Does Kicking Work In Combat? Jeremiah Johnson Certainly Thought So and So Did His Enemies!

Does Kicking Work In Combat? Jeremiah Johnson Certainly Thought So and So Did His Enemies!

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Perhaps one of the most influential yet little known historical facts about the utilization of the act of kicking in a genuine life and death situation comes to us not from the Far East, as one might expect, but from the Great Northwest Territories of the United States of America during the mid to late 1800’s. The man in question who utilized kicks to his advantage long before the average man had even really heard of kicking let alone trying it himself, was the famous or perhaps infamous mountain man, Jeremiah Johnson.

Now before I delve further into this historical figure and his documented fondness for kicking, let me forewarn you that the real Jeremiah Johnson bares little to no resemblance to the character portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie, which was based very loosely on his life. If any movie demands to be remade it is definitely this one.

I have taken relevant information on Johnson’s use of kicks in combat directly from the pages of the following book; Crow Killer by Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker 1972 Signet Edition, and have followed it with my own analysis of what the author had written to perhaps grasp a better understanding of what kicks Johnson used and how he had used them.

As you read this, please remember that this is my professional analysis based upon the information supplied by the authors in their book.

Page # 19:

Johnston contrived to use his feet too, so swiftly and unexpectedly that no one seems ever to have found a defense. Throughout his life, he was able to set up each opponent for the kill by means of one powerful kick. Indians were demoralized by such tactics; perhaps their very fear and resentment of such an indignity made them less effective adversaries of the Killer who kicked. At the spring rendezvous on the Green in 1846, again with Del Gue as witness, Johnston’s kicks enabled him to kill two Indians at one time.

At one time he came upon a Blackfoot and a Shoshoni, tribal enemies for ages past, knives in hand, each circling for the kill. Straightening out the antagonists with a pair of tremendous kicks, Johnston seized both by their necks and, before either could turn upon him, smashed their heads together. It was the opinion of the bystanders that Johnston had broken their necks in his powerful grip even before the double impact; both heads lolled sidewise as Blackfoot and Shoshoni tribal police carried the dead warriors away.


Clearly, Johnson saw the tremendous advantage that kicking an opponent had, in that he set out to add them to his own arsenal of fighting techniques. By kicking his opponents with great speed and when they least expected it, Johnson was able to use his kicks so effectively that his opponents were unable to physically defend against them, and at the same time were mentally demoralized by them. Johnson didn’t rely solely on the use of his kicks, but rather used them to “set-up” his opponents for the kill.

Page #40:

With the knife safely back in its sheath, he brought out bone needles and sinews and finely tanned buckskin strips, and set to making moccasins. One pair he fitted directly to his foot, but the next he measured to fit over the first. Kicking an adversary was more comfortable, he had discovered when he wore two pairs, the inner set with the buffalo hair turned in.


This may very well be the first documented case (in the United States) of an instep pad being made for the foot when kicking. As you well know, you can kick harder and your foot is better protected when kicking with shoes on your foot. Although, what Johnson used was moccasins, which are softer even than today’s sneakers, you can see that even then, he knew enough to make a double padded moccasin in order to protect his feet when kicking his opponents.

Page #44:

At last he heard a muffled obscenity, Johnson’s he thought, and a grunt in another voice. There was, mixed in with these sounds, the thud of moccasin brought heavily against flesh. Into the faint light still shed by a few smoldering embers there sailed, his rear quarters highest, a huge Crow warrior.

The warrior had no sooner scrambled to his feet than he found himself facing Johnson, come after him with extraordinary speed. He had time only to lift his tomahawk; before he could bring it down, another mighty kick from Johnson caught him in the groin, and the weapon fell from his hand. Johnson stepped in, and with what now seemed slow deliberation; buried his Bowie in the Crow’s chest; in fact, the entire action had taken only a few seconds.

This was an occasion, if there was ever to be one, for inquiry into Johnson’s feuding. Indeed Del secured that night an almost academic analysis of methods. First, there was the strategy of the kick to be explained. Johnson “kicked them into position,” he said; hadn’t Del noticed how “naturally” the brave, trying to straighten up after the kick, had instead “ended up” on Johnson’s “sticker.”


“…the thud of a moccasin brought heavily against flesh.”

Obviously, this kick is being delivered in a hard penetrating manner rather than a snapping surface strike. It’s important to note that the witness to this event explains that the rear quarters of the Crow warrior were highest as he was flying through the air. This would indicate that the kick itself was delivered at an upward angle of approximately 45-degrees to the lower abdomen or midsection area with a hard penetrating force that literally lifted the man upwards and back, in effect doubling him over, while taking him off his feet.

With the information presented, I would conclude that the kick being used is what I call an Upchuck Kick, which is basically a cross between a Roundhouse Kick and a Front Kick. The kick comes up off the ground at a 45-degree angle and can easily lift someone up off their feet. The kick would have probably been delivered with the instep of the foot and perhaps even the lower portion of the shin just above the ankle.

