My first experience with board breaking was a total humiliation. I was a ten-year-old Karate student, with six months of practice under my orange belt, when my sensei decided we should all break some wood. He asked each of us to acquire a stack of boards, one square foot by one inch in size, and bring them to our next class.
As a bright but naive child, I had no idea that the practice of tameshiwari, or breaking, was an instrument of martial arts fraud. I only knew that it looked cool, and that it required focus–or so my teacher said. After class, my Dad and I went to a local lumberyard to pick up some wood for our upcoming test.
“What kind of wood?” the salesman asked us. “I dunno…regular.”
Tip #1: Some woods are stronger than others. For an easier break, use pine boards. Avoid oak or plywood.
I don’t remember practicing my breaking skills in preparation for next week’s class. Why would I? I was led to believe that successful breaks were a product of kime: focus and determination, honed to perfection through the repetition of Karate kata. There was no apparent need for experience with actual wooden targets–and aside from Judo-chopping pencils with my schoolyard buddies, I had none.
When class arrived a few days later, we each took a partner, and held their board vertically in front of our chest, to be split with a single punch.
Tip #2: The board must be held firmly in place, or it will not break. Striking downwards at a stationary board is easier than striking forwards at an unstable board.
After two or three tries, everyone in class was able to break their boards. Everyone except myself, that is. Maybe this stunt was meant to instill confidence in Karate students, but it had the opposite effect on me. I wasn’t the youngest, or the smallest kid in class, but nevertheless I was a complete failure at breaking. Sensei didn’t offer any useful advice, as I recall.
At the time, I was ashamed of my performance. When I quit Karate a few months later, it was in part due to this terrible experience. I wasn’t yet old or wise enough to understand that my failure was, as much as anything else, a failure to cheat.
Tip #3: Pine is weaker and easier to split when dry and brittle. Cook your boards in the oven before striking them. Seriously.
It was Bruce Lee who rekindled my interest in martial arts, a few years later. Bruce Lee didn’t bother much with breaking–“Boards don’t hit back,” he famously said in Enter The Dragon. Forget wood, or even concrete blocks: Bruce Lee broke people instead.
Following his lead, I put aside any remaining interest in tameshiwari, in favor of speed drills and punching bags. Thankfully I discovered through this training that, contrary to the assertions of a few cheap wooden planks, I was not completely inept at martial arts. But I still hadn’t realized that, in mainstream Karate at least, the fix was in.
Tip #4: When breaking multiple boards at once, use spacers to separate them. This makes your break much easier, but your audience probably won’t know the difference. An average adult can break 3-5 prepared boards this way, with no training whatsoever.
It was nearly a decade later, after watching a series of increasingly ridiculous martial arts demonstrations, that I finally understood why I had failed in kiddie Karate.
In the first show, I saw a frightened wooden board split itself, a quarter-second before the supposed Taekwondo master actually kicked it!
In the second show, I watched a tiny first-grader and Hapkido student punch through her boards with an ease bordering on nonchalance. Surely these were not the same boards that I, at nearly twice her size, couldn’t conquer?
The final shocking episode occurred during the setup for a performance. An assistant accidentally dropped one of his boards on the ground. It fell three feet, landed flat…and broke in half.
Tip #5: Make your own “rebrakeable boards”. Secretly break all your boards before the demonstration, then tape or glue them together again for the big show. It’s pathetic, but it works.
After seeing this, I lost all my respect for breaking demonstrations. Folks, you have to assume the game is rigged unless and until proven otherwise.
Kudos to those martial artists that play fair, using materials without any hidden or prepared defects, and circulating them through the audience for inspection. They deserve some credit. But lest anyone forget, ability to hit a stationary target is a poor representation of combat skill, or self-defense skill, or physical and mental balance, or any other significant benefit that one would normally expect from martial arts mastery.
In other words, it is a dubious performance even when the materials are genuine. When they are not, it is an absurdity. Call me when boards start hitting back.
You’re right, of course, that board breaking is probably often done for show, rather than for some useful purpose, but I have seen at least one demonstration where the utility was evident.
The karateka broke several boards, each held by a different person and at a different location in space. If we assume that they were holding boards which require at least significant force to break then the karateka showed in this demonstration that they were able to perform many strikes, to different places, in quick succession.
I have heard that plastic boards are available which require a reasonably precise amount of force to break, but also that they weaken significantly over time. It might be useful if some boards which measure instantaneous force reasonably precisely (similar bathroom scales) were available for this kind of practice.
I recently enrolled my little one (age 4) in a Tae Kwon Do class here in Louisville, KY. The school may be a bit of a McDojo, but it seems to be one of the better ones, and does at least put focus on teaching the children respect. All that aside, I was told that on the third trial class all the new students get to break a board. I looked at the boards, one of the assistant instructors happily showed them to me, 1/4″ plywood obviously glued from two separate pieces right down the center. However, the assistant instructor told me they use the boards in this fashion – the child is supposed to choose a bad habit and the board represents that particular bad habit. When the child (we are talking exclusively about children is this example) breaks the board they are “breaking” that bad habit, not to repeat it anymore.
Used in this manner I see tameshiwari as a valid psychological tool. Plus, it helps the kids feel good about themselves, and can give them a much needed sense of accomplishment. Now, “performance” breaking is a much over used tool of MA demonstrations, and the amount of trickery used is appalling. I had to do breaking as part of my test from white belt to yellow eons ago when I studied TKD (I now practice Taijiquan as my main MA for health reasons). Back then it was an unaltered 12″x12″x1″ naturally dried pine board. The point at my school then was to show us students how much force a properly executed punch could generate. After this we were given a long lecture on responsibility and controlled response. Again, used in this manner I see breaking as a positive training tool. It’s a bit more impressive to a teenager or young adult to see the amount of damage they can actually do in a form such as this than reading numbers off an impact pad. To me this is how breaking should be used in MA – to help build confidence and mindset in the very young, and to reinforce the concept of control in older students.
Flashy, fraudulent breaking used to sell MA and increase student enrollment is exactly that “fraud.” That is my opinion on the topic, others mileage may vary.
When I was 8 in daycamp I was talking to this tough little kid. I said I was impressed by karate guys breaking bricks. He said he wasn’t. Then he put a brick across two others and broke it with his bare fist.
