Bruce Lee made it known he did not practice by striking boards and famously quoted ‘boards do not hit back’. I personally say that this quote is in reality, some A grade marketing from Mr Lee. I counter the point very simply by stating a punching bag does not hit back either. Does not mean you do not practice you striking on one? I know Bruce did….
Unfortunately attitudes like the above have downplayed the importance of breaking boards in martial arts. Many do not understand why it is such an important test of a martial artists ability. Breaking boards is about a lot more than putting on a demonstration; although it is spectacular for people to watch. Board breaking at its core is used to test the following traits:
A lot of our training is undertaken with partners, but we can hardly demonstrate the power we generate on our partners. We test our power by striking bags and breaking boards. Martial arts key focus is self-defence. We want to ensure we are generating enough power to be capable of defending ourselves. By testing our techniques breaking boards, we can confirm the power being generated and the effectiveness of our technique.
I often tell students that board breaking is not about how hard you try to break it the board. It comes down to how well you perform the technique. For example, striking a board with a side kick. If your technique is not correct, you will find yourself kicking the board in an upwards motion, hitting with a flat foot or not being at full extension etc. Board breaking is a very definitive test of correct technique as they do not forgive mistakes.
A board will not break if it is hit in the wrong spot. Kick too high, too low or too far to the side and the break will not be successful. To break a board (especially multiple boards) the strike must be accurate in both targeting and timing to ensure maximum power at the moment of impact.
This in my opinion, is the biggest test involved with breaking boards. Standing in front of a board to break, especially the first time is very intimidating. It takes a great deal of courage to make that first attempt. Even more difficult is the requirement to break boards at grading. In front of 100+ people; knowing that if your technique or accuracy is not perfect, you will not generate enough power. Then the boards will not break. This is among the most confronting challenges experienced on your martial arts journey and is exactly why we test board breaking when applying for a black belt. A student must stand strong and overcome the fear of failure, demonstrating their courage and showing they are ready to be awarded a black belt.
This is not really a test, but I think it is important to talk about how much of a confidence builder board breaking is for students. It is one of the greatest challenges in martial arts. Once a student overcomes their fear and develops the necessary ability to break boards, a clear increase in confidence occurs. All aspects of their training improve as does self belief.
As you can see, board breaking plays a fundamental role in developing martial arts ability. It gives a great method for testing a student’s physical and mental ability, and forces the practitioner to analyse themselves to ensure their technique is effective. It is by no means a definitive test of a martial artists ability, but one of many arrows in the quiver to develop into a highly skilled martial arts practitioner.