I briefly touched on breaking at the end of this post.
Breaking in Karate and Taekwondo is a good way to measure the power behind a particular blow. Breaking also helps to condition the mind and body to a certain amount of pain. This has combat application in two ways: It teaches the practitioner how to take and give a blow. In both cases there are degrees of pain involved. In relation to taking blows both Taekwondo and Karate (and many other striking arts) emphasis pain desensitization to varrying degrees. Besides breaking we are also conditioning each other to the pain that comes from hitting and being hit; in Taekwondo this usually happens when we sparr or when we conduct hogu drills (essentially taking turns kicking each other in the chest).
The point in all of this relates directly to something that I learned in many of my self-defense classes: Most people will freeze when actually hit in a “real world” situation. Aside from the mental shock of being hit, the body also goes throughs a physiological response to being hit hard. So, to overcome this response many martial arts will try to condition the body. The rationale being is that a martial artist will stand a better chance of not freezing when hit. This allows them to either escape or strike back.
Breaking also gives a practitioner something with which to measure his or her progress in power development and it *should* teach them to respect the lethality of their blows. Simple fact here but it’s not like the movies. In the courts martial artists are held to a higher standard and have been sued before.
The three principles behind breaking are speed, power, and penetration. All breaks use these principles in combination. However a particular break (especially in a tournament setting) will often emphasize one of these three principles.
- Speed breaks – The breaking material (usually wood) is not held in place. The point here is to hit the target so fast that you break it due to sheer velocity. Examples include tossing a piece of wood in the air and breaking it with a punch, hammer-fist, back-fist, or knife-edge strike. Standing a piece of wood on it’s side also counts; as does breaking the top of a bottle off with a knife-edge strike. (yes I’ve seen that done!)
- Power breaks – While speed plays a role in power generation. There are many simple power breaks that low-belts usually start with. In addition, most power breaks can be taught to anyone in under an hour. Examples include a simple elbow strike, a hammer-fist, and a simple front kick with ball of foot. Here you will often see the breaking material with no spacers between them.
- Penetration – The number of boards (or concrete slabs) that you can break here depends soley on your ability to maintain speed and power of the blow until it has penetrated to the last board in the stack. Critical to this is your ability to maintain perfect technique all the way to the last board. This gets harder to do the higher the stack is. A stack of 10 boards with 1/4 or 1/2 inch spacers between them is a good example of this break. Critics will often say that spacers make it easier to break the stack. However, what they don’t realize is that this is not the main rationale for putting the spacers there! The point is to maintain speed, power, and technique all the way through to that last board. The only way to do this is to have spacers between the wood. Very few martial artist could break stack of 10 boards with no spacers and if they did they’d very likely hurt themselves pretty bad!
There are more than a few myths that suround Karate or Taekwondo breaking. At the top of the list would be the one-strike one-kill myth. As Bruce Lee famously put it: “Boards don’t hit back.” Moreover, boards and concrete are stationary. A live opponent dodges and blocks and a live opponent may have heavy clothing on that cushions a blow.
Usually I try not to disagree with traditional schools or even to criticize them. In fact, I have a lot of respect for a particular art that tries to maintain a tradition that may be hundreds or even thousands of years old. That having been said I do take issue with Karate or Taekwondo traditionalists that teach their students to square off against an opponent in a chambered position. You can read here about what a chambered punch is.
Even in Taekwondo we are taught that when sparring with our feet we need to use front-leg kicks to set our opponent up for a rear-leg chambered finisher. However, many of these traditional schools will toss that out the window by teaching their students only to punch from a chambered position!
My main point is that a boxing jab (unchambered) or even a sloppy street fighter punch will usually be much faster than a chambered punch. Simple fact but the shortest distance between two points does apply here because the chambered punch has a longer distance to travel. In addition, many boxers use their jab as a knock-out blow. In fact, I have used it to successfully break two pieces of solid pine and I am no heavy weight by any stretch of the imagination!
So, while you may be able to break a stack of 10 boards with a chambered strike it will do you little good if I hit you first in the jaw with my jab!
Breaking really needs to be put in the proper context: If you use all of your other techniques to set an opponent up for a “finishing blow” then breaking and chambered blows have a place in a life or death situation. If, however, you teach students to always attack from a chambered position you are setting them up for failure.
A portion of this post is based on Jack Hibbard’s Karate Breaking Techniques: With Practical Applications for Self-Defense. I highly reccomend this book for any Karate or Taekwondo stylists because Hibbard addresses both the sport/competition aspects of breaking in addition to its combat applications.
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[tags]martial arts, boxing, taekwondo[/tags]