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Torakan Karate-Do

'Karate Essence' ‘Reality Check’ Mawashi Geri

Karate Essence

‘Reality Check’

Mawashi Geri/Roundhouse/Round or Turning Kick

Mawashi Geri is this month’s ‘Reality Check’ subject technique, for Karate Essence

The Mawashi Geri, or Roundhouse Kick, is probably the most used kick for spectacle in martial combat sport competition or film.  


Table of Contents

·         The Absence of History of Mawashi Geri.

·         Savate: to replace the cut and thrust of Swordplay. Touché.

·         The Influence of Funakoshi (Gigo) Yoshitaka.

·         Vive la Différence.

·         Shotokan Mawashi geri.

·         Tae Kwon Do Roundhouse Kick.

·         Kyokushin Mawashi Geri.

·         Muay Thai Round Kick.

·         Kung Fu Roundhouse Kick.

·         Torakan Mawashi Geri and or Roundhouse Kick.

·         In Conclusion.


The Absence of History

Funakoshi Gichin's ‘Karatedo Kyohan’, written in 1935, describes eight different kicks. Compared to today's karate, the most obvious omission is Mawashi geri. The first appearance of Mawashi geri is actually in Mutsu's ‘Karate Kempo’, in 1933, appearing in Otsuka Hironori's tantodori enbu forms. 

Mawashi geri was used very little, in any of the Japanese martial arts, until the 1950s when, based on the kumite part of Karate training, an official sporting competition began. 

Until then, and still now in Budō Karate-Do dojos, the main point of Karate was for self-defence.  In ‘self-defence’ there are no rules, except to survive if accosted or attacked; and the main aim is to incapacitate your assailant by whatever means necessary. Mawashi geri in particular is more about fighting than self-defence; and as the tournament scene became more and more popular, Mawashi Geri became an essential technique in most Japanese dojos.  That of course is not to say that Mawashi geri would never be used for self-defence.

Along with most of the other high range or spectacular kicks; Mawashi, Ushiro and Ura Mawashi Geri were simply not practiced in the Okinawan Karate systems, where of course Japanese Karate originally came from.  Further to that, those techniques were not found in the Southern Chinese Kung Fu or Gung Fu, where the Okinawan arts are purported to have originated.  

Traditional Karate – Budō Karate – focussing on self-defence, passed down their self-defence techniques and systems through their Kata.  They were passed on from generation to generation, with hardly a single ‘fancy kick’ (or kick above the waist) to be found in the original forms.



In France in the 1700 and 1800s Savate, a style of fighting with feet, became popular mainly because the sword was outlawed for the general populous.  The name Savate is taken from a style of shoe that was worn during this period.  A sporting competition was eventually born out of this style of fighting, with feet and fists, at about the same time that the Marquis of Queensbury rules were being organised for ‘fist fighting’ sporting competition in England.

Explanations, diagrams and drawings of the earliest Savate competitions clearly show the roundhouse, the reverse roundhouse, and spinning roundhouse kicks as part of the Savate arsenal.

Around the beginning of the 20th century France and Japan were striking many military deals to upgrade Japan’s army and navy and modernise the Japanese forces throughout.  Part of that was the adaption of Frances military martial arts, which included Savate training.

The "Four Faces Method," for example, is a unique set of codified movements used to instruct dozens of people in grid-like formations.

‍This innovative and contemporary martial arts training approach was a smash hit, spreading throughout the country in both the army and schools, and finally all the way to Japan.  The following is a link to an article about the early sport of Savate.  This link is to a Savate Roundhouse Kick tutorial.  Remember that Savate was around before Japanese Karate, and long before the sport of Karate was even thought of.


The Influence of Funakoshi (Gigo) Yoshitaka

Funakoshi Yoshitaka, or Gigo as he was known, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, the inventor of modern karate, was one of many who were particularly impressed by Savate.  Funakoshi Gigo is the first person credited with a photograph of the Mawashi Geri; Roundhouse Kick.  Shotokan underwent some dramatic changes under Funakoshi Gigo Sensei, and with the birth of the tournament scene explosion those kicks, like Mawashi geri, became firmly established in the practice of Shotokan, and in fact Karate in general.

The proliferation of dramatic, high and flashy kicks has appeared in the last 70 to 90 years and you will now find a variation of the Mawashi Geri in most Karate styles. This trend has also been occurring in arts that have been around for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. The spread of the, so called, modern Karate trend has only really occurred since the origin of ‘Sport Karate’, which began the year Funakoshi Gichin Sensei passed away.


Vive la Différence

Not surprisingly, every martial art, it seems, has its own slant on the Roundhouse Kick.  In fact, each martial discipline or style has several variations on the theme.  Apart from the different styles having their own take on how a classical Mawashi Geri should be performed and with a whole rationale to explain why their particular take on the theme is better, more practical, and therefore a more desirable modus operandi.

