Training versus applying, Part two

In part one of Training versus applying, I mentioned the lead hook as an example of how training for techniques and applying them in real life isn’t always the same. Let’s take a look at another example, this time one from muay Thai and MMA: the leg kick. Take a look at 1min40 when Rob Mccullough explains where to place the right arm.

He specifies that the right arm has to be straightened out forward, towards your opponent, when you throw the rear leg kick.  OK… Take a look at this video now and watch what happens when Rob Kaman (who was called “Hammerkick” for a reason…) throws his rear leg kick.

How many times did you see him straighten out his arm towards his opponent when he does a rear leg kick? Not once…

Here’s Ernesto Hoost, another fighter who you can hardly call an amateur…

How many times? Twice, and we can argue about it not being the same thing as what Rob Mccullough shows.

For those of you who’ll argue I’m using too many non-Thai examples, here’s Buakaw:

Again, how many straight right arms did you see on his rear leg kick? None…


For a few examples in MMA, here’s Melvin Manhoef teeing off on Robbie Lawler:

Again, not a single straight arm in sight.

As a final example, take a look at Matt Hughes vs Renzo Gracie. Loads of leg kicks but not once do you see Hughes straightening out his rear arm.

If by now you still think the straight arm is the standard way to throw the rear leg kick, I have another challenge for you:

Find me a world-class fighter in muay Thai or MMA who consistently throws the rear leg kick with the rear arm straightened out to his opponent.

I’m pretty confident you won’t find one. Barring the odd exception, you simply don’t see this in the ring or cage.


Why on earth is it taught like that then?

Because it helps new fighters to learn the technique correctly. Bringing and keeping your right arm forward helps you learn how to use the hip correctly to power the rear leg kick. Using the hips the right way makes all the difference between throwing a bone-crunching leg kick and a crappy soccer kick; the former makes you want to curl up into a fetal position where as the latter simply hurts a bit. But if you don’t learn it the right way, soccer kicks is all you’ll throw. Which is why many coaches and trainers teach the rear arm straight at first. Because it helps you feel exactly how to rotate your hips and coordinate that movement with launching your rear leg in an arc.

Mind you, you can still use that arm to “blind” or annoy your opponent, I’m not questioning that. But those are tricks, if anything and not something you do consistently. As you saw in the videos I showed here above, as soon as fighters put some power in their leg kick, their rear arm goes down and back. That’s the most natural way to use that arm and it’s the way you should eventually graduate to as you get better at throwing the leg kick. But not at first.

When you are new to the training, it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for power at all costs. It doesn’t make much of a difference at first but as you get more experience, you’ll have acquired a lot of parasite movements that are shortcuts to power but also give your opponent openings to land shots. Or your body mechanics will become different form what they need to be, making it harder to keep on getting more skilled. Trainers know this so they give you a way to avoid that; lies to children. You learn the leg kick one way so you can eventually throw it perfectly in another way.

Like I said in Part One, this kind of thing is prevalent in all martial arts and combat sports. It’s only a matter of finding it. Which brings me to the whole point of these two posts:

Some teacher don’t know this is a part of their art. Neither do some students, who simply copy everything and accept it all without question. The result: crappy technique that doesn’t work. I think this is one of the main reasons why traditional martial arts get such a bad rep this day and age. Because a lot of the information is lost and people fill in the blanks with their own best guesses and opinions. From what I’ve seen and experienced, these are all too often wrong.

If you want to make progress in your art, I think two things are important in this context:

  • Don’t just blindly accept anything your teacher tells you. You don’t have to argue with him or disrespect him. Just think things through and form your own opinion. There’s nothing wrong with that, again, as long as you stay polite and respectful to him.
  • Look for those disconnects between training and applying. If you look for them, you will find them. When you do, ask your teacher what the goal is. Read books. Watch instructional videos. Go train with others from the same style. In a nutshell, do everything you can to figure it out.

Some of this stuff, it took me a long time to figure out and I wasted a lot of my time because of it. Here’s hoping you don’t waste yours.




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  1. Great story Wim. As always you seem to be at your best when explaining theory vs. application and adding context to each. Thanks much.

  2. Good insight and observation. I am not a standup guy but love to see these types of fundamental pieces picked apart like this. There are many similarities on the ground as well.

  3. Hey Wim! Great article. I totally zoned in on the disconnects between training and applying, and therefore, I think you might appreciate this post on my blog:

    Well, I hope all is well with you.

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