Once you’re confident about how to block a punch, you’ll inevitably be looking for guidance on how to block kicks if you’re getting into MMA or kickboxing sparring.
In this article, I’ll describe some of my best advice for how to block a kick in different situations. Let’s crack on!
Table of Contents
The importance of blocking kicks
Kicks, especially head kicks, are among the most dangerous attacks in the sport of MMA.
One accurate head kick can lay an opponent out cold for a worrying amount of time.
The KO and resulting blackout is a human response; you’ll see it a lot like when watching the UFC.
But some head kicks can snap the neck so violently due to the significant force that it can cause a lasting effect.
But not only that, kicks to the body can push your body to absorb tons of kinetic energy that causes ripple effects to your inner organs.
A good kick to the body can send your liver or lungs into a temporary shutdown, causing you to drop instantly.
Kicks to the legs are also becoming used more by fighters at the top level because of their usefulness in slowing down your opponent — like with the clinical calf kick.
As it’s been seen more in kickboxing tournaments like Glory and MMA leaders like the UFC, this has encouraged fighters at the amateur level to pick up the calf and other leg kick variations with great effect.
A powerful kick can come low, middle, or high (at the head).
They can all be lethal and cause you a lot of problems, so learning how to block each of them and building up your predictive reaction times is going to be a big help in sparring or an actual fight.
So let’s get on with my advice about defending against them all.
How to block a calf kick
Becoming one of the most utilized kicks in the UFC, the calf kick causes all kinds of nerve problems and swelling in the calf that makes that leg useless in a fight.
It’s the same kick that enabled Dustin Poirier to beat Conor McGregor in their rematch.
There are usually only a couple of ways to block a calf kick, such as turning your defending leg outward to place your shin as the obstacle for the attacker.
This could break your opponent’s leg if they strike hard enough.
Another way, depending on the height they attack from, could be the classic Muay Thai leg block which is to raise the defending leg from the ground and push the shin toward the attack.
The final method is what has become popular from Charles Oliveira’s use against Justin Gaethje, which is to lift that lead leg to negate most of the damage.
A calf kick is felt worst when that front foot is planted to the ground, as your calf and leg take full force.
But calf kicks are tough to predict, time, and defend against with a block.
More often than not, the best method of defense from a calf kick is either absorbing and countering or nullifying the opponent’s attack.
You can try to absorb the calf kick a handful of times while making sure that you are coming right back at the opponent with a counter straight while closing the distance to punish them for taking the shot.
The key is discouraging them from trying again by showing them that you’ll respond with a knockout blow. It’s risky, but it can work.
Nullifying the calf kick could be done by staying light and bouncy on your feet and being ready to hop backward or slightly sideways to avoid it altogether.
You can’t take too many hits in the same spot on any part of your body, so avoiding it altogether is usually the best option.
But like the absorb and counter, you should try to throw in a counter with avoiding.
Punish the attempt and make them think twice about doing it again. This way, you can start moving the flow of the fight back into the direction you want.
How to block a body kick
Taking too many body kicks hurts bad, man. I know. I’ve had it.
Blocking a body kick, which usually comes to the side of the body, can require a lot of time spent on drills and sparring to get used to it.
You need to train your response of receiving the kick, lifting the leg high enough on that side so that you protect your body (Muay Thai style).
Then if you can, add on a combination to respond with a solid straight punch to put them off trying it again.
When it comes to body kicks to the chest or stomach, like a roundhouse, your best technique is avoiding it.
Learn the footwork and turns of this attack and others like it to know when to expect them and then get the hell out of the way.
If you’ve watched enough fights, you will know that fighters can drop to their knees and even voluntarily tap out because one of their organs just took a paralyzing strike.
Kicks like this can easily break the bones in the upper body, like the ribs.
It also sends shockwaves to the brain that says, “I can’t continue,” and tapping out is immediate. It can be that effective.
Learning how to block in MMA can sometimes be not having to block at all.
