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Failure is an option…


I often hear instructors say, ‘Failure is not an option.’

The sad reality is that those instructors are often times leading their students to extremely bad habits as their students are not trained to know what to do when Mr. Murphy and his law comes calling, things go wrong, and they fail in a real situation. As I often discuss, one of the problems with martial art today is that the Youtube world and social media have put a premium on looking perfect everytime…and assuming the best case scenario.

The truth is – you will fail, you will have a failure moment, you will have momentary failure – the question is:  what will you do when it happens?



In other areas of the self-defense world, such as firearms, failure drills are common place. They are looked upon as simply the nature of the beast – you have a machine, it will malfunction and fail. But, how often do we look at martial art, our strikes, or kicks, our grabs and releases…and failure drills? It doesn’t work – what do we do? Usually this only happens in sparring and when a student does something right we say, ‘Oh, you were in a flow state, that’s why it worked!’ but if it doesn’t work, they are told, ‘Failure isn’t an option. You need to work on that technique more…next class do it 100 times.’

I can’t count how many times I have heard this.

Why the low kick

The kick.

I have spent a lot of time lately watching Chinese martial art movies (and man, can they make good movies in China now).  In a time long gone by, it seems the Asian Martial Arts were the dominant force in world martial art education.  But, as I often talk about PramekRadio, this is slowly but constantly being replaced with MMA education in the US for mass martial art education.  A simple Google search of ‘martial art school dallas texas’ shows us that MMA is listed at the top, with other arts, in schools.  I then went further into the Google hole and searched ‘ufc school in dallas tx’ and it was filled with as many schools at the traditional martial art schools.

For the kick, this is a good thing and a bad thing.  For the high kick, it is a bad thing – as the skill, grace, and power of the high kick is becoming endangered in MMA training.  Mid-section kicks are taught limited.

For the kick, this is a good thing, as muay thai has made the low kick a go-to technique.  Usually in the low side kick.  So, for the time being, the low kick is saved, but the high kick will be limited where it is taught.  As TMA schools transition more to MMA formats to keep students, it will be even less taught and will be a TMA only technique with the rare exception of hammer kicks and other MMA favorites.  Generally this is taught as a leg kick to the thigh or mid section, blocked by the lifting of the leg to block with the shin.

But, what about combatives.

Combatives has long been a bastion of the low kick, but not the leg kick as MMA knows it – it’s the traditional shin and knee kick low kick…the straight on kick to the knee and shin.

We can see it in the original manuals from WW2.












My use of the low kick is not in question.  Here I am in 2007 using the traditional combatives low kick for defense goofing off in my backyard with students…

But, in recent times I have seen this kick disappear from the teaching of many combatives and reality-based martial art teachers. So, why has this happened, and why should we begin to use it?

1) The benefits of the low kick are abundant in physiology. Shin kicking is so effective it created an art called hacking.  It is a painful kick, leading to tibia fractures, knee injuries.  The skin over the shin is thin, leading to the ganglia being very exposed to impact.  The ganglia, pressed create momentary pain.  The sciatic nerve is present, as well as the interosseous membrane.  The knee is self-explanatory from it’s structure.

2) Biomechanically and kinematically, the low kick makes sense.  It stops forward momentum.  As shown in Defense Around Vehicles, the low kick pauses forward momentum.   Why do we say pause?  The legs are the primary means of movement, but leg movement is attached to the hips.  When the lower body momentum is stopped abruptly, this leads the forward body to come forward.  This is seen in the Defense Around Vehicles video, as the lower body movement is stopped, but the upper body continues due to momentum from the overall body.  This can lead the upper body, led by the weight of the head, to the defender for manipulation as it places the center mass and line of gravity outside of the load bearing area we discuss in Breaking Balance.

3)  Visually the low kick makes sense due to the peripheral cone of the eye.







When you use the low kick, it engages the inferior field, which means the enemy sees your leg but not what you are doing.  This will generally lead to a flinch reflex.  This is what creates a physical pause – the eye does not see what is happening, will transmit to the brain that it can not see, creating cognitive interpolation – you brain fills in through experience what the eyes can not easily see.  This often happens when we something out of the ‘corner of the eye’ where we aren’t sure what we saw – so we immediately react in a defensive flinch.  Fortunately, in this situation, this creates a hinge fold in the hips.  The body often times protects the genitalia with a hinge fold, thus freezing lower momentum.

Secondly, we must look at three dimensional vision in the eyes.  When something moves in three dimensions, like I have talked about in other blog posts,  we react.  Versuses linearly, we do not react.

Now, let’s talk tactics.