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Question 2: How Many Boards Can You Break?

by on April 1, 2009


A product of 50+ years of hollywood’ized martial artists breaking bricks and piles of boards, board breaking is sure to come up when people ask questions about karate.

Like the first question received from almost every audience, a query of how many boards can be broken is understandable given that the audience seldom has much karate experience. Don’t you think it would be even more ridiculous to hear someone ask “how many 250 pound men can you break in half?” They obviously don’t expect you to hit someone as hard as you can. Or do they?

This question is inevitable and should be expected. To some karateka it seems silly to think about how many boards you can break. Boards don’t hit back! And for those styles of karate that practice it as a self defense activity (as opposed to strictly sport or personal fitness), we know we’ll never face a board in a back alley (extrapolated from past experiences) unless its carried by a thug–and then its not likely to be 3/4 inch pine, but a 2×4 block of wood. But why shouldn’t people ask this question? Its exciting! It’s super-human! It’s flashy! It keeps timber in check!

The rationale behind the question is found in how most people learn: observation. You can do as many katas as you want and spar as quickly and loudly as you can, but an audience won’t get a sense of how much damage you can inflict until you break something. They are less interested in finesse and more interested in destructive ability. You can punch so quickly that you get in and tap your opponents chin and get out before they get a chance to react… but if you don’t bust a lip or knock them out in the process, an audience sees it as a miss. Its a basic fundamental of the human condition and everyone has it, some just don’t like to admit it.

So the question if asked by a karateka would be “how do we ‘WOW’ a crowd?” Its an unfortunate thing, but you have to do something stereotypically done in movies. Back-flips, board breaking, weapon demonstrations, running up a wall, breaking a nose, and XMA are all more popular with large crowds. I’ve seen it time and time again.

I’ve participated in every demonstration our club has given in the past 3.5 years and the results are unanimous. You can see it in people’s faces as they watch, or get taken up with other things as the case might be. Sometimes we get out the rebreakable boards, sometimes we don’t. But when we do the crowd reacts positively, especially if you demonstrate how hard it is to break the board by having someone else try it, placing a weight on it, or otherwise.

You warm up, doing those fake punches where your fist slowly approaches the board and goes back to your side, you do it again… and again… and then… SNAP! As soon as you snap that board the crowd reacts. Even if sparring with another person or hitting a target with a reverse roundhouse kick are more difficult, the board break captures the crowd.

So why do people ask how many boards you can break? Because they’ve seen it in the movies and have heard people say how tough it is, and they have a preconceived notion that the more boards you can break is equivalent to how good you are at karate. We’re going to have to accept that this question arises and try not to pass it off as silliness. Answer it honestly and answer it with a straight face.


From → culture, training

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