THE SPINNING HEEL KICK
by Bob Duggan
There are several methods of executing the Spinning Heel Kick, some more effective than others, but all capable of doing damage to the opponent. There are many objections to it for tactical or personal style reasons: The most common criticisms are: The Spinning Heel Kick is most often aimed high as a Head Kick, and consequently it is easily dodged by experienced fighters. Others object to it because it consumes a great deal of energy and the kick requires turning your back to the opponent which telegraphs the intent. Finally, some object on the grounds that it is a "fancy or exhibitionist" kick. But in this last objection I have never found anyone who makes this criticism that could actually execute a Spin Kick, and leaves me to believe that "fancy" means they can't do it.
On the upside, the Spinning Heel Kick is potentially the most powerful and devastating kick there is and if the kick is properly set-up, the telegraph can be masked. The discussion that I am interested in conducting here is focused on the Mechanics. My point of view is singularly biased by Western Sports Science, and my presentation is intended to counter balance the purposeful obfuscation that is so widespread in the martial arts world. My decided bias is that all great athletic performance is based upon good mechanics. Whether it is acrobatics or a pitcher on the mound, good mechanics is the basis of good technique. With regards to the Spinning Heel Kick, most of it is bad...badly taught and badly executed. This is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to use against experienced fighters.
Another point of particular interest to me is the Signature implanted on a technique. The Signature or the mark left on a particular fighting technique is like any artistic style....it is distinct and indelible. Once you are familiar with its characteristics, you can identify it like the squiggle of a letter in one's hand writing. This Signature of the teacher can be illustrated for those close enough to recognize the differences by studying something as simple as the Spinning Heel Kick. Bang Soo Han, who popularized Hapkido in this country, and who wrote a book on the art in the mid-seventies, illustrates the spin kick in his book with the body low, but in a straight line to impact point....upper torso falling backwards, arms akimbo behind the center axis of his body.
In the book, "The Ancient Art of Hwa Rang Do", Joo Bang Lee similarly executes this kick with the body low, and the arms tucked tight to the waist. However, the spine is still in a straight line to the point of impact with the foot. (At the Hwa Rang Do headquarters this kick is presently being taught with the body erect which leaves the foot in more or less a vertical position at target impact, which I learned as a Spinning Crescent Kick, not a Spinning Heel Kick). Leaving that aside, I believe that both illustrations are weak by comparison to a Spin Kick executed with the body coiled forward.
The Spinning Heel Kick by Joo Sang Lee (Joo Bang Lee's older brother), was executed with the body low and torqued deeply into the leg so that the heel and toes were flat and on nearly the same horizontal plane as the spine. The hip leads the foot and body weight through the impact point. No one I know ever executed this technique in this manner. But it is the way I learned the Spinning Heel Kick, and I spent many years perfecting it, despite the fact that I also spent a number of years with Joo Bang Lee as his first American student, learning his unique instructional syllabus. I believe that I have advanced the mechanical aspects beyond what I learned, but the point here is that my students bear the Signature of Joo Sang Lee's Spin Kick which I learned more than twenty years ago in the Huntington Park school. I have seen nothing to equal its power and velocity.
THE MECHANICS OF THE SPIN
From a mechanical point of view, the advantage to executing the kick in a tight coil is that the body weight is spinning in the direction of the target as opposed to "falling" backwards. The "falling backwards" technique relies primarily on surprise to achieve its goal. I would not argue with the proponents of this style kick that if someone is struck by a spinning foot, the impact is painful. But from a purely kinesic point of view, there is no advantage to dropping the body backwards. The drop causes the weight of body to equally divide over the Center Axis which would be a vertical line from the ball of the foot through the hip. Fifty percent of the body-weight would fall to the rear and fifty percent would spin with the foot, to the target. If you make impact, there is no doubt that it is painful.
However, coiling tight into the leg as you spin, shifts the body weight through the target. In sports, the closest similarity would be the figure skater on ice or the male ballet dancer executing a similar spin except the foot does not rise. When either the skater or dancer initiates the spin, they tuck their hands close to their waist and raise one foot off the ground. When they complete the spin, they shoot the hands and the foot outward which brings them to a sudden stop. The obvious distinction is that the spin kicker is lifting his or her foot in the air in order to strike a target. Velocity would favor the body and its limbs in a tight coil towards the center of the spin, not flung outward.
One other point needs to be observed: in the "Falling Backwards" style Spinning Heel Kick, the foot has already expired its maximum force at the point of impact when the foot is in a straight line with the spine. It is very easy to block the kick with a single hand when the body weight is falling away from you. The "Coil" technique causes the foot to accelerate through the target, because it is still under tension at the point of impact. Therefore, it is still accelerating until it aligns with the spine which is pointed beyond the target. That is, when you coil into the kick, the spine points more or less at 45 degrees beyond the target, and is under tension to release. The goal is to achieve a 100% shift in body-weight into the target. In this particular aspect, the Spinning Heel Kick shares the same body form or kinesic energy as the Hook Kick and the Round House except that it is much more devastating. No kick is more destructive than a well executed Spinning Heel Kick.
TACTICS OF THE SPIN KICK
The Spinning Heel Kick has significant disadvantages which the fighter must be aware of when attempting to use it. The first is that as you achieve complete weight shift, there is no way to control the impact, and this means that it can not be executed fully in free sparring practice or competition. You don't do these things to your friends...or even your enemies without grave provocation. Another disadvantage is the energy and telegraph elements of the kick require that it be used as a finishing blow after the opponent has been set-up or stunned and unable to react to the telegraph.
One of the brilliant contributions to the art that I attribute to Joo Bang Lee was the integration of the multiple kicking techniques in the Basic Kicking Set. Starting with Green Belt, the student drills with multiple Snap Kicks, Thrust Kicks and finishes with a Spinning Heel Kick. At Blue, the student adds the Low Spin to the drill. In our school for many years, we have added joint locks and more recently grappling finishing holds. All the drills are done with a partner. This relatively basic routine develops both the aerobic endurance and the combination flurry of hands and feet and finishing holds. It instills the reflex in the student that the Spin Kick must come out of series of combinations. In a fight, you can not expect to effectively deliver more than one or two Spinning Heel Kicks, you may burn out much sooner than the opponent.
The Spinning Heel Kick must be used with great caution. It is lethal and high risk in its execution. But it is the limousine power kick in a martial artist's arsenal.
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Copyright Â© 1996, Bob