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Without doubt, the most flamboyant karate techniques are its kicks. Amazing acrobatic kicks are mainstays of martial arts movies. The Japanese word for “kick” is keri, and its ideogram is made up of the radicals “foot” and “fast.” The word’s pronunciation can change to geri when combined with other words to form compounds. “Front kick,” for example, is mae-geri.

When children start karate, they are often more eager to learn kicks, Unfortunately, the kicking techniques are among the more difficult to master, and the beautiful high kicks demonstrate over and over again in the movies ate usually not very practical in real self-defense. The distance the foot has to travel from the ground to the opponent’s head provides your opponent many opportunities to counterattack, and extending the foot so high also seriously compromises your balance and maneuverability. The most effective kicks, therefore, tend to target the lower body. The knees and the groin are very good targets for stopping attackers with one strike.

Does this mean students of karate should only practice kicking to the lower body? Not quite. An effective kick, regardless of height, requires power, strength, and balance, all of which can be better developed by practicing high kicks. Instructors will tell you that it is always good to be able to kick higher than you need to.

You may have had the experience of giving a speech or performing a piece of music in front of an audience. If you have, you know that practicing just enough to get through your piece once or twice without mistake is not enough to guarantee a good performance. Although it is true that the audience will hear your speech or musical performance only once, you must practice until you are able to perform it ten, twenty, or even fifty times without a mistake. This is because when we are in front of an audience, we are often nervous, and cannot perform as well as we do in practice. If you have only mastered your task sufficiently to complete it perfectly once, it is very unlikely that your one success will occur in front of an audience.

The same is true in self-defense, when you will probably be even more nervous than when performing in front of an audience. If you can barely kick to an opponent’s knees during practice, there is a good possibility you will not be able to do so effectively in a real situation of danger. Only by practicing high kicks can you be confident of defending yourself with low kicks.

In karate, as in life, the best way to increase your chances of attaining a particular goal is by aiming higher.

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