I was awed.
I asked him what school he’d been to. He bullshucked some, then opened his hand and showed me a chunk of brick he’d been hiding on his fist.
I’m still awed. HAD to have hurt his hand. NOT worth it.
At our school, they told us about all of this from the start, and showed us that they don’t do these practices. Of course, that school was a part of the World TKD Federation, so it had genuine credentials, aside from their obviously non-fake teachings. Anyways, they told us that one board is the strength of a rib when unprotected by muscle. They made sure NEVER to use separators. It taught us both self-confidence, and, when you were able to break a stack of boards, that it was necessary to control your strength. I think it’s a good way of developing power and restraint, even though in a real fight you would not be fully cocked and ready.
I understand the point of breaking boards as a relatively new student of Tang Soo Do, but am always reminded of the Karate Kid:
Daniel: So, can you, like, break boards and stuff?
Miyagi: Don’t know, never been attacked by tree!
Kidding aside, at my size and strength (I am a really big guy) breaking boards is not hard, but doing it correctly as to focus power and prevent injury is what is important. It is a way to learn correct technique and targeting as well as a wonderful self-confidence booster.
A chinese master arts master, Wang Shu Jin, also said that breaking bricks would become intersting when bricks started hitting people.
He also said that there are chinese martial arts whose practitioners break bricks and boards and train hitting tress. Their fingers and hands become extremely tough and powerful but they lose dexterity, like the ability to hold a pen.
I’ve been in Tae Kwon Do for about a year now. Our instructor is careful to make a distinction between demo board breaking and competition board breaking. The demo boards are designed to fly apart easily and in many pieces. We even hold them differently; quickly snapping the board into the oncoming fist or foot to make sure it breaks. Call it fraud, if you like, but it looks cool. Competition is different. The boards are different, not as brittle and glued together from many pieces like the demo boards. We also hold them still and as tightly as possible with no snap assist. It’s entirely up to whomever’s striking them to make the break.
And I do break bricks. They’re cinderblock landscape edging, actually, but it takes skill and focus to do it without breaking my hand in the process. It’s just plain good fun and impressive to see, if I do say so myself. I wouldn’t say it makes me a better martial artist, but I have a blast doing it. No tricks, hidden aids, or other cheats/assists.
Wow! So muching trepidation over breaking! After you practice hitting air, bags, and fellow students it’s not so horrible to try breaking boards and concrete. It’s measurable, unless you posses expensive equipment that measures force, and it’s actually fun. Those that spend time doctoring up boards and baking this or that are certainly fakes and do need to be pointed out–I agree. But, having placed EVERYONE within the same context is dumb, to say the least. I’m sorry the writer of this article felt he was cheated when he was younger but I’m not convinced this should be the final say on breaking. Think about it. Beleive me, I thought breaking was fake given the folks out there demostrating in an unscrupulous manner, but having competed in a United States Breaking Assoc. event there is a governing body that keeps high standards. Look them up.
I too chuckled at Bruce Lee’s famous quote…”Boards don’t hit back”. So that automatically makes board breaking not part of the martial arts make up? Really. What if another famous martial artist spoke up in favor of breaking? Then it’s okay now?! I love Bruce Lee as much as the next person but he is not the FINAL AUTHORITY ON ALL THINGS MARTIAL ARTS. Please listen. What makes the martial arts so interesting is the developement of the student (yourself) and finding ways to improve upon your ability through breaking is fine. It’s not for everyone, but please don’t knock it unless your willing to do your homework completely. I’m pleased to say it has vastly improved my karate and I can still hold a pen in my hand (referencing: Dragon Book, Aug 5th). Thank you & Peace.
The author is not against breaking just because he was cheated in the past.
The author notes that breaking demonstrations generally cannot be trusted; that breaking competitions have limited combat relevance; and that the arguments for breaking as self-cultivation apply even more strongly to targets that do not break.
The author suggests: if you want to develop focus, good alignment, restraint and well-grounded self-esteem, try punching a concrete wall instead of a wooden board.
Rest assured the author has followed his own advice. 🙂
As the Co-Founder of the United States and World Breaking Associations I have spent a great deal of time dispelling accusations of cheating and explaining the benefits of breaking, both in practice and competition. I have had discussions with some of the most talented in the Martial Arts Industry and opinions do vary. Thankfully once a person sees the professionalism of our organization and/or experiences breaking properly first hand their attitude toward this centuries old tradition changes.
It is obvious that the author is against breaking and considers it a waste of time. Everyone has the right to express their own opinion, right or wrong. Every aspect of just about everything in life can be argued from different points of view. The validity of an endeavor and the benefits it can provide ultimately lie in the person involved in the endeavor.
I have been in Martial Arts for over 32 years. I have had many experiences, both negative and positive. Some have been during training, some in competition, some on the business side. We are a product of these experiences, but it is still important to keep an open mind and see the positives that are still around us.
One of my videos on Youtube has over 500,000 hits. Are all the comments positive, of course not. People who “can’t” will always try to undermine those that “can’, so is life. When you have a true belief in something and know what it takes to acheive a goal you do not have time to argue every point from the nay-sayers or ill-intentioned.
I am sorry that the author had a negative experience with breaking, he is definitely not the only one. I do hope he will focus more on what he wishes to acheive and build, rather than spend time downplaying or bringing out only the negatives of an area that is an important part of many Martial Arts styles for thousands of years.
Dear Chris (Sept 9)-
I did not equate the author’s past experience as the sole reason for his disdain towards breaking. However, It’s very apparent after reading the entire article that the general tone is.
Your summary of what the writer wrote was appreciated, and as Drew Serrano stated, “Everyone has the right to express their own opinion, right or wrong”. I wanted to balance the argument in general and bring to light what Drew and his organization represents. I have experienced the benefits of breaking and it was difficult to simply read the “bad side of breaking” without chiming in. To the writer’s credit, he did commend those that go about breaking “honestly”. Admittedly, it was a mundane complement at best.
Please let me add that breaking has affirmed my “combat readiness”, however you define that. Hitting boards or concrete blocks with a karate technique does require the same attributes as a properly delivered hit. The feedback from the material, the commitment to hit, and the placement of the board/concrete can simulate that. True, not every break does that. This is why you balance your training with pads, workout partners, and even the use of mirrors.
