One of my favorite aspects of Tae Kwon Do is kyupa (breaking). When I think back to my first memories of watching martial arts demonstrations,
I can still remember bricks and blocks of wood being blown apart, as if from the inside out. It was the incarnation of divine power generated by a mortal wearing a black belt.
Breaking is a necessity. Training without it is incomplete. Many Tae Kwon Do schools teach a method of sparring that requires very controlled contact. For these schools, breaking is essential to teach the student to extend with focused power into a target. For all schools, it is required to teach proper delivery of energy.
Breaking should always be a challenge. The student should work just past the edge of his or her comfort zone. If an adult can break a standard 12x12x1 inch number-two pine board, which has become a standard, two should be attempted. The student may also try wider stock, perhaps 15- inches, or a thicker stock, such as a two-inch block.
The desire for Tae Kwon Do demonstrations to appeal to uninitiated audiences has created a different type of breaking, one that incorporates difficult and dazzling aerial moves concluding with an obligatory break of a less than sturdy material of some type. This type of breaking is fun to watch but it has never given me the same sense of unlimited human potential.
The last time that I was in Korea, I went to a little martial arts supply store across from the Kukkiwon. I was saddened to see some new innovations being sold there. These included one-fourth-inch thick breaking boards for demonstrations. They even had a variation of these that had been made with gun power mixed with the wood fiber to cause the loud crack that the thin boards were missing over a thicker stock. Beyond these, there were several re-breakable plastic boards. Some of these even featured padding to protect the person from experiencing any discomfort while simulating breaking. As I worked my way back through the store, I came to re-breakable bricks.
These were bright plastic blocks that came in yellow or red. I asked the salesman what was the difference between the two. He told me, Yellow for black belt. Red for grandmaster. I thought to myself that this might be one of the saddest things I have ever heard. I couldn’t imagine a grandmaster breaking imitation bricks.
I went back through the store on my way out completely dejected when a friend pointed to a video that was under the glass of the front counter positioned next to fill-in-the blank black belt certificates. It was a video of a demonstration that North and South Korea did for each other to build goodwill between the divided country. I bought the video and had to wait until returning home to watch it. Back home, I put the video into the player and was even more upset to see dancers in leg warmers performing movements that I had once seen as sacred. I let the video run. There was a breaking demonstration using the quarter-inch boards and even the gunpowder boards. I was feeling pretty low. If the home of my art had degenerated to this and forgotten its roots, what hope was there? But then, they brought out the big boys who broke granite, bricks and blocks of wood up to four-inches thick. Participants from both North Korea and South Korea put on a marvelous breaking demonstration. Not every attempt was successful, but that just kept it real. With One blOW a Skilled martial At the end of the South Korean demonstration, a grand- artist Can reveal What it WOUld master lined up a stack of possibly six-inch boards with a small separation between them. Calmly he rolled up the sleeve of his right arm, gathered his concentration, and blasted the stack with a spear finger. My mouth hit the floor. He then turned, let out a commanding yell, and broke a solid block of wood 12 by 12 by 6-inches thick with a side-kick. The old feelings oi awe and amazement came back to me. All was right in the world again. 9
It is up to all of us to keep the black belt black and to train just beyond our own reach. To do this enables all of us to accomplish achievements that would be unimaginable to others outside of the art. Breaking takes the idea of ki or chi out of the realm of theory and demonstrates it in our physical world. With one blow a skilled martial artist can reveal what it would take philosophers and scholars volumes to describe. This is the true reason for breaking.