Tsumasaki – The “Old” Way of Kicking?

I remember when I first went to Okinawa for Karate and Kobudo training.

Though it was a long time ago (I was only 9-10 years old), I still have some strong, vivid, memories.

One is about tsumasaki-geri.

I first saw the tsumasaki-geri at an old Goju-ryu dojo. It was a humid August evening, the training was about to start, and the sensei of the dojo was warming up by repeatedly kicking his big toe into a wooden post.

Oh, didn’t I mention?

For those of you who are unaware, tsumasaki-geri is a special kick done with the big toe supported by the toe next to it, and it is only found in Okinawan Karate (as far as I know).

Curious as I was, I went forward and looked closer at the strange kick he was doing and a moment later I had gotten myself into a private lesson in the secret art of kicking with your big toe: tsumasaki-geri.

Here’s a picture:

(Okay, I admit, that’s not the best picture, but it was the only one I could find on Google).

Tsumasaki-geri is mainly used by the “older” styles of Karate in Okinawa, and the young generation has hardly ever heard of it. Well, why should they? It doesn’t give any points in tournaments! Using the tip of the toe as a striking surface can be very powerful, dangerous, precise and penetrating. Definitely not suited for sports.

There are even several stories of old masters using the tsumasaki-geri. Here is one about a man named Ishimine:

One night Pechin Ishimine he was on his way home in the capital city of Shuri. He was climbing a hill during a drizzling rain when he encountered a large powerful man known as Tamanaha, who had been resting. The two struck up a conversation, and continued their journey together. Recognizing Ishimine, who was a students of Matsumura, Tamanaha who was obviously a bit of a rebel- rouser, sought to provoke a fight.

First, Tamanaha opened up an umbrella and then ask Ishimine to hold it for him, which he did. Getting no angry response, next Tamanaha ask Ishimine to hold his muddy straw sandals. Finally angered, Ishimine threw them over a nearby hedge. Thus, a fight was started.

Tamanaha attacked with a strong punch, but Ishimine quickly dodged to one side and ended the encounter with a quick toe kick to the attacker’s lower rib cage. Tamanaha fell to the ground, unconscious. Not wanting to leave him there, Ishimine then threw the unconscious body over his shoulder and took him home. Tamanaha, however, died a few days later.

Fact or fiction?

Who knows?

What matters is that tsumasaki-geri was used in the story. And many old Okinawan masters swears that it is the old way.

Now, if you look at where it is used today, you will see it for example in Matsubayashi-ryu (mainly in the kata Chinto) and in Uechi-ryu (where they call it sokusen).

So where am I going with this?

Well, when I received that private lesson on how to execute a tsumasaki-geri in Okinawa, something struck me as interesting. I was told by the sensei that tsumasaki-geri is the “old” way of kicking, along with the low side-kick (sokuto-geri), and using the ball of the foot in kicking, like we do today, is a modern phenomenon. “Most of today’s Karate-ka have never even seen a toe kick.” I was told.

“Wow!” I thought.

But today, I don’t know…

Is that really the truth?

Is using the ball of the foot such a modern thing?

Just so everybody knows, here’s a picture (not my foot) of a kick done with the ball of the foot (mae-geri):

Modern or old?

Well, going back to the roots of the civilian fighting traditions, I have done some research.

Meet “Pankration”.

Pankration is an ancient Greek Martial Art introduced to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and founded as a blend of boxing and wrestling. The name Pankration literally means “all powers”. In other words, everything was allowed. Today we would call it MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).

Some even consider Pankration to be the first all-encompassing fighting system in human history.

So what better place to look for “old techniques” than here? Well, I don’t know! So, I decided to see if I can find any evidence, any traces, of “ball of the foot”-style mae-geri in the ancient art of Pankration.

After a few hours of searching around the net, I finally got some results.

And they are nothing to sneeze at.

Just look at these pictures:

maegeri-pancration

roman bronze statue 0-200 ad

These are old Roman bronze statues, dating from 0-200 AD.

And whaddya know, they shows a Pankratiast kicking. With the ball of the foot!

But it doesn’t end there. Oh no.