Instead, it’s a big dose of predicting your opponent and getting out of the way of their most dangerous shots so you can counter with your own.
I know from my own experience after taking three spinning back kicks directly to the chest in one sparring session that it was not fun spending the next few months recovering from it.
Learn from my mistake and get the hell out of the way!
How to block a front kick
Some flexible fighters like to cause a lot of confusion by going up the middle with their strikes.
That means that you need to be practiced and understand that punches and kicks can come straight to your face and from a low angle.
This is why the front kick can be so effective, and it’s not always used by fighters because it can take a reasonable degree of flexibility.
It’s less common to see it in MMA. However, it is really common in Muay Thai, where the push kick and front kick go hand-in-hand for that style.
The best way to defend against a front kick is by being very perceptive and reactive to your opponent.
If you can analyze your opponent before you fight them, that’ll give you some clues as to whether their style could involve front kicks.
If they are tall or lanky, flexible, and like to throw a variation of kicks in their attacks, then you can be confident that the front kick is always possible.
So what can you do about it?
Strikes up the middle are notoriously difficult to block because they usually come from outside (underneath) your peripheral vision, making it harder to react.
Physically blocking them is near impossible because your guard would need to be so tight to your front that it leaves open your sides. And kicks can easily slip under and between your arms.
Your best option remains prediction and avoidance.
Learning how to sway backward when big leg kicks come towards your head is a good start as it’s useful for front kicks, roundhouse, and other spinning leg attacks.
It can also help you stay close to your opponent so you can respond with a counter and punish their action.
You can use the same prediction combined with being light on your feet and bouncing backward to get an extra foot of space that gives you a greater ability to avoid something like a front kick.
A great way to counter a front kick is to make them miss with enough distance and sway backward, and immediately punish them by throwing a leg or calf kick to the same leg they used to kick.
That’s because it’s often over-extended, and they are one-footed until the foot drops back to the mat, which, when met with a swift calf or thigh kick, helps to disarm that leg’s potential and makes them think twice about trying it again.
Like with many defenses and counters in fighting, predicting what they will do and punishing them for taking the chance is how you can beat many opponents.
How to block a head kick
Blocking a head kick comes down to understanding the typical footwork and positioning of your opponents to be able to predict when the higher kick is coming.
Having a high guard or being able to move to it quickly is vital to defending KO kicks like these.
You will also want to observe and get better at naturally defending the sides of your body based on your opponent’s combinations.
For example, a Jab, then Switch-Cross from your opponent, often means they are opening up their body to fire a heavy kick with their now-rear leg.
And those kicks could rise to the body or the head, where you often won’t have time to avoid it.
Understanding the footwork and combinations like these are vital in predicting when head kicks are coming and gives you the tools to avoid them or make a last-second block.
A head kick will rarely come at you from a base stance. If they do, they are much easier to see and dodge.
But most fighters know that head kicks are possible from combinations intended to daze or confuse, followed by that knockout blow.
So if you train these combinations yourself, you’ll know better how they can get thrown and give you a chance of seeing through The Matrix.
Here are a couple more examples of combinations that end with head kicks:
- Jab-Jab-Lead-leg Head Kick
- Front Kick Body-Question Mark Kick
- Push Kick-Spinning Back Kick
You should also be highly aware of the kicks that can come toward your head if you are grounded (hands and knees on the floor).
In some MMA competitions, like ONE Championship, soccer kicks are still acceptable. So be aware.
Final word on blocking kicks
With all of the kinds of leg kicks you need to defend against, it shows how important it is to simply get better at reading your enemy.
Watch their shoulders, not their eyes or limbs, and you’ll grow the skill of observing how the body always moves from its center point.
It gives you a chance to predict all kinds of attacks, including these lethal head kicks.
Look for the patterns your opponent is making (most fighters have a few same patterns), and be patient enough to see their combination coming and dodge and punish it.
More reading for fight skills
Now you know how to block some of the nasty kicks for MMA and kickboxing, these next articles might help you even more to improve your fighting ability: