Brazilian Jiu-jitsu-The Kicking Art? :Part 1


When discussing martial arts, combat sports or unarmed fighting systems that put a heavy emphasis on kicking techniques most people, who know even a little about fighting styles, would never think to include Brazilian Jiu-jitsu among them. Instead, when we think of flying feet what usually comes to mind are popular martial arts like   Olympic style Tae kwon Do, perhaps some branches of Korean Hapkido or maybe even French Savate. Few people would argue that these martial art styles are not “kicking styles” simply because of all the kicking that we see them perform.

To the casual observer these kicking arts certainly do not seem very similar to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu which is now world renowned for its ground grappling techniques. In fact, some might take it a step further and argue that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has absolutely nothing in common with these kicking styles and that these two schools of thought actually occupy the very polar opposite ends of the martial arts spectrum. They might claim that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is at one end, with no kicking at all, while these other styles are doing as much kicking as possible.

Once again, this argument can only be true if we allow our thinking to be controlled by some arbitrary set of goofy sport rules and then allow these often strange sport rules to define our jiu-jitsu or any other martial art for that matter.  Therefore sport rules often over influence our thinking (or lack thereof), not to mention; our practical reality. If we take a closer look at the complete system of unarmed combat, that Brazilian jiu-jitsu was meant to be and also at the collection of combat principles that governs it, we might discover that Brazilian jiu-jitsu has a lot more in common with traditional kicking styles than the “pseudo-experts” and sport apologists would have us believe.

Firstly, is it just our imaginations or are these kicking arts all over the place?  well lets take a look. Like I said, a lot of these conventional kicking styles are pretty easy to spot because of all the kicks sailing through the air. For example, some of those Hapkido sub-styles claim to have over a hundred or more separate kicking techniques. Furthermore, both Tae kwon Do, (also originally developed in Korea as a more kick orientated version of karate), and French Savate, have competitive sport rules that emphasize or score kicking methods above anything else. In the case of Savate, or more properly La Boxe Française (traditional French kick-boxing), this full-contact combat sport has a very uncomplicated rule for competitive matches that insures the desired emphasis. The rule is simply that a Savate fighter’s kicks must outnumber his punches in a ring bout.  Sure, these styles may do a lot more than only kicking, just like Brazilian jiu-jitsu should be doing much more than just ground grappling.  Nevertheless, it is undeniable that using the legs for fighting is a huge part of their applied self-defense philosophy. This fighting philosophy then gets expressed in the relative sport rules that develop. (Yea, I guess we could call this fighting philosophy “ass kicking”, in a more literal sense.)

The above are some of the better known “kicking styles” and I personally have had the pleasure of training in these systems to a greater or lesser degree. Therefore, I understood fairly well their technical and tactical use of kicks in unarmed combat.  Moreover, these kicking arts are not rarities or odd anomalies, there are plenty more of them in the martial arts world. In fact, these kick based styles seem to have cross cultural appeal since they are found all around the world. There is Filipino Sikaran, lots of Northern style kung-Fu methods from China, Capoeira from Brazil, Vovinam, Don Chan Tan Cong from Vietnam, and Chausson another more obscure art from Europe, to name just a few more.

What’s more, there is even a traditional folk style of wrestling, native to the United Kingdom, where the practitioners integrated kicking into what was otherwise a classic form of Celtic jacket wrestling.  This is the Devon-shire style. Devon-shire wrestling is considered a branch of Cornish wrestling or the broader category of Cornwall and Breton style that is still practiced in the old Gaelic areas of the western U.K and continental France. This kind of Celtic jacket wrestling is surprisingly similar to Judo but has been practiced for thousands of years in Europe.  This kind of jacket wrestling, like Judo, could be highly effective in real combat and was said to have been part of the standard training for the ancient and medieval Celtic warriors of Europe. Therefore, the Devon-shire method of including kicks is probably a vestige of an older more combative form.  This is something that we can explore further another time since using low kicks and foot stomps to set up and help execute what are essentially jiu-jitsu and judo throws is something that BJJ practitioners interested in real world fighting might want to incorporate. Hence, this is one area where the value of kicking has been recognized by an essentially grappling form of fighting and therefore should not be entirely dismissed by BJJ practitioners.

If this were not hard enough on the shins there is references to  games of shin kicking, one version referred to as “Purirng” in Wales is said to have  evolved from the above more combative kind of jacket wrestling. If you are a bit of a martial arts folk anthropologist, as I am, you might find this very interesting and I have a personal theory that just this kind of village kicking game evolved into French Savate street fighting, when it was transplanted to an urban setting.

Moreover, from a slightly different perspective you could conceivably put Thai boxing on this list of kicking arts. Not because Thai boxing has a huge repertoire of different kicks but because Thai boxers tend to use a few basic ones so frequently and to such great effect. In other words, certain kicks are a very big part of the overall Thai boxing ring strategy so that a very large proportion of Thai boxing matches are decided by the use of those kicks.

The point I’m trying to make, is that there seems to have been a lot of people from diverse cultures around the world and throughout different historical time periods that thought fighting or defending one’s self with leg techniques was the best way to do it. Why is that? I am going to explore the answers to that question in some upcoming posts and at the same time reveal other ways BJJ might have a closer relationship to traditional kicking arts then a superficial glace reveals.