How to train the leg kick for MMA

UPDATE:  The Leg Kick: Your Ultimate Guide to Using The Leg Kick for Mixed Martial Arts is now available! Click the link to get the book or click this picture:

The Leg Kick for MMA

I’ve been testing ways to train the leg kick with my students for a while now. There are many possibilities, too many to mention, and what I explain in this article is not the only way to train. But it is something I haven’t seen many coaches use, so I wanted to share it here.

That said, here goes for the training drill.

How to train the leg kick for MMA

Before we go on, some key points:

  • If you are new to the leg kick, this drill isn’t for you. The assumption is that you have trained the leg kick already and know the different variations of it.
  • This drill isn’t the only way to train the leg kick; there are plenty of other ways. But in this drill we focus on something very specific so you have to follow the instructions. If you want to do other variations, change the drill.
  • I’ll explain my reasons why the combinations are set up the way they are, but that doesn’t mean you always have to do it that way in a fight. The combinations in the drill are like that because they force the student to train in the precise way I want them to train so they learn what I want them to learn. There is a time for improvising and free play; this drill isn’t one of those times.
  • The drill is not supposed to teach you good technique; you should already have that. Instead, it teaches skill within technique. Meaning, having the ability to change and adapt the technique depending on ever changing circumstances and do so instantly, without needing time to think it through.
  • The drill incorporates a key principle: compare/contrast. You might have had to write essays in this manner back in the day, but this method works just as well for training the leg kick in MMA. By comparing two techniques, the similarities and differences become clearer and your understanding improves. You contrast them by putting two versions at opposite ends of the scale next to each other. This makes those similarities/differences stand out even more.

Now that we have the context out of the way, let’s look at the drill itself.

How to train the leg kick for MMA

How to train the leg kick for MMA

The drill

The drill is done in a progressive manner, starting from simple to a bit more complex. You only go to the next phase when you can do the drill consistently without error.

  • Throw the right leg kick with the half-hip, then throw it with the full hip turn. Your partner blocks both times (that way he can practice something too.) Do the same thing with the lead leg kick.
  • Your partner throws a lead push kick, you divert it and counter with the half-hip rear leg kick. Then he throws a rear leg push kick and you counter it with the lead leg kick using the half-hip.
  • Your partner throws a lead body kick, you block it, pull it through and counter with the rear leg kick using the full hip. Then he throws a rear leg body kick and you counter it with the lead leg kick using the full hip turn.
  • Combine the components in the two previous bullet points: Your partner throws the lead push kick, you counter with the rear half-hip leg kick. Then he throws the lead body kick and you counter with the rear leg kick using the full hip. Then he throws the rear push kick and rear body kick; you counter with the appropriate kicks.
  • Same as the previous bullet point, but you add a follow up punch. Each time you throw the half-hip leg kick, let your kicking leg retract all the way back, plant your foot and fire a straight punch with the same side arm. Each time you throw the leg kick with the full hip turn, let your leg return all the way and as your foot lands, plant it so you can throw a straight punch with the opposite side arm.
  • Same as the previous bullet, but you add a punch in the beginning of the combination: when you throw the lead leg kick combination, do a rear arm straight punch first. When you throw the rear leg kick combo, do a lead arm jab first.
  • Same as before, but instead of a partner blocking everything, have him hold the pads and/or a kicking shield for you. Now you do the same as the previous bullet, but this time you add speed and power.
  • You can keep on adding more elements but for this drill, I like to keep it relatively simple and stop here.

Again, don’t change anything in the drill. Do it exactly as described. Only when you can do it right every single time should you experiment and change things.

Here’s a quick video of a part of it as we trained it in class.

You can see my student going over it in a relaxed manner at first and I correct him when he doesn’t use the right hand or doesn’t pivot enough into the full hip turn. He also makes a small mistake in the last combination against the kicking shield, using the wrong arm to start with. All that is fine in training. The purpose of the drill is, once again to train the leg kick as a skill and not just as a single technique. That takes time and effort, but it is well worth it.


Why do it that way?

When you use the half-hip leg kick, it is natural to follow up with the same side arm punch. The way your leg recovers from the kick along with your hip position makes it so. Using the same arm again also keeps you close to your opponent, which is handy if you want to keep him under pressure.

When you use the full hip turn in the leg kick, the rebound tends to throw your kicking leg all the way back, making it easier to follow that rotation and use it to torque into the opposite arm straight punch. The rotation and lead arm punch also tends to pivot you away from your opponent, which is handy if you want to disengage and dissuade him from following you.

When you do the drill, you’ll probably notice you have a preference for one type of combination. Most people have a preference in how they use the leg kick: half-hip or full hip turn. That isn’t an issue in and of itself. It only becomes one if you can’t switch on the fly to the other variation when it is necessary. Doing that is a skill, one we train specifically in this drill.

Why is this important?

If you can only do the half-hip leg kick, you will miss all the opportunities to throw the full hip turn leg kick. And vice versa.

For example: if the timing and distance requires the full hip turn, but you don’t have that drilled in yet and you use the half-hip instead, you have no other chose but to come closer to land the kick. This brings you more in range of his weapons and the risk of getting countered goes up. All you needed to do to avoid that problem was use the full hip turn. But you couldn’t, because you never trained to switch from one to the other and instead always looked for ways to land the half-hip.

This is an instance of “nothing fails like success.” Many fighters have a preferred way of using a given technique, especially when they start landing it often and notice it works well for them. This is perfectly fine, but it’s only when you develop more versatility with that technique and learn variations of it that you truly master it. This not only gives you more opportunities to land it but it also makes it more difficult for your opponent to read your intentions.

When you train the leg kick for a MMA fight, give this drill a try and see how you like it.

Have fun.

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