There, I said it…thanks for allowing folks like me to voice my opinion.
I didn’t want to have to say this, but…
With the global warming threat facing our world today, can we really afford to be cutting down all our precious forests, just to split some wooden boards with Karate chops?
Won’t someone please think of the children?
Interesting writing here. I really, really like the way you write your blogs, it is always informative and educational. I will continue to visit your site in the future to read greater blog posts like this one. This is absolutely an awesome post. I love tips about martial arts.
Once, when I was a child, I went to the circus and saw a “strongest man in the world” carrying two massive weights with “10 tons” painted on the sides. I later found out that he was just carrying hollowed-out boxes and, though a husky man to be sure, he probably wasn’t the strongest person on that stage, let alone the world.
This article is basically what it would have been like if I had seen this and then concluded that all weight lifting is complete and total fraud. Or at least, that you should assume they’re all frauds unless they can PROVE otherwise.
Let bullys see you or hear that you can break bricks with your fist, and they are much less likely to give you problems. They are more cautious to give you a chance to hit their nose, or jaw, or ribs.
Breaking has a very valid place in martial arts training. It teaches the concepts of focus and timing much better than floor drills do, and most importantly, it instills confidence in the student.
We use UMAB rebreakable boards (http://www.breakaboard.com/rebreakable.html). This gives us the flexibility to start a student with “easy” boards and quickly find a level where they have difficulty breaking the board. They then have to rise to the challenge. When they succeed, we go up a half-step. It’s a great training tool, but nothing more.
I think that board breaking or other martial art demos like this is fake. I think it really is not a test of skill. Nor do I believe that it requires any training. I am going to tell you why-
My 11-year-old daughter is enrolled in dance. She has a 12-year-old “puppy love” boyfriend. I say “puppy love” because they knew each other since infant daycare and they are not seriously in love.
Her so-called boyfriend is enrolled in Karate. Now, I cannot mention the type of Karate because I do not know the differences.
He was preparing for his next level or belt thingy. He had to practice hitting a plastic board that could be re-fastened. Upon his next level test, he was to break a real board. We were invited to visit his test.
After the arrival of all in attendance, his instructor informed everyone not to try this at home and without proper training. His instructor stated that it was a great test of skill and had required much training to accomplish.
All of the Karate students performed their breaks well and past their tests. Afterwards, we were mingling among students and visitors alike. The instructor approached us and somewhat like a used car salesman, suggested that I enroll my daughter in his Karate school.
He said, with much training, she could get the skill to perform the breaks just like those who have done this day. My daughter is a bold person at such a young age; she had asked the Karate instructor if she could break one right now. The Karate instructor told her no and said that she needed much training and skill to be able to do it.
Being the rebel she is, before anyone could stop her, she went up to a board that was still set-up, she brought down her hand really fast, and with a yell, she easily broke the board.
Sensing others who witness this in awe, immediately the Karate instructor removed the wood, its set up, and told us to get off the “floor”, the area of practice. As we were leaving, I told the instructor that the breaking thingy was not a test of skill and it did not require much training. As all there knew this to be true.
We were never invited there again
All I can say is I seriously hope that Chuck Norris does not read this article! Everybody knowschuck Norris is well known for ripping people’s heads off that mock anything to do with his art. Just remember that if you can see Chuck Norris… he can see you. If you can’t see Chuck Norris… you may be only seconds away from death.
Other Facts about Chuck Norris that may save your life:
>Chuck Norris has already been to Mars; that’s why there are no signs of life there.
>When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
>Chuck Norris does not hunt because the word hunting infers the probability of failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.
>Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn’t stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.
>Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice.
>Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.
Feel free to thank me when this information saves your life!
@Julia – You are lucky your daughter didn’t break her hand. With one board… anyone can get lucky… especially those with zero martial arts skills like your daughter. However, add one more board or change the strike used for the one board… and your daughter will be writing with her other hand for the next 6-8 weeks… while you’re stuck paying the hospital/doctor bills for her broken hand or arm.
Trust me… no one else there was in “awe” that your daughter broke the board because the “breaking thingy” required no skill… they were in shock that your daughter had zero manners and that you were just as ignorant as her for not maintaining control over your eleven year old child. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but your daughter is not “bold” nor is she a “rebel”, she is clearly just a spoiled brat that does whatever she wants too because Mommy lets her. She knows that no matter what she does, Mommy will defend her inappropriate actions and somehow justify then for her. I feel sorry for her boyfriend and the embarrassment that you and your daughter brought upon him. It’s evident with the condensing nature of how you describe your daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend, that you do not like this young man and have absolutely no qualms about embarrassing him at his martial arts studio and in front of his peers and their family. I seriously hope that that young man has moved on and is free of both you and your daughter.
Also, don’t bother telling me how you and your daughter “ain’t” ignorant, because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and you clearly demonstrated your ignorance by your complete lack of grammar, punctuation, and any kind of logical thought process in your post.
As sad as it is, I am certain that you are either divorced or headed down that road as evident the bizarre “puppy love” tangent that you went on when while writing negatively about your daughters relationship. I’ve seen bitter women demonstrate the mentality of “Why should she be happy if I’m not” countless times before. The problem is, that in your eyes you’ve convinced yourself that you treat the men in her life negatively because, “You just want to protect her” or because “You don’t want her to make the same mistakes that I did”. If you are somehow still married… TRUST ME… no man can tolerate someone that thinks like you for long. Not to mention, that you are headed for some rough roads as your daughter enters into her teenage years… and turns out exactly like you.
As much as I would love for you to read this response to your post, embrace the issues brought up, and then work on these issues to improve not only your life, but the life of your daughter… I have met many women like you in my life (and yes, men can tell a lot about a person by reading a post like yours) and I am certain that you can’t possibly comprehend the thought there is anything wrong with the way you think or behave. You are clearly too much of an ego maniac to believe that you are the source of the problem… and not everyone else.
On a positive note (well positive for me at least), I look forward to watching you and your daughter on the next episode of Lifetime’s “Dance Mom’s”.
…and yes… I deliberately left some grammar errors in so you not only have something else to complain about, but so that you can attempt to redirect the issues I brought and focus on the grammar issues instead. I know through experience, that women like you like to redirect your personal faults (instead of addressing them) and that you have absolutely no plans to change the way you think or to improve the way people think about you. Your welcome.
Jeff: The last 2 posts in response to Julia…Absolutely nailed it!
I know this thread is old old old, but @Jeff WOW, hurt much in the past? A lot of what was written can be agreed though.
@ Julia, respect is the number 1 point in any martial art, which is why you weren’t invited back, can’t imagine how many push ups that boy had to do! your daughter could break the board because she came down fast, luckily.
as far as breaking, I just went to my uncle’s blackbelt ceremony, guess what, they had to break boards. 1 in pine. He had 2 stack with no spacers and nailed it with a spinning back kick….fast forward, a woman tried the same break, 1 board, but she did not nail it! it took 3 tries and only after her sensei showed her the error in her form did she accomplish this. BTW they didn’t switch holder, or board. Another point, my TWIN cousins, 1 male 1 female, when getting their belts (11 years ago) my female cousin and male cousin picked their boards from a pile the dojo provided, 1 after the other. She landed her blow and split the board in 2…he never was able to break his. They then got a “different” board for him and he split it in 2. The smile on 12 year old his face was priceless!
also, you never know when you might need to break a board, or fence, to gain entry somewhere, so it cant hurt to know.
My conclusion is, if the mind feels good about it, the body will follow, breaking gives confidence and you have to incorporate speed with technique to equal “power”.
The blog poster’s views on board breaking throughout his life can all be traced back to one single sentance… “…I was a complete failure at breaking. Sensei didn’t offer any useful advice, as I recall.”
This goes straight to the core of the matter. There are a lot of good martial arts instructors out there (I’m being generous), but if you are being taught by a bad one… You risk injury… Not only injury to the body, but even worse, injury to the mind and spirit.
Instructors that can teach you to punch and kick are a dime a dozen. Instructors that know and understand how to teach the principals of a good punch and kick are very rare.
Furthermore, there are very few instructors that can teach the mind and spirit. If you HAVE an instructor that is truely gifted and challenges you in all 3 areas… Learn EVERYTHING you can from them because your art and life will be the better for it.
Breaking (not cheating) is an excersize in all 3 aspects, body (technique), mind and spirit. It is mesurable and observable. I feel sorry for the Blog poster and for the obvious damage that his teacher did to his spirit.
Blackbelt First Degree
@jeff…no…my daughter would not have broken her hand. yes. they were in awe because they trained for this and yet she had nit and did the ame thing.
manners…well one instructor told her no, but the head instructor left it there and inticed her to try…in likeness to a challenge.
maybe he had a hidden agenda that if she did it, she may have been motivated to sign up
breaking requires no skill…period….
@Julia… I didn’t comment about your daughter breaking a board because I was not there. It would be unfair of me to form an opinion of her or YOU on the information gathered from a single blog comment. I’m sure you are both very nice people.
However, your comment “breaking requires no skill…period…” is just argumentative and extremely limited in vision and truth.
If you are ever in Virginia Beach, I invite you to come to my school. I will take 2 of the boards that we use and put them together and let you hit them as hard as you like, as many times as you like.
You will likely only get 1 or two strikes before you give up with a broken hand or foot WITHOUT breaking the boards.
I will then add 3 more boards (no spacers, no tricks, just solid wood) and shatter all 5 with one skillful round kick.
We use ONE board as a confidence builder for the younger children. It’s easy to break, but still requires skill on the part of the child. I would suggest that your daughter paid attention to the students and emulated their actions well enough to break one board.
Think back to the feeling of pride that you had in your daughter at that moment. Think back to the feeling of accomplishment that she felt when the board broke. THAT is what breaking is about.
Blackbelt First Degree
Well said “Joe in VA Beach”.
Most guys can break boards without skill.
My brother and boyfriend (now husband) did this and were not even in Karate.
it is no skill cause you select the wood and its sixe-thickness.
it is a party show
breaking a board isnt going to help you in defense
Julia said: <>
You were bloody lucky that your daughter wasn’t seriously hurt. Deal with that fact. Also deal with the fact that breaking teaches correct technique, focus, power, timing, confidence, etc. Frankly, I don’t blame them for asking you to leave; I’d have done the same thing.
Board breaking will help in self-defense for all of the reasons that I mentioned. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard ignorant people spout variations of “Well, if you’re ever attacked by a board, you can defend yourself”. Yours was just one more variation.
If I sound a little strong on this, I intend to be. Your comments are rude and are based in ignorance. I’m not surprised your daughter acted the way she did, given the tone of your posts.
Perhaps *you* and your daughter should actually try something novel and unique – sign up in a good school and take lessons. That way, you will learn how wrong you are and how rude you have been.
She could not get hurt if the little boys were doing.
I have did a little research across the net and most martial forums say it isn’t a real test of skill
Your comments are rude and biased upon a self-inflated ego
If a little boy could do it, so could my daughter.
It isn’t skill, its being bold
To everyone except Julia…Sadly, there is no explaining to someone who already knows everything about something they know nothing about.
To everyone who believe that breaking is a skill…sadly that they are too influenced by the very mindset of what they do instead of what is not in reality
Folks, I think we just need to let Julia go rant in the corner by herself. She has no clue as to what she’s talking about. She keeps insisting that breaking is a skill and refuses to learn a simple fact – it’s a teaching tool, nothing more.
It’s time for us all to follow the old maxim of “Never argue with a fool – they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
Folks. I have the clue and the research. The only people who have to stand by this breaking as a skill nonsense are the Karate people. Other martial art folks do not do this or need this and yet hone their skills. People to wake up. And those who call me a fool, are themselves the fool because they remain biased and have not done their research. Stop hiding behind common traditions. (Which by the way, I had also researched was not a actual tradition when martial arts started)
BTW. To insult someone and call them a fool based upon their beliefs or data, from a martial artist whom may have said this, truly lack discipline and quality martial art etiquette
@Julia: First of all, I feel the need apologize to you about the mean and hurtful things I said to you. Especially, considering that I do not personally know you at all and there is no excuse to be hurtful to other people for any reason. In all reality, breaking boards is just an ends to a means in training novice Martial Artists. What really matters is that a person trains to develops their skills to a point where they can successfully protect themselves (and their loved ones) from harm. In a way your are right, anyone can punch or kick a board… and some people might even get lucky and break through it without any training.
