Speed Breaking

A speed break is just as it sounds: one that requires a high level of speed. This is done with any material that is not braced by supports. The point of such practice is to hone the ability to break targets which either are moving, or may move when struck. The head and limbs are free moving on an opponent, so it is important to be able to cause damage to such targets and not merely push them out of the way with slow attacks.

Speed breaking will prevent you from relying on power and bodyweight, requiring you to develop efficient strikes with the proper combination of supple movement and explosive force.

more coming soon…

Seeking Instruction

INSPIRATION THROUGH OBSERVATION

Through observing and experiencing combat at some level, you internalize the dynamics of a fight. In doing so, you gain the ability to separate useful from useless techniques. When this is accomplished, the world of martial arts knowledge becomes an open library for reference and inspiration.

A formal school is a valuable resource. For many, it is the only way to effectively study martial arts. This is especially true for the novice. Even so, you should not rely on merely being taught. When skills reach the point of actual application, you must think for yourself. It is your responsibility to actively learn, rather than passively following instruction.
SEEKING QUALITY INSTRUCTION

It is no secret that there are many substandard dojos. I do not think that this is an affliction of modern times. Things change very little in the long run. Whether or not weak schools were so prevalent, there have always been good and bad instructors, strong and weak styles. The devastating skills of the martial arts still exist today, as all things of quality do, amidst the sea of lesser imitations. It is up to you to recognize the real thing when you encounter it.

An instructor does not have to be perfect at every skill, but his overall ability must be honestly assessed. If he is proficient at forms, but obviously misunderstands fighting application, then he has missed the purpose of true combative arts. Conversely, a naturally huge, strong, or fast individual can be a formidable fighter, but without knowledge of certain skills, he is not qualified to represent a system. He cannot teach students how to be naturally big, strong, or fast.

It is fortunate if you manage to find an instructor who is skilled in fighting, but this is not always the case. Many instructors can teach the methodology of an art without possessing the ability to actually apply it. This does not necessarily mean the instruction is not valid.

A good instructor does not necessarily need to be able to apply combat skills effectively. For instance, he may be too small, too old, or both. What he must absolutely be able to do is guide you to effectively apply the skills. Seeing what a prospective instructor can personally do is fine, but seeing what his students can do is the most relevant concern. It is common for an excellent coach to be physically outmatched by his top students. This is a good sign.

Poetry of Martial Arts

Learning the martial arts is often likened to learning a language. You can memorize the alphabet, yet still be unable to form words. Individual words can be mastered, yet grammar can remain poor. Writing and speech can be technically proficient, yet you may still be unable to write good poetry. In the martial arts, learning all the techniques and routines does not automatically make you a skilled fighter.

Like poetry, only so much can be taught. It is up to the practitioner to make good use of his “words.” While instructors may be able to bring students to a basic level of proficiency, it is ultimately up to the practitioner to make his skills effective. Just as a good poet can gathers words and ideas from experience, a good martial artist must be able to learn from observation and experience. In this way, any school or teacher may be of use in progressing your skill. You can observe the strengths of an instructor’s techniques and extract the essential elements, adapting them and eliminating the faults.

You must develop your own sense of what is practical. This can be learned through live experience, testing and competition. You must constantly test your skills to ensure they are developing properly. A single fight, even a sparring match, can teach you more of the true nature of live combat in a few minutes, than years of training alone in a vacuum.

Combative Martial Arts

The term “combative martial arts” is technically redundant. The word “martial” refers to war, which would seem to be inclusive of combat in some form. Martial arts, however, have come to encompass all manner of styles which no longer emphasize the development of fighting skill. For this reason, I must make a distinction by specifying combative and non-combative martial arts. Opinions expressed for one, are not necessarily valid for the other.

Though this site is primarily focused on the topic of conditioning and breaking, it is important to discuss the basic, effective practice of martial arts. This is not a digression from the topic of tameshiwari. I wish to impress upon you that genuine tameshiwari is indeed a training method for fighting and not a study of parlor tricks. To discuss tameshiwari without considering fighting theory is to entirely miss the point.

You must not forget that breaking is not intended to be a stand alone skill. To practice breaking without relation to combat application is just as faulty as practicing forms without visualizing the applications of the movements. Though one may practice true fighting without breaking, one cannot practice true breaking without keeping fighting in mind.

I will not get into a discussion on particular fighting techniques, as breaking is not limited to any particular style of fighting. Tameshiwari is a tool to be applied in any number of striking styles. It is not a system of fighting, but an approach to fighting. The attributes developed in this form of training should be channeled through your chosen striking art.

Selective Breaking

Breaking the bottom block in a stack falls under what is known as ‘selective breaking’. One must focus the strike to break only certain blocks in a stack. It is a tricky technique and, frankly, not one I have mastered. I don’t know if it is directly applicable to fighting, but it is yet another way to hone your control.

