I’ve recently fallen madly in love—with martial arts. This ancient practice has so many parallels to my already beloved yoga. They both evolved out of Asian roots and create an environment for respect, discipline, and knowledge of our amazing vessels.
I am currently drawn to practicing Kempo Karate under the guidance of my teachers in the same way I once was to my daily Mysore Ashtanga practice. The practice demands that you show up regularly. The only way to learn is through experience and repetition. The Mysore tradition gives the student a new pose only when the teacher believes the student to be ready. In Kempo, we earn new belts as our knowledge of strikes, kempos (combinations of strikes), sequences, and katas (training exercises) grow. In many ways, martial arts and yoga are a match made in disciplined heaven.
I’ve pulled together two common kicks that are done in martial arts and paired them with two yoga poses each—one to help strengthen the kick and one to boost the flexibility needed to perform it. If this interests you, I highly recommend checking out your local Dojo or practicing with the amazing Liz Arch, who has blended martial arts and yoga in her style of teaching called Primal Arts.
Two Karate Kicks, Paired with Yoga Poses
1. Side Blade Kick
This is a common kick, forming a “blade” shape with the pinky edge of the foot, executed to the side of the body. It requires flexibility in the hip flexors as well as immense strength in the quads and glutes—particularly your gluteus medius. The kicking leg internally rotates with the toes aiming down on a diagonal.
To strengthen your Side Blade Kick, try:
Side Leg Lift
Start in a Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) with your feet hip-width apart. Hook your right big toe with your right thumb, middle finger, and index finger. Pop up onto your left fingertips, directly in front of your left toes with your arm straight and your shoulder stacked over your fingers. Draw your right femur bone up into the socket, so your right foot hovers above the floor. Begin to lift your leg directly out to the side, aiming to bring it parallel with the floor without letting your standing hip pop out. Hold for 5 breaths and switch sides. Repeat 2–3 times per side.
To increase flexibility for a Side Blade Kick, try:
Gomukasana Forward Bend (Cow Face Pose variation)
Sit on the floor with both of your knees bent pointing toward the ceiling. Slide your left heel under your right leg next to your right hip. Repeat with your right leg, bringing it over your left so the legs are mirroring each other in Gomukasana. Work toward bringing the knees as close to each other as is comfortable. Bring your heels in tighter toward your bottom to make this pose less intense on your hips. Wiggle your feet out, bringing your shinbones into one straight line, to make it more intense. Choose what feels best and then walk your arms forward into a fold. Hold for anywhere from 8 deep breaths to several minutes. Repeat on the second side.
2. Front Instep Kick
If you’re going for fancy, this is the kick for you. The Front Instep Kick is meant for the groin or chin, therefore you need to be able to aim high. The strike comes from the top of the foot and requires a beautiful blend of strength and flexibility in the hip flexors, as well as range in your hamstrings.
To strengthen a Front Instep Kick, try:
Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana A (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Begin standing with your left hand on your hip. Draw your right knee into your chest and hook your right big toe with your thumb, middle finger, and index finger. Extend your right leg straight out in front of you, leveling your hips and relaxing shoulders in their sockets. Gently bend your right elbow and elevate your leg above parallel keeping your hips level. When you reach your limit, hold there and take for 5 full breaths in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Repeat on the second side.
NOTE If you can’t fully extend your leg holding onto your big toe use a strap over the ball of your foot instead. Work with the strap until you gain the flexibility to grab your toe.
See also Take Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose Further
To increase flexibility for a Front Instep Kick, try:
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Lie on your back with your left leg extended on the floor and your right knee bent into your chest. Flex your left foot and engage your quad. Hook your right big toe as we did before (or work with a strap) and extend your leg straight up to the ceiling. Focus on externally rotating your leg to keep the hips level. If this is plenty, just stay here. Otherwise, bend your right elbow and encourage your leg to come closer to your torso. The goal is to keep the leg straight without tweaking the hips or straining the arms. Hold for 8 full breaths and switch sides.
About Kathryn Budig