“He had time only to lift his tomahawk; before he could bring it down, another mighty kick from Johnson caught him in the groin, and the weapon fell from his hand. Johnson stepped in, and with what now seemed slow deliberation; buried his Bowie in the Crow’s chest…”

By lifting the tomahawk up over his head in order to bring it down upon Johnson’s head, the Crow warrior opened himself up for another kick, which Johnson delivered to the Crow’s groin and resulted in him dropping his tomahawk. Johnson then proceeded to bury his Bowie knife into the Crow’s chest, killing him.

It’s obvious that Johnson used his powerful kicks in order to surprise his opponent’s and set them up for the kill with his bare hands and/or knife. In this situation he first used an Upchuck Kick to the midsection or lower abdomen area followed by another powerful Front Kick to the groin. Both of which I believe were delivered with the instep of the foot. Then after weakening his opponent both physically and mentally, he finished him off with a well placed thrust of his Bowie knife into the Crow’s chest as he was straightening himself up from the bent over position.

“Johnson “kicked them into position,” he said; hadn’t Del noticed how “naturally” the brave, trying to straighten up after the kick, had instead “ended up” on Johnson’s “sticker.”

This shows a rather unique grasp of strategy using kicks to set-up the opponent for the kill knowing that the kick would double the opponent over and when he tried to straighten up, it left him wide open for an upward thrust of the knife to the chest. Johnson knew not only how to execute his kicks, but also how they would affect his opponents once they had been hit by them and what their bodies were more than likely going to do. This allowed him to develop a very effective strategy on dealing with his opponent’s in hand-to-hand combat.

Page #47 and #48:

The young Blackfoot could hardly have known what struck him. First he was raised from the ground with a kick that must in itself have crippled him for fighting. Then as, somehow, he whirled knife in hand, he took a blow as of a sledgehammer, between the eyes.


Once again you see how Johnson surprised his opponent by using a powerful penetrating kick to not only lift his opponent up off the ground resulting in injuries, but also setting him up for a killing blow with the hands.

Page #56:

Then suddenly, as he stooped for yet another biscuit, he was propelled violently upward. Even as he was in the air he must have sensed what enemy had so surprised him, for though he came down balancing on the balls of his feet and whirled, knife in hand, he had already begun his death song. He could not have begun later. The Crow Killer’s Bowie was at once buried in his chest.


Although the specific details are a little vague, you can legitimately surmise that Johnson had once again surprised his opponent by using an Upchuck Kick to his midsection while he was bent over to grab another biscuit. This resulted in him being launched up and backwards through the air. Even though the opponent landed on his feet, he had to turn to face towards his attacker and was met with a Bowie knife buried into his chest.

Page #82 and #83:

The Ute, powerfully built, eager to kill even one of his foes, caught Mariano’s knife as it sailed through the air. His one darting movement became a leap toward Johnson. But Johnson’s moccasined foot caught his wrist and sent the weapon flying; Johnson’s fist struck him, as he stood astonished, between the eyes. He fell heavily, but in an instant was back on his feet.

Once again he caught the blade that Mariano sent whirling back to him. Once again he sprang forward, this time for an upward slash. But blinded perhaps by rage at having even once been disarmed by an adversary using no weapon, he held the knife low too soon. Even as his weapon cleaved mightily upward, the Crow Killer, throwing himself to one side, at the same time brought up his foot with a kick that lifted the Ute two feet in the air. Still agile, the Ute whirled but only to take another kick beneath the chin. His teeth were driven together; he fell flat and nerveless on his back.


Here we see where Johnson used a well placed kick to the knife holding wrist of his opponent to disarm him. Johnson follows this with a well placed punch directly between his opponent’s eyes, which drops him to the ground.

The Ute once again attempts to stab Johnson with an upward stab with his knife. However, as the knife travels upward, Johnson side steps the attack and simultaneously kicks the Ute in the midsection with an Upchuck Kick and lifts him two feet up into the air. As the Ute lands and starts to turn towards Johnson, he is kicked once again underneath the chin which renders him unconscious.

Page #117:

The proud young Assiniboine snapped the dough from his hand and drew his knife. Johnson seized the knife arm and snapped it at the wrist, dealt him a great blow across the back of the neck, saved him from falling into the fire with a terrific kick that catapulted him over the coals, and then sprang after him. The Assiniboine whirled and crouched to spring, but Johnson, still drawing no arms of his own, struck him across the face with a burning brand from the fire. As the blinded warrior staggered back, struggling to regain balance, his neck was broken by the smash of a fist to his jawbone.


Johnson identified the immediate threat of the knife presented by his opponent and proceeds to break the wrist holding it. He then follows up with a blow to the back of his opponent’s neck followed immediately by an Upchuck Kick that lifts his opponent up and over the fire. Johnson them blinds his opponent with fire and then kills him with a punch to the jaw.


1. Properly utilized, kicks can and are effective in actual combat.

2. Regardless of the conflict, surprise is still the best advantage to have.

3. Kicks should be utilized in conjunction with other combat techniques.

4. A weapon or technique is only as effective as your willingness to use it.

5. Think of every possible scenario ahead of time, and then practice what to do with each and every one.

6. The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, so learn to improvise.

write by Paige Hulslander

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