Board breaking requirements

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I'm curious what the board breaking requirements are at each of your schools, and how it's handled.

School 1
The school I attended as a kid only did board breaking for solid belts. We used kicks on 6x12x1 boards for kids or 12x12x1 boards for adults. I distinctly remember side kick and front kick (the later with the ball of the foot). I remember sometimes it took me a few tries to break, but I got through. This was a long time ago and I don't remember all of the details.

School 2
The school I spent the most time at did board breaking for every test, stripe or solid. Beginner levels all just did a hammerfist, but the majority of color belt tests had a specific technique assigned. Some techniques we would wear pads for, such as breaking with the elbow or instep. Little kids would usually start with a demo board (12x12x0.25), bigger kids with a 10x12x0.5, teens with a 10x12x1 and adults with a 12x12x1 board. Sometimes the board would be downgraded if a kid struggled. Black tests would include multiple board breaks in rapid succession, followed by a power break of 2-3 boards. Degree tests would add on speed breaks using the demo boards for tornado kicks and spin hook kicks. You were expected to break the boards, but you got as many tries to do it as you needed.

I remember we needed:
  • White through orange belt: hammerfist
  • Green and green stripe: step-behind side kick
  • Blue and blue stripe: back kick
  • Blue 2-stripe: elbow strike (with arm pad)
  • Red: axe kick
  • Red stripe: spin hook kick
  • Black belt test: 4-direction breaking and power hammerfist
  • 1st degree "gup" tests: power hammerfist
  • 2nd Degree test: 4-direction breaking, speed break with consecutive tornado kicks, power hammerfist
  • 2nd Degree "gup" tests: power chop
  • 3rd Degree test: 4-direction breaking, speed break with consecutive tornado kicks into jump spin hook kick, power hammerfist
  • 3rd Degree "gup" tests: "Eh, you've broken enough boards already."
At some point, my Master started taking certain techniques out, because enough students weren't able to do them properly enough to break the board, so we just did a hammerfist at those belts. This was a common theme I noticed, is that if his kids failed, he lowered standards instead of fixing the problems, and is one reason I was planning on leaving even if I didn't move halfway across the country. Another example is we had a couple of bad tournaments so instead of updating his sparring training, we stopped going.

School 3
The school I most recently attended had students do both a hand and foot technique for every test. Some of the upper belts got a choice in which hand or foot technique to use, most belts had specific techniques assigned. They only used demo boards. If you broke your board on the first try, you got a "Best Breaking" patch. If you didn't, you still needed to break your board to pass. I would say less than half of the students got a Best Breaking patch each test, even on the super-thin paulwania boards, part of why I questioned that school.

Some of the techniques were not actually taught before they had to test on it. For example, white belts with stripe had to break with an axe kick, which was taught at yellow belt. I also remember a black belt that had never done a 360 back kick before, which was expected on her testing.

My Future Plans
I don't have a solid plan yet. The rest of my curriculum flows that the beginner belts (white through orange) mostly just follow directions, where the advanced level (green through red) is where most of the memorization happens. Black belts then open up into a more modern "move-of-the-day" approach and get opportunities to be creative in their training. I think it follows that I would then have specific board breaks until around the black belt test, when I would open it up. But I'm not sure.

Your school(s)?
What does your school have?
  1. Are there board breaks every test, or only at specific levels?
  2. What is the assignment when breaking boards? Is there a specific technique? Do they have to do multiple techniques? Is there a list to choose from?
  3. What are the expectations? Do they need to break it first try? What if they've failed after several attempts?
  4. Do you use pads?
  5. What size boards do you use? Do you use demo boards at all in testing?
I'd be curious to see a list like I described with my second school, which details the requirements per belt.
 
I'm curious what the board breaking requirements are at each of your schools, and how it's handled.

School 1
The school I attended as a kid only did board breaking for solid belts. We used kicks on 6x12x1 boards for kids or 12x12x1 boards for adults. I distinctly remember side kick and front kick (the later with the ball of the foot). I remember sometimes it took me a few tries to break, but I got through. This was a long time ago and I don't remember all of the details.

School 2
The school I spent the most time at did board breaking for every test, stripe or solid. Beginner levels all just did a hammerfist, but the majority of color belt tests had a specific technique assigned. Some techniques we would wear pads for, such as breaking with the elbow or instep. Little kids would usually start with a demo board (12x12x0.25), bigger kids with a 10x12x0.5, teens with a 10x12x1 and adults with a 12x12x1 board. Sometimes the board would be downgraded if a kid struggled. Black tests would include multiple board breaks in rapid succession, followed by a power break of 2-3 boards. Degree tests would add on speed breaks using the demo boards for tornado kicks and spin hook kicks. You were expected to break the boards, but you got as many tries to do it as you needed.

