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The Roundhouse Kick with Banlang Keokoummane

By Robert Rousseau, ExtremeProSports.com
There was a time not so long ago when most mixed martial artists considered kicks, especially high ones, to be rather useless. After all, when MMA events first took hold competitors were generally adept at only one aspect of the fight game: striking or grappling. Thus, when strikers attempted kicks, a pattern began to emerge.

Simply put, they got taken down. And we all know how it went from there.

The good news is that the game of mixed martial arts has evolved. Today, fighters like Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic have the type of takedown defense and grappling knowledge that allows them to regularly use their legs to devastate opponents. In fact, Cro Cop's name has become synonymous with kicks. Remember, though, that mixed martial arts fighters had begun using kicks to their advantage long before Cro Cop even began in the sport.

One of these fighters was the legendary Bas Rutten.

Rutten's stamp on mixed martial arts goes way beyond a current fighting resume that includes a streak of 22 consecutive MMA fights without a loss. In short, he's a great teacher of the game. From books to seminars to schools, Bas Rutten has worked hard at spreading his wealth of MMA knowledge.

And Banlang Keokoummane, head MMA trainer at Hidden Dragon Mixed Martial Arts in Vernon, Connecticut, has been one of the many to benefit from Rutten's tutelage.

Keokoummane came to Rutten a fine martial artist already, holding a black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate through the teachings of Master Rod Fuller, a member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. In addition, he'd trained extensively in Wu Shu, Tang Soo Do, and Muay Thai. That said, he freely admits that, "training with Bas was the toughest training I have ever been through."

And we here at ExtremeProSports.com were lucky enough to get the chance to pick Mr. Keokoummane's brain regarding roundhouse kicks for MMA. Never a bad idea to get tips from a man with 14 years of martial arts experience, is it?

Roundhouse Kick (a basic MMA definition) - A roundhouse kick can be delivered at a low, medium, or high trajectory. Though there are many derivations, most MMA practitioners utilize some form of the Muay Thai approach to the roundhouse. Along with this, the kick generally requires a practitioner to come up on the ball of their standing foot, lift their knee to the proper trajectory (depending on how high the kick is slated to go), and follow through with their hips while snapping their leg out. Older forms like Karate tend to utilize the snap of the leg only, whereas the Muay Thai method combines the snap of the foot with the follow through of the hip. In addition, MMA practitioners tend to make contact with their shin, not the ball of the foot.

Q&A with Banlang Keokoummane on the roundhouse kick.

RR:  What is your philosophy on the utilization of leg strikes in mixed martial arts?

BK:  I think leg strikes play a vital role in MMA. In fact, I think they are very under played sometimes. When you watch some fights they almost look like boxing matches. In other words, I think that oftentimes fighters forget they have legs to use. I am not a big believer in high leg strikes ( ie: above the waist ). However, I believe low kicks to the thighs ( inner and outer ) should be used in your fighting arsenal. Once you take out someone's legs it is very difficult for them to fight back.

RR:  When teaching someone how to deliver a roundhouse for the first time, what is important for them to know?

BK:  Bas has a very specific way of delivering a roundhouse kick that is very hard to explain on paper. But the main focus is to follow through and kick with as much power as you can. Bas is all about power; speed comes along with practice. When I teach the roundhouse to someone for the first time, I put a lot of emphasis on power. I tell them to aim at the thigh where that pressure point is on your leg. Further, I try to liken the movement to chopping a tree down; the more you chop, the easier it will be for the tree to fall.

Another important thing is to keep your hands up. Many fighters have a tendency to drop one of their hands when delivering a roundhouse kick. And lastly, it is important to not leave your leg out there after the kick. I always tell my fighters to snap that leg back immediately afterwards.

RR:  What part of the foot/ leg are you hoping to connect with when delivering a roundhouse? Does this change when the kick is high versus low?

BK:  In a lot of martial arts they use the foot to connect with the roundhouse kick. However, I tell my fighters to use their shin. I think it is more powerful than using your foot, especially when kicking low. As far as the high kick goes (like to the head) the only option you may have is to hit with your foot. It's all going to depend on your situation in a fight. An example of a great high kick using the shin is the infamous Chuck Liddell vs. Renato Sobral knockout ( the highlight they use in UFC all the time ).

