When a martial artist uses a part of the body to break one or more objects, then that action may be termed as “breaking”. Any part of the body may be used like the head, arm, elbow, or knee; however, generally the hand or the foot is used.
“[…] Breaking materials such as boards, bricks or roof tiles should be hard enough that an ordinary person would find it almost impossible to duplicate the student’s technique. Breaking with the forehead is absolutely prohibited in Taekwon-Do.[..]” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.142)
Pacific International Taekwondo video “3rd Dan Grading – street defense and board breaks”:
The objects to be broken may comprise of any material like wooden boards, tiles, bricks, glass, cinder blocks, cement slabs, ice, rocks, or even metal like thin sheets of iron or steel; however, commonly wooden boards, tiles, or bricks are used.
shatilaBass video “Shaolin Kungfu Breaking Iron and Bricks”:
Breaking objects are usually seen in martial arts with emphasis on delivering blows or striking, like Kungfu, Karate, Taekwondo, and Pencak silat (Indonesian martial art). In Karate, breaking is known as “Tameshiwari”.
proKyokushin video “European ShinKyokushinkai Championships – Demonstration (Tameshiwari)”:
In martial arts having more emphasis on grappling, like Jujutsu (also known as Jiu-jitsu, or Ju-jitsu), or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ, a derivative of Jujutsu), or Judo, and other similar grappling martial arts, breaking objects is almost of no importance. Similarly, in martial arts using weapons, the practice of breaking objects is almost non-existent. Nonetheless, in sword arts like Kenjutsu, Iaidō and Kendo, a somewhat similar practice like breaking is known as “Tameshigiri” (roughly translated as “test cutting”), where the sword is tested by cutting materials like tatami mats, rice straw mats, bamboo, or thin steel sheets.
European Budo video “Great tameshigiri by Ueki sensei | Legendary Budo Masters”:
Why is breaking practised?
Breaking in martial arts is practised as a method:
— for measuring the force of a blow/strike
— for testing the level of skill attained
— for demonstration
As a method for measuring the force of a blow, breaking can measure the strength of the material of the broken object, or the number of objects broken with a single blow, or the number of objects broken in a specified time.
As a method for testing the skill level of a martial artist for competition or promotion to a higher rank, generally, the difficulty of the breaking test depends on the rank being tested. Breaking tests are important as the result of the breaking test generally influences the result of the competition or promotion.
ITF Taekwon-Do video “Power Breaking Senior Male – ITF World Cup 2016 – Budapest”:
Breaking is also practised for demonstration purposes. In publicly held demonstrations by martial arts schools, breaking is usually undertaken in choreographed sequences, generally to prove the power of the blow to the audience and to the student, to gain publicity, inspire new enrollments, and for the promotion of the martial art.
“Breaking itself is not Taekwon-Do […] The real purpose of destruction in demonstrations is to prove the power of each blow not only to the spectators but to the student as well.[…]” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.145)
Besides the common techniques, sometimes special techniques are also used in demonstrations, where the purpose is not to prove the power, but to show the mental and physical ability of the martial artist, who overcomes obstacles while breaking the objects.
In Taekwon-Do, special techniques are used to demonstrate breaking. For example, objects like tiles, boards, or bricks are broken with a flying high kick/ forefist/ back fist/knife-hand/ side kick/ flying front kick/ flying front and turning kick/ mid-air kick/ turning and reverse turning kick/ flat fingertips/ flying twisting kick/ punching kick (forefist and foot). Breaking may even be demonstrated by crossing over obstacles. For example, breaking tiles while flying over a motorcycle/ over nine persons/ jumping over the shoulders of two standing men. When such special techniques are used, then “Their [special techniques] purpose is to demonstrate the ability to attack opponents accurately beyond obstacles or at a distance rather than proving the power.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.147)
Fingyfin video “ITF Taekwon-Do Breaking”:
Classification of breaking
Breaking may be broadly classified as:
–Single Object breaking
–Multiple Objects breaking
In single object breaking, there is only a single object, which has to be broken. In multiple objects breaking, more than one object are stacked together, either horizontally or vertically, and all the objects are to be broken.
Stacking multiple objects: pegged and unpegged
While stacking multiple objects, “pegs”, which are also known as “spacers” may be used. Pegs may be of any material, but wooden pegs are most often used with wooden boards. These pegs create a little distance between the objects, and therefore, this type of multiple objects stacking is known as a “pegged/spaced” stacking.
On the other hand, multiple objects may be stacked without any pegs and then, no spaces are created between the objects. This type of multiple objects stacking is known as an “unpegged/unspaced” stacking.
Breaking either a pegged or an upegged stack is difficult. However, breaking an unpegged stack is slightly more difficult than a pegged stack, since enough force must be created at the point of impact to make the kinetic energy travel till the very last object and break all the objects successfully.