However, it’s an entirely different situation when someone is trying to cause serious harm or even trying to kill you (or someone you love). The confidence and level headed thinking required to survive a situation like this does not exist in in someone that is inexperienced and untrained in combat. It doesn’t matter if your are a martial artist or a soldier going to war, the ability to survive a potentially fatal attack is something that MUST be trained and practiced on a continual basis. Additionally, this training must be done with the mindset that there may be a time in your life that you will have to use your training to disable and/or possibly take another humans life in order to save your own or that of a loved one.
Martial Arts can be a fun activity for kids but lets be honest, it’s a system designed to override a normal humans tendency to avoid harming someone else… even if that person is attacking them with the intent to do harm to them or even kill them. Humans, like other animals (with very, very few exceptions) do not naturally kill others of their species. Just take a look at the history of warfare and this is evident. In WWII only fifteen to twenty percent of the soldiers even fired at the enemy… and of those soldiers that actually fired, only one in five of them actually hit an enemy. In Vietnam, it took 52,000 shots to score one enemy hit… Think about it, if someone shot a gun in the middle of a mall, what would happen? There would be a few seconds where everyone would freeze and when their brains processed the fact that it was a gun shot, everyone would panic and start running for cover. In fact, this type of event was captured on video when the Centennial Olympic Park Bombing occurred July 27, 1996. The bomb exploded, everyone froze for a few seconds until they could process what happened, then all of a sudden panic broke out and everyone ran. In a situation where you’re being assaulted, a normal person’s instant reaction would be to either panic and freeze in terror or attempt to escape (the natural fight response is easily negated with the attacker has a weapon or has additional attackers with them). Unfortunately, it’s these instant reactions often end up getting the person seriously injured or even killed.
The ability to psychologically prepare yourself to go against your natural hardwired tendencies can only be done with training and practice. Board breaking is just one of the many tools to begin teaching children (and adults) that with practice, a person can train their mind to overcome things that don’t come naturally to us or do do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing. So the real point of board breaking is to train someone to overcome their fears of striking a piece of wood with their bare hands (or feet) with the intent of breaking through it with minimal injury to themselves. It just one of many tools to build an individuals confidence in themselves and it begins to prepare them for the mindset they may need to come to depend on later in life.
To a Martial Arts novice, board breaking may seem like it’s a neat thing to do to show how “powerful” a person is, however there is a practical purpose for it. The typical board that is broken has the dimensions of 1x12x12 and is make of Pine wood. As a result of the size and makeup of the wood board, it can equated to the durability and strength of a human rib. So the idea is is that if your punch or kick goes through a real board, it will go through a real rib of an attacker. Additionally, the historical significance of board breaking dates back to feudal Asia, where the warlords stripped the general population of any means to defend themselves. At the time, the warlords soldiers’ wore armor made primarily of wood, so the peasants of these warlords found that by practicing their strikes against pine boards(with the intent of breaking through them), they had a way to measure how effective their techniques would be in actual combat against these soldiers (in the event they needed to defend themselves from them).
On an unrelated side note… I can’t wait for the day when Microsoft Word actually understands English grammar and actually corrects grammar mistakes for us so we don’t look ignorant. LOL!
As much as I would like to further debate this, I do not have time in the future going back and forth.
Simply, I have done my research on this and correspondence with other martial artists.
Here are the facts of breaking;
* Material still has to be carefully selected and follow a dimension specification as well as the Laws of Physics
* Likewise; getting a belt rank, breaking is not a test of martial art skill
* Likewise; martial arts is not done by the mass population, yet survive daily without it or without breaking (My vast family, both sides over 130 people within Aunts, Uncles Cousins, 2nd-3rd Cousins, are not martial artists)
* Likewise; belt ranking and breaking in martial arts serves a good purpose-CONFIDENCE BUILDING
* And in conclusion, martial arts is a past time, and unlike other past times, like sports, it does have some character building, manners in etiquette, and require far less space to practice
This thread has become a personal attack page, a vent spot, and basically a 1 sided julia rant. When I boxed, one of my teamates hit the mitts daily, looked perfect, another could hit the speed bag great, I could do neither very well, except I won my fight and they lost. Does that mean there’s no place for those aspects in training, hello no, professionals are beasts on them, I just found a different way to fight. Does board breaking have to be done? No, but it is, does it take away anything! No. Does it help, yes confidence and intimidation put you in the mindset to win! Can we please close this forum, because I can’t seem to stop these pointless updates from emailing my phone now!
As a martial arts fan,i would honestly like to know whether any research has been conducted with regards to whether breaking skills help in an actual fight.For example,boxers are regarded as being the best punchers,so could they break boards ?? Or whose punches would be deadlier in a fight-a boxer or a karateka ?? Thanks…
I ran across this, my idea was to use stacked pine boards to see if i can break them easier as i progress in my training. I feel it might be useful in determining whether progress is being made in the POWER/knuckle strength departments haha.
Plus i bet it feels pretty cool punching through boards.
I’ve read you’re arguments between other posters on this thread, and its clear you have a very western view of martial arts. That is not a bad thing, but it just shows that you are not aware of all of the benefits of martial arts.
First off, martial arts are not a pass time, and they are not a sport. They are exactly what they are labeled, the art of martial skill. It is not a competition it is a quest to better yourself in body and mind. Years of training provide the human body with many benefits other than simply beating people up. It provides coordination and control over the body, that if practiced over a life time lead to better health and more mobility in an 70yr old than many Americans have at 50yrs old. Many practitioners experience benefits such as lower blood pressure, and a healthier more efficient heart.
Secondly a good martial arts system does not just focus on the external. The “spirit” is trained as well. These “spiritual” aspects can be chi, confidence, mindfulness, respect, humility, and honor.
And sure there are McDojos and salesmen instructors but that is true with everything. If you dig deeper you find legitimate skills.
Lastly I’m happy to know no one in you extended family has ever needed martial arts, but not everyone is so lucky. I used to live inner city and many people I know were beat up or mugged. My uncle was almost killed when he was mugged for a pack of smokes, a training in martial arts might have allowed him to escape uninjured or less injured. Skills such as martial arts are better to have and not need, than not have and need.
