As a head instructor of a TaeKwonDo (TKD) school I have the privilege of teaching many students the fundamentals of the martial arts. I get asked many questions that change my perception of this martial art I love and have lived for so many years. A few weeks ago, a student struggling with their board break for a particular rank exclaimed in a fit of frustration, “Why do we even do this anyway!?”  This got me thinking about all the reasons I know of why we break boards and bricks in class, for promotion, and for show. They  fall into 4 main categories:

1: Strength

2: Perseverance

3: Tradition

4: Humility



Anyone who has ever broken a board of any size knows it requires some amount of strength to accomplish the task (despite what some, more boastful individuals like to say). In the case of younger students who are simply building up muscle and technique to break through it is physical strength, and in the case of older students it is developing mental strength to fight every inclination of their life experience that is telling them to run away. Rising to this occasion yields power and experience, and that growth yields strength.



Now you might ask how this is different than the strength section above, and I’ll admit it’s hard to describe. The act of rising to the occasion and completing something you didn’t know you could do does more than just accumulate physical strength, chi, power, foot pounds, Newtons, momentum or whatever system of measure or units you might use to describe the “umf!” needed to crush a board into splinters. It proves “you can” when before all you said and thought was “I can’t”. There is something about this step that makes you not only stronger and more knowledgeable about technique, but also makes you confident in the next challenge: confident that the hurdles that lay before you are not only surmountable but also easily so given enough time and effort. Perserverance is that “spirit”, that lightning in a bottle.



Simply carrying the torch of our masters and the masters before them is what makes our sport rich with tradition. Is there any real reason to break wooden boards in the age of re-breakable plastic ones? Maybe not. But there is something about breaking something that can’t be put back together; it’s wrought with metaphor about knowing what this skill set means and understanding your responsibility to use it wisely, not to misuse your power to destroy. It also harkens back to a time before  fancy equipment and commercialization, when it was just you, your bare feet, and the board. Not to mention it also makes a nice memento for kids to take home and show off to their friends and family, spreading the word about our sport.



Just like every black belt I know has broken a board, every black belt more importantly has NOT broken a board. Failure is the world’s best teacher and it shows us all just how far we have to go to reach our goals. It teaches us patience and forces us to take a good look at ourselves before proceeding. It sometimes hurts and we need to realize that is a sign of things to come, more pain, and more struggle. But sometimes it’s in those moments you doubt yourself the most that you finally break through—and nothing feels better than breaking that board after months or even years of working up to it. In that moment you go from thinking you can’t to knowing you can, and nobody can take that away from you.