Before joining Meibukan back in 1990, the standard front kick that we practiced for kata was with the foot pointed forward, the toes pulled back, and aimed to the groin or torso. In fact, even today, pretty much the entire traditional karate community has accepted this as the norm…with the exception of Meibukan. Yes, for better or worse (of course I think better), it is another reason why Meibukan stands out.
Our front kicks are practiced as kicks aimed at head height under the chin, with our heels forward, and at an unusually close distance. Admittedly, this is completely impractical in a real life scenario. Except ofcourse if you happen to be a bit of a superstar. Then really you can do anything that you want and make the rest of us totally envy you. Do we then discredit the technique completely because it seems to be an unrealistic application for most of us average martial artists?
How did Meibukan end up using a high front heel kick when other Goju-Ryu schools used a middle snapping kick as its default? Karate first became popular through the efforts of “mainland” Japan in the 60’s and 70’s. During this time, there was a political falling out between Okinawa and Japan over Karate’s jurisdiction. The rift divided the martial arts community in Okinawa and some sided with Japan and others remained loyal to the ideals of Okinawa. Meibukan was one of the schools that remained on the side of Okinawa and as result lost much of their influence with Japan.
Politics aside, although Meibukan might be the only Goju-Ryu school with high front kicks as a standard, we are not the only ones to have them in our Kata. Shorin-Ryu’s Kusanku and some of its derivatives include high front kicks. The weird part is… the primary purpose for the use of kicks in Meibukan are actually to disable the legs in a real life situation. So if it isn’t the goal to kick high why even bother with the effort? To me, that is a lot like saying why bother warming up before class? After all we won’t really have time to warm up in a real life situation. There in lies the difference between the dojo training and a real life situation. The purpose of the Meibukan high kick is to train the body to kick more efficiently.
Perhaps Dai Sensei was beyond his time. Studies show that flexibility improves kicking speed and minimizes injury. Imagine your ligaments and tendons to be akin to rubber bands. At the beginning of stretching the bands, it is relatively easy do to its pliability. As you begin to stretch the bands further, it becomes harder, less flexible, and more effort is required to pull them. Pull them too much and… snap. Bye bye ligaments and tendons. Put yourself in a real situation. The footing is less than perfect. Perhaps you are on grass. There is no time to think but you react instinctively without warming up or coming to a perfect stance. If your ligaments are used to kicking low in the ideal setting of the dojo, they may not perform as well under less than ideal conditions. Hence, the over preparation theory of practicing high kicks in Meibukan.
Traditional Okinawa kata was not meant to be a dance or performance but training in preparation for the real thing. Although, you don’t need to be a Lyoto Machida to reap its rewards. High kicks also helps us older folk and recreational weekend warriors as well. Putting all practicality behind us though, the high front kick is pretty darn cool. If you are into training karate as a way to achieve your personal best and want to push yourself to the limits, this is certainly a great way to do so. So stretch those legs, your minds, aspirations, and limits with the high front kick.