If you are clueless as to the context of this article, run a search on Youtube for Karate board breaking. From there, you will see countless videos demonstrating this practice. It is very common in Karate and other traditional martial arts dojos to practice such a skill.
I admit that when I was a child, I attended a school where this was a practice. The boards are presented in class and the student learns to break them. It can be very impressive and really make a child feel empowered in the process.
Which is exactly why I’m advising against children breaking boards during a trial class at a traditional martial arts studio.
1. Board Breaking is a Marketing Tool
It’s a shame that many traditional martial arts schools have to resort to such tactics, but it is true. Most places offering to let your child break a board on their first day is trying to get your child so excited about starting, that you would feel guilty if you didn’t sign them up right away. And it’s usually this tactic that gets you locked into a 2 – 3 year contract as well. Don’t fall for it.
Many parents have told me the reasons for getting their child (or children) involved in martial arts is to learn respect, discipline, focus, confidence, patience, and more. If those are also your reasons for getting your child started, then it’s important to find a martial arts school that really embodies those concepts in their coaching, as well as the way they conduct their business. You really want a place that will teach what they say they will teach your child, rather than relying on parlor tricks such as board breaking to get your child so excited, that they start begging you to let them come back.
Kids should be excited about learning martial arts. It’s fun, it’s active, it’s cool…plus they can use their imaginations, interact with their peers, and learn self defense skills in the process. What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, when gimmicks are used to sign up new members, the ones who really lose out in the long term are the children.
It’s not that board breaking is inherently bad. If you believe that a traditional martial arts dojo is what meets your child’s needs, then you may see your child may learn to break boards. They may even be required to break a thicker board (or multiple ones) for certain belt tests, with each subsequent test being a bit more difficult than the last one. This can be a great challenge and gives the child something to really work towards. It can be very empowering when used in such a context.
2. The Boards Being Used Are Very Easily Broken
Unless a dojo wants to make a bunch of brand new kids feel like failures, they will have to use easy-to-break boards for their trial students. If they did not, then every kid coming in to learn how to break boards would fail. There is a difference in the hardness of wood, and pine is much easier to break than oak.
When I was in traditional martial arts as a child, the class was told by our instructor that the board would only break if the person holding it held it a certain way, as to allow us to hit it so that it split along the layers of the wood. This means that the person holding the board was just as responsible for the break as we were.
In fact, some of the boards may be “pre-broken” so any amount of pressure can break them.
Check out the TV announcer in this clip when he checks the strength of several bricks set up for the demo. He has some serious power in his hands….
If that is indeed the case, and the board was pre-broken or the person holding the board helped them break it, then you and your child were manipulated by a sleight-of-hand trick to make them think they broke it themselves. It’s an empty accomplishment and is a disservice to your child.
On top of that, it’s dishonest. And you can probably bet that if there is dishonesty present in the instruction, then there is dishonesty present in the business practices. After all, how you do anything is how you do everything.
3. Breaking Boards Has Nothing to Do with Self Defense
There is no correlation between the ability to break a board and the ability to defend oneself. When done correctly, it is simply a way to display focus and power. Some practitioners are really great at generating such force. There are countless videos of people breaking multiple objects, boards and bricks included, and some of them are very impressive.
However, this does not translate to the ability to defend yourself. I cannot tell you how many black belts from other styles of martial arts have come to learn from me because the arts they previously trained (such as Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo, Karate, Chun Kuk Do, etc) did not teach them to defend themselves, especially when they needed it most. It has been eye-opening how often I am approached by these individuals, and how they feel like they wasted a lot of time on techniques and moves that do not serve them practically.
If these martial arts schools spent more time really teaching their students how to apply the moves, instead of teaching them to break boards, or have a 10 year old “Black Belt” run a class, then their students might feel much more empowered and accomplished.
To close, I am reminded of one of the best lines in the movie Enter the Dragon, after Bruce Lee witnesses his opponent toss a board up in the air and break it with a sharp punch before it hits the ground…..
The scene is both amusing and memorable, but really serves to illustrate my point. If you cannot actualize your techniques in a live situation, against a resisting opponent, then you have not learned anything that would help you in a real fight.