I remember we needed:
  • White through orange belt: hammerfist
  • Green and green stripe: step-behind side kick
  • Blue and blue stripe: back kick
  • Blue 2-stripe: elbow strike (with arm pad)
  • Red: axe kick
  • Red stripe: spin hook kick
  • Black belt test: 4-direction breaking and power hammerfist
  • 1st degree "gup" tests: power hammerfist
  • 2nd Degree test: 4-direction breaking, speed break with consecutive tornado kicks, power hammerfist
  • 2nd Degree "gup" tests: power chop
  • 3rd Degree test: 4-direction breaking, speed break with consecutive tornado kicks into jump spin hook kick, power hammerfist
  • 3rd Degree "gup" tests: "Eh, you've broken enough boards already."
At some point, my Master started taking certain techniques out, because enough students weren't able to do them properly enough to break the board, so we just did a hammerfist at those belts. This was a common theme I noticed, is that if his kids failed, he lowered standards instead of fixing the problems, and is one reason I was planning on leaving even if I didn't move halfway across the country. Another example is we had a couple of bad tournaments so instead of updating his sparring training, we stopped going.

School 3
The school I most recently attended had students do both a hand and foot technique for every test. Some of the upper belts got a choice in which hand or foot technique to use, most belts had specific techniques assigned. They only used demo boards. If you broke your board on the first try, you got a "Best Breaking" patch. If you didn't, you still needed to break your board to pass. I would say less than half of the students got a Best Breaking patch each test, even on the super-thin paulwania boards, part of why I questioned that school.

Some of the techniques were not actually taught before they had to test on it. For example, white belts with stripe had to break with an axe kick, which was taught at yellow belt. I also remember a black belt that had never done a 360 back kick before, which was expected on her testing.

My Future Plans
I don't have a solid plan yet. The rest of my curriculum flows that the beginner belts (white through orange) mostly just follow directions, where the advanced level (green through red) is where most of the memorization happens. Black belts then open up into a more modern "move-of-the-day" approach and get opportunities to be creative in their training. I think it follows that I would then have specific board breaks until around the black belt test, when I would open it up. But I'm not sure.

Your school(s)?
What does your school have?
  1. Are there board breaks every test, or only at specific levels?
  2. What is the assignment when breaking boards? Is there a specific technique? Do they have to do multiple techniques? Is there a list to choose from?
  3. What are the expectations? Do they need to break it first try? What if they've failed after several attempts?
  4. Do you use pads?
  5. What size boards do you use? Do you use demo boards at all in testing?
I'd be curious to see a list like I described with my second school, which details the requirements per belt.
1. Yes, required at all levels.
2. I start with the hammer fist - one board for first test. It is a great confidence builder. All other tests requires breaks from the techniques that they were required to show proficiency in for that level. Beginning with the intermediate levels, they also have to break multiple boards at once.
3. If they fail after two attempts, they fail the test.
4. No pads allowed.
5. 12x12x1 for everyone. We have one standard regardless of age.
 
What does your school have?
  1. Are there board breaks every test, or only at specific levels?
Every test.
  1. What is the assignment when breaking boards? Is there a specific technique? Do they have to do multiple techniques? Is there a list to choose from?
Lower belts are specified. Upper geup ranks have combination or multiple breaks. All of the mandatory breaks are kicks, because kicking-focused art. Chodanbo and above can do whatever they want.
  1. What are the expectations? Do they need to break it first try? What if they've failed after several attempts?
They keep trying. If we run out of time, they will have opportunity in other classes. Their promotion will be on hold, pending their success.
  1. Do you use pads?
Wouldn't that sort of defeat the purpose of doing the breaks in the first place?
  1. What size boards do you use?
10x12x1" pine. The minimum requirement is one board. Students can always elect to break more. Most of them do.
  1. Do you use demo boards at all in testing?
Demo boards? You mean those silly wafer boards that break if you sneeze in their general vicinity? Why would anybody use those?
We use 10x12x1" pine for demos. Or, my personal preference, 16x8x2" concrete pavers.
 
We use 10 1/2 x 12 x 1 inch shelving pine from the local hardware / lumber store.

promotion breaking requirements by rank:

1. side kick
2. back pivot
3. back leg roundhouse
4. front leg roundhouse
5. skip roundhouse
6. jump roundhouse
7. jump back pivot

Black belts are multi stationed breaks that include heavy breaking (concrete pavers), speed breaking, and jumping kicks.
 
Lower belts are specified. Upper geup ranks have combination or multiple breaks. All of the mandatory breaks are kicks, because kicking-focused art. Chodanbo and above can do whatever they want.
If you don't mind, can you list them?
Demo boards? You mean those silly wafer boards that break if you sneeze in their general vicinity? Why would anybody use those?
I think they're useful for some of the smaller kids (i.e. age 4-6 white belts). At least their use there is debatable.

Like I said, the school I recently attended had testing with these, and the majority of students failed to break on the first try.
 
board breaking is entirely optional at our school, but kids and teens usually opt into it just because it's fun. Lumber is expensive and anything I'm going to see from you doing a break I can find through other drills using equipment we already have, given that breaks are mostly mental. I prefer bricks to boards for older teens and adults just because they are a lot cheaper, and I can still use a broken brick for practical purposes afterward.

When we actually do breaks I just go to the hardware store and get some 8ft planks of 1x12 white pine and cut them into 1ft sections and the bricks are just standard red