Throughout 25 long years of training in various styles, I have observed that destruction has been prevalent in and around discussion topics of training methods, gradings, demonstrations and technique; but why? What follows are each of the elements required for good breaking practice, which you may not have considered in your normal training. Each of these may enhance and refine your art and technique.
Control is an underlying fundamental principle of movement in the martial arts; control defines and distinguishes movements of the arts from standard daily movements.
It is important to establish that there are controlled and uncontrolled acts of destruction. The aim of every martial artist in the practice of destruction should be to be in full control of their movements at every stage. Simply being able to break a board is not the ‘end game’ of destruction. Be honest to yourself in your own assessment of your training, and that of others, to identify whether your movement is fully under control or not.
If you are taller and perhaps heavier, you may find the board easier to break than a shorter, lighter practitioner attempting to break the same board, even if you have less control. If you are in this category, try to make sure that you set the difficulty to offset your height/weight advantage.
If your movement looks or feels in any way out of control in order to break the board, then it most likely is. Think of board breaking as a very definite movement with a clear starting point, chamber position, execution and retraction. Just as you would pick up a pen and write your name, the process should become just as familiar and fluid from start to finish with minimal effort.
If you lose control of the movement in order to break the board, you need to go through the assessment checklist at the end of this article to identify the cause, until you are executing the move with full control.
The level of control with which you are able to break the board with a particular attack is a direct reflection of the quality of your technique. Consider the sidekick; the chamber position requires that the knee-to-ankle line is aligned directly toward the target point on the board. The execution of the kick then requires that the leg move from this chamber position along the same line toward the target and beyond. The most common mistake, which will be highlighted by destruction practice, is when the student is not moving correctly into and from this chamber position, and instead moving along a curved and upward direction toward the target point of the board. This principle is illustrated and demonstrated on the following destruction video:
Whilst greater force is needed when breaking board with a higher difficulty, force should not be looked upon as the requirement to achieve all breaking. In fact, force is the last element that should be applied to the process of destruction. White break boards are an excellent benchmark for this assessment; if your technique is sound, smooth, well chambered, balanced and has correct direction of movement toward the board, then the force required to break it is minimal. You should find that a well-executed move glides effortlessly through the white break board, confirming that everything is in order. If your move is met with rigidity and resistance, you should not progress beyond the white break board until you have isolated the cause.
If you find that usual technique doesn’t break at least a ‘white’ board without excessive force, then you need to break down the stages of your technique to assess what’s happening to find the cause of the failure
Training with pads, shields and opponents leads you to develop a fairly shallow focus point for impact of your techniques. When using pads, it may often feel sufficient to have a 1-inch depth of focus into the pad to make satisfying impact. However this does not necessarily relate to destruction and breaking boards. See the following illustration (click through to video for explanation):
In order for destruction to be successful, focus is absolutely critical. The focus point for destruction must be at least several inches behind the rear surface of the break board. Think of the board as a very hard cushion, all power of your technique will be ‘absorbed’ into the board, and if it is not sufficient to penetrate it, much of that energy will return from the board into your arm or leg. This ricochet effect can make the board feel like three feet of concrete, even though you may only have been millimetres away from breaking it. If your focus point is sufficiently behind the board, the energy and any surplus energy will continue without resistance, and allow you to retract without any ‘stone-wall’ sensations.
Once you have practiced focus sufficiently, you will be amazed at the extent to which good focus can replace the need for power and strength.
In most cases, you will measure your technique to the board to find the correct standing point before executing it. The most common problem I have encountered is when the student measures with a fully extended limb. For example, if you measure a sidekick against the front surface of the board with a fully extended leg, there is no room left to extend the focus point beyond the board.
As described above, the focus point must be behind the board to be effective. Therefore, your measure should not be made with a straight or extended leg, rather, with the leg in a chamber position to allow you further room to continue the movement beyond the board.
If you are practicing an elbow strike for example, firstly remove the board from the stand, and go through the motions to a focus point behind where the board will stand. If this does not feel comfortable, adjust your stance, position and movement until it is. If the movement is not comfortable and fluid without the board, it will be amplified when the board is present.
