It’s got to be one of the most impressive spectacles in martial arts – watching someone smash a board with their bare hands. But is it real? And why would anyone do it in the first place?
Why do martial artists break boards? Martial artists break boards because it takes the pain out of sparring, helps the hands build up a resistance for impact, as preparation for tournaments. Breaking boards gives martial artists a sense of power, self-confidence, and a sense of satisfaction.
As you can imagine, that’s not the whole story and there are good reasons not to do this too. Let’s look at the details.
5 Key Reasons For Martial Artists To Break Boards
Martial artists who break boards aren’t crazy people that want to go out and damage wood for the sake of breaking wood. They have a plan for their martial arts practice, and they say that the ability to break boards enhances this practice.
It Takes The Pain Out Of Sparring
You hit a board much, much harder than you would ever hit an opponent but there’s no doubt that if you’re the opponent getting hit, even light blows can (over time) mount up and hurt. Sparring is, of course, an essential part of most martial arts’ training and the ability to work with other people is invaluable.
However, it’s also nice to be able to give your sparring partner a bit of a break and let your full force flow through something that can’t feel pain. This boosts the strength of the martial artist and keeps the sparring partner happy too.
It Trains Your Hands To Tolerate The Impact
This argument is a little doubtful. The amount of impact your hands can tolerate is based on physics and not the ability to punch a piece of wood. The idea is that if you punch wood often enough that any pain you experience would become more tolerable but that’s not really training your hands to tolerate the impact as it is training your brain to ignore the pain.
If your hands really couldn’t tolerate the impact, then they would shatter the bones inside when they came into contact with the board. The bones in your hands are very fragile, that’s why boxers wear gloves.
It’s Very Satisfying
It is important to recognize that most people who do martial arts don’t just do it to become the “ultimate fighting ninja”, they do it because they want to have fun. Many martial artists will have grown up watching Bruce Lee or Jet Li smash their way through a few boards and have been inspired to follow in their footsteps.
There’s no doubting at all, that breaking boards is fun and it makes you feel like a martial artist. It may even impress your friends or potential romantic partners, because people are funny like that.
It Hones Your Skills For Tournaments
There is also an argument that you can help to hone the kind of precision skills that you need to win tournaments. The idea is that when you hit a board to break it – you must hit it in exactly the right place, if you don’t – the board tends to beat your hand rather than vice-versa.
Thus, if you can learn to hit a small spot on a board in the same place every time, you should be able to hit the same spot on an opponent whenever you want to.
It Gives You Self-confidence And Power
Not only are martial arts fun but they tend to give you a sense of self-confidence. There’s something powerful and primal about breaking boards with your bare hands and given that it is completely unacceptable to injure a sparring partner (by design) then it’s one of the few outlets in most dojos for a pure display of power.
Feeling powerful is a direct boost to most people’s self-confidence. If you feel powerful, you’ll feel good about yourself and it will radiate from you as self-confidence.
Why Should Martial Artists Think Twice About Breaking Boards?
OK, before we get too excited and rush out to buy some boards to incorporate into your practice, we should also see the reasons why many martial artists don’t break boards and instead, actively discourage it.
Martial arts aren’t supposed to turn people into show offs. In fact, the idea is contradictory to the core tenets of most arts. You’re supposed to become confident but with a lot of humility, you don’t want people to see you as a crazed violent person who smashes stuff up but rather as someone who can handle themselves.
There’s no doubt about it, in many instances breaking boards is an attention seeking behavior.
You Could Get Hurt
We already mentioned breaking your hands, right? Well, it’s not a theoretical exercise here. You really can break your hands if you end up punching a board (or a brick, or whatever) too hard. When you work to avoid punching your sparring partner too hard, you’re doing your hands as well as their body a favor.
There’s no need to do the boards you want to break a similar favor, but you really should pay attention to your hands. There’s nothing glorious about smashing the bones in your hands.
It Avoids A Lot Of Martial Arts Skills In Favor Of Raw Power
If martial arts were simply about who could hit the hardest, then training would be more akin to sumo wrestling in all martial arts because the weight of the person doing the punching is the critical factor in the force of the punch.
They’re not though and martial arts are about dexterity and speed and reactions as much as they are about power. Punching boards can lead you to neglect the other important stuff.
Boards Don’t Move
There’s no doubt that if you want to hit a non-moving target, then board practice is perfect, but your opponents aren’t going to stand still and let you hit them. That can mean all that precision work goes to waste unless the opponent sees a spider on the mat and suddenly goes rigid in fear.
Most Top Fighters Aren’t Board Breakers
It’s not fair to say that all top fighters in martial arts aren’t board breakers but the vast majority are not. This ought to lead you to wonder why not, because if breaking boards really did help you become a more skillful martial artist, wouldn’t all the pros be smashing their way through 2 x 4 strips every weekend?
It’s A Bit Of A Gimmick And Encourages More Gimmicks
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with gimmicks, they can be a lot of fun but they do get stale quickly too and if you want a way to impress people – they’ll be awed the first time you break some boards and bored the next time you do it.
This can lead to people taking silly risks and trying to make even more impressive gimmicks. This really does distract from what martial arts are all about.
Can Martial Artists Break Real Boards Or Bricks?
One final, question, many people seem skeptical as to whether martial artists really can break boards or even real bricks?
They categorically can, though the bricks/boards need to be spaced in such a way that they allow the force to travel through the stack and effectively break the boards. It’s still not easy when the boards are stacked this way, but it is possible. If they’re not stacked that way – they only outcome is going to be a broken hand.
Why do martial artists break boards? As we’ve seen, it can really help build up your martial arts skills or so some practitioners claim. However, there is a growing movement of people who think that this kind of use of martial arts skills is a bit crass and doesn’t really help you achieve your objectives in your art. So as long as you are aware of the downsides, feel free to enjoy breaking some boards!