Simply put a true martial artist does not practice a sport, they practice a lifestyle, and I’m sorry that you have such negative views towards the practice of them.
I’m studying the arts of Taekwondo at the moment, started 2 months ago. With quite a bit of Chinese Martial Arts background, I graded to a green belt in a short 2 months. Many people DO use fake boards/rebreakable boards but there are many who still use real boards. In our dojang, breaking boards do actually aid focus. If you rush, you will end up with nasty bruises and without the correct technique, chances are you’ll end up hitting the against the board with your arm again and again. But in saying that, we’re not allowed to used “baked” boards, fake boards or spacers. We usually use tiles and (minimum 1.5 inch thick) pine boards. I read your blog regularly and read this article before my board breaking thinking it should be as simple as a click if it’s all rigged but ended up with the nastiest bruise simply because I was not focused.
I agree and like what you had posted. And, ney, I do not have a whole-negative manner towards ALL/Everything Martial Arts.
But you have to admit, there are those out there which loose the background meaning.
As for skills in martial arts for the street, it is better to have awareness or mental wits
Breaking boards may look cool but after training in Tang Soo Do for 12 years I believe that breaking whatever is quite frankly a waste of time we don’t break bc we understand what Bruce Lee said original Karate Kid mentioned a similar point about Mr. Miyagi NEVER being hit by a tree I mean its a shame alot of Dojos promote breaking like its gonna help you in a real situation
Ricky, I hate to say it, but both Mr. Lee and Mr. Miyaga both missed the point of board breaking. It is a training tool – nothing more, nothing less.
A training tool that many martial arts or martial art schools do not emphasize on. This so called “training tool” has become a “entertaining tool” which can lead to complacency
First: I commend Julia on her stance. It is drawn from her experience and it is her opinion. In the environment she describes, although I wasn’t present, it sounds like the instructor was placing more significance on the breaking of boards than I would, and he was promoting his school to a perspective student. I do somewhat agree perhaps the child might not have zipped around the instructor in a “bold” maneuver to break the board and prove a point, but hey. . . she’s a child and the board was available. And the instructor kind of made a deal out of it to begin with. Of course from the instructor’s perspective, he may have been concerned she would injure herself in his school without being a student. . . hopefully that was his driving factor for denying her the chance at hand-to-board combat.
Second: Neither Lee nor Miyagi really missed the point of breaking. They simply responded to the situation from a different perspective (oh, and I forgot to mention, they were quoting lines from movies, not from life). Lee was implying that he didn’t care that his opponent (played by Bob Wall) could break a board, since he (Lee) was not a board and would be fighting back. And Miyagi was trying to address humility (as in it doesn’t matter if I can break a board, that’s not what karate is all about) to his prospective student, Danial. In a later episode of the Karate Kid (II of VII or something) Miyagi does, in fact, palm strike a TREE, to rescue his old friend (and nemesis) in the movie. So, Miyagi actually can break wood products.
Jeese, I feel I watch too many movies.
Like many elements, breaking boards can be a tool if used effectively; however, like many elements of the karate era, it has devolved to a level of entertainment and showmanship in some circles. Many teachers utilize it as a testing criteria. And many performers cheat the system (Baking, pre-breaking, using balsa wood coated gloss vernier). Please note the term performer – if this offends you, perhaps you are in the second category and not the first, as differentiated between teacher/student vs performer/entertainer.
As a tool, it “can” provide elements of confidence, but should focus on . . .focus. Proper technique, intent, jing, powering through, etc. So it “can” provide some element of training, but in my humble opinion, once you know the elements of a punch and can perform properly to consistently break a board or more, breaking a board does not really add much to the equation.
And I agree with Chris. . . what about the poor trees. . . just pining for the fiords (My apologies for a very bad pun on pine and Monty Python).
I don’t break boards. I don’t teach to break boards. I don’t have any issues against it. I don’t find it to be a training tool I would use, but I can see some some schools teaching at the lower levels to instill confience. But I only have a few decades under my belt, so I may be novice to the true significance of it.
I liked what Julia posted: “But you have to admit, there are those out there which loose the background meaning.
As for skills in martial arts for the street, it is better to have awareness or mental wits”
Correct. Good martial arts teaches situational awareness. It evolves. And SOOO many lose the background meaning to why one would break a board.
My situational awareness: Hey, this is a dark alley. Luckily, I studied martial arts. I’m going to call a cab and drive around it.
Hope you all have a Great day,
I’ve read the original post and ALL the comments. All I know is I’m in my mid thirties, have been training in the arts only a handful of years. I’ve hit bags, mitts, and sparred. Recently I started training at a new school where board breaking is an element of belt testing. I’ve only had to do it twice so far. Both times I was required to do it, I thought to myself, “seriously??? No way??? What if I screw this up and seriously hurt myself?! I need my body in good shape for my day job!” The first time I broke it on the second try. The second time (second belt test) I broke it on the first try. What gave me the success? Many things… Taking a deep breath, visualizing point of impact and seeing my hand/foot go through that point, believing I could do it, letting go of fear, trusting my training, and trusting my teacher. Breaking these boards were HUGE confidence builders for me!! They boosted me up similar to prior belt tests at other schools, sparring classes, self defense seminars with “true” attackers, etc. My point is I agree with much of what everyone has posted, including Julia. Board breaking is not a necessary element of martial training. But it sure has been an invaluable tool for me. I will take the lessons I’ve learned from it and place it in my tool box with all the other lessons I’ve been learning on the mats.
That being said, Julia, please know, from one woman to another, awareness and wit is HUGE in personal safety, but learning a few additional martial skills (basics) such as taught in some self defense seminars will not only empower you… But could mean the difference of life or death. I’m not saying “doom and gloom” that you will necessarily be attacked/assaulted. But awareness and wits will only protect you from casual typically non violent offenders. Sadly, there are some seriously vicious predators in our grocery stores, in our churches, in our schools and in our own neighborhoods. My prayers to you and everyone that none of us shall ever face these types, but if you should ever encounter them… All the awareness and wits in the world will not teach you to keep breathing and keep fighting till you are safe again. Please take this from a woman who has seen other women battered and shattered…. Consider enrolling in a highly professional 8hr women’s self defense seminar. This will arm you with the essentials to stay breathing in the event of a violent assault. And this type of “pro action” will speak volumes to your courageous and bold daughter. It is beautiful that she has so much courage in her already! As she grows and matures into a young woman, don’t you want her to see how to stay empowered? Who knows, these skills may save her life too one day.
