6Pine Board Breaking 6Patio Block Breaking

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     In karate class, we learn and perform many techniques that are meant to deliver power and force to an opponent, but when we spar, we pull our punches and kicks. How can we know if our techniques have the power necessary to stop an attakcer if we don't practice them while sparring? The practice of board and block breaking is designed to help us in this area. We can, after learning how to execute a technique properly, begin making them stronger, faster, and more powerful by breaking boards and patio blocks, which take the place of the supposed assailant. Being able to break a full pine board (one foot square, three-quarters of an inch thick) is roughly equivalent to breaking an adult's forearm. A patio block requires much more power than boards do to be broken. Students ranked in yellow belt who show that they are ready can begin breaking boards of varying width appropriate for the student's size. Green belts and students above who have sufficient body mass and control of their techniques are permitted to break patio blocks. All these are done in class only and under the supervision of the instructor!

The Breaking of Pine Wood Boards

     Probably the part of their early training that most students ranked at yellow belt look forward to is the opportunity to break boards. Everyone sees it in movies, and maybe even in person at a live performance, and goes "Wow!" But when it comes down to it, it's not as hard as it was originally suspected to be. The point at which a student begins to break boards is also a critical phase in that student's training. The instructor will watch each student in class to see what his or her strengths are and to become familiar wiht that person's style of figthing before allowing him or her to break. A student's first attempt at breaking should be done with a technique that that student is familiar with and good at executing. This is one of the reasons why the instructor observes closely each student's style and progress. A usual break to begin with is tettsui (a bottom fist). As the student gets a feel for board breaking, he or she will move on to other techniques. There are many different techniques which could be employed by a student to break boards, basically any technique drilled in class or found in the kata, There are a few exceptions, but only a few. Boards have been broken with all sorts of different strikes, such as a front puch, jack punch, bottom fist, front kick, side kick, roundhouse kick, shuto strike and ridgehand, axe kick, etc. The list could go on, but what is important to you, as a student, is that you attempt breaks which you can do properly. Once you are out of the beginning phase of board breaking, Sensei will simply ask you what technique you are going to use to break the board. Sensei will know if you are ready to attempt to break a board with that technique, and if you are, he will permit you to continue. If you are not and he tells you not use that technique, you should not! He probably has a good reason, most likely being that you need to make your technique better before breaking a board. If a student who cannot perfom a technique properly tries to break a board, it is more likely that that student would be injured, so please listen to and try to understand Sensei!

     Another thing which will affect what a student breaks is how big that student is. Someone eight years old who weighs 60 pounds is not nearly as likely to break a full pine board as a student who is 30 and weighs 200 pounds. The student's body mass will affect how much force he or she can deliver to the board in breaking it. To read more about force and power, go to page 15 of the student manual. Therefore, a lightwieght student will practice board breaking on ½ boards or boards. A full pine board is 1 foot square and ¾ of an inch thick. A half board would then be 1 foot by 6 inches by ¾ of an inch, and it goes on with any smaller boards. These sizes also help a student measure progress as he or she practices more board breaking. Eventually, every student grows big enough to break a full board, and then continues progressing by trying new techniques or breaking cement blocks.

     A very important aspect of both board and block breaking is your ki. To read about ki, go to page 22 of the student manual. To break, it requires the channeling of one's energy and focus in his or her body to the strike. It is important to not be noisy or interruptive while someone is attempting a break, especially a difficult one. When the break occurs, everyone should know, and not becuse they hear the board snap in half. As a matter of fact, they shouldn't hear the board or anything else except the kiai of the one breaking. If one is focused on and committed to the strike, the board will break and anything else should not be on that person's mind at the moment. Sometimes a student who is attempting a simple break, and knows he or she can accomplish it, does so without making a loud kiai, or he or she sometimes omits it all together. This is a mistake! Even if the break is simple or easily performed, the one breaking the board should kiai with all of his or her might. This will help prepare the student for future breaking clinics where more diffilcult techniques are performed. If a student grows accustomed to half-heartedly throwing a punch or kick out at a board and giving a lame kiai, two things will happen: first, Sensei will assume that he or she dislikes breaking boards and work him or her harder on drills, and second, if that student ever does get around to breaking blocks with an attitude like that, it may be a while before he or she can even break one. So even if a break is simple, give it all you've got and you'll progress much faster.

