Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Truth about Board Breaking

John, one of my old training buddies who has a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo, used to tell me that the trick of breaking a 1" pine board with a strike is one of biggest secrets of the martial arts. The secret is that it’s actually very easy to do. Perhaps not for the fellow in this video, but most people can learn to do it easily, even without any martial arts training.

Every year at my dojo I hold a “Christmas Board Breaking Party.” I supply the boards and my students each make a small donation to a charity of their choice in exchange for the opportunity to break a board or multiple boards. We get the whole thing on video for fun too. We don’t train board breaks as a part of our art, but I did learn to do it when I trained in Taekwondo.

Sometimes my students are hesitant about doing it, thinking that it looks hard and that they might not be able to do it. To this I always reply, “I saw a 7-year-old physically handicapped boy break a 1” pine board with a hammer fist strike. If he can do it, you can too.”

When breaking a single, 1” board, there are only two technical considerations to keep in mind. The breaker must aim his strike through the centre of the board without any hesitation. The holder, on the other hand, must hold that board very firmly with no give to allow the strike to properly penetrate the board. I usually encourage my students to take a few breaths first and do a kiai when performing the strike. This helps with mental focus and power. But honestly, most people can break a single board even without this practice.

Where board breaking becomes more challenging is when there are multiple boards or when you have to break the board(s) with tricky kicks like they do in Taekwondo. I’ve seen some masters do it and this can be a pretty impressive display of technical mastery.

That being said, being able to break boards does not necessarily mean you're a master. As Bruce Lee's once said: "Boards don't fight back." I once would have agreed with Bruce, but after watching this video, it seems possible that boards can put up a pretty good fight.


Anonymous said...

While I've never broken boards or other objects I'd think the most important element of succes is striking all the way through using proper technique. As you mentioned for breaking wood this should be enough, stone or ice would be another matter though. In those cases you really should spend time conditioning the weapon you're going to hit with. If you do not build up the bone in your hand first you will break it, even with proper technique and intention.

As to the practical side of board-breaking: while there are far more important skills to develop for fighting I wouldn't underestimate the confidence it gives you. If you can break boards than you should be able to do some respectable damage to a human body and that in the end is what you're striving for. Breaking things is a very classical approach to MA (of course in those days it was almost mandatory to be able to strike through wooden armor) and it has certain advantages (minimizing damage to your hand when punching) but to it's not necessary to become a good martial-artist. It sure is cool though.

How much time did you spend at taekwondo and what is the most important thing you learned from it?

Lori O'Connell said...

I took Taekwondo/hapkido for about 1.5 years. From TKD, the most important thing I learned speed and fluidity in my kicks. The hapkido element gave me some different perspectives on locks I had seen in Jiu-jitsu.