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The Truth about How Martial Artists Break Concrete



Aug 11, 2010
Until you've seen it done, you might think the whole concept of a martial artist breaking through concrete blocks with their bare hands is some kind of magical trick. But as John Rennie, former editor of Scientific American ("Martial arts are my hobby and explaining science is my job") explains, it's all about physics.

Renne puts it succinctly in a recent blog post that debunks other explanations that claim methods such as there being some pull-back involved, as though hesitancy could bust concrete. Rather, Renne busts that myth. Breaking a board, or a stack of concrete blocks, is all about follow-through. As he puts it:

"When you break a board, or concrete, or a Louisville slugger or anything else routinely used these days in demonstrations of tameshiwari (breaking),you have to follow through on the strike. Indeed, advice commonly given to students learning to break is that they should aim at an imaginary target several inches beyond the actual object, for two reasons. First, doing so helps to make sure that the actual strike occurs closer to the movement’s point of peak biomechanical efficiency. Second, it helps to override our natural tendency (partly psychological, partly reflexive) to slow down ballistic movements such as punches and kicks before they reach full extension, which helps to protect the connective tissues around our joints."

If you plan to try and break a board, or a concrete block, take Renne's advice. If you see an explanation that claims "making the blow fast and pulling back" works, don't believe it. I've watched the kids in my son's Tae Kwon Do class break boards, and those that believe they can do it and follow through usually succeed. The tentative ones get hurt.


Aug 26, 2010
good post.. cuz i was a black belt in karate and i had to break a bunch of shit with my hands feet and head... was a good time....and some of that shit aint easy.


Oct 1, 2010
When it comes to breaking wood, the direction of the grain has a lot to do with how hard a board is to break. Learned that the hard way when I was like 16.


Sep 28, 2010
I am a black belt in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu, and it all really does boil down to technique. Toughening up the bones and connective tissues as well as blunting nerves in an area from repeated trauma help for the crazy breaks. Master Hanshi would break through boards with his toes,and not be phased by it. He trained from the time he was a child to now in his 40's by constantly hitting the tips of his toes with a 2x4. He does the same thing with his fingers by doing crane style strikes on hardwood. We rolled iron bars hard on our shins to toughen them up for kicks. He really has no feeling left there but damn if it isnt lethal. I see a lot of schools where I am now that use that weak plywood or pressboard to make the students feel good about themselves. Which isnt a bad thing, but it kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise.