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DWx
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 10:30 am    Post subject: The Art of Breaking and Conditioning Your Body Reply with quote

Breaking is probably one of the most common images non-martial artists associate with the term "martial arts". Typically, breaking requires one to strike a material, such as wood or bricks, in an effort to smash through and destroy it. Not only is it a test of power, breaking also requires one to fully condition themselves both in mind and body. The techniques that you learn in forms or for sparring will be useless if you cannot hit hard with them and generate appropriate power; all you will be doing is waving your arms and legs about to no effect. Although the "one hit, one kill" philosophy may not seem attainable to some, it should still be strove for through training techniques to a high intensity level of power or else they will be useless in combat. Often this is done through engaging in the practice of breaking.

In this article, I will discuss some of the benefits of breaking and why this discipline should part of a martial artist's training.

Conditioning of the Mind: Mastery Over Yourself and Your Technique

The mind plays a crucial role in the art of breaking, and indeed martial arts as a whole. In order to break, one must fully commit themselves to destroying a material; you cannot half-heartedly hit a stack of boards because you will damage yourself instead. Overcoming your mind and managing to channel yourself through the boards is probably the greatest challenge of breaking and is the reason why breaking is usually required at belt promotions since it shows mastery of oneself. In the style of TaeKwon-Do I train in, one of the forms is named after the ideology "Juche". "Juche" in its simplest form represents the idea that "man is the master of everything and decides everything," i.e. man can achieve anything and is in control of his own destiny.

Although it was formed with political motives in mind, I believe this attitude is essential when training in the martial arts because how can you hope to master the physical aspect unless you believe in your ability to achieve it? For me, board breaking is the epitome of mastery in the striking arts as it means you can master your mind and master your techniques to produce vast amounts of power. Non-martial artists are often impressed by the idea that an ordinary human can backfist through a brick or kick through a baseball bat. However, these feats demonstrate pure control over your body which I believe defines what it means to be a successful martial artist. I believe that unless a striking system has a suitable replacement for breaking which shows mastery of technique and oneself, breaking should be included in the system's curriculum.

One reason beginner breakers fail is because they fear injuring themselves. Many students ask if it hurts. But, if done correctly, breaking should not really hurt at all as your own body receives none of the impact. However, when preparing to break, a student's mind must not focus on the possibility of pain because they will be likely to not commit fully and subsequently injure themselves. The mentality that many students get into is that if they hit the boards lighter it will hurt them less. Unfortunately, striking the boards tentatively is counterproductive because it will hurt more if you don't break than if you throw all your mass and speed into the technique and break successfully.

When a wooden board is struck, it first flexes and absorbs the impact before it will break. To snap it in half, you need to generate enough power to take it past the flexing point and cause the fibres to give way to the power travelling through the material. This can be seen if you were to capture a standard board break on camera. First, the board would bend and buckle as the fist (or whatever attacking tool) travels into it. Once the wood can no longer flex and power is still being transferred, the fibres in the wood snap and the board breaks. If a person were to hold back when breaking and not fully commit to the technique, the board would flex and then transfer all the power back into the person's hand (or foot, elbow, etc.) thus injuring that person. Therefore, it is counterproductive for a student who is holding back their technique due to fear of injury as they are actually making it worse for themselves.

Instead, they need to forget about the possibility of pain and just hit the board with as much speed and mass as they can to successfully break. By overcoming a fear of injury when breaking, a student has mastered their own mind and learnt to successfully transfer power without causing injury to themselves. This is essential if such a student need ever to actually hit somebody because they would injure themselves if they pulled their technique when striking an attacker or even blocking an incoming attack. Mastering your own fear also leads to greater confidence in yourself. So, a student may be more willing to try doing other things they were previously apprehensive of. Either way, I feel breaking is an opportunity within training to further one's control over themselves and is an important component of learning to effectively manage emotions such as fear.

Breaking is also an important component of training due to the fact that, in plenty of modern martial arts, sparring only takes place under light or semi- contact rules and many students never learn to properly hit with their techniques. Unfortunately, if you tried tapping an attacker on the torso you may get a surprise when it doesn't stop them from advancing (on the other hand, they might be surprised, too - which could actually work to your advantage). As a result of this type of combat, students subconsciously learn to "pull" their technique and fail to get the full extension of the arm or leg. When such a student faces a situation where they need to fight, they will be unable to successfully defend themselves.

Similar problems arise due to step-sparring because you cannot actually hit your opponent. Thus, students need to engage in some sort of training that allows them to hit full-on. Obviously, it is difficult to train this way in normal class sparring if you must practice under reduced contact rules and training using bags/pads only gives you secondary feedback (i.e. feedback from the person holding the pad). This is where breaking becomes necessary. Modern safety equipment also allows students to be lazy and not attack with the correct tools. Often, proper fists are not formed or kicks are done with the flat of the foot or instep (you can break with this, but it's usually the ball of the foot) because it is easier to allow the hand or foot to mould to the gear rather than forcing the gear to bend around the fist or foot. If you hit a board or block with the wrong attacking tool, you probably won't break (unless you are lucky and used a lot of power).

