Power Breaking by Aaron Poteet

Power Breaking by Aaron Poteet

Power Breaking

In this paper I will cover the different aspects of power breaking that I have learned in my twelve years in Tae Kwon-Do such as the theory of power, how to be physically prepared, as well as mentally prepared. I have had many role models in my journey but one of the greatest is Mr. Mike Deardorff V Dan.

To successfully break in Tae Keon-Do you must have power, thankfully we have the theory of power. It has gone through every test you could imagine and still holds true. It consists of reaction force, concentration, equilibrium, breath control, mass, and speed. All six elements increase the power and force of a technique. Reaction force is mostly talked about in class while teaching patterns. We tell our students to bring their hands to their belt with their none striking or blocking hand.

Reaction Force is Newton’s third law of motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is why in patterns we bring the none striking or blocking hand back to the belt. The force of bringing that hand back is added to the force of the striking or blocking hand. For hand breaks it is crucial that you bring your hand striking hand back to get this extra force. For sidekicks you bring both hands to the opposite side of your body to increase the force of the kick.

Concentration is vital to the theory of power because if you cannot put all of your effort into your technique or whatever you are trying to accomplish it will fail. The human body does what the mind tells it to. The body does not simply get up and walk on its own, or despite what our kids tell us, it does not hit something without thought. Once you let your mind drift off to something else you are losing power exponentially. For example, if two men were on thin ice, while one was laying down and the other standing up, the second would have a higher chance of falling in since all of his weight was focused on a smaller area. To break with full power, all of your concentration has to be on the target.

Equilibrium is all about balance and your center of gravity. The balance aspect is mostly seen with wither younger students or with more challenging kicks. If you do not have complete balance, then not all of the power in your technique will go towards the target. You cannot fully do a technique while simultaneously falling over. For example, a sports car’s center of gravity is very close to the ground especially compared to a truck. Since it has a lower center of gravity it allows the car to grip the ground and not roll over so that it can go faster and make sharper turns.

Breath Control is something that many lower ranks overlook for a lack of knowledge, whether it be in sparring, patterns, or breaking. In sparring I often see many of these lower ranks holding their breath instead of breathing with their techniques. When they hold their breath they are effectively restricting their stamina. They will then not control their breathing showing their opponent that they are exhausted and unable to continue to fight back, which is the moment that their opponent will attack. In patterns it works in a very similar way. When they do not breathe they become exhausted and run the risk of fainting. If they are not holding their breath, then they are only slightly breathing instead of exhaling on each technique while breathing in between techniques. If they exhale sharply then it connects the upper and lower torso muscles allowing the body to work as one unit and not an individual piece, which will connect to mass in the next section. Breaking is very similar since it utilizes a sharp exhale to deliver a large amount of force for a single technique.

Mass is usually thought of as how large of a person you are. This is mostly false. I have seen fully grown men that weigh over two hundred pounds’ not break a single board because they do not know how to use their mass. For example, I was helping one of our lower ranked black belts in class one day with his downward knife hind; when he would go to strike the board his posture was strait up and his knee hit the floor before his hand ever touched the board. He could not figure out why the board would not break. I demonstrated how to do the technique with my chest and shoulder leaned toward the board. My knee was off the ground because, once another part of the body touches the ground then the weight of the body is no longer isolated on the striking tool but instead distributed between the two. When I measured in this way, the board broke under my weight and nothing else.

Speed is arguably the most important aspect in the theory of power. The equation for force is mass multiplied by velocity squared, or acceleration. Being fast is not enough, you have to have acceleration. When world champions in power breaking go to kick they do not usually start their kick fast. Instead they accelerate through their kick. Nothing ever starts out fast. Newton’s first law states that “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” Therefore, you have no choice but to start out slow and accelerate throughout the break. If you start fast, then you will end up decelerating through the kick and not be able to break at all. Speed is also the easiest element to increase with practice. To see the best results, you have to finish your strike faster than you started it.

Once we understand the theory of power we can start to apply it. In board breaking there are certain steps we must take to ensure the maximum power such as where to put the board, which tool to use, how to pivot, and above all else practice.

Every person is built differently and thereby will set up breaks differently. Someone who is five feet tall should place their boards at a lower height than someone who is six and a half feet. Typically, when a student goes to break for the first time they start to think of all the martial art movies they have seen and believe that they can and should kick at head level for a side kick. They think that is what they are supposed to do. To get the most power out of their kick they must find where they naturally kick instead of trying to hyperextend their leg. When teaching my students, I will place the center of the board at hip level is not a little lower for their first kick. After that initial kick you are able to determine where they naturally kick.