Anyways, enough of my spewing! Happy trails everyone! And in the spirit of MA movie lines, “We train so we don’t have to fight.” -Mr. Miyagi
I would agree that boards indeed do not hit back. However I use different board sizes, age appropriate not so much for the student to show great power or technique but rather to help in the confidence building. As for Demonstrations I would agree 100%! This is a SHOW not a test! Those that come to watch the “show” want to see the wood flying in pieces not several feeble attempts to break a single board. This does little for the audience and far less for the poor soul who can’t seem to get through their board. For a show you need to set your-self up for success and I do not think this is anywhere near fraudulent. During our Christmas Party when some of my 3 year old little dragons get up to break boards, on stage, in front of 100 people I want them to have fun and succeed, not get embarrassed and loose the confidence we’re working hard to cultivate. So YES bake your boards in the oven ! Pre-break and glue them. It’s a show so make it spectacular!
Bruce Lee demonstrated his one-inch punch by breaking a board. On stage. In front of a large audience and with television cameras rolling.
I very much liked and agree with your post. Battered women? Yes, I once was. Sexually assualted? Yes. Twice for me.
Martial arts, and some of its tools are, confidence builders.
That said, I caution on the level of confidence towards it not becoming blistful complacency.
Do I despise Martial Arts? No. As long as it is represented in a proper manner and that its practitioners understand its limitations
Keep on doing what you enjoy-go girl!
Well I’ve been doing karate for thirty years.Breaking has its place.In my opinion it is good to test ones technique correct kime focus timing etc.I do get worried when I read some people expect young children to be able to break boards or bricks.Often bone density is only reached in mid to late teens damaging bone structure early in life can lead to a whole bundle of health problems later on in life. With regards to breaking I don’t think it will make you a better fighter but it can improve confidence and boost the ego
I am about to do a board breaking demo Today for our karate asscosiation. Like it said we use pine and we do NOTglue them together. We aren’t bothering about fancy kicks it’s just a simple elbow or punch. We know at our karate that it is not all about breaking boards and that’s the reason why we only do this once a year.
Btw people have said that they glue the boards together except I say all it proves is that you can cheat. It gets kiddies confidence up and then when they come to a proper board they won’t get through it because the last one was glued.
Sounds to me like a guy who never stopped being butt-hurt over the fact that he was the only kid who couldn’t break his board.
Breaking boards teaches two vital skills: focus and punching THROUGH the target using your hips. Done bare knuckle, it also reveals the stupidity of hitting fist to bone, and the importance of conditioning. The fact that your instructor didn’t draw your attention to these is a reflection of his weakness as a teacher. The fact that you STILL don’t understand that reflects YOUR weakness as an adult.
Everything else you complained about simply exemplifies board breaking done badly, not an inherent weakness in the practice.
Breaking boards is also a useful showpiece for recruiting new students. As such, it’s no more stupid than all the other karate “skills” that you’ll never use in real life.
I feel as though the author of this article has trust issues and a general disdain for anyone who does something he disagrees with. It is unfortunate that it is made to sound like everyone who breaks boards is cheating or being dishonest about it. I have been practicing martial arts of many different styles for several years now and most of the TKD tournaments I’ve gone to have had a board breaking section. I’ve always done this, and with integrity. Always real boards, not baked, not split, not thinned. My last competitive break a few years ago included a punch through three boards (with no spacers) and my swollen knuckles were definitely able to confirm the authenticity of the break. Normally I wouldn’t even respond to articles such as these, but the level of unfounded cynicism was unbearable to me
Punching bags don’t hit back either. If you strike half heartedly you will fail no matter what you’re striking. Breaking is just other tool to teach you to strike with speed and follow through.
@Julia. Board Breaking IS a skill. You don’t say how big the board was. Anyone, if they do it fast enough, can hammer fist a “small” board. I know, I have done it (and it hurt). But my 10 year old daughter has been taking TaeKwonDo for many years. She is a second degree black belt now. And I have watched her break some boards using some techniques with ease. And struggle and smack a board repeatedly (and end up with a big bruise) with no breakage in sight. I have seen a two board set up where it wasn’t hit quite hard enough and the back board broke but not the front one. I have seen a student try and try and then the instructor makes one little suggestion – pull your toes back or turn your ankle or something else – and suddenly, the board has broken! There is a ton of skill, as well as a good deal of confidence involved (you try spinning a 360 while jumping in the air and bringing your heel down onto the middle of a target that is a foot long and 5 inches wide). There is also some luck (some boards just break easier than others) and some amount of skill on the part of the holders involved. But competition breaking takes skill and is not a fraud.
I know those boards are easy to break. I’ve seen little kids with little to no skills and strength break them
breaking boards is a trick, nothing more. Most times the wood is short grain,meaning that the board is split parallel with the grain.
There’s not a black belt on earth who can break a long grain oak 2X4.
You can’t break it with a sledge hammer.
Perhaps there’s some truth in your words, I am by no means an expert on breaking boards, but from watching the board breaking seminars and tests at our studio I can say that often our boards split a bit jaggedly. The first board I broke had a giant knot in it so the breakage curved around it. I found the physics of such a break rather interesting at the time.
While board breaking isn’t very useful in general it definitely revealed to me the amount of power it is possible to have in a simple kick. Bags can be punched until they split and us students used to have competitions about who could push a bag the furthest with a single kick, but it isn’t a true reveal of power. Furthermore since our studio heavily emphasizes sparring, the following through aspect of breaking a board is essential, since most of us learn to pull back kicks to avoid hurting our opponent.
The only cheating I’m aware of our studio doing, is how the instructors hold the board so that there is tension already in the board, but by no means is it possible to snap a board using your bare hands. They’re at least an inch thick for the younger kids and they have thicker boards for the adults.
And yes… every board is slightly different which is why for younger students and lower belts, the instructor gives them three tries per board before switching it out for another.
