Back in the early 1980’s, I was first introduced to the combat sport of muay Thai. I was already training in traditional martial arts, but what these fighters were doing was new to me: they kicked using their shins and did so full power. What’s more, they didn’t use any shin guards, which was unusual at the time. The most peculiar technique was one that looked like a sloppy soccer kick aimed at the opponent’s upper leg. It didn’t make sense to me but, as an inquisitive young man, it didn’t take me long to start experimenting and learning as much as I could about “The Art of Eight Limbs.”
I soon discovered a few things:
- That soccer kick was called a “leg kick” or “low kick” and it hurt like hell when it landed.
- Though it looks easy to do, it is an extremely difficult technique to master and use correctly.
With lots of training and patience, the leg kick eventually became one of my favorite techniques. I’ve used it on numerous occasions, both inside and outside of a combat sports context and can attest to its effectiveness. Thanks to the help of other practitioners and instructors I met along the way, I made a lot of progress refining the leg kick and learned to apply it using different effective tactics. One of these instructors had a particularly interesting take on the leg kick and I’d like to share it with you here. I’m going to refer to my book here for more in-depth information, so if you haven’t got it yet, you can buy it here:
He was a bouncer and used the leg kick to handle certain types of conflicts that were about to escalate into violence. In fact, he turned it into a handy (though nasty…) little trick to calm down the kind of patrons who were too young to know the true dangers of violence, but too old not to take seriously. I’ll explain the trick at the end, but first some thoughts on the technical details:
- He used the half-hip turn instead of the full hip turn. This allowed him a faster delivery, non-telegraphic movement and the ability to strike from his de-escalation stance (which had the kicking leg slightly to the back.)
- The retraction is just as important. His leg would explode into the kick, but he paid equal attention to retracting it right away. That way he was able to get back to either his de-escalation stance if he got the result he wanted, or flow into a fighting stance to follow-up with appropriate techniques.
- Follow-up. When the kick was delivered correctly, the patron dropped to the floor or bent over to clutch his leg. But just in case something went wrong, he always brought his hands up as he retracted his leg, ready to strike, defend or control the patron or any others who might want to intervene.
- Appropriate targeting. Given the trick he used, he didn’t aim for the knee as that joint and its ligaments will tear and snap when struck with sufficient force. Nobody wants to pay for expensive surgery if law enforcement gets involved after the incident. Instead, he aimed for the sciatic nerve. When properly hit, it shuts people down and they tend to fall or limp heavily. As such a technique attacks the nervous system directly, it tends to override whatever mindset they were in the moment before and usually adjusts their attitude for the better. At the very least, they are in no position to think of attacking.
He had great success working with the leg kick like this and still uses the technique.
Why use the leg kick as a bouncer?
Hitting a patron in the head can end badly for both you and him. If you breaks his nose, teeth or orbital bone, you might be up on charges and pay heavy medical costs along with facing a lawsuit. If you knock him out and he cracks his skull on the floor as he falls, he could end up in a coma or in the morgue. that would mean a court date for you, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and if convicted, years in prison for manslaughter.
The benefit of the leg kick is that it avoids cosmetic damage to the face, so you don’t have to worry about those medical costs. If the patron falls, he is generally conscious and instinctively tries to catch his fall using his arms and hands. In most cases, he doesn’t suffer serious injuries. At worst, you break or fracture his femur, which though painful is typically not a lethal injury.
But most of all: the owner of the establishment needs his patrons to return to spend more money in his place. If they see you smashing in faces, they will more than likely take their business elsewhere and you will eventually be out of a job. Kicking them in the leg, though painful and embarrassing if they limp away, is usually not seen as perceived as excessive violence. So bystanders might actually give beneficial testimony if the police investigate what happened.
That said, you still have to be justified in your use of force. Case in point:
This video shows a bouncer being effective with the technique, but you could argue if kicking the patron was the right choice.
All that said, the leg kick is just another tool in the toolbox: use it when appropriate, leave it alone when it’s not.
The trick that bouncer used to make the leg kick his secret weapon?
Underneath his trousers, worn in such a way nobody could spot it, he wore field hockey shin guards like this:
These are made out of a hard exterior shell and a soft, padded lining on the inside. They are usually long enough to cover your entire shin, which means that if you leg kick somebody while wearing them, it feels like getting hit with a baseball bat made out of steel.
I did mention that the trick was nasty…
The best part is that to the other patrons, it looks like the bouncer just dropped a guy with a kick that shouldn’t have packed that much power. Sure, it was fast, but it wasn’t a big move. In their minds, it creates a narrative of “Damn, that dude hits hard!” followed right along with a bunch of reasons why they better not mess with him. As a result, the need for more violence was often averted. Not always though and you need to know when the leg kick is not the right way to go, but that’s beyond the topic of this article.
Fun side-benefit: you can block certain kicks with your shin without sustaining damage, so this trick is not just good for offense.
Making it work.
Start by finding a shin guard that fits you well. They have to be comfortable as you wear them for hours on end during a shift. That’s why I suggest spending a bit more and getting shin guards that allow some airflow to avoid profuse sweating and the rashes that can come from it. This obviously also means you take care of them after each use, cleaning them out and letting them dry completely. I suggest starting your search here and also here.
Wear the right pair of trousers so they stay hidden. Depending on the dress code of your establishment, this might be a frustrating challenge and take some experimenting. Do it anyway, because it’s of little use to give away your secret trick by making it obvious for all to see you’re wearing those shin guards.
On a final note:
Another bouncer didn’t think the shin guards were hard enough to get consistent results, so he rigged them for better performance:
He attached several steel corner brackets to the shin guard with the edge of the corners facing outward. This took some tinkering to get it right, but eventually, he did. As a result, he would kick unruly patrons real fast, just once, and everybody he kicked went down after just one strike. It tended to impress the other patrons to the point of quieting down any other brooding fight that was ready to boil over.
As far as I know, nobody ever figured out his secret.