Further classification of breaking
Both single object breaking and multiple objects breaking may feature several different types of breaks; however, commonly they may be classified as follows:
Here, the object or objects to be broken are supported. The support can be given either by humans holding the objects or a mechanical contraption holding them. This type of support is usually used for horizontal, vertically upwards or angular blows. However, for vertically downward blows, usually the stack of multiple objects are supported by concrete blocks or an iron framework placed on the ground. The main requirement to break the objects is physical power. Competitions, tournaments, testing, and demonstrations generally show power breaks.
ITF Taekwon-Do video “ITF rules. Power Breaking”:
Here, the object or objects to be broken are either lightly supported or not supported at all. For example, boards are lightly placed vertically on the ground and then they are broken. Sometimes, multiple boards are hung on strings, and then the hung boards are broken. At other times, a board or a brick is held in one hand while the other hand breaks it. Else, a board is thrown up in the air and as it comes down, the martial artist breaks the board in mid-air. A popular example of a speed break is punching a paper that is held lightly or hung on a string. The main requirement to break the object is speed. Sufficient speed is generated by the body part, which strikes the object at a focused point of impact. The object will break not because of the strength of the martial artist, but because of the velocity of the body part used.
Martial Arts Books and Videos from Turtle Press video “Patio Block Taekwondo Speed Break”:
American Wushu Academy video “Jacob Lion a mid air breaking board!”:
School of Respect video “Mid-air precision board break by MASTER ZACH”:
Frank Zinck video “Karate Paper Punch – 1”:
Here, the main requirement to break the object is impulse, which results due to a change in momentum, which in turn results from the combination of force and time. In an impulse break, the striking hand or the leg does not carry through the strike like a power break or a speed break does. The striking hand or leg comes back after hitting the object to be broken. The impulse of the striking hand or the leg is transmitted in waves through the object, due to which the object breaks.
marZstarZ aka Michelle Kaul video “Karate Breaking and Impulse Demo @ Science Night (SB 2017)”:
Here, the main requirement to break the object is speed and thus, it is often confused with a speed break; nonetheless, there is a significant difference — in speed break, contact with the object is made, whereas in wave break, contact with the object is not made. A punch or a kick does not make contact with the object to be broken, because the velocity of the punch or a kick travels in waves and the waves break the object. A common example of a wave break is blowing out candles with the velocity of the punches or kicks.
Tim Rosanelli video “Karate Speed Training – Candle Flame Punch”:
Tim Rosanelli video “Video Response to Candle Flame Punch”:
Here, the object or objects to be broken are supported, but lightly. However, instead of using the fist, delivery of the blow is usually done by a flat-hand, which may be a palm, or the back of the hand, or a knife-hand, or in case of advanced practitioners, even fingertips may be used. Contact with the object to be broken may or may not be made. Sometimes, the break is executed by pulling/ pushing/ crushing the object. In a soft break, the essential component is the vital energy of the body, and thus, it is also known as “ki/qi/chi” break. The energy travels from the body part to the other side of the object being broken. The force to break the objects comes from the vital energy of the body and is not dependent upon body mass, body weight, speed, or muscle strength.
The way of Chi video “Chi Master Demonstrates his power”:
Training for breaking
Breaking requires conditioned striking body parts and usually, a martial artist conditions them by hitting hard surfaces repeatedly. Surfaces used for conditioning may be rocks, trees, sand, ropes, water, iron, and many other kinds of surfaces. In Karate, a striking post known as “Makiwara” is used for conditioning hands. Some exercises also condition body parts, for example, knuckle push-ups condition the knuckles of the fist. Bruce Lee was famous for his finger push-ups. In the Shaolin temple, they use many different devices to condition their body parts, for example, a pillow is made by filling it with small iron balls, and that pillow is hit repeatedly in different striking techniques known as Iron Head, Iron Shirt, Iron Palm, Iron Shin, Iron Foot, and more.
kuro-obi world video “Okinawa Karate “Makiwara-tsuki” to train your fist!”:
slimz video “Bruce Lee’s Epic 2 Finger Push up to Lux Aeterna”:
New China TV video “Iron Hand Kung Fu that can smash muscles and break bones”:
In all martial arts where striking is emphasised, the practice of breaking is seen. Generally, power break, speed break, and impulse break are practised. The other kinds of breaks like wave break, and soft break are usually not practised by martial artists, excepting masters who practise them regularly as a means of harmonising the mind, body and the spirit.
Nowadays, various punching bags, dummies, and training devices are available which are made of plastic, rubber, foam, and various synthetic materials that are used for conditioning and accuracy exercises. Thus, traditional conditioning devices like a Makiwara is not so often seen in martial arts schools.
1. United States and World Breaking Association. Webpage. Available at: https://usbawba.org/ [Accessed on 14 July 2022].
2. Reeves, Mike, and Robert G. Yetman. Power Breaking: How to Develop and Use Breaking Skills for Self-Defense.
3. Hibbard, John. Karate Breaking Techniques: With Practical Applications to Self-Defense.
4. Choi, H. H. (1985). Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (Vols. 1–15). Vienna: International Taekwon-Do Federation.
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