When breaking, a student must learn how to close their fist properly, they must learn which part of the foot to hit with, they must learn to execute the technique properly. If they don't, then they will not break. It is too easy in sparring, forms or pad work to be lazy and not try to use flawless technique. But, if you attempt this when breaking, you are going to injure yourself rather than break the board. Furthermore, sparring can also promote the practice of hitting off target. There are specific target areas (such as the temple, the kidneys, etc.) where the human body is susceptible to attack. So, many martial artists are taught to strike these areas. Yet, points in sparring are generally awarded for striking anywhere on the torso or anywhere in the face. By practicing breaking, particularly on objects that need precision (such as smaller boards or even re-breakable boards), students learn to strike with greater accuracy. Hitting precise points becomes second nature and what they have learnt from striking wood or bricks, they can translate to the human body.

Even practicing powerful techniques on bags or pads that were designed with specific target areas does not train the same accuracy as breaking does because it is difficult to tell whether the target was hit properly. Materials needing precision will give you a definitive response. Punching thin air when practising forms or punching in the general target area when sparring will help develop aspects of your technique, but to gain the full potential of the power that is available, a student needs to train specifically for power. Therefore, for me, breaking should be part of a martial artist's training because it covers the areas where sparring and forms fall short.

Engaging in breaking also promotes self-discipline. To successfully break, good technique is required. Because of this, it is necessary for a student to spend time perfecting their kicks and strikes or risk injury when attempting to break. The student must also invest time in extensive conditioning exercises if they hope to progress onto more advanced breaks because the body was not made to withstand high intensity impact. Many schools will cover aspects of conditioning, however it is likely that not enough time is spent honing the body's attacking tools. With conditioning the best policy is "a little and often." Ideally, a serious student could be looking at conditioning everyday. This requires a great deal of self-discipline to allocate time to training when you'd rather be doing other things. But, by learning to discipline yourself in your training, you will be bettering yourself as you can learn to discipline yourself in other aspects of life.

An example of a highly disciplined martial artist would be Masutatsu Oyama, as he spent many months training in solitude to condition his body. Mas Oyama was conditioned so well he was able to break the horns off bulls with his bare hands and this is the type of self-discipline modern martial artists need to try to emulate. Such conditioning is also necessary for combat as it reduces the likelihood of your bones breaking when struck. When having to defend yourself you do not want the chance that your own hand will break when blocking. You need to make your bones form as strongly as possible. Because breaking requires good conditioning and is a test of whether you are conditioned well enough, I believe breaking is necessary in the martial arts to encourage people to take their training home and not just use martial arts as a hobby - but as a way of life.

In the 1970s film "Enter the Dragon" Bruce Lee says, "Boards don't hit back." Many people use this as an excuse not to practice breaking and not to engage in any formal conditioning. However, as explained above, boards can hit back (at least to a certain extent) and, unfortunately, most people can't train power in any other way. Another excuse not to break is that excessive conditioning can injure the body and cause conditions such as arthritis. Many of the old masters have been conditioning for decades and no real harm has come of it; it is only when people take things to the extreme do problems arise from conditioning. In my experience, I have yet to come across a real excuse not to practice breaking and, for me, the pros outweigh the cons. Hence I believe that breaking (or at least power training) should be part of every striking art.

References

TKDTutor: About Breaking, Breaking Fundamentals, Breaking Materials, Mechanics of Breaking and Makiwara.
Iron Hand Tameshiwari
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Patrick
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission.
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bushido_man96
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 29, 2008 8:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A very well written treatise on breaking. I enjoyed it very much.
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pittbullJudoka
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 30, 2008 8:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article.
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ninjanurse
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 01, 2008 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article-enjoyed it! Thanks!


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DWx
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 05, 2008 8:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks. I think I ramble way too much.
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sensei8
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article...solid across the board!! Thanks for sharing it.


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KyungYet
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 28, 2013 12:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic!!

I don't think I've ever read an article about board breaking that states everything so clearly. I've always been a bit afraid of board breaking myself, because I've seen too many egotistical people attempt to break more than they ought to and injure themselves... so I've tended to never push my limits in breaking and always break no more than I'm sure I can. But I love the way you talk about the need to strike without hesitance - this is totally true and I always tell my students that if you break the object, you shouldn't really feel a thing... it's only when you don't break it that it hurts.

Also, I love your reference to the line that "boards don't hit back"... I hear that all the time. But as you pointed out, physics shows that it does hit back, with equal and opposite force. Great point! If you don't object, I might print this article and have my students read it before breaking! Thank you for writing it!

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mrdanny
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you very much for this article, it really convinced me to begin in the art of breaking, well explained and good tips, thanks and congrats for the way you write!
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vaporman
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome! Very accurate!!





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