For me, a true demonstration of selective breaking must be performed on a top or middle block. Simply breaking the bottom block is not enough. In my experience, the bottom block has a natural tendency to break first. It is on the bottom after all, so it absorbs the brunt of the attack, especially if the blocks are not perfectly formed.

Irregularities inherent in blocks can prevent the top block from resting perfectly on its edges, causing more pressure to be focused on the center of the bottom support. It is not uncommon for the bottom block to break during a failed attempt at two or more blocks. What’s more, variations in the strengths of the blocks can result in random breaks in a failed attempt. For instance, one may not break a stack of four, but upon removing the blocks, discover that the first and third have actually been cracked. Some would describe this as an unintentional selective focusing of the chi. I think that is a misguided leap in logic. Whether or not one believes that chi may actually be focused in such a way, attributing all manner of oddities to it, detracts from true application.

This particular kind of break is a simple matter of physics and variations in block strength. On a related note, blocks can be weakened with strikes without breaking. You may take a block you have weakened with previous strikes, give it barely a touch, and it falls apart. An exhibition of chi? No, just a weak block.

Passive Breaking

It is common for a demonstration to feature the breaking of materials over the body. Such a practice is not an exercise in destructive force, but rather in the ability to withstand an attack. There are two general methods of this.
Striking the Material

The first method consists of resting a target, such as a cement block, on an appropriate body surface and having an assistant strike it with a sledgehammer.

I do not regard this as a meaningful practice of tameshiwari. I fail to see how it demonstrates any special skill or ability. It is illogical to think that the demonstrator is somehow withstanding the blow of the hammer. The impact is almost completely absorbed by the target material, which is why it breaks and you do not. Very little force reaches the body supporting the block. If the assistant takes the extra care to tap the block with a very short strike, even less force travels through to the body beneath.

A more impressive demonstration would be to place the body over a cement block and then breaking the block by striking the body. This would display the ability to withstand a breaking level force. I do not recommend the attempt of this with any material of significant sturdiness.
Striking the Body (with the material)

The second method consists of striking the body with the material to be broken. An example is having an assistant break a stick by striking it across one‘≥ extended forearm. The total amount of impact absorbed by the body is greatly affected by the performance of the assistant. Such a practice may be considered a form of iron body training.

While this form can have certain benefits, I consider those benefits extremely limited. As with active breaking, the breaking material must be a challenge sufficient to require a conditioned surface. If the break can be performed without need of specific conditioning, it is not a unique skill.

Any individual with a fairly sturdy frame can withstand a certain level of impact. For this reason, the most convenient way to build a general resistance to attack is to build the body with muscular training such as weightlifting or isometrics. Certain, specific, areas may be further toughened with impact training such as the medicine ball drills utilized in boxing gyms.

This type of training will develop a satisfactory resistance to mediocre attacks and, possibly, even fierce attacks. There is no training that will allow one to absorb repeated, powerful attacks. Even in the best case, there is no training at all for strengthening the face, which is the primary target.

Power Breaking

Power Breaking refers to tameshiwari focusing on maximum power. This differs from other applications which may test accuracy, speed, or other specialized techniques.

The term power breaking most often refers to breaking blocks or boards separated by spacers. This allows the practitioner to exert absolute full force with minimal risk of injury. This type of breaking is largely a test of momentum. The ability to get through numerous boards or blocks in a stack depends on how long the practitioner can preserve the force of the initial impact. Because of this, the practitioner’s body weight becomes and asset and the most successful power breakers are often physically large. As discussed in the article on the use of spacers, this type of breaking does not require an especially high level of conditioning, but it does require a lot of force.

Though less commonly the case, power breaking can also refer to the breaking of especially sturdy materials. This is done without the use of spacers and is a test of initial impact. This is arguably the most difficult test of tameshiwari. Likened to weightlifting, this would be equivalent to a single, maximum bench press or dead lift. This practice requires the highest level of conditioning in order to absorb the force of the single, initial impact since spacers are not there to provide gradual resistance. This may also be considered the worthiest variation of tameshiwari since the ability to break the strongest objects translates directly to the type of damaging force required for combat application.

Visualization Devices

We can appreciate that confidence is good and hesitation is bad, but how can we get ourselves in the proper frame of mind? This is where the use of visualization devices comes into play. This is simply any mental image or motivational thought that you can use to maximize your focus.

In the case of meditation, one hopes to clear the mind of active thought. Without thought of any kind, there can be no self doubt and, therefore, nothing between you and the task at hand. This is one approach.

Another is to actively think of something which positively motivates you to action. When in danger, your body reacts with the ‘fight or flight’ response to give you the extra adrenaline for increased strength and speed. Here, you focus on a thought to artificially create this response and momentarily afford you berzerker rage.

