Break Like A Master

Use Power and Technique Like ATA Experts


Sometimes in life, you need a break.  In Taekwondo, sometimes you literally need a break-of the board!

Board breaking is one of the most powerful and exciting elements in martial arts.  In a split second, a martial artist harnesses his or her power, leading to that satisfying crack that not only means he has successfully broken his target, but quite possibly, advanced in rank as well. 

 “It creates real confidence,” said Chief Master Todd Droege who has taught seminars on the subject.  “It’s an instant sign of success or not.”

In martial arts, board breaking is generally seen as a student’s evidence of power.  It is hard to determine the effectiveness of Taekwondo techniques without demonstrating on an opponent, so board breaking is way to test your strength and accuracy.

“There’s no other way to really show that power,” said Sr. Master Sean Smith, chief instructor at the ATA Headquarters Riverdale location.  “If you don’t have focus, if you don’t have proper technique as well as that power, the board is not going to break.”

ATA students of all ages and ranks break boards, and as a student moves up in rank, board ranks become a requirement.  For a formal testing, a student gets may make three attempts to break a board.  Each attempt, the breaker should ask the judges for another attempt.  It is important to note that the number of tries a student takes may be reflected in the judges’ scores.

At the All-Star ATA Martial Arts school where Master Smith instructs, he said board breaks are a big part of their belt graduations. 

“I think it’s the best and safest way to show students can use their technique in a practical way,” he said.



 So, what does it take to become an effective board breaker?  A proper break includes the element of focus, technique, power and speed, with no one being more important than the other.  “Your whole body, everything should be in sync,” Droege said. 

But certainly, as with any other skill, board breaking won’t happen without the proper technique that comes from plenty of practice.  Stance, line of attack, body alignment and striking with the proper part of the hand or foot, are all part of a good, board-breaking technique.

To break a board with a kick requires balance and good leg action.  Balance comes from the pivot, body position, a solid sole of the foot, proper hand position near the face and eye contact with the target.

The leg action involves the chamber—bending and retracting the leg as you get ready to strike—execution, rechamber and return to your fighting stance.

Breaking with the hand involves starting position, direction, rotation, ending point and again, eye contact.

And whether you are breaking with the foot or hand, the student must strike in a straight line and hit through the target.  It’s about proper alignment of body mass combined with speed.

It is easy to get too caught up in the excitement of the moment and to use unfocused power.  Proper technique will save a student from injury.

“The weakest thing is going to break,” said Droege.  “If the board is the weakest thing, it’s going to break.  If the body doesn’t put forth the right technique and power, it could potentially hurt a student.”

The board holder’s technique is equally as important.  Holders— who nowadays wear safety equipment that includes face shields— can’t flinch and must keep their hand out of the way, holding the grain facing the proper direction.

Depending on the technique- a punch verses a side or round kick— the board holders will either have their hands on the top or side of the board.

And in true self defense, Droege noted, your opponent is not going to oblige you by making himself a perfect target.  “You have to be responsible,” he said. 



Wooden boards have largely been replaced in the ATA by re-breakable boards, though wood is still used from time to time in demonstrations. 

Smith recalls that he failed to break a wooden board when testing as a 10-year-old because the board had sap on it.  He kept it and it took him months before he finally broke it. 

Not only are the re-breakable boards more environmentally friendly, they also have an advantage over wood in that they are of consistent strength and they increase in strength according to a color code which is similar to the belt ranks. White is the easiest to break and black is the hardest. 

“I can honestly say that when we moved to re-breakable boards, it seemed fair because it’s going to be a consistent strength to break the board,” Smith said.  “No two wooden boards are the same.”

For new students, practice with ATA Wavemasters, shields and clapper targets are a great way to get started.  “We have a heavy bag which is great for power,” he said.  “Then we use smaller hand targets for more focus.”



But before you pick up a board, students need a lesson in mechanics.  They have to understand how the technique is performed, what the proper chamber is, and make sure the strike is being made with the proper part of the body. 

Eye contact is also crucial.  Grand Master In Ho Lee says, “You need to be looking at the very spot on the board that you’re going to hit.  Some instructors even draw a circle on to show exactly where you should be aiming.”  


Like everything else in ATA, board breaking helps a student develop good life skills.  It takes courtesy, respect, discipline to control your speed.  And learning how to properly break a board also takes perseverance to try until you get it right.


Author: Todd Traub | Originally published in Vol. 21 no. 1 of the ATA World Magazine.

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