Since the 1970's, taekwondo has undergone a significant evolution in both form and
style. Perhaps the most striking change has been the development and refinement
of taekwondo's devastating spinning kicks. Twenty years ago, spinning kicks were
considered too risky for all but the most experienced competitors. It was the era
of power taekwondo when knockouts were frequent and the roundhouse and side kicks
ruled. Spinning kicks were too slow and too obvious to penetrate the defenses of
a skilled fighter. However, with the advent of modern footwork and the refinement
of strategic maneuvers, spinning kicks have become the most powerful and dangerous
kicks in the taekwondo competitor's arsenal.
The Rise of the Spinning Kick
The popularity and effectiveness of the spinning kick became possible with the introduction
of the upright fighting stance and the development of intricate footwork. In the
early days of taekwondo competition, competitors favored a low, traditional stance.
While a low stance is ideal for generating power in linear kicks, it is a hindrance
to any type of spinning kick. A spinning kick must be initiated quickly, without
changing the height or position of the head. The lower the stance, the more difficult
this is to achieve.
Spinning kicks also require the competitor to close the distance between himself
and his opponent before launching the kick. If you attempt a spinning kick from
neutral distance (where neither you nor your opponent can reach each other) you
will not only fall short of the target, you will leave yourself open to an easy
counterattack. To attack successfully, you must take at least a half step closer
to your opponent, filling any space that your opponent might use to counterattack.
To counterattack with a spinning kick, you must have extremely good reflexes not
to allow your opponent to cut off your kick before you complete it. The introduction
of complex footwork in the early 1980's allowed competitors to attack and counterattack
successfully with spinning kicks.
In addition to these two major factors, several other changes have contributed to
the popularization of the spin kick.
In the last ten years, protection gear, particularly chest gear, has become lighter
and less restrictive, making it easier to rotate the body quickly and through a
greater range of motion.
Combination kicks have become widely used, allowing competitors to back up the opponent
with simple kicks and finish with a spinning kick, often resulting in a knockout.
The emphasis in competition has shifted from sheer muscle power to kinetic efficiency,
leading to the development of techniques such as the spinning whip kick, that take
advantage of the laws of kinetics and physics.
The globalization of taekwondo has lead to the creative development of taekwondo
movements by top class competitors of varied backgrounds in many different countries.
Taekwondo has become more systematized through the scientific study of individual
techniques and movements, leading to a more refined style of kicking.
Competition has been opened to women, creating an increased emphasis on flexibility
and speed and decreased emphasis on power in techniques used in women's matches.
More weight divisions have been introduced (currently eight divisions as compared
to the divisions of only light and heavy weight in the 1960's) encouraging smaller
competitors to develop speedier techniques that are more appropriate for their body
From Spinning Side Kick to Back Kick
The back kick that we practice today has its origins in the spinning side kick.
One of the first spinning kicks to be introduced in competition, the spinning side
kick is performed exactly as it sounds. From a low side stance, turn 180° to
your rear side and chamber your leg for a side kick. Once chambered, execute a middle
or high section side kick and return to fighting stance. Although the spinning side
kick is simple to execute and quite powerful, it is vulnerable to counterattacks
to the head or body prior to and immediately following the turning of the body.
To eliminate this weakness, the spinning side kick was transformed into the spinning
back kick and eventually, the even more efficient back kick. The difference between
the three lies in the pivoting of the standing foot, the chambering position of
the leg, the rotation of the hips, and the angle of the upper body. In the spinning
side kick, the leg is chambered high and the hips are rotated 180°, putting
the upper body within easy reach of the opponent. In the spinning back kick, the
leg is chambered low, tucked in under the hips with the hips rotating only a little
more than 90°. In the back kick, the leg is chambered the same as for the spinning
back kick, but the hips are rotated less than 90° and the front of the body
is concealed during and after execution.
he back kick and spinning back kick offer many advantages over the spinning side
kick without sacrificing power or simplicity. The spinning back kick, used most
commonly as a follow-up attack in a combination, is safer because it exposes the
upper body and head to the opponent less than the spinning side kick. In a properly
executed spinning back kick, your back is turned to the opponent and your upper
body out of counterattacking range. Timing and accuracy are essential. If you kick
too late or too early and miss your intended target, your opponent may take advantage
of your awkward body position to counter with a roundhouse kick to your face or
kidney, knocking you down. If, however, you time your kick precisely, the spinning
back kick is a devastatingly powerful kick.
