Comment on Karate Board Breaking

Original Article: How do martial artists break boards and bricks using only their bare hands? - The Straight Dope

Karate’s dirty little secret:

Essentially, whenever you see any type of breaking demonstration where one person is holding the board on both sides in the air like making a left turn in a car, and don’t see splinters it’s a re-breakable board. I also like how the board splits perfectly in half.

On the other hand, when you see people with huge callouses all over their hands and elbows, you’ve got competitive breaking going on:

From that article about the structural bone changes:
“The general principles used in martial arts breaking training is similar to the same principles used for most athletics. The body adapts to stress. There are generally three areas a martial arts breaker wishes to force their body to adapt to: the bones, the skin (calluses), and muscles (for both mass and speed). The general principle here — for instance, for the bones — is found in Wolff’s law, which states that the skeletal system will, after healing, be stronger if injury is put to it. In this manner the breaking practitioner operates not unlike a bodybuilder who works out with weights, then takes a period of rest to heal and allow the muscles to come back stronger.”

So, there’s real breaking but a lot of fraudulent “demonstrations” of breaking as well.

There’s nothing fraudulent about using rebreakable boards. Yes, they are plastic, and designed to come apart cleanly and then go back together. Yes, they come in a variety of break strengths, and some are very light. But they still require the same technique and skill as using pine boards, or other materials. They are a training tool.

They are not typically used for demonstrations because they are not as dramatic and splintering wood or crumbling brick. But they are used for training because it is expensive to buy lots of boards or other materials to practice repeatedly. Hone technique and skill on the reusable ones, then do a few on the “real” items.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Ok let me try this again:

  1. To present a “breaking demonstration” using rebreakable boards is fraudulent.

  2. As the column says, simply by using physics, spacing and applying pressure along the grain, breaking boards is easy.

  3. However, in competitive breaking, real superhuman feats can be achieved through Wolff’s Law.

How so? The rebreakable boards are designed to be comparable in difficulty to breaking real boards. How well they achieve that is debatable, but it’s not like they’re easily broken props to fool people with; they’re colorful molded plastic, after all. It would be kinda silly to use them in a demonstration since they lack the drama and pizzazz that the demonstration is supposed to be about, but I don’t see how it would be out-and-out fraudulent.

I don’t get it either.

First, those plastic rebreakable boards are pretty conspicuous. Second, no one takes board breaking as a demonstration of skill seriously anymore.

It’s fraudulent to advertise something as “breaking” when nothing is being broken.

Tilt at windmills much?


Board breaking is used for several reasons:

Confidence building
Improvement of technique
Confidence building
Did I mention confidence building?
We used to use real boards in our school until wood got so damn expensive. We switched to the rebreakables and found that it’s actually more difficult to break them. Real wood has numerous grain lines and will break if you hit it off center. The plastic boards only have one grain line, so to speak, and if your focus is off, you won’t break. As a result, our technique improved because of the increased attention to focus.

And don’t kid yourself. Breaking a plastic board is breaking something. You start out with one piece and wind up with two. The fact that you put it back together afterwards is meaningless.

  1. The plastic board I’ve seen is allegedly equivalent to 1 and 1/2 wooden boards.

  2. Fraud implies deception, and nobody would confuse a blue piece of plastic with wood.

  3. There’s an element of showmanship in this-- but if your aim is awful, the board won’t break. Similarly, if your strike has insufficient force.

  4. Yes, if the grain of the board is set up conveniently, the board is weaker than many imagine. Then again, the clavicle and certain joints aren’t exactly made of reinforced concrete.

There’s nothing fraudulent about it. It’s not like they’re made of friggin’ balsa.

Does it have the flair of seeing splinters fly? No. Is it as challenging as breaking paving stones in a stack? Depends upon the rebreakable boards. They make them from 1/2 board to several board strength.

As far as “breaking”, the board is separated into two pieces. That separation occurs because of a strike exactly as if it were a sheet of pine, or a sheet of concrete. It’s the same process and the same outcome. The only difference is the boards are rebreakable. That is, they can be put back together and the process repeated.

I just want to comment on the body adapting to breaking boards.

I never “practice” breaking boards therefore all my breaks (after learning how) have been in competition. In my first one I took third, in my next 11 I took First. I break patio blocks, cinder blocks and up to 6 pine boards together (no spacers). After all this I have no calluses, never broke a bone and have soft skin. I have used plastic boards of varying strengths for focus when learning a new break and the actual boards and/or bricks turn out to be much easier than the plastic ones. The longest applause I ever got was for breaking a bunch of ice blocks and this was be far the easiest competitive break I did. I retired from breaking by breaking 50 boards with 25 different strikes in under 60 sec.
Whoops rambled on there for a minute, re-living the day.


“Real” breaking vs breaking done by cheating.


Also, I just wanted to point this out: if you shot a bullet at a board/brick/shingle/whatever, would it:
a) Break neatly in half, or
b) Result in a shattered board or a hole in the board?

That would depend heavily on the size of the bullet, along with the type and thickness of the material being shot.

There’s nothing more to discuss about this “fake” breaking you seem to be on about.

There’s nothing to discuss. No one else is interested at tilting at this particular windmill.

The reason this dropped after a few comments is no one cares.

Plastic boards are harder to break than they look. Wooden boards --when the grain is set up conveniently-- are easier to break than they look. Wooden boards --when the grain is set up inconveniently-- are virtually impossible to break AFAIK YMMV IANAsensei. Heartwood is easier to break than wooden boards without heartwood. Bones and joints are not indestructible.

We have several real wooden boards the sprog broke and none of them are particularly splintered. The school uses soft pine and it’s broken along the grain.

Superhal said:

A bullet is not a hand.


“Boards…don’t hit back.”

Yes, “real” breaking and “fake” breaking look alike, but I’m pointing out that “fake” breaking is not the same. Notice that in “real” breaking, they never use wood, only concrete.

“Real” breakers should be given the credit they deserve, and “fake” breakers should be given the derision they deserve.

First, people have been breaking boards, ceramic roofing tiles, bricks, bull’s horns, etc, all over Asia as demonstrations of strength and technique since before the turn of the last century. I have pictures of my old man doing demonstration breaks from the 50s and 60s and pictures of my grandfather doing the same from the 20s/30s. So this notion that there is “real” breaking and “fake” breaking is absurd.

That said, what you consider “real” breaking (concrete) is more or less a joke, too. In my youth I did roundhouse kick demonstration breaks of baseball bats, up to two at a time, contacting with my shin/ankle. How much relevance does it have to do with actually fighting? Pitifully little. Every fighter who’s ever put a round in at Lumpinee could do the same, probably with more bats. But no one cares because the proof of the fighter is in the ring, not goofy demonstrations.

Breaking demos were for a time and era when no one knew much about martial arts and ignorant crowds were wowed by breaks. That time is long past now. The only people who take breaking seriously are the multicolored gi crowd that do ‘creative kata’ gymnastics.

What a joke.