I myself do taekwondo in Missouri my master does not EVER use anything to make it easier on us which I like about him the board break is for accuracy and strength not for show I can’t say for everywhere but where I go that is how it works”baking”your boards is not allowed and is cheating you would most seemingly get inn trouble from him although he provides the boards (probably the reason is so people don’t cheat) that does not help you.
Breaking wooden boards or bricks are just to modify your bones so they become indestructible!!!! All that other shits are to fish in the dummies and sucker them for they’re money !
Much of what is said in this article is inaccurate. Board breaking when done properly and properly prepared for is an essential part of perfecting a technique. What is written is more of ‘Frauds Guide to Looking Like You Can Break’. For example ‘The board must be held firmly in place, or it will not break.’ – not at all. Air breaking (breaking a board thrown in the air) and free breaking (breaking board that is held stationary but lose in one hand are advanced techniques but done nevertheless. We do not ‘saw boards and tape them together’. As for them not hitting back well of course they don’t and neither do any other inanimate training aids such as bags and shields. We hit these for practice because most students do not wish to engage in full contact, bare knuckle fighting.
In all I find the article offensive.
I agree with the basic gist of your post — that much of the board-breaking done in demos is phony. I saw a karate “team” at a fair not long ago doing spectacular kicks and breaks, but the boards they were using looked like 1/4-inch balsa wood.
I’ve never been much on board-breaking, but even Bruce Lee broke boards for demonstrations. Yes, there is a video of Bruce doing this. I personally believe that board-breaking is a useful tool that can inform you on proper mechanics and power. I did a video that shows 173 strikes inside one Tai Chi form (Laojia Yilu of Chen style), and using rebreakable boards helped demonstrate those strikes without having to hit a human being. No, boards don’t hit back, but if you learn to focus your power and body mechanics in a way that can break good boards, you will know how to hit when it does become real. One more thing — I’m 64 years old, so in the rare times that I break boards, I pad my knuckles before I do it.
Sounds to me like you were the victim of a poor instructor. To expect children with only a few months of martial arts experience to find their own boards without telling what to look for, and getting inexperienced board holders to hold them and then not give any instruction on how to improve their technique when they didn’t break is not a sign of a good instructor.
I dont know what kind of MA you took but it sounds like you had a bad experience. My son takes taekwondo and what you described is not what he goes through. He has never taken karate so idk if that’s different but his masters and instructors teach the students how to break the boards before they even attempt to do it. They also do board breaking days every 2 week as well as powerbreaking. My son does very well in both. His master suggested he should participate in a tournament so we will be doing that soon. I think you should find a better school and try again.
I appreciate the different points of view on this subject. I wanted more information on elbow strike breaking and found this post. Today I passed my white belt test so I just became a yellow belt. Part of the test was to break a board with a palm strike then a front kick. I found it very satisfying and interesting as I have aimed before on a heavy / speed bag but because of vision problems etc didn’t know if my strike would be accurate. I am very pleased that all I had learned : technique, focus and confidence including mental practice of breaking all helped me break on first strike. I was very touched also by a young child’s video and encouraged by his determination. I found the exercise very helpful in adjusting accuracy and form.
Could you post a YouTube video of your daughter breaking multiple bricks, despite no training? It should be no problem if breaking requires no skill.
@Julia Better yet, how about you post a video of yourself breaking multiple bricks? At least then we won’t have to worry about your daughter getting injured.
You clearly, and unfortunately, failed to learn anything about traditional martial arts other than how to punch and kick. Breaking is about focus. If you don’t focus correctly your target doesn’t break but, maybe your weapon does. Think it’s nonsense? Go get yourself some 12″x96″ pine shelving and cross-cut it into eight pieces. Now, break some boards… or your hand. Personally, I’ve seen a master break two bricks, with no spacer, using a reverse knife hand (“Judo chop” with the inside of the hand instead of the outside).
Where’s the combat application? If you had stayed in a little longer you would’ve learned that a karate punch drives two-inches past your target instead of dipping in and pulling right back out like a boxing punch. It’s correct that boards don’t hit back but, neither do punching bags. Think about it this way. If you actually need to defend yourself on the street are you going to be able to wrap your hands and put on padded gloves before hitting a padded target? No and that’s why boxers routinely break their hands. Someone who spends a fair amount of time punching and kicking wood with their bare hands and feet is going to be able to deliver their power in a real situation without breaking their hands / feet. Why would you need to be able to break a board with a roundhouse kick? Because you might need to break someone’s knee someday before they can stab you. If you’ve already broken umpteen boards with that kick, getting the feeling of driving through a target and hearing the sound of the crack, you’re going to be able to do it in real life FAR more easily.
Some times, it’s better not to mock what you don’t understand and to stop making excuses for your own shortcomings.
We don’t spend a lot of time breaking in class and I only get wood boards when someone is a candidate for their black belt test.
I’ve seen the authors point as I recently had an 11 year old beginner be unsuccessful trying to break a wood board. I bought the boards. Hopefully in 3 or 4 years if he’s still with me and becomes a black belt candidate he will be ready.
youre an idiot. number 1, a true martial artist doesnt break his boards just to make it easy and look cool. the only person who would do that is a person whos only job is putting on a show. secondly. the average adult can break 3-5 boards, along with his fist. martial arts isnt about strength as much as its about technique. maybe an average adult can break through 5 inches of wood, but with the wrong technique and no proper conditioning he will also break his knuckles at the very least. im sorry that you had a bad experience with martial arts, but that doesnt mean the system is rigged. besides, board breaking is a very very minor part – its not really even much about martial arts. you quitting because of your “failure to cheat” is some of the dumbest BS ive ever heard. you quit because you dont have enough patience / determination to push yourself after you fail. stop corrupting other people with this nonsense. stop making martial artists out to be con artists. and if you think its a scam, put your money where your mouth is,and let one of these ‘fake board breakers’hit you. say goodbye to your ribs first.
In some cases it can be used to show that you’re doing a technique incorrectly. For example, as a white belt I could break boards with several techniques, but I couldn’t break it with a side kick because I kept hitting the board with the wrong part of my foot. Even with coaching from my instructor, it was a habit that needed time and training to fix. When done incorrectly, a technique doesn’t generate enough power to be useful in combat, and boards can be used as a test to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Also, my instructor would have had my head if I had glued a board!
you should go back…i dont think its that important.