Mountain View School of Taekwondo

Tips on breaking

Mike Conboy

The breaking requirement for black belt is difficult and often unfair. But it is a valid test. The upshot is that 3 boards 2 ways is considered the standard for the destructive power that someone at the black belt level should be able to deliver. We could argue all day whether that is a reasonable standard, but after talking with the masters my take is that a one board blow will likely just anger an opponent, a two board blow would have to hit exactly right but a three board blow is a fight-stopper almost regardless of where it hits. Regarding this standard and the relative breaking ability of people of different size, the point is that on the street, there aren't weight classes, and so a small black belt should be able to defeat a big attacker, and could reasonably do so with 3-board blows.

At belt tests sometimes there are problems with breaking. I think the overall issue is not enough training; the specific problems have been traced to differences between breaking in the training environment and the test environment: wood choice, board holder against the wall vs. held, floor/traction issues, simple exhaustion by the end of a training day and the excitement of the event. If the first attempt fails then confidence issues arise along with the pain. I've given it some thought and here suggest training goals to overcome those obstacles. Of course, please add to this discussion!

A plan

Practice breaking at least once per session. Make breaking a requirement for lower belts: say, two boards two ways for brown, two boards for purple belts, one board two ways for green, one board for yellow.

Board holder

This will make us mighty: practice breaks using hand-held wood. This is a LOT more difficult than using the board holder against a wall or even a held board holder, and gets increasingly more difficult will each added board. This will train not only the breaker but also the people holding who can now feel as well as see the break. There is some risk here for the holders, but I think at the 3 or less board level the benefits outweigh the risks. Holders should be mirror image in front stances, legs, hips and shoulders all touching for support, arms locked, preferably with the inner arm holding the top of the stack. The breaker must emphasize speed to compensate for shock absorption by the holders. On the plus side, there is no fear of breaking too hard and hitting the back of the board-holder. Note that on the street the attacker likely won't be held up against a wall.

Practice

Practice the technique on a kwan-go, the heavy bag or a shield. Practice kicks against a tree. Practice getting the biggest and strongest motion you can, the fastest speed and full focus into and through the target. Practice until you can hit that way 10 out of 10 tries. I think one can either practice to toughen up parts of the body, or practice so that the technique should work and then commit fully to the technique and hope the boards break.

Technique

This is stuff that one should practice every day, not just for breaking boards.

Side kick

Go for a fast, strong kick from a full chamber, as opposed to running up to the boards and slamming your foot against them. Back-kick is similar but takes extra targeting practice.

Front kick

Surprisingly effective breaking kick for some people. Foot position is essential, and a fast, whip of a kick helps too. Have the boards held with vertical grain.

Roundhouse

Not recommended unless you have trained hard on trees. You'll know if and when you should break with a roundhouse.

Elbow smash

Master Rich says to hold the fist knuckles up, not knuckles out. I'm trying this. Reach all the way back during windup and go all the way through the target. The speed must build quickly.

Palm heel

A safe technique. Commitment is the key here, you must rage against the wood.

Chop/hammer fist

Train on the kwan-go. A well-trained chop is a great wood-breaker. Careful of the target: don't let the little finger go over the end of the stack. A hammer fist is safer but doesn't break as well.

Fist

Everybody considers this at one time or another, until they see somebody break a metacarpal. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time (and that would be 6 weeks).

Other techniques are not particularly recommended, although some have practiced them with success: ridge hand (sensitive areas there), crescent kick (what part of the foot do you hit?), axe kick (can you really stretch that high?), wheel kick (very strong kick, but the striking surface is relatively delicate), hook kick (ditto), rear elbow strike (ditto), head-butt (duh!).

Wood choice

Sort the wood lot into easy and difficult pieces. Train on the hard pieces and save the easy ones for tests and demos. Easy pieces are light weight, have a coarse grain running across the thickness and not the length, lack big knots, and may have a defect running the width (but not a crack).

Environment, etc.

Practice breaks at the end of class when you're tired. Practice on grass and loose soil. Practice demo breaks, eg. in front of the public. Practice until the break is successful 10 out of 10 tries. The breaker must emphasize diligent training, proper technique and mental focus.

One last thing is that it is still decidedly easier for a large person to break than a small person. The smaller person must therefore develop greater skill in order to break the same stack of wood. In order to insure that larger brown belts also have good skill, it was suggested to me that they demonstrate say, a 4 board break during training. That sounds reasonable. I think it would also be reasonable to put those 4 boards in the holder; nobody wants to hand-hold all that wood.


Comments from Alexander

A few unsolicited off the foot comments from me:


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