Once again in a lot of martial arts movies you see the protagonist kicking in a way that we would not, which influences our students before they ever sign up. Many times you see them kick with their entire foot for a side kick or the top of the foot for a turning kick which is less powerful when attempting to break boards. It is what we say to do in sparring as to reduce the chance of injuring one another. In breaking you want as little surface area hitting the board as possible. The reason behind this is penetration. Going back to the example I gave for concentration, a man that is laying on the ice (more surface area) will not fall through while man that is standing on the ice (less surface area) will fall through. When the same amount of force is being applied to a smaller area it allows for greater penetration. For a side kick one should use the base of the heel only, and for a turning kick the ball of the foot should be used as to reduce the surface area to create more penetration.

Pivoting is a way to add torque to your kick. To do this you must rotate your hips over at the last second during your kick. For a turning kick I have seen students get frustrated when they cannot get their toes down. This happens because they keep their body still and only move their leg. To pivot they need to turn on the opposite foot so that they can also rotate their hips over at the last second so that their toes may come down and to add torque to the kick itself. Pivoting is one of the more curtail ways to add mass to your technique. For example, a baseball player that goes up to bat cannot just swing his bat to knock the ball out of the park. First he rotates his hips, then his shoulders, then swings his arms wile rotating his wrists to get the maximum power out of the swing. This is very similar to an outward knife hand where the hips lead followed by the shoulders and then the arms. For a side kick you turn the non-kicking foot at the last second like a turning kick to add torque.

It is possible for someone to know exactly how to break but not be able to. Tae Know-Do is comprised of two parts; mental, and physical. One does not work without the other. You can read every book or paper over breaking but if you never learn to apply it then the boards will never break. It takes practice. If you ever wondered why someone is so good at something it is most likely because they practice. No one ever becomes the best simply because of natural talent. To be the best you have to practice. If you want to become better or become the best, then set aside a time in every day to practice. You do not have to practice all day, just long enough that your last set of whatever you are doing feels good. Whether it be kick, patterns, or breaking make sure that the last set of whatever it is you feel good about it. Even if it is the first attempt that day, or if it’s the tenth. Always leave on a positive attempt.

Breaking is not only physical but it is mental as well. If you have all the physical capabilities but are unable to visualize the boards breaking, focus on the boards, or have the patience to deal with failure then you fail ultimately fail in breaking.

I could not count how many times I have seen someone including myself go up to a break and not broke solely because they did not believe that they could. Mr. Mike Deardorff, V Dan, explains this very well in his paper So You Wanna Break Boards, “It is a psychological mechanism built into our brains to keep us from going crazy. When you try to do something (break boards), and approach it with the thought that you can’t do it (I’ve never done this before, it’s going to hurt, etc.) and then you fail (the boards don’t break), you’re able to sit back and console yourself with the thought that you ‘….knew it couldn’t be done’. And your sanity is preserved.” (Deardorff, 2006) Before I go break I always take time to visualize myself breaking the boards with a perfect kick, that way I am mentally prepared to go break and am confident that the boards will break.

While breaking it is imperative that you keep your focus on the boards and nothing else. It does not matter what is going on around you, if you are not focused on the boards only they will not break. Many black belts that break very well take a second to focus themselves on the boards. Mr. Mike Deardorff and Mrs. Annette Poteet are two great example of this. If you want to be successful in breaking, take a second to slow everything down, visualize yourself breaking, one more time and then let your body do what it is already for.

No one is perfect, do not expect that even if you do everything right that the boards will break every time. Failure in inevitable, there will be times that the boards seem as though they are unbreakable. Do not give up though, the second you do is the second that you give up all hope of breaking them. You have to be able to shrug off the defeats of the past and continue, but still remember why they did not break so that you make become stronger.

To summarize the six elements of the theory of power are reaction force, concentration, equilibrium, breath control, mass, and speed. All six are vital to creating power for your techniques. After applying the six elements we can begin applying them by measuring, using the correct tool, pivoting, breathing, and above all practice. To break, you can not only be physically prepared, but must be mentally as well; with the belief that you break the boards, full concentration, and patience. No one becomes the best on their first try; if you commit yourself there is nothing that you cannot break.


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