Here’s more:

Pankration-highkick-submission

From an old vase. Catching the ball of the foot -kick, and attempting a submission.

maegeri-centaur

And the best one: A scene of actual combat from the Parthenon’s wall sculptures (in this case the opponent is a Centaur, a mythological creature which served as a symbolic depiction of the invading Middle Eastern warriors, and not a mythical beast in a literal sense).

The Parthenon is considered the holiest of holies for the people of ancient Athens.

And what do we see?

The ball of the foot being used.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever of Pankratiastes using the kicking techniques popularized by Karate today:

No side kicks.

No roundhouse kicks.

No jumping kicks.

And definitely no tsumasaki-geri.

Only straight, powerful, ball of the foot -type mae-geri.

So, what is the conclusion?

Well, tsumasaki-geri, kicking with the toes, might be the “old way” in Okinawa…

But compared to our normal mae-geri, tsumasaki-geri seems like a relatively “modern phenomenon”.

In your face, old Okinawan masters!

23 Comments

  • Fatihsan
    Yeah, I remember we trained this techniques about 16 years ago. it was 1993 IOGKF European Gasshuku and Shihan Higaonna showed us. All European Chief Instructors and senior guys trained hard tsumasaki geri;)
  • Diego Romero
    i really need to learn how to do that kick one day (damn my lousy toes that don't bend!) by the way, i think this kick is also mentioned in a book by shigeru egami (i seem to remember reading about it in a google books preview)
  • Igor
    My genetics kind of suck, but I finally found something that is just made for me::)
  • Buddy
    My style still teaches that kick. Infact, once you reach Sho Dan, you are "required" to make all your front kicks with the big toe. You also practice conditioning your toe from the beginning of your training.
    • Wow, that's interesting! :o What style do you practice, if you don't mind me asking?
      • Buddy
        I study Shorin Ryu from Kise Sensei's organization in Okinawa.
      • Sorry, I know this is almost a decade old blog post, but our dojo is within the same federation as Buddy. A nice article can be found in two parts at http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=419. Our lineage involves the Nabe Matsumura Hohan Soken track mentioned.
        • Actually 3 parts, http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=407 is part one, part two link above and part 3 http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=424. Really enjoy your blog by the way ... we share a similar sense of humor.
  • I learned Tsumasaki Geri in I believe 1993 while training in a Shorinkan dojo. After many years of hitting my toe on concrete floors & walls, wood floors, and makiwara I use this kick almost exclusively. One of my students shows in demos on a regular basis how powerful the tsumasaki geri is by breaking boards with his toe.True that few know it or understand how to use it properly. What I have found is those who have trained in Okinawa or directly under someone who has know it. Others say its incorrect and that its not effective, well those people have probably never been hit with it.
  • Budoka
    We also use this technique in training at my dojo. Its not one to take lightly. Without proper conditioning you can easily inflict a lot of injury to your foot. Soke Takayoshi Nagamine often demonstrates this toe kick in seminar.
  • Great blog post Jesse - very thought-provoking. And you might just be right!I think the ball of foot mae geri is the single most effective kick there is. I think it requires some specific and arduous training which most combat sports practitioners are unlikely (unwilling?) to undertake, hence it is not often seen as it should.
    • BlackKnight
      I disagree. Karate is about precise targeting. I think the author misunderstood the karate master. Tsumasaki geri is the "old way" in "karate". It's the way they trained. He wasn't talking about in all martial arts history. It evolved in Okinawa and that's the way they performed it until the modern sport karate emerged where ball of the foot was introduced or re-introduced if you will.
  • BlackKnight
    Here's something else I'd like to add. How well does the way you do your kick translate to the street. Very difficult to pull your toes back with many types of shoes while a tsumasaki geri can be done. It actually accentuates the kick even better with the tip of many types of shoes, imo. Just a thought.
    • charles
      I think that the Toe kick was practice as the equivalent of the finger strike or the extended knuckle to focus the force of the kick in a small area. Incidentally, in this modern day where people are all using shoes with soles made of hard rubber, the Toe kick is fitting to be the way of kicking front kick when wearing shoes to use the front edge as the impact point of the kick. If you kick with the ball of the foot and you are in shoes, the flat area of the sole will be the one to impact the target.
  • Sam