Very often you will find the horse (break board stand/holder) is set at a height higher than you can comfortably reach. Two factors to consider if this is the case:
- Flexibility will reduce the ‘effort’ required to execute the techniques. It is important to practice a range of stretching routines, as they are not all equal. Static stretching/flexibility does not always equate to dynamic (moving) flexibility. That is, you may find that you are almost at a side-splits position when stretching statically, but struggle to kick above waist level. This is not unusual, and usually only requires frequently practice for your muscles to get used to moving into and out of the stretched positions dynamically and under control. Be careful not to compromise your technique for a lack of flexibility, this will result in bad practice and risk injury.
- If you are indeed ‘reaching’ for a target height, be sure that the direction of your technique is in a straight line, even if that means an upwards angle. Whilst it is not ideal to have an angled attack, it is still better than a curved attack, providing the focus is still behind the break board, and your technique is good and coming from the correct chamber. This is one case where increased force may be required, but should not be detrimental to the result.
Movement & momentum
Some techniques such as flying sidekick sometimes require some forward momentum for optimum performance. The momentum may only be very small, but it can make the technique much easier to perform. On the other hand, if you use exaggerated momentum, such as three or four steps to approach to the board, you must be sure that the direction of that momentum is controlled properly, and directed towards the board as appropriate. For example, if your steps are directly towards the board you must ensure that your technique turns your hips sufficiently to direct the foot directly at the board. If your steps run parallel to the board, then you must ensure that momentum doesn’t continue to drag your technique past the board. I would always recommend that you master the technique from standing before adding steps, this will help you to isolate any problems caused by the steps themselves.
Committing to the move
There is no room for half effort in destruction. This is not to be confused with brute force, rather, fully committing the move to execute to the focus point behind the board in a single and fluid action. If you have had failed break attempts it can lead you to be somewhat weary of the board, as is it a hard-hitting experience. However, if you fully commit to the focus point behind the board, with a good technique and chamber, it will feel like there is almost no resistance at all.
During every day training, you will be told time and again which part of the hand/foot/elbow etc that you are to make contact with. There is no better way to fully appreciate these details than practising destruction. You may practice reverse knife-hand for many years, but if you are asked to break even a white break board with reverse knife-hand, you will spend a few minutes examining your hand to decide precisely where you will make contact! Then you will realise that in fact, there is only approximately 2cm with which to make good contact. Spend time placing your striking tools against the board to identify precisely where you are going to make contact instead of just ‘having a go’!
Choosing a board
All students should start with ‘biscuit’ break boards which break easily, even if only to walk through the setup and motions of breaking to establish chamber, stance, posture etc. Then only moving onto a single white break board when everything is comfortable and fluid.
All other boards should only be approached when you can break the white break board using the desired technique with ease, confidently, consistently and with minimal force.
Black break boards, for example, can quite easily support a static weight mass of at least 12 stone (170lb) without breaking. (Click here to see a demonstration).
- Control is key. Without control, you risk injury of yourself and others, this can be honed very well with destruction practice
- Your technique will be tested extremely efficiently with destruction. Without good technique, you will need to compensate with force, movement and suffer the consequences!
- Force is the last required element for destruction; force need only be applied to amplify a technique that is already sound. Focus on your technique first, and DROP the force until you have done so.
- Destruction will show you when your focus is in the right place, and feel like a brick wall when it’s not. Always aim behind the board, never AT the board.
- The measure needs to take into account your focus point. If your focus point is wrong, your measure is wrong. You cannot measure with a fully extended technique and expect to feel comfortable moving beyond it.
- Don’t let a lack of flexibility compromise your technique. Anyone and everyone can stretch, so go stretch! Contact me if you need help with this.
- Don’t allow movement to ruin your efforts, start from standing.
- Commit to the move – do, or don’t do.
- Learn your contact points against the board before hurting your contact points!
- Don’t “be a hero”. Start with a child’s board, if it doesn’t break moving through your technique at a fraction of normal speed, you need to swallow pride and find the cause.
BlackBelt Secrets – Destruction Playlist