The Purpose of Tang Soo Do (Karate) – Breaking

In part 8 of my series on the purpose of Tang Soo Do training, I will be going over the purpose of breaking, kyuck pa, and how this aspect of Tang Soo Do training fits into the global self-defense system.  

In many ways, breaking has started to go by the wayside.  Much like sparring, many studios are hesitant to do breaking these days for many reasons.  The main reasons, in my opinion, are that students don’t like it and fear of students getting hurt.  If taught correctly, these fears can be mitigated.

Just like in sparring, board breaking can be an uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience for students.  Again, with proper teaching, the pain and uncomfortable feelings can be somewhat alleviated, but not completely lifted.  Guess what?  We do karate.  Pain and discomfort are part of the training and are important.

When non-martial artists think of breaking, they usually picture something they saw on television or in a demonstration.  While breaking certainly looks cool in demonstrations, it should not be done solely for demonstration purposes.  Breaking is an important aspect of regular training in Tang Soo Do.

Karate board breaking with side kick

There are also a large variety of materials used for breaking: wood boards of varying thickness, bricks of various length/width/thickness, ice, ceramic, etc.  In my opinion, when training or testing in breaking only 1 in thick pine boards should be used.  Except for smaller children, the dimensions should be 10-12” x 12”.  Dimensions of 6-8” x 12” are fine for smaller children.  All other materials should be for demonstration purposes only.

Why only boards with these specifications you ask?  For training purposes, consistency is the key.  You need to be able to gauge your technique’s effectiveness by hitting the same material over and over with the same properties (mostly same, there will be some variation).  Not only are bricks, tiles, and ice difficult to transport and clean up, but their properties are also inconsistent.  While you could cut bricks and tiles and ice to specific, consistent dimensions, the average martial artist will not.  They will simply purchase them from a store.  Breaking these things will look cool but it won’t give you the technical information you need.

Karate board breaking with a punch

In addition to different types of materials, there are also different methods to breaking.  While there is no standard terminology for these different methods, I will attempt to explain the various ways I have trained in board breaking.

Standard break – one or two boards with a single technique held by 1-2 people.

Supported break – one or more boards stacked on top of each other, with or without spacers, being held up by support blocks directly on the ground.

Speed break – one or more boards held by only someone’s fingers or a board thrown into the air prior to breaking it.

Power break – 3 or more boards broken with any technique either held or on support blocks.

Multiple break – 2 or more techniques used to break boards in multiple locations in rapid succession without resetting in between techniques.

Trick breaks – any type of break involving things like stepping on glass, blindfolded, jumping over obstacles, etc.

Supported knife hand board break

One final note before I get into the purposes of training in board breaking that students need to be aware of is not getting a false sense of security.  Do not use demonstration boards, cracked boards, or scored boards.  These can be broken using improper technique and will teach the student that their incorrect technique is in fact correct.  I have seen on multiple occasions at tests, examiners get impressed when a big guy breaks a lot of boards or a little kid breaks a board that is cracked with bad technique.  They are only looking at the result, not the method.

Ok, I have ranted enough introducing breaking, let’s know go over the purposes of breaking in karate.

Full power – breaking is the only area of training that we use the full power of our technique, no holding back.  Pad work gets close but full follow through is not possible in pad work.  When board breaking, we finally get to see the effectiveness of using our technique with full power.

Proper technique – every aspect of a technique is tested when attempting to break boards with it.  Hand/foot position, hip twisting, follow through, angle/trajectory, stance, and targeting are all needed to be successful.  If any one of these items is incorrect, the break is likely to fail.

Character/Strong Will – you hit the board and didn’t break, and man does it hurt.  Give up or try again?  The process of not giving up despite failure and pain is something that builds strong will and character.

Confidence – there is no better feeling in karate than when you hit something as hard as you can, knowing you will go through it, hearing that sound of cracking boards, and going through everything in your path.  That gives you the confidence that your technique is legit and powerful.

Focus/Precision – we practice targeting in many aspects of training like one step sparring, free sparring, and basic technique pad work.  Breaking takes it to another level.  Being off by just a few inches can be the difference between success and failure.  

Physics – ok, nerd alert, I know.  But board breaking is all about physics and if you think like I do (former aerospace engineer), you can’t help but love it.  Understanding the physics of breaking will help not only the person executing the technique but also the people holding the board and the instructor’s ability to understand why something does not break.  I feel a board breaking rant coming in the near future.

Massive power break on ice using hammer fist

The last thing I would like to mention is we need to make sure board breaking is a regular part of training.  Breaking is not just for demos and tests.  Board breaking is not just flashy, showy displays.  It is important to train each technique the same way whether you are doing basics, forms, one step sparring, sparring, self-defense, or breaking.  There is no such thing as a “breaking technique”.  Every technique we do should be done as if we were breaking.  So, when training in other areas, think to yourself, would this technique break a board?  If the answer is no, you have work to do.

Published by masterelmore

I have been involved in martial arts for over 30 years. I own and operate a studio in Seattle. I am also a father to an awesome kid. My websites provide information, tips, and videos on parenting and martial arts.

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