    A great built in safety feature for the sokusen geri or tsumasaki geri is that it takes time to develop, so people of shady character or heart most likely won't waste their time trying to develop it.I feel that the pointy things in karate are the ones we should spend most of our time developing, as they can even potentially be used to defend against vicious animals if our fingers and toes are conditioned well. I tap my toes and do weight bearing exercises to train them up. I am pretty sure I am able to break a person's shin with my toe if need be.They say humans have no built in natural defenses compared to and against other animals, my toe kick, spearhand, single knuckle punch, and elbow strikes say otherwise.
  • Matt Jones
    You're right most schools I've visited have never heard of it and almost exclusively us the ball or the heel. Richard Barret writes (paraphrased) in his book "The essesnce of Goju-Ryu Vol. 1) co-authored by Gary Lever sensei. "The mae-geri is for penetrating and causing damage to internal organs" which I whole heartedly believe it's just funny however when using the toe tips veriation and visiting other schools, you get more of the "Huckabuck" reaction as if they think "what are you stabbing me with!" trying to jump back and away and rub their inner thighs. very good kick, I love this kick
  • Matias Gibert
    Dear all, im Kobayashi Shorin Ryu (from Miyahira Sensei line) practitioner, and we make both mae geri and mawashi geri whith the big toe.I think it is very effective, because if you think well you concentrate all your power in very less surface, so your geri get a lot of extra power.Of course that you need conditioning and a lot of practice, if not, you can get injured.But when you can kick well with the toe, i can tell, you have a very powerfull maegeri and mawashi geri.Best wishes to all...Matias
    • Leo
      When I get into trouble, I'm usually wearing shoes. steel toe > flesh toe
  • Casey
    MMA fighter Cung Le does a kick similar to this. He refers to it as his "ninja kick", and aims to get it between the ribs or around the floating ribs (I think). He discussed it not too long ago in an interview.
  • Matt Kokidko
    I like your blogs and you are usually on point but I would suggest a minor correction or amendment to the following:"For those of you who are unaware, tsumasaki-geri is a special kick done with the big toe supported by the toe next to it, and it is only found in Okinawan Karate (as far as I know)."tsumasaki-geri is listed and explained in Nakayama's Best Karate vol. 1 as well as Nakayama's "Dynamic Karate". Admittedly, we never covered it in my JKA karate classes but these reference books are widely used in JKA/Shotokan.Keep up the great work with spreading karate knowledge.
  • Tsumasaki-geri can be used barefoot IF you have conditioned your toes and feet to deliver the kick properly. This takes years of practice. But it penetrates soft targets much better than using the ball of the foot, and is therefore more effective.In this sense, you have deemed it "old style" because few take the time and effort to make it an effective weapon for them. Barefoot or in sandals. As the Okinawans trod during the centuries that karate developed.However, I think of it as "new style" because the Okinawans only started wearing shoes during the 20th Century. And the kick, while wearing shoes, uses the straightened toes to keep the sole of the street shoe or boot flat (not allowing it to buckle under pressure of penetration) and the tip of the shoe penetrating much deeper into the target (either soft or hard) than if the toes were pulled back to strike with the ball of the foot. (Would you rather be kicked by the bottom of a snowshoe or the point of a steel-tipped cowboy boot?)For me, I have tested my barefoot kick against the Makiwara and would not use Tsumasaki-geri against an opponent for fear of breaking my toes because I have not done the necessary training to condition them. However, in a fight on the street, Tsumasaki-geri is a primary weapon for me because the leading edge of the shoe's sole is the weapon, not my bare toes. The toes, again, merely keep the sole of the shoe flat and straight. It is the tip of the sole that is penetrating through my opponent, not the toes.In fact, I don't wear sneakers or loafers or any other footwear outside that do not lace up and have a solid sole.In this sense, I consider it a powerful, always available, and "modern" weapon.
  • (My previous post, seconds ago, seems to have lost its formatting. If it's possible, would you please re-establish the paragraph breaks especially? Thank you.)
  • diosdado
    what is practical and more easy to train and practice is the one that many will learn. To kick with ball of the foot is easy. Even a beginner can do it to kick a wall with force already and he will not get injured; but to use the toe by a beginner to hit a wall will likely injure him . Only those who painstakingly trained their toe can use this without being injured. This is a thing to learn and train for months and even years in order to be able to use it for its purpose.

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