes.
Targets for the kick are numerous – head, stomach (being wary of the opponent’s elbow for the reason stated above) and thigh are common. Broadly speaking there are two ways to perform a mawashi geri and these I shall term the basic and advanced method. It is assumed that the kick is fired from the rear leg (ushiro ashi), though the following descriptions would be applicable if the kick originated from the front leg (mae ashi).
Basic Mawashi Geri
The basic method is normally taught when the student is first learning the kick. There are four steps involved in the kick’s execution:
1. Lift the rear leg with the upper half perpendicular to the target so that the lower half of the leg is almost horizontal (the knee should be slightly higher than the foot). Notice that at this stage, the leg should be strongly bent at the knee with the heel pulled back tightly against the hamstring, maximising arc travel. If the intended target is low (gedan) then the knee may be lifted only slightly, but if the intended target is high (chudan or above) then the knee should be lifted high. The front (supporting) leg should be slightly bent with the front foot pointing forwards.
2. Swing the upper half of the leg to face the target, keeping the lower half in the almost-horizontal state as before. At this stage, the upper half of the leg should point directly towards the target’s centre line – the kick is being aimed. The supporting foot should swivel, typically on the ball of the foot, so that the foot is pointing away from the target. The kick can be said to be primed.
3. At this point the lower half of the leg may extend to strike the target and then retract. Typically this is performed as an adjunct to the previous step in order to use the momentum of the body’s rotation to enhance the speed and power of the final kick.
4. The completion of this kick (by which I mean restoring the foot to the ground) should be performed in an identical fashion to that described below discussing the advanced kick.
Note that during the description of this kick, the upper body has not been mentioned. The upper body should be placed in a position that enables the kicker to continue an attack (or launch an efficient defence) after the kick has been performed – there is no need for the upper body to be tense or have the arms flail as can often be seen by less experiences karate students.
Common Mistakes Performing the Basic Mawashi Geri
When performing this kick there are a number of pitfalls that may trap the inexperienced karateka. These mistakes may not only affect the quality and effectiveness of the kick but can also become a potential hazard for the overall safety of the kicker. The points below discuss their numbered counterpart above:
1. The rear leg (knee) is sometimes not lifted high enough, even though the karateka is to perform a jodan kick. The problem then becomes that before the kick is fired, the knee must be raised (else the kick would not reach its intended target) and this reduces momentum and ultimately speed and power in the kick.
2. All too often, even amongst senior grades, the knee is allowed to wander past the intended target, so that the upper half of the leg points at an angle and not directly in front. This can cause the following undesirable situations
a. Once the kick is thrown, the foot will come into contact with the target before the leg is fully extended, reducing the kick’s power since the arc of travel has been reduced and the corresponding end speed of the kick will thus also be reduced
b. Due to the way the legs can rotate within the hip joint, the knee will typically be forced to dip at this stage, again causing a loss of power
c. The further the knee has been over-rotated, the harder it is to recover the leg after the kick has been performed
d. There is a tendency to have the body bent at the hip during the kick – this will reduce the kick’s range
Sometimes, the supporting foot is not rotated enough (or even at all). Though children (and some particularly flexible adults) can still perform a decent jodan kick without rotating the supporting foot, it should be remembered that nobody can stay flexible for ever, and stressing the knee in this way can cause serious injury in later life.
3. The actual kick is relatively straight forward. Note that its success is dependant on how well the preparation has been performed – if this preparation has been done proficiently then a decent kick is likely to follow.
Advanced Mawashi Geri
Though the basic mawashi geri is ideal for learning the principals involved in the kick (and may also be an ideal tool for building up thigh muscles), it has, in my opinion, a fatal flaw if used in a kumite drill – it is comparatively slow. All kicks tend to be slow anyway, when compared to hand striking techniques, but they are capable of having the element of surprise if performed relatively quickly. Enter the advanced mawashi geri. This may be described using the following steps:
1. The leg is lifted as if to perform a mae geri (the supporting leg remains as it was, slightly bent with the supporting foot pointing forwards). Already there are some major advantages to this approach:
a. The kicking knee (being forward) provides a degree of cover for the torso and can act as an tacit shield between the attacker and the defender
b. The defender may well believe that the attacker is intending to perform a mae geri attack, and plan accordingly
c. Because this initial move is that of a mae geri, it will typically have been practised many times and thus the attacker should be supremely confident whilst performing this
2. Several actions now happen almost simultaneously.
a. The supporting leg and foot turns to point away from the target. This ensures the body rotates helping provide power to the kick (note the foot should be flat on the floor when the kick strikes – a common mistake is for the kicker to raise onto “tiptoe” when performing the kick)
b. The kicking foot rises as the body twists and is fired. There is typically less time in this situation for the foot to point down, weakening the kick, and the kicker further gets that advantage that the kicking knee will automatically point at the target and not overextend
3. Once the kick has reached its target and returned to “base camp” (which, as with the basic mawashi geri, has the foot slightly lower than the knee and the lower half of the leg almost horizontal), the return of the kicking foot to the ground should be completed as soon as possible (unless, of course, another kick of the same leg is to be performed). The body should be righted, i.e.
a. The supporting leg should twist back so that the supporting foot is once again pointing forwards
b. The kicking foot should be reset as if the kicker was to throw a mae geri (in other words, as described in step 1 above). Both of these actions may be effectively accomplished through correct use of the hips.
c. Only then should the kicking leg should be placed on the ground
This final step, after the kick has been performed, is crucial, yet all too often ignored by the kicker who takes the view that the kick has been performed, “job done”. In these situations, the kicker may simply drop the knee. Not only is this attitude lazy, in allowing gravity to do the work, the technique is often slow – as mentioned above, the return should be very quick – and in neglecting good form, the kicker excludes from use a hugely potent weapon in their arsenal: a second kick off the same leg, that can catch the target completely unawares . If the opponent believes the first kick has been spent and then launch a counter attack, a great deal of success for the kicker may be achieved through the judicious use of a second kick, and if the leg is already in position, that kick can be much faster than the initial.
The mawashi geri kick is a favourite amongst many seasoned karateka for its relative ease of use and potential effectiveness. It can often be daunting to less experienced students due to the subtle body movements and perceived flexibility required. However, with a little knowledge of the mechanics involved it can be used to great effect by relatively junior grades.
Often, the basic mawashi geri is considered stronger than the advanced kick, but the latter is much faster and I believe that aspect of the kick is crucial. Further, the advanced kick has the benefit of allowing the hips to be employed at exactly the correct moment making it, for me, a much more satisfying technique.