The Iconic Crane Kick of the Karate Kid

The Crane Kick of the Karate Kid is nothing short of iconic.  It is one of the most memorable Martial Art movie scenes from my childhood and was certainly a contributor to my interest in Martial Arts.  I have no doubt that that the Crane Kick put both Karate and Martial Arts on the map in the 80s.

One of our readers posed a very insightful question to me about the Crane Kick of the Karate Kid.  Brandon was curious about how practical the Crane Kick would actually be as it is highly telegraphed and leaves one immobile.  I also agree with him that the Crane Kick is likely a Mae Tobi Geri (jumping straight kick).  However, the most thought-provoking part of his question was about the core values behind the movie.  Was The Karate Kid really about being a Martial Artist rather than being about a specific style or technique?

The Crane Kick

It would seem to me that the story writers behind The Karate Kid captured the lineage of Karate in the single technique which was the Crane Kick.  The movie is a well-researched depiction of Goju-Ryu Karate with some fictional embellishments.  We must remember that The Karate Kid is a movie and not a documentary.  One of the major influences of Karate is White Crane Kung fu and the Hakutsuru kata (White Crane Fist) is practiced in some Goju-Ryu Schools, albeit by the most senior practitioners.

In my experience, the Crane Kick as depicted in the movie would never be practical in a real fight for the following reasons:

  • The practitioner is extremely vulnerable being perched on a single leg with the arms spread out to the sides. This is extremely problematic as being perched on a single leg depletes energy and one can be easily thrown of balance. Furthermore, the spread-out arms offer little time to parry and deflect incoming strikes.
  • The starting position is very static and any movement from this static position is very telegraphed. This reduces the likelihood of effectively landing the kick on an opponent.

This is not to say that you could never make this kick work.  If we reimagine the technique being executed from a neko-ashi dashi (cat stance) which is an advanced and highly defensive Karate stance with arms guarding the centre line.  The kick then executed with a Sen-no-sen defence strategy which is an attacking counter during the opponent’s attack. Then this would definitely be an effective technique in defeating even the most skilled of opponents.

The Crane Kick used as a training technique can also be very effective.  The single leg stance increases the strength and endurance of the legs.  The springing and jumping motion into the kick offers a plyometric exercise to improve the explosiveness of a Mae-Geri or Tobi-Geri.  One learns to move gracefully and land softly after the explosive technique to reduce the impact to joints.




Symbolism behind the Crane Kick

So now that we have got the practical elements about the Crane Kick out of the way, let’s look at its symbolism.  As mentioned before, the Crane Kick is a representation of the roots of Goju-Ryu Karate – White Crane Fist. 

The Crane Kick is used as a last resort by the movie’s protagonist when one of his legs are badly injured.  Where one would normally give up in this situation, the hero perseveres.  Despite this severe injury, the hero continues.  He uses this technique innovatively as all other techniques are no longer useful to him due to the current state of his body.  This represents the strong will of a Martial Artist who never gives up even when victory seems impossible.

Finally with the successful execution of the Crane Kick, the Martial Artist attains victory by persevering through his hardship and remaining steadfast against his ferocious adversary.  This is the power and message communicated through the Iconic Crane Kick of The Karate Kid.

crane kick practice


What is The Karate Kid actually about?

On the surface, The Karate Kid looks like a movie about Martial Arts and specifically about Goju-Ryu Karate.  However, it is a story about overcoming and is therefore rather a movie about life.  The beauty about this though is that the hidden treasures of Martial Arts are the very lessons that we learn in life.  The protagonist, Daniel Larusso is presented as a disadvantaged kid who is trying to find his place in the world that presents him with many struggles.  Despite his obvious disadvantages, he finds the strength and will to overcome through the support of his master Mr Miyagi and the development of his mind, body, and Spirit through Martial Arts training.  His Karate gives him the confidence to stand up against his bullies and the audience witnesses the evolution of this character from timid to courageous. 

But is it just his Karate that helps him overcome? Sure, his Karate had given him the means to become victorious over his oppressors, but he was also guided by a steady and pure hand.  The endearing bond between the student and master in Martial Arts is the most overlooked part of Martial Arts practice.  A good master will disseminate righteous qualities such as respect, courage and internal security in his or her students.  The Martial Arts world is littered with practitioners that are only focused on the fighting aspects of the art.  This is often perpetuated by the cultivation of fear and insecurity which does the exact opposite of what proper Martial Arts training is meant to do.  The movie does a fantastic job at depicting these contrasting ideas of Martial Arts through the rival dojos of Miyagi-Do and Cobra-Kai.

student master

The movie displays the true essence of Martial Arts and what it really means to be a Martial Artist.  It allows the viewer to take in the true values of Martial Arts. It is less about techniques or specific styles and absolutely not about dominance. It is the pursuit of self-improvement and the development of one’s character.  It is about overcoming great odds through hard work and dedication.  The ability to maintain self-respect and respect others. The steadfast belief in one’s values and the ability to endure through hardship.  It shows us that Martial Arts is the same as life and that one overcomes life’s problems by actually overcoming oneself.  These are the true values of Martial Arts.


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