     Unfortunately, everyone who tries to break a board doesn't have instant success. No matter how hard they try, some students just can't do it right away. This is natural and should not be surprising; Rome wasn't built in a day. Luckily, there's a way to remedy the case of an unbroken board. If a student attempts to break a board, but is unsuccessful, it becomes the student's "enemy board." He or she will take the board home and put it in a visible place, and think every time he or she sees it, "I'm gonna getcha!" The object is not to make people start talking to themselves, but to get them in a frame of mind which is success-promoting. The next time a breaking clinic is held, the student, who now has better technique and ki, returns with the enemy board and breaks it then. It seems to always work out that the board breaks the second time around, so good luck to those of you who have one in your possession!

     Below is shown a variety of techniques being applied to boards by various instructors and students. Some are in picture and others in movie form. Watch all you want, and see if you can pick out the good points as well as the bad in the examples below. Remember, these pictures and movies are here to help you learn how to better your own techniques. It does no good to criticize others' techniques since they are in the past, but it does do good to compare others' techniques to your own ineffctive ones and critique yourself.

Up, up... ...and away!

5Just in case you ever get in a fight with an eight foot tall guy and have the strong urge to kick him in the chin, this technique is very useful. Otherwise, there is no point whatsoever except to show off. The one showing off is Rockwell Sempai who executes this overhead jumping front kick while at a "Parents' Day" demonstration, 2/23/2007. Notice that the half of the board which Frederick (on the left) was holding is thrown completely from his grasp, though it may be becuase Rockwell Sempai accidentally kicked his fingers. Sorry!

4Unfortunately, this picture got folded up, but it still shows a double front kick beautifully executed by Garrasi O'Sensei. Notice that he broke not one, but two full boards with this technique. In the upper sets of the kata this kick is used, so it is good to learn how to do it, especially if you are young and energetic enough to accomplish it. The good thing about this technique is this: think about how powerfully a front kick could be executed. Now imagine getting hit with two of them at once…. Yow!

Who says "white men can't jump"?

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The Breaking of Cement Patio Blocks

     Although boards are usually what get busted up during a breaking clinic, O'Neal Sensei and sometimes a few senior students get around to breaking some blocks. The blocks take more time to set up and get done and over with, but most would say that it is more worth it to wait longer to witness block breaking than shorter for board breaking. During the setting up, everyone watches as the one breaking gets the proper distance between the supporting blocks on the bottom, carefully situates the blocks to be broken on top of them with wooden spacers about 3/8 of an inch wide placed inbetween the blocks (if he or she is breaking more thank one block), and tops it all off with a phone book or something else for padding adn protection. Now, maybe you're thinking, "What a wimp, putting spacers between the blocks! Hmmm... that's a cunning tactic they're trying to use to make me think they're so good! And what about that phone book? Just slam your fist on it already!" Well, maybe that's what you'd think, but only because you're not the one about to break those blocks.

     The spacers are very important becuase they more easily regulate the progression of a student's ability in whichever technique he or she is performing. Without the spacers, to break two blocks is the same as trying to break four blocks with spacers. Well, maybe that's not so bad, but how about three blocks all sandwiched together with no spacers? The amount of force required to break those three blocks would equal the amount necessary to break nine blocks with spacers! The force required to break unspaced blocks increases exponentially while the spaced blocks have a linear slope. Remember, you can read up about force on page 15 of the student manual. What was meant by the statement about spacers more easily regulating a student's progress was exactly what was just explained. When a student breaks a block with a bottom fist, what's next? Well, if that student doesn't move on to another technique, he or she will practice the bottom fist more, but one block was already broken; doing it again will not show progress. So the student tries to break two blocks with that bottom fist. As he or she progresses, breaking those blocks, however many they are, will require more from the student. If it takes nine times the force to break three unspaced blocks, it will be a while before those three blocks crack in two! The spacers prevent this huge jump and allow any student to more easily progress since he or she can better see and measure the results.

     The phone book or other protective object is another thing. While the spacers improve progression, the phone book does a little of the opposite, but only a very small amount. It is true that the phone book will absorb a little bit of the power, but it is there to help prevent injury. One obvious danger is the fact that the block is rock hard. Who wants to plough their fist or foot into that?! It is very easy to draw blood while hitting a block very hard with no protection, and if the technique is executed poorly, there is a good chance some bones may break, and that is never fun. Even though the phone book detracts from the overall power one could deliver to a block, the tradeoff of having everything intact whether or not the technique is performed correctly is advantageous.

