The Calf Kick comes of age

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Mixed martial arts continues to evolve, recently around Shifting and more recently still around the Calf Kick. The latter technique, the Low Low Kick, came of age Saturday night at UFC 215, as Jeremy Stephens destroyed Gilbert Melendez with it.

Identifying the origins of a move is difficult, but it’s a staple in Sanda. Could have started the first time a Neanderthal got drunk on fallen, fermented Marula fruit and missed while attempting a groin kick on a similarly pixilated lowbrow.

As with all techniques, what matters is the set up. And in this case, the technique is similar to the first kick most people are taught – the low kick. The major difference is bending the base, supporting leg as much as possible to get the hips low enough to hit with full force, using the core, rather than kicking with the leg alone. It’s also important to make sure your head gets out of the pocket. Otherwise, it’s a low kick – swing the leg up, rainbow it, arm can scissor, reference, or stay up, etc.

The target is the nerve bundle near the top of the shin, where the Tibialis muscles are largest. You can readily identify it on yourself by pressing with your thumb. There is a lesser target 90 degrees or so out from the shin.

Developing the ability to bend the base leg significantly can be readily developed with an agility ladder, specifically, hops on a single leg. The chance of injury increases significantly with one leg, so warm up with a relatively slow, measured movement. Later you can move more explosively. As an aside, on an agility ladder aim from perfect movement the first four squares, and only then accelerate. And to develop clean footwork, don’t simply try to get your foot somewhere in the square, but rather aim to base exactly in the center.

Start with single leg hops, moving forward, first with the right leg, and then with the left on the second pass. For most people, reverse that if you are a Southpaw. In either case, always start every drill with your weaker side, so you don’t develop a sugar side.

Then do single sideways hops. Make sure you get both legs. And hop to the inside, and to the outside.

Then try backward hops. All variations can be attempted with the eyes closed; just make sure there is adequate space between yourself and the person in front.

Then try the same sequence of four – front, inside, outside, and back – but moving in a sawtooth pattern. The sawtooth can be in and out on one side, or can go in, out on the other side, in, out on the first side.

Lastly, try 90 degree turns on each hop. Practiced three times a week, over the weeks, your ankles and knees will become stronger and more stable and able to readily bend as low as necessary to Calf Kick effectively.

Please note, these conditioning techniques are not of limited relevance, they are more or less everything. Without conditioning, knowing something will probably just get you in trouble.

With that said, all techniques have to be set up, and the set up is more important than the actual attack, in that once set up, there are usually multiple attacks available. And there have to be multiple set ups, as continually trying the same set up is making yourself predictable, which is setting yourself up, the exact opposite of fighting.

At its core, the set up is to get the opponent to put weight on the lead leg (assuming you are both fighting orthodox; Southpaw Calf Kick attack and defense is another blog). It is not possible to effectively attack an opponent in a Muay Thai stance with the weight set back – it can be checked too readily, and getting your Calf Kick checked hurts. Likewise, if the opponent is moving rapidly, it is difficult. Further, if the opponent is moving to his or her right, then checking your calf kick is as easy as falling off a log.

Ideally, the opponent does the work for you. Ideally, the opponent comes in predictably, with a wide, power-punching stance, weight set forward. Then you use a low kick set up, and kick. It’s there. If the opponent isn’t so kind, you need to get them to set their weight forward.

The three most common initial standing attacks are the Pendulum kick, Teep, and Jab, all, of course, done with the lead, left side. Each can be used to set up the Calf Kick.

If you Pendulum kick to the opponent’s lead, left, inside leg, and he or she responds by turning the knee in to check, then the next time, fake the Pendulum Kick, and come in with a Calf Kick.

The Teep too can be used effectively to get the opponent to set weight forward. In fact, anything can – a jab, aggressive forward movement, feints. In fighting if you want make a side heavy, you should first try to make it light. So a solid teep pushing the opponent back and taking weight off the lead leg can cause the opponent to react by setting weight forward, leaving an opening for a Calf Kick.

Likewise, a solid left jab can get their weight set forward. But only if the opponent catches the jab, shells, or slips to the inside. If they predictably do an orthodox right parry and right slip, then jab twice, with the second one shoveling in palm up. This is hard to parry and characteristically causes attention to go high, leaving the calf open.

If they aren’t kind enough to catch, shell, or slip your inside, then they can be steered into a Calf Kick.

Circle to your left, and throw your jab to the far (their right) side of their face. This will make them step to their left, and again, leave them open to a Calf Kick as they plant.

A Wrong Stepping Jab can be used to great effect, as it set up a full power Calf Kick. As you jab, step right, just outside the pocket. Then hop across their body, driving all your power behind the Calf Kick. The full power kick can be thrown to the calf, but can also be thrown more conventionally to the side of the lead thigh, to the front of the thigh (their head will come forward so go for a Plumm or front headlock or other appropriate technique), or to the base leg.

This takes extra footwork and time, and can be countered, so you need another completely different calf kick off the same initial attack.

Step wide towards their back with your right foot and follow a little less with your left foot. then Calf Kick from their back. You can as well jab as you step. Now off the same wrong stepping jab, you could be hopping across them to kick any of four targets, or you could be staying there and kicking towards the back of the calf. Note, this latest set up moving to their back is not great for a conventional low kick to their thigh, but the rest are.

Another series of set ups for the Calf Kick is to low kick conventionally to the thigh. Make sure you aim for the lower part of the thigh, where in order to grab your foot they have to bend forward or level change. This will increase the chances that they will check the kick. You can then fake the low kick, and kick the calf as they plant down.

The technique is simple, but takes practice. To warm up, step off left 45 on the ‘V’ and then low kick. Then set extra wide; you will feel that you can no longer kick with pull power. So step extra wide, and slide you right, rear foot in a few inches, until you have resumed a solid stance, and then kick. The right foot must slide in on the ball of the foot, not rolled over on the toes.

Then you can step wide, preparatory to a low kick, slide your rear leg in, and then pause momentarily. As their check drops back down, kick the calf.

Further, any low kick where they check predictably can be countered by using your newfound Low Low kicking skills to “Submarine” under the check, and kick the calf of the base leg. You can also kick through the lowest part of the checking leg, but that is starting to edge into another blog, too.