Breaking, the discipline of destroying inanimate materials such as wooden boards, bats, ice or bricks is a feature common to several Asian martial arts. In can be seen in its oldest form within some branches of Chinese Kung Fu such as Iron Shirt Chi Gung, where iron bars are smashed off the bare heads of martial arts experts, typically Shaolin monks.
In Taekwondo breaking competitions, the idea is to demonstrate power, speed and technique. The preferred object is commonly wooden boards of varying thicknesses, advanced students break several boards stacked one on top of the other. In Taekwondo, the hardness of the object to be broken is usually subjugated to the difficulty of the technique to be employed. Thus various body parts are used, such as the ridge of the hand, the knuckles or even the fingertips. Headbutts, knee strikes, elbow strikes and various parts of the foot are also used to break boards. A single board or stack of boards may be broken or, alternatively, a series of boards may be broken in a pre-set sequence utilising a variety of strikes. Advanced competitors may even break several boards in a single jump with multiple kicks before landing.
In WTF Taekwondo sparring competitions, using maximum force is actually an offence punishable by disqualification. Furthermore, at advanced levels it would be seriously injurious and possibly fatal. Breaking boards or bricks is therefore the only safe way to test the real power of any martial arts technique (except with fairly high-tech scientific equipment). Taekwondo competition breaking may be roughly divided into two main categories:
- Power breaking. The power of a technique is measured by breaking single or multiple stacked boards. Stacked boards are commonly placed on raised supports on the ground.
- Speed breaking. A single board is held lightly between the fingertips of an assistant, at advanced levels the board is tossed into the air. Regardless of the power of a technique, if the board is not hit with the requisite speed in the correct places it will be not break.
Starting with coloured belts Taekwondo students must learn breaking. As they progress through the ranks, the breaks they perform increase in difficulty as do the number of boards. As time goes on, the Taekwondo student’s hands and bones become accustomed to breaking boards – repeated practice hardens bones, skin and tendons. Wolff’s law states that the human skeleton will adapt to the stress it is put under, therefore the bones actually become stronger as a Taekwondo student advances in his martial arts career.
Breaking competition may be contested by teams representing a single club or by individuals. A breaking team is composed of five competitors plus one reserve for male breaking and 3 competitors plus one reserve for female. Each event is supervised by one Jury President, two Referees and one Recorder.
The ITF rules governing breaking are as follows:
- Each competitor is allowed one shot at a break only with only one pre-judging shot.
- Wooden boards of 30 x 30 are used at a thickness of 1.5 cm.
- Power breaks permit a single forwards step, slide or skip but no jumping (i.e. one foot must always remains on the floor).
- An L-stance with forearm guarding block must be adopted immediately prior to and after each break.
- Upon the referee’s signal the competitor has 30 seconds to break the item.
- Referees have to examine each board prior to break.
- Metal board holders must be used for all competitions.
Points are awarded and deducted as follows:
- Two points for a bent or cracked board.
- Three points for a broken board.
- Referees may null a break for two reasons:
- Failure to maintain correct posture and balance throughout the technique.
- Failure to perform the ordained breaking technique.
- If an event is tied, subsequent tie-breakers are assigned until the point when one competitor emerges as the clear winner.
Here is an impressive video of Taekwondo breaking using various parts of the hand.