Exactly what you think of can be very personal. It can be anything that gets you riled up, or calmed down, depending on which state is most conducive to your performance. For instance, you can imagine you will win a million dollars for making the break, or that your house will be blown up if you fail. Use whatever it takes to motivate you to try as though your life depends on it.

If the break genuinely requires more than your full effort, then it is beyond your capability and no visualization technique can help you. There is nothing to do but train more and try again when you have sufficiently increased your power and conditioning. Have patience.

Limits of Perception

This article addresses the mental aspects of breaking. Bringing yourself to a state of maximum focus is crucial when starting out in breaking, or when you are attempting a new landmark in your tameshiwari skills.

If you are working well within your established range, you may not need to employ extreme focus or effort. It is essential when you are attempting to surpass your previous accomplishments because this is the most dangerous type of break. At this point, if your aspirations outreach your conditioning, a failed attempt could result in injury.
OVERCOMING LIMITS OF PERCEPTION

When an uninitiated person first sees an advanced break, the natural reaction is ‘that’s impossible, it can’t be real.’ I am a fan of skepticism, but you must not be so skeptical of yourself that you allow it to block your potential.

Most people live at the verge of their abilities. Throughout life, we are trained by our experiences to perceive the boundaries of our ‘reality.’ There is comfort in familiarity, but it can also serve as a cage to trap our progression.

When a practitioner first succeeds with a new break, he is often surprised at how easy it turns out to be. Only then, does one realize just how close success has always been.

Sometimes, the impossible and the possible are separated by only a single degree. The trick is in making that one degree shift to realize your potential. Advancing a degree at a time, you can eventually look back and appreciate the great distance you have traveled beyond what was once thought the limits of possibility.

To step beyond yourself, or at least, the perception of self, is a frightening, but ultimately liberating experience. You must not be psyched out by failure. Through making that extra effort, you can cross the threshold to reach extraordinary accomplishment.

You have to believe that the break is something that you can accomplish. Approaching a large stack of blocks can be intimidating. It is the same feeling that comes from stepping up to a high dive board for the first time and peering over the edge. If it is not a routine practice, it looks like a long, long way down.

In order to achieve a successful break, you must overcome your doubt. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by a new challenge. Intimidation leads to hesitation. When breaking, you must not hesitate or you will not be able to put forth your full effort.

Remember, success and failure is separated by that single degree, and ninety nine percent will not do when one hundred percent is required.

The Use of Spacers

The use of spacers can be a controversial issue. Some argue that spacing makes a break easier and is, therefore, a form of cheating. I do not consider the use of spacers to be a form of cheating. Granted, spacers do make certain kinds of breaks easier, but can actually make others more difficult. Spaced breaks present a different test of your skills than breaking solid targets and should be evaluated accordingly.
Benefit

The use of spacers is much safer for your hand than breaking solid stacks. As long as you can break one board or block, there is little chance that you will seriously injure your hand. It is much more injurious to strike a solid stack of blocks and not break it, than it is to partially break a spaced stack. This is because the motion of your hand is not stopped so abruptly.

Without spacers, your hand is racing at full speed and hits the solid target like a car crashing into a wall. It goes from full acceleration to 0 mph instantly, resulting in a crushing force against your hand.

With spacers, each successive block slows your hand incrementally, until it is no longer fast enough to continue through. Once you have the ability to break a few blocks, you can test your limit with minimal risk of injury.

This affords you the opportunity to apply full striking force against a forgiving target. Spaced breaks do not require as much conditioning as solid breaking. For this reason, it is a very popular practice among individuals of unusual strength and weight, but, perhaps, less actual hand conditioning.

Spacers also measure the ‘follow-through’ or penetrating force of a strike. Obviously, breaking ten spaced boards or blocks is not the same as breaking them without spacers. Still, certain techniques, such as iron palm slapping, are more effective against solid objects than spaced ones. Whereas a hammer fist breaks the first block and continues on to the next, an iron palm slap generates a characteristically ‘shorter’ force with reduced driving power.
Domino Effect

Some people are under the impression that, when using spacers, you need only break the top block and then that block will break the next and so on. This is technically true in that each block contacts the next to break it, but they will not go anywhere without a sustained driving force behind it. Blocks will truly break themselves only when the material becomes heavy enough for gravity to automatically continue breaking each successive layer.

Even with long scalloped blocks (the weakest and heaviest of the standard concrete blocks), I have broken up to nine in a spaced stack, only to be stopped on the tenth block. At twenty pounds a piece, even the combined weight of all nine blocks dropping was not sufficient to break the tenth block. Using spacers is not like setting up a row of dominos.

Gravity will take over in instances such as breaking huge, long blocks of ice with giant spacers. Generally, the larger the spacer, the easier the break. This holds true until the spacers are so large, and the stack so tall, that your power is diffused by the increased depth. Either way, if you are using over sized spacers, it is plain for everyone to see, so it does not constitute fraud.