by Sang H. Kim, based on the Taekwondo Aerokicks video
Footwork is an integral part of almost every martial arts practice routine. From simple stepping and sliding to complex combinations of steps, each martial art uses footwork as a means of setting up attacks and defenses. Taekwondo, however, has a class of footwork that is not found in other arts - the aero step.
The most advanced innovation in taekwondo footwork, the aero step can give you a significant edge in sparring, whether in the ring or in the dojang. An aero step is performed by lifting your front or back leg into the air and kicking with your other leg before stepping down. On paper this sounds like a jumping kick, but it is quite different. The aero step is intended to carry you forward or backward, not upward like a jump. In fact, the stepping foot is rarely more than twelve inches above the ground and sometimes it barely skims the floor.
Advantages of the Aero Step
The aero step carries several advantages in sparring. Most obviously, it will confuse your opponent as to which leg you intend to kick with. If you begin with a right leg aero step, your opponent will assume that you are going to use your right leg to kick. You can easily surprise him by bringing your left leg up to hit him while he is still focusing on your retreating right leg. Because the aero step resembles the chambering motion for a roundhouse kick, it is easy for your opponent to be deceived and commit to a counterattack too soon, leaving you with the perfect chance to score. Secondly, the aero step is a deceptive way of covering extra distance when kicking. By shifting your body weight forward or backward while stepping, you can cover extra inches or even feet, bringing your kick into striking range before your opponent realizes what's coming. The aero step is also an excellent method for increasing the speed, and therefore the power, of your kicks. When we look at individual techniques later in this article, you will see specific illustrations of how you can increase the power of your kicks. Finally, aero step kicks are impressive to watch and may sway the judges your way in a close match.
Aero Step Kicks
There are about a half dozen kicks that can be combined with an aero step. The front kick and roundhouse kick are good kicks with which to start practicing. To execute an aero step followed by a roundhouse kick, assume a fighting stance with your left leg forward. Bring your right leg up as if you were going to execute a front kick, but do not lift your right foot more than eight inches off the ground. When your right knee has passed your left knee, retract your right hip and simultaneously execute a left leg roundhouse kick before your right foot touches the ground. The result will be a front leg roundhouse kick executed as you skip forward toward your target. To get the full effect of the aero step, it must be performed as if you were really going to chamber a kick and then suddenly changed your mind.
A second method of performing an aero step with a roundhouse kick is to start from the same stance, but this time bring your left leg up first (as shown below). This is a more difficult kick, particularly to use in competition. Lift your left foot about twelve inches above the ground, as if you were going to do a front leg front kick. When you foot reaches its maximum height, withdraw it toward your rear leg as you simultaneously perform a right leg roundhouse kick. Your knees will pass each other in the air and you will land with your right leg in front after kicking, having changed stance in the air. This a popular technique for counterattacking without stepping backward.
The aero step is an effective way of adding speed and power to the roundhouse kick, because it creates a reaction force, one of the principle methods of generating power in the martial arts. Just as you create more powerful blocks and strikes by using both arms simultaneously, you can create more powerful kicks by playing both legs off of each other. The reaction force generated by the aero step is created when you retract your hip on the stepping side and thrust forward your kicking leg. The retraction of one side of your hip causes your opposite leg and hip to thrust forward faster than it normally would, increasing the speed and power of the initiation of your kick.
The Double Roundhouse Kick
The double roundhouse kick is very popular among smaller competitors because it takes advantage of their speed and allows them to get off a few quick kicks before retreating from a larger opponent. To execute a double kick with an aero step, begin with a left leg forward fighting stance and take a right aero step as you did in the first technique above. When your right knee passes your left knee, perform a left roundhouse kick. As soon as your right foot touches the ground (as your left foot is finishing its kick) bring your right leg back up for another roundhouse kick. If you are very fast, you can follow with another left leg roundhouse kick in the same fashion.
The result of the double or triple roundhouse kick is that your opponent is being hit from both sides and cannot position himself for an effective defense or counter. Combined with an aero step to lead off, even the biggest and most experienced opponent can be effectively frustrated. To further compound the effect, practice this technique from both left and right stances. When your opponent figures out the technique from your left side, switch to a right handed stance and mix him up all over again.
Jumping Turn Kick
Yet another variation on the roundhouse kick is the turn kick. A turn kick is performed by taking a single 180° turn step to your posterior side and doing a roundhouse kick with what was formerly your front leg. A more advanced version of the turn kick is the jumping turn kick. To perform a jumping turn kick, replace the turn step with an aero turn step. Instead of placing the foot of your turning leg on the ground when you complete your turn, hold it in the air as your bring your kicking leg up to the target. Your turning leg should not touch the ground until you have hit the target.
