If you’ve ever seen someone break boards while flexing their karate skills, you’ve probably wondered how it’s possible and why people do it. Splitting a board in half takes precision, and you need to know where to hit the board. So, how hard can breaking a karate board be?
Breaking a karate board is not hard if you know the right spot to hit on the board. However, it’s not easy to stay consistent when hitting or kicking the board directly in the center where it’s most likely to break. For a successful attempt each time, your kick and punch have to be perfect.
So, what does it take to split a board in half with your hand or foot? Let’s talk more about the physics and techniques that make board breaking an impressive feat.
Why Do Martial Artists Break Boards?
If you have ever watched martial arts movies like ‘The Karate Kid’ or any Jackie Chan movies, you have already learned how powerful board breaking can be during a dramatic moment. Board breaking may seem like a display of brute force and power to the untrained eye, but it is a highly complex art that takes perfect technique to execute.
Martial artists break boards to help them measure the force of their strikes and refine their accuracy when hitting a tiny target. Breaking boards requires power, accuracy, and precision, making it an excellent way to perfect self-defense techniques.
Since you must strike a piece of wood in the center to split it, it is an excellent way for martial artists to gauge where their punches will land, much like target practice for archery or shooting.
When studying martial arts, it can be challenging to understand how effective your punches and kicks are if you only use a punching bag for practice. Often, you may think that your technique is flawless when your strikes are misaligned, miscalculated, or lacking follow through.
However, breaking boards is a great way to diagnose these typical technical issues.
Boards are also an excellent way for martial artists to understand how much force they are putting into their strikes, and they can use board breaking to track their progress. Some advanced martial artists may even use six or more boards at a time, making it easy to see how much force they can put into their hits.
Another benefit of board breaking is that it helps martial artists understand the flaws in their technique.
To break a board, you must use a precise hit that applies pressure on the board with a straight, blade-shaped part of the body like a palm, side of the foot, or side of the hand.
When you hit a board, either it will break or it won’t. If it doesn’t crack, you know that you need to refine your technique and try again after you have perfected your skills.
What Are Karate Boards Made Of?
If you believe that karate boards are made out of just any wood, think again. Karate boards are explicitly designed for breaking, and they are very different from the wood that makes up other things like decks and furniture.
Karate boards are usually made of softwood and typically measure 1” (2.5 cm) thick or less. The standard wood used by the World Breaking Association is untreated white pine.
Balsa wood is also used frequently for beginners because it is the simplest to break.
Another type of wood popular among board-breakers is paulownia wood, although it is not as readily available or cheap in North America.
Karate boards are not fortified or pressurized in any way, making them easier to break along the grain. Usually, martial artists will use their palm, fist, side of their hand, or the blade of their foot to target this grain and split it at its weakest point at the center of the board.
The World Breaking Association recognizes two standard board thicknesses for breaking. Usually, beginners start with ½” (1.27 cm) thick boards. Then, they move on to 1” (2.5 cm) thick panels.
Karate boards come in varying heights and lengths, but most professionals use 12” long and 12” wide (30.48 x 30.48 cm) boards.
You might not want to use wet karate boards because water makes them harder to break.
How Much Force Is Needed to Break a Karate Board?
It may seem like it takes tons of strength to punch a board in two, but it truly does not take that much force to break a pine plank.
On average, it takes 250 lbs (113.4 kg) of force to break a 12” by 12” pine board (30.48 x 30.48 cm) that is 1” (2.5 cm) thick. To gain enough force to strike and split the plank, you will need to gain speed by starting your punch farther away from the wood.
For example, think about driving a car. When you are moving at 60 MPH (96 KPH), you will take a more extended amount of time to break and stop than if you were traveling at 5 MPH (8 KPH).
If you want to learn how to break a karate board, you will need to understand your own body’s biomechanics, or how your body functions like a machine.
If you think about it, your joints, like your elbows, shoulders, and knees, are much like levers, while your wrists, ankles, and fingers are like fulcrums. Using the correct positioning and alignment will allow you to direct your punches and hit a very small target.
It is also important to remember that speed and your follow through are crucial when you strike a solid board.
Your punches work the same way, and the more time you take to speed up your strike, the stronger your hit will be. Once your hand has enough force behind it, it will accelerate and continue to move faster and faster until it moves all the way through the plank.
You must remember that the plank should not move when you punch it. When the plank is still, it absorbs all of the force from your punch, but if the plank moves, it will redirect some of the energy in a different direction, weakening your strike.
For more information about how biomechanics can affect your ability to break a karate board, check out this video from The New York Hall of Science:
How Do You Break a Karate Board?
You can break a karate board with methods like dynamic breaking and power breaking. Always hit right in the center of the board, and if you misalign your strike, the board could only partially break or not break at all.
To see what some of these techniques look like, watch this helpful video from competitive board breakers Hunter Sloan and Andrew Abbott:
Now, let’s talk a bit about using each method to split boards cleanly and efficiently without harming yourself in the process.
In dynamic breaking, you will have a partner who holds the board for you. When your partner holds the plank, they will need to be sure that their elbows are straight and locked and that their feet are wide apart to ensure that the board stays still.
You can do a side thrusting kick, a chop, or a flat punch to break the board in dynamic breaking. However, it is very challenging to ensure that you hit the board’s center in dynamic breaking since you will have to ensure that the angle of your strike does not affect where your hit lands.
It is also crucial to aim beyond the board to get enough momentum to split it and continue your thrust through the wood in dynamic breaking.
In power breaking, martial artists break multiple boards stacked on top of two bricks or other props. Usually, the planks are spaced out using strips of unfinished wood like paint stirrers or flat architects’ pencils to create a small gap between each board, making it easier to split each one with one strike.
You can use several different strikes in power breaking, including a stomp, a hammer fist, an elbow strike, or a downward palm strike.
In power breaking, it is crucial to use the flat, hard parts of your hand and foot to ensure that the board splits cleanly without bouncing back and cutting you in the process.
Breaking boards is not nearly as tricky as learning the technique it takes to split planks of wood cleanly without hurting yourself.
Although it takes around 250 lbs (113.4 kg) of force to break karate boards, that pressure has to be applied in the center of the board using a hard, straight bone in your body backed by momentum.
It may take a lot of practice to get the technique down, but that’s what makes it such an impressive skill.
- The United States and World Breaking Association: Boards.
- Spirit Made Steel Martial Arts: The Basics of Board Breaking.
- European Scientific Journal: Kinematics Of Board Breaking In Karate Using Video Analysis
- Way Of Martial Arts: Karate Boards.
Further Reading: Pros and Cons of Learning Karate Explained