Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is board breaking really all that great?

By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2007

When people learn that you practice martial arts they generally ask the same questions and the same comments start. Now I don't really mind when someone who knows nothing about the martial arts starts going on about this or that; what really gets me is when someone who studies, or thinks they study, the martial arts starts rambling asinine comments and questions. This is one of the main reasons I stopped reading "Black Belt" and other martial art magazines.

What got me this time is the propaganda promoted by the martial arts that are into breaking boards, and the people who spout scientific formulas for determining how hard you punch and kick.

These two issues may seem unrelated to the untrained eye but the all make they same mistakes.

First you have the board breaking community which states that board breaking is essential to learning martial arts and that it's a great tool for teaching you how to strike. They also say that since it takes about 8lbs of pressure to break a typical pine board and most of the bones in the body can also be broken with only 8lbs of pressure that board breaking is a "must" if you want to cause "real damage" to the body. The infamous Ashida Kim stated that since it takes 8lbs of pressure to break most bones that you only need to be able to strike with 8lbs of pressure.

Then you have the various formulas people come up with for determining how much force you are punching and kicking with. They add in various numbers and say that someone with X amount of weight who can strike with Y amount of speed can cause M amount of damage to the body when they hit it. If you do a search on the internet you can find all kinds of pages with these formulas on it.

What both of these groups fail to consider is that there is NO real correlation between hitting a board and hitting the human body. You see, a board is brittle and when you hit it, it resists and by resisting it breaks. The human body of the other hand is more like hitting a water balloon. The soft tissues of the body yield to the force and bend and move rather than break.

Firstly, simple Newtonian Physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So let's say that someone is holding a board for me to break. What is the first thing that I do? I check the board holder's stance because if they're not holding it right the board won't break. Why? If his stance isn't strong enough, isn't physically and geometrically sound, when I hit the board he will yield and the board won't break. My force hits the board and the board holder gets knocked backwards and the force dissipates. If he holds the board correctly the force isn't dissipated by his backward movement and the board, which is brittle and resists, breaks.

There are quite a few lessons to be taken away from this scenario. Consider that the board holder has to stand in a certain way to withstand the force of the blow. Now when you hit a person for real how often will they be standing in a manner to resist your force? Probably never. Chances are they will be standing naturally or they will be up on their toes. In other words, if you walk up to someone and hit them you will knock them backwards simply because they won't be standing correctly to resist the force.

If I punch that board and break it, and then the board holder puts the pieces down and walks towards me and I punch him in the ribs in the exact same manner that I punched the board, he will move backwards and the force will largely dissipate without a break occurring. If I transfer X amount of force with my punch he will cause a large portion to dissipate by moving backwards which will take force away from the ribs. Then if my balance is off and I move backwards too even more force will dissipate instead of going into the ribs.

Next we have to consider the fact that the body responds to trauma by moving the effected area away from the negative stimulus. In the same way that my hand quickly jerks backwards when I touch a hot pan, my body will jerk my ribs backwards if they are hit. The way my body does this is by rotating the injured area away from the negative stimulus, a fist, and moving backwards. You can see this by going up to someone and forcefully poking them in the ribs with your thumb. What will they do? They will bend foreword at the ribs, the point of trauma, rotate that side of the body backwards, and they will cover that area with their hands while taking a small step back. The harder you poke them the more profound the reaction. It should also be noted that the step backwards is an involuntary reaction meant to move the ribs away from the poke and not caused by the force of the impact.

We also have to take into consideration the fact that the body is soft and pliable. Not only does the force of the punch knock the "bad guy" backwards and not only does his body execute a series on involuntary reactions meant to jerk the injured area away from my fist, all of which causes the force to dissipate, but his body actually compresses. That's right! The human body can actually compress about 3 inches before it has to break. So the ribs will actually bend away from my fist and sink into the organs. Much like the reed that weathers the storm by bending and being supple while the mighty oak is broken because it resisted the wind.

If you have ever actually hit someone in the body you have felt your hand sink into them without anything breaking. The body is very soft and will compress about 3 inches before having to break.

So if I hit someone in the ribs and the force of my blow knocks him backwards, he performs involuntary movements to jerk the ribs away from my fist by rotating, bending, and stepping, and then the rib actually compresses rather than breaks, then how is hitting a board anything like hitting the human body? Why do people put such faith in these scientific formulas that, while they are somewhat on track and scientifically sound, ignore the human element? Would you apply the same force equations to driving a truck into a brick wall as you would for driving it into a jello? No. The wall resists, like the board, and the jello yields, like the human body.

That's one of the main reasons why people don't get the "correct" reactions when they hit another person. Everyone is training to break boards and hit heavy bags and ignoring the fact that since the body will yield to dissipate the force you have to hit it harder and penetrate further.