Mountain View School of Taekwondo
Tips on breaking
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
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!
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
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 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.
This is stuff that one should practice
every day, not just for breaking boards.
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.
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
Not recommended unless you have trained
hard on trees. You'll know if and when you should
break with a roundhouse.
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.
A safe technique. Commitment is the key
here, you must rage against the wood.
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.
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
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
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).
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
Comments from Alexander
A few unsolicited off the foot comments from me:
- If/when seeking to dry out wood, don't bake the damn things! If you over heat and over dry them, you'll bond the resin in them and end up with a nice piece of petrified wood that will shatter beautifully but not unless you swing anything less than a sledgehammer at it.
- Remember the five pillars of CDK TKD: speed, power, balance, focus, accuracy. Many of the tree, sand, and other kwan-go type training techniques emphasize power over speed. In order to practice speed over power, try the following: Get a single sheet of newspaper and hang it at target height using three unfolded paperclips hooked through the top of the sheet. Now punch a hole in the paper without ripping it off the paperclip hooks. Once you can do this, you've got a fast punch (but to make it even faster, try using two paperclips instead of three). You can work on this training technique using other attacks, but in general it is much harder to do using leg techniques. Of course, speed training is not meant to substitute power training, only to complement it. You can't give up the kwan-go for the sheet of newspaper!
- And finally, just to add emphasis to what you already mentioned, focus training is supremely important. Visualizing the break, focusing on a point to hit that is some two or three inches beyond the actual target, and in general, chi-training by gathering your energy, building internal tension, and then projecting that energy from the earth you're standing on out through your hand or foot with explosive release are all key to success. Technical perfection is lame when not combined with intense energy build-up and release.
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