None of this is surprising, of course; and as we are already uncovering, with just two previous ‘Reality Check’ subjects thus far, a similar picture is unfolding with almost every technique.  And so, following the guidelines of the previous ‘Reality Check’ subject kick… if we take one of the main styles at a time, explain the format and the rationale behind that format, we can perhaps all enrich our understanding of the Roundhouse Kick.


Shotokan Mawashi Geri

With any Shotokan kicks, or punches for that matter, it depends on the organisation or association the particular dojo belongs to.  For those Shotokan dojos that focus their techniques mainly for competition they will inevitably practice, repetitively, to focus at the target, and not into it.  I know this because I came up through that route.  We were always told that, for real life situations (Budō), the depth of the technique should be increased; however, and there is no other rule… you react naturally the way you train, repetitively. 

Also, in particular with Mawashi Geri, you train repetitively to pick the knee, of the leg you are going to kick with, up to the side and with the foot pulled back, to launch the kick; the emphasis on correct technique.  Put this together with focussing your ‘power explosion’ (Kime) at or near the intended target, and with as much effort put into the speed of the withdrawal as in the kick itself, and you have a somewhat less than fully effective kick.  Also, jodan Mawashi Geri in tournament tends to be thrown to use the top of the instep to impact with.  Here is a link to quite a good tutorial for the classic Shotokan Mawashi Geri(link)


Tae Kwon Do Roundhouse Kick

The Tae Kwon Do ‘roundhouse kick’ is performed a little differently to the Karate Mawashi geri.  It is performed to maximise speed and deception.  Like most of the Tae Kwon Do kicks, the knee is picked up forward towards the opponent and only at the last moment the hip of the kicking leg is switched over to flick the bottom part of the leg around in that inward horizontal or angling towards the horizontal strike.

Again, Tae kwon Do is more or less a sport now… the speed might get the foot to its target but the targeting seems to be similar to the Shotokan tournament style, hitting at the target rather than into the target.  The following link will take you to a short ‘Tae Kwon Do’ ‘Roundhouse Kick’ tutorial.


Kyokushin Mawashi Geri

It seems to me that the Kyokushin Mawashi geri is more about functionality than it is about form or particularly correct technique, and that’s fine by me because, when all is said and done, self-defence is about the payload.  However, from a purely personal point of view, like a lot of the Kyokushin kicks, while I find their Mawashi Geri to be extremely functional and hard hitting; sometimes, by their very robust nature, I feel they can be a little telegraphed.  The following is a link to a short Kyokushin Mawashi Geri tutorial.


Muay Thai Round Kick

Out of all the various martial arts’ Mawashi Geri/Roundhouse-kick/Round-kick, I personally, believe that the Muay Thai Round kick is the most devastating of all; it is one of the most powerful strikes a person can deliver.  Unlike many snapping kicks from other arts that rely on the quadriceps to produce power, the Muay Thai kick utilises the entire body, deriving its power from the rotational movement of the body, powered mainly by the hips and trunk muscles.

You will often hear the movement of the Muay Thai kick likened to that of swinging a baseball bat. The bat follows the rotational movement of the body to the intended target; with the shin following the movement of the hips, generating tremendous amounts of torque. The more powerful the practitioner’s hips and core the faster and more powerful the kick will be.  The following is a link to a brief Muay Thai Round Kick tutorial. 


Kung Fu Roundhouse Kick

I mentioned earlier, in the first section, that the Karate of Okinawa was purported to have been developed from the Southern Chinese Kung Fu and didn’t contain a roundhouse in their original forms. 


The main perceived difference between northern and southern styles is that the northern styles tend to emphasize fast and powerful kicks, high jumps and generally fluid and rapid movement, while the southern styles focus more on strong arm and hand techniques, and stable, immovable stances and fast footwork.  Although these days, some Kung Fu practitioners train to fight in the MMA circuits, and so they too will no doubt include a Roundhouse Kick.  There are seven main styles of Kung Fu; however, there are anything up to 400 sub styles.  Needless to say, there is bound to be a wide variety of ‘Roundhouse Kick’ delivery styles.  The following is a Kung Fu ‘Roundhouse Kick tutorial.

Torakan Mawashi Geri

I will finish off this ‘Karate Essence’ ‘Reality Check’ Blog article on Mawashi Geri with some very short film clips of how we, at the Torakan Dojo, perform some of the many versions of a Roundhouse Kick that we practice for real situations.  The techniques we practice are very much influenced by my own life long study into various martial disciplines throughout my life, and the consequent practical experience of a lot of that life working in high risk security.


In Conclusion

In conclusion, in my opinion, each Roundhouse Kick/Mawashi Geri is designed and performed by a particular discipline for a specific purpose and providing their particular kick fulfils that purpose – works for them – then the more variety the better.

My reason for practicing and performing the Mawashi Geri has definitely changed over my sixty years in the martial arts.  Once upon a time my main focus was for competition but, because I worked in the high risk security industry, even then I understood the difference between ‘reality’ and sport.  I now, and have for many years, teach exclusively for self-defence.  So, horses for courses; if your Mawashi Geri/Roundhouse Kick/Round Kick/Turning Kick works for you, ‘Vive la Différence.’


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