Yoko geri keage and yoko geri kekomi are two essential kicks in karate. Keage is first introduced in kata Heian Nidan, while kekomi is not integrated before later katas.
To begin explaining them, it is perhaps most useful to start with their names with their actual translations.
So both are “yoko geri” kicks.
“Yoko” means “side”, while “geri” means “kick”. This is of course consistent with their application as both are kicked sideways in a 90 degree angle away from the direction on is facing. In contrast, the perhaps two most fundamental kicks in karate, mae geri and mawashi geri (“mae” meaning “front”, and “mawashi” translating to “round”), are not yoko geris as their direction is forward in line with the direction of one`s body. Yoko geri kicks are in other words “side kicks”, i.e. the kick goes to the side and not forward in line with your hips.
Next, the names “keage” and “kekomi”.
“Keage” translates to “upward”, while “kekomi” becomes “into/straight”, thus, upwards side kick and straight side kick.
This is primarily an indication of the direction of the kick, or put differently, where the kick is aimed. Keage is often referred to as a “slap kick”, this is because keage targets the chin, (i.e., it is a high kick aimed at yodan height). Kekomi on the other hand is thought of as a “thrust kick”. In term of aim, this relates to how kekomi is usually directed towards chudan, i.e. stomach/centre aim, though for self-defence it can also be taught as a low kick aimed at one`s opponent`s knees or lower thigh.
While the directions of keage and kekomi differ and can be one way of distinguishing them, a more in-depth understanding comes from understanding why they are aimed high and low, and for this, the key is really in their common translation mentioned above, as slapping kicks or thrusting kicks.
What makes keage an effective slapping kick is the minimal movement of the kick. While it of course is a kick that requires flexibility and leg strength, all its power and speed comes indeed from the knee rotation. It is absolutely centered on one`s capacity for flicking the knee so that the leg fully extends for the moment of impact. This is a small rotation which requires flexible inner thigh muscle more than physical strength. It is because it is just a small rotation that kick becomes both quick and a slap.
Some of this is the case for kekomi as well, though with kekomi there is much more rotation involved making the kick both powerful and slow. With kekomi, the trick is to focus on the rotation of the back leg and hips, with the glutes as the primary engine for the kick`s power. In order to optimize this kick one usually rotates the standing foot as well when kicking. This is so as to really make the rotation of the hips as powerful as possible so that the kick really drills into its target. Furthermore, as the kick is a thrust and not a slap, it also requires far more muscular strength. This is to differentiate them as keage should feel like a stretch on your inner thighs while kekomi needs outer thigh strength to maintain its thrust in addition to the glutes for the rotation. It is because of this strength that kekomi is also taught as a self-defence kick as it can be aimed low (and therefore requires little warm-up or flexibility) and, when executed properly, has the ability to break bone and inflict serious damage.
Interestingly, both kicks use the same part of the foot – the outer side – which is most probably a consequence of the way one rotates the knee in both kicks.
written by Alex Mellbye