     One more thing which makes breaking a block different than a board is the mechanics of the breaking. A pine board, when struck, will "give" a little. In other words, the board will bend slightly and not break. This is, put simply, because a board is comprised of fibers and is porous and slightly damp. Have you ever been driving a nail into a piece of wood with a hammer and missed the nail? At the spot where the hammer hits the wood, a dent in the shape of the hammer's head will appear. That's because the wood is compressed at that spot and the pores get squeezed and "dissapear" because they get smooshed together by the wood fibers. Did you also know that to remove a dent like that, all you have to do is put a wet rag or paper towel over the dent and apply a hot iron or soldering gun? The dent is raised because you are refilling the pores, which haven't gone anywhere but just got squeezed, with moisture. When you break a board, a little of the same is happening. The pores compress somewhat, and allow the board to bend slightly and not break. If you could watch, in slow motion, a board breakaing from a side view, you would see it bend maybe a half an inch in the middle before slowly tearing in two. A block of cement, on the other hand, is different. If you hit a block with a hammer hard enough, the block isn't going to give at all, but simply crack. This is becuase there are no pores to be compressed and there is no moisture to be squeezed from the block, but it also means that it takes a lot more force to break a block than a board. Since there is no compression in the block, it will be exactly the same before the break as it is after the failed attempt. When someone tries to break a block, one of two things will happen: it will break, or it will not. "Well, duh, of course! That's what a board does too." Yes, it is what a board does too, but not exactly. If a student breaks a board or block with just barely enough force to make it break, different things will happen to a board as compared to a block. A board will make a cracking sound and seem to have "broken," but because it is fibrous, it can still be all in one piece. Technically, the board is not broken, because the two parts are still joined. A block, which requires much more force to break, will break if just barely enough force is delivered to it, and a crack can be seen between the two pieces. Technically, the block is broken because the two halves are separated. Perhaps now you have a better understanding of how a board breaks as opposed to a block and why it is more difficult to break the block. That is another reason blocks are not broken by junior or small students.

     There are lots of different attacks one could use against one or many blocks, just as with boards. Generally speaking, since blocks require more force to be broken, a lot of techniques which are more powerful are used to break them. There are some techniques which are difficult to be used, either because they don't have the power required or becuase they are difficult to set up. It's hard to imagine someone breaking a block with a shuto strike ("karate chop"). It would be tough trying to figure out how to set up the blocks so it could be performed. Besides, a shuto is strong enough to break one block, but probably no more than that. There are a variety of attacks below being used to break blocks, some in picture and others in movie form. Some of the techniques shown below are not included in the Budo Ryu Karate Techniques page and would be learned in a class setting, as all aspects of the style should be.

This lady's got a fist, and she knows how to use it!

5"Mrs. O'Sensei," Carol Garrasi, at a demonstration at Mercer County College years ago, breaking a patio block with a right hand bottom fist. Normally, the bottom fist is done from seiza, but this is a nice adaptation to a standing position. Of course, she needs to stoop a little to reach the block, but this is an effective attack to use on an opponent who has been knocked to the ground and is trying to get up again. The block would take the place of the opponent's back as he or she attempts to get to his or her feet once more.

6At the same demonstration, Garrasi O'Sensei attemptimg to break seven blocks. That's no mean feat! But then again, it looks like he missed one. That must be becuase O'Sensei has to be a little humble if he wants people to treat him like a human being instead of Deity. Another thing is what happened to the top few blocks; they broke into three pieces! That means the arm was not at a proper angle when it connected with the target, though there was plenty of power in the attack.

Drat! Missed one!

6Garrasi O'Sensei, in his younger years, breaking six patio blocks with his right elbow. This elbow strike is another that could be used on an attacker which is on the ground, and it is one of the most powerful attacks one could use to break blocks, the result being that it is used often to break multiple blocks.

Initiating the swing and taking aim Practicing landing the blow Bummer for whomever picks a fight with him!
What goes up…

34An uncommon treat it is to see someone break a block with his or her head! Here pictured is, from days gone by, Garrasi O'Sensei once again, who breaks the patio block (most certainly using the phone book for padding) with his forehead. No wisecracks about thickheadedness, please, for the head can be a very useful tool in a fight. The only problem is that it is a very, very important part of the body, so it usually does not get used as readily as arms and legs do to make an attack. By the way, this is something you should definitely not try outside of the dojo!

…must come down!

3This video clip shows another elbow strike breaking six blocks, but by O'Neal Sensei this time. The input volume wasn't up very loud when the clip was recorded, but maybe you can still hear how loud Sensei's kiai is when he lands the blow. His kiai is loud as a result of the tremendous force needed to accomplish this break. Even though most students will not be attempting a break like this in the near future, when attempting any other break, each student should kiai as if all of his or her energy put into breaking was paralleled in the kiai projection. You can see that Sensei very well may have had enough power in the technique to break seven blocks becuase of the way he sinks right down to the floor; the blocks just separate under the blow, as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea.

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