How to Do a Leg Sweep

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In a self-defense situation, a leg sweep is usually a fight-ending move. The opponent is thrown off balance and can do nothing until he or she regains it, giving you an opportunity to deliver a devastating blow. Point sparrers love the leg sweep because it results in an easy opportunity to score a point.

Front Leg Sweep

  • See the opportunity. The leg sweep is best done when your opponent has one leg forward and his or her weight partially on it. Don't be fooled by a disguised cat stance, in which one leg is forward but all your opponent's weight is on the back leg--this is a trap designed to lure you closer before delivering a front-leg kick.

  • Move forward, inside your opponent's reach. You can do this easily by delivering a punch as you move, which forces your opponent to block.

  • Place your front foot next to and inside your opponent's front foot. Your big toe should be almost touching your opponent's heel. Don't leave too much space between your foot and your opponent's or he or she will see the sweep coming.

  • Sweep your foot toward your other knee in an arc, contacting your opponent's foot beneath the ankle bone while your foot is still on the floor. Use your foot to lift your opponent's foot from the floor.

  • Deliver your blow. Your opponent will flail his or her arms to regain balance and keep from falling down, leaving his or her head and torso unprotected.

Back Leg Sweep

  • Penetrate your opponent's defenses. This is most easily done using a grabbing technique that immobilizes your opponent long enough for you to move forward until your hips are in contact.

  • Move your forward foot behind your opponent's back foot. This should be your right foot behind your opponent's right foot (or vice versa) so you will be slightly turned away from your opponent, protecting your center. Your heel should be in contact with your opponent's heel.

  • Adopt a forward stance. Without lifting your foot from the floor, suddenly sweep it back until it is the back foot of a forward stance. Your opponent's leg will be lifted from the floor and he or she will be helpless.

  • Take your opponent to the floor. Once he or she is off balance, you can let go of your opponent and let him or her drop to the floor. Or you can hang on and lower yourself on top, placing your opponent in an arm bar while you deliver a blow to the head or ribs. You can also choose to perform the sweep so your forward stance is at an angle to your original position, allowing you to turn to the outside and throw your opponent.

Tips & Warnings

  • Perform a hip check to help you sweep a heavier opponent. As your hips come into contact, shift your weight so your hip bumps into his or her hip, forcing your opponent to shift some weight off the back leg. Take care not to use too much force or your opponent will take a step to regain his or her balance, possibly unbalancing you.
  • Many karate students mistakenly try to strike their opponent's leg above the ankle when sweeping and are surprised when they are unsuccessful. If you lift your foot from the ground for a sweep, you will be forced to shift your weight to your back leg, robbing your front leg of power. Also, you will have to "wind up" your sweeping leg, which telegraphs your move to your opponent.
  • A front leg sweep gives you only a momentary advantage. If you don't use that moment wisely, you will be too close to your opponent to defend yourself as he or she retaliates.
  • In most point-sparring matches, the back leg sweep is illegal because of the high risk of injury.

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