The back kick, on the other hand, is even more powerful and faster than either of
the other kicks. Because you don't actually spin your body, you cut the kicking
time almost in half. To execute a back kick, slightly rotate your hips and pivot
your front foot while quickly shooting your rear leg out under you to the target.
The chambering position for the back kick is almost nonexistent because the leg
moves so quickly to its target. In attacking, your entire body weight must be shifted
into the opponent's body with your upper torso perpendicular to the ground when
the kick reaches its full extension. When used for close range counterattacking,
the back kick is an excellent tool for scoring against an aggressive opponent. To
launch an effective counterattack against a roundhouse kick, for example, your back
kick should be short, with less commitment of your body weight and more emphasis
on speedy execution and retraction.
Predecessors to the Spinning Whip Kick
Perhaps one of the newest and most spectacular kicks in taekwondo is the spinning
whip kick. Although the exact development of the spinning whip kick is not known,
it's roots can be traced to three kicks: the spinning heel, spinning hook and spinning
crescent kicks. The spinning heel kick was very popular in the earliest days of
competition as a power attack. A spinning heel kick is performed from a low side
stance. Beginning with a pivot of the hips, the rear leg is swung around the body
between waist and shoulder height, striking the opponent's body with the back of
the heel. When done correctly, the spinning heel kick is a powerful kick. However,
it is also cumbersome, since the kicking leg remains straight from beginning to
An improvement on the spinning heel kick, soon came in the form of the spinning
hook kick. A faster and more deceptive kick, the spinning hook kick eliminated the
weakness of the spinning heel kick without sacrificing much in the way of power.
A spinning hook kick is performed from a standard fighting stance and begins with
a pivot and leg chamber similar to the spinning side kick. From the chamber position,
the kicking leg swings toward the target and uses the knee to hook across the target
on impact. Because the leg is chambered high, the spinning hook kick can be used
to effectively attack the head, an almost impossible attack with the spinning heel
Another popular kick from the 1970's that is rarely seen in full contact competition
any more is the spinning crescent kick. Because it was the only spinning kick that
could be used effectively at close range, the spinning crescent kick often allowed
for a surprise attack at the end of a combination or a close range counterattack
to the head.
The spinning crescent kick is ideal for close range attacking because, unlike any
other spinning kick, the body is kept upright and compact throughout the kick. This
turned out to be both a strength and a weakness in competition. To put power into
the crescent kick, you must fully rotate your upper body, opening your midsection
and face to your opponent as the kick reaches the outermost part of its arc shaped
path. At this moment, you become vulnerable to a potential knockout blow to the
fully exposed front of your head or body. As fighters learned to read and counter
the spinning crescent kick, it fell out of favor in full contact sparring. It is
indeed, however, an asset to the art that deserves further study and preservation
as part of taekwondo's rich evolution.
A New Kick is Born
A primary reason each of the above kicks did not last long in the competitive arena
is due to their vulnerability to counterattacks. Each kick left the kicker open
to attack during or just after the kick, a major problem in an art like taekwondo
that has elevated the counterattack to a science. Competitors searched and experimented
further, looking for the kick that would be least vulnerable to a counter, while
still allowing a quick, powerful attack to the head - a knockout kick. And they
found it in the spinning whip kick. A kick so new, that many taekwondo students
still call it a spinning hook kick.
Many people will say that this sounds identical to the spinning hook kick but there
are a few key differences. The first is that the spinning whip kick does not use
a turn of the body to chamber the leg, but instead coils the body prior to kicking.
When you pivot your front leg, your body should essentially remain behind and coil,
like a golfer preparing to swing. This creates what is scientifically termed potential
energy, a reserve of energy ready to be used. When you shoot your leg out to kick,
your body's uncoiling force, not your leg's power, delivers the blow. This brings
us to another essential difference between the two kicks. The spinning whip kick
uses the power of the entire body, not the hooking force of the leg, to create power.
By turning the body into an uncoiling whip (hence the name of the kick), it allows
even the smallest competitors to deliver knockout blows.
A final difference between the kicks lies in the positioning of the upper body during
the kick. When performing a spinning hook kick, the body moves forward toward the
target as the turn is made (before kicking) to chamber the leg high enough. The
spinning whip kick coils the body in place instead, creating a static axis around
which the leg moves. A static axis provides the kicker with many benefits including
better balance, more power using less muscle force, more speed, and quicker response
time. It also means that the kick can be executed from a very short distance, allowing
counterattacks to the head while your opponent is moving at you.
The spinning whip kick is often modified in competition, with the kicker dropping
his head out of range of a counterattack while he is kicking. This is an advanced
strategy that should be practiced only after you understand the dynamics of the
a correctly executed spinning whip kick. If you try dropping your head without understanding
the purpose of this movement, you will find it difficult to maintain your balance,
speed and power throughout the kick. Yet the spinning whip kick is very different
from the older, less flexible spinning hook kick. The spinning whip kick combines
the power of the spinning heel kick, the deception of the spinning hook kick and
the close range attacking power of the spinning crescent kick. To perform a spinning
whip kick, begin from a short fighting stance (feet about one shoulder width apart)
with your head and upper body aligned. Pivot your front foot in the direction of
your target until your heel is pointing directly at the target. Bring the foot of
your kicking leg up to your other knee to chamber the kick. Once chambered, shoot
your kicking leg out toward the target, with your leg reaching its full extension
about one foot to the side of the target. When your leg is fully extended, whip
it across the target and return to your original fighting stance.
The Turn Kick
The final spinning kick to be developed in the past two decades is the turn kick.
Often called a turning roundhouse kick, it is the most recent major technical innovation
in the world of taekwondo competition. Prior to the mid-1980's the turn kick was
unheard of outside of Korea. With the immigration of a new generation of Korean
competitors and instructors to the U.S. and Europe, the turn kick gained widespread
popularity in less than five years. How the turn kick was developed is the subject
of much speculation.
It is widely accepted that the turn kick was born out of necessity. A competitor
saw an opportunity, improvised and a new technique was conceived. Imagine this scene
from an international level match, perhaps the world championships: As a competitor
is attacking with a right leg back kick, he begins to turn around to execute the
kick and realizes that his opponent is stepping back. Knowing his opponent is now
too far away, he puts his right leg down in front of himself and throws a left leg
roundhouse kick. What transpires is a rudimentary version of a turn kick. When this
competitor realizes how effective his new combination of footwork (now known as
the turn step) and kicking is, he practices and refines it. Once he begins using
it in competition effectively, others imitate him and soon it becomes a new trend
The turn kick has two primary uses in taekwondo competition: as part of a combination
and as a counterattack. When used as part of a combination, it is performed conventionally,
by beginning with a turn step using the rear leg and following with a roundhouse
kick using what was originally the front leg (which becomes the back leg when the
turn step is completed). The turn kick normally covers the distance of the roundhouse
kick plus one full step, making it an ideal kick for chasing a retreating opponent.
When used as a counterattack, the turn kick is performed in place or falling backward
away from the advancing opponent. To accomplish this, the turn step becomes more
of a hop that is executed in place or while the body is retreating. As the kick
is performed, the hopping leg is drawn back to its original position, instead of
being placed forward as in the offensive turn kick. While the offensive turn kick
can be used by any student above the intermediate level, the counter turn kick is
only for the very advanced competitor.
Because taekwondo is a living art whose techniques are tested and proven in the
simulated combat of full contact competition, we will continue to see innovation
and evolution for many years to come. In fact, when we look back on the 1990's we
will see it as the decade that brought us the introduction and refinement of the
aero step, a new type of footwork that is just now taking its place in the arsenal
of competitors and practitioners worldwide. And what will follow that? Perhaps some
day you or your instructor will be the one to provide the answer to that question.
The above article is copyrighted by the author. All