RR:  What should a mixed martial artist be looking for from their opponent that will tell them it's time for a leg strike? Is there something you teach your students to respond to?

BK:  When an opponent is not trying to kick you and all they are doing is punching. It's at that time when I think you should start in with low leg kicks. Even when an opponent continues to punch, you should rest easy knowing that the leg kicks are taking a toll. Look at the Pedro Rizzo / Tank Abbott fight. Rizzo beat Abbott on leg kicks. That is a classic prime example of effective leg kicking.

RR:  When is the absolute wrong time to try a kick?

BK:  I think the absolute wrong time would be when an opponent is coming in for a takedown. At that point fighters should be thinking about sprawling and not kicking. Kicking at that time would make you very vulnerable to a takedown.

I also hate it when I see MMA fighters trying the spinning back kick. I think it's ridiculous; especially in this sport where someone can tackle you and pummel you on the ground.

RR:  Many used to believe that high kicks in real fighting were useless. Then Mirko Cro Cop came along. Now, many MMA fighters are utilizing them with some regularity. Your thoughts?

BK:  Cro Cop is definitely the master of high kicks. I'm not a big fan of the high kick. However, I do think there is a time and place for them. I think they work well in the later rounds when your opponents' hands are falling down near their waist. It's at that time when the last thing they'll be thinking about is a kick to the head. In other words, if you time it right, high kicks can be very effective.

RR:  Tell me 3-4 drills you and/ or your students conduct in order to improve kicking skills.

BK:  I tie the rubber bands that they use in pilates on one of their legs and have them kick the bag. This increases the strength in their legs and improves their fast twitch muscles. I also have them partner up with no shin guards on and kick each others legs. This conditions their legs to get used to kicking and being kicked.

I also like to have my fighters work on speed in a timing drill. I do this by holding thai pads down at my waist. Then when I want them to kick, I raise them up.

RR:  Is lifting weights (squats, leg press, etc.) important for MMA fighters and leg striking? If not, what is a good strength exercise for legs that increases an individuals' ability to deliver such strikes?

BK:  Lifting weights is good for MMA fighters. However, I do not put an emphasis on how much weight my fighters can lift. Rather, I try to focus on repetitions. I believe muscle endurance is a must for the ring. Strength will only take you so far in a fight. Your stamina will win you the fight. Jumping squats are great explosive exercises for your legs that will help the power of your kicks. I also like alternating lunges.

RR:  Some MMA practitioners seem as if they are unable to deliver kicks with their off leg (left for righties, the opposite for lefties). How much of a disadvantage does this put them at?

BK:  I believe that it is imperative for fighters to have power in both legs. I have my fighters practice using their "weakside". You need to be able to use all of your weapons. I think fighters with a balance in both legs are very dangerous. Cro Cop is an example of a balanced kicker. Bas had taught me that if you are weak on one side to practice that side until you are more balanced.

RR:  Is there any difference in how you approach a low kick when it is aimed at the inner leg versus outer?

BK:  You have to be more accurate when it comes to inside leg kicks. Depending on your opponents' stance, it can be difficult to get the inner thigh. You have to approach those kicks with more caution. A sloppy kick to the inner thigh can leave you vulnerable to being taken down, particularly if you miss.

RR:  Tell me about the facility you currently train MMA fighters at.

BK:  Hidden Dragon Mixed Martial Arts is located in Vernon, CT. We are 15 minutes north of Hartford and 30 minutes south of Springfield, MA. It's a 3700 square foot facility and one of the biggest in New England. We are the first in the area to offer the Bas Rutten Mixed Martial Arts System. Please keep in mind, though, that our training is not limited to people who want to step into the ring; we accept all abilities. Please visit us at Bas Rutten Mixed Martial Arts System for more information.

RR:  Thanks so much for spending time with us, Banlang.

BK:  The pleasure was all mine.

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