To achieve this, you have to first rotate your hips, then begin your turn step. When your stepping foot has completed its turn, it should be about eight inches above the ground. At this point, your kicking leg should be on its way to the target. A jumping turn kick is nearly twice as powerful as a standard turn kick because the aero step forces your entire body weight into the target. In a standard turn kick, your body weight is resting primarily on your standing foot. In a jumping turn kick, both feet are in the air and your body weight is literally spinning through the air into your target.
360° Aero Back Kick
A 360° aero back kick is similar to a 360° jumping back kick with one important exception, the aero back kick focuses on traveling forward rather than upward. To perform an aero back kick, start from a right leg forward fighting stance (assuming you are right handed). Take an aero step with your left leg, bringing your foot about eighteen inches off the ground. When your left foot reaches its optimum height, perform a right leg back kick, hitting your target before your left foot touches the ground. When you complete your kick, you will have spun 360° in the air.
When you are proficient at this kick, you can use the aero step to lightly strike or push your opponent backwards by landing it on his thigh or lower trunk. Follow up with a back kick to the upper chest or head for a knockout blow. Because this technique is likely to result in a knockout and possibly serious injury to your opponent, it should be practiced with the utmost control and concern for your sparring partner. This technique, like the jumping turn kick, is much more powerful than a standard back kick because your entire body is hurled through the air at the target.
360° Aero Spinning Whip Kick
Similar to the aero back kick, the 360° aero spinning whip kick is probably the most spectacular kick in the art of taekwondo. Rarely seen in competition, it is generally practiced by advanced level black belts. If you are proficient at the spinning whip kick and jumping spinning whip kick, the next step is to learn the 360° spinning whip kick. Begin from a right leg forward fighting stance. Bring your left leg up in front of you until it is about twelve inches off of the ground. At that point, bring your right leg up to execute a spinning whip kick before your left foot touches the ground. Once again, your body will spin a full 360° in the air before landing.
This kick, like the back kick above, is a knockout kick. Once you begin kicking, it is very difficult to control or retract the kick, so it should be used only by experienced practitioners. Additionally, it is not recommended for anyone who has a previous back, hip or knee injury because it is very demanding on these joints.
Implementing Aero Kicks
Aero kicks are excellent tools for scoring in sparring competition and practice. Below are a few drills to practice some of the kicks described in this article:
1. Aero step roundhouse kick - Face your partner in closed stance (both of you have your left foot forward). Begin by feinting a left leg roundhouse kick to confuse your partner. Quickly follow with a left leg aero step and right leg roundhouse kick to the midsection as your partner steps back to avoid your attack.
2. Double roundhouse kick - Face your partner in closed stance. Your partner should slide toward you. As he gets within kicking range, slide back a half step and use a front leg aero step followed by a double roundhouse kick. To raise the difficulty level of this drill, have your partner randomly alternate between stepping and sliding forward, forcing you to adjust which leg you kick with by mirroring his movement. If he slides forward, you slide backward; if he steps forward, you step backward.
3. Jumping turn kick - Face your partner in closed stance. When your partner attacks with a front leg roundhouse kick, counter with a jumping turn kick. In order to make the counter effective, you must use the aero step to maintain your position or fall back slightly away from your partner. If you move forward, you will be too close to score. You can also practice this drill from open stance (one partner switches stance). When your partner attacks with a back leg roundhouse kick, counter with a jumping turn kick.
4. 360° aero back kick - Face your partner in open stance, with your right leg forward. When your partner slides toward you, use your left leg to take an aero step and follow with a right leg back kick to the chest. If your partner is close enough, you can lightly place your left leg on his midsection for a brief instant as you begin your back kick.
5. 360° aero spinning whip kick - Although you will rarely have an opportunity to use this kick in a match, you can practice it as a finishing technique at the end of a combination. For example, face your partner in closed stance and begin your combination with a double roundhouse kick, followed by a stepping in back kick, and finishing with an aero spinning whip kick. The only time you can use this kick effectively is when your opponent is running away from you and you are in total control of the exchange. In a tournament ring, try to finish your combination as your opponent is standing on or approaching the boundary line of the ring.
When you begin practicing the aero step, you may find it awkward or difficult. To improve your footwork in general, and your aero step in particular, practice agility, speed and balance skills. Some good drills are running backwards, running up stairs, jumping rope, shadow sparring and target drills. Don't forget to try out your new skills on a cooperative partner so you can refine your timing and accuracy. When you can confidently use each new skill on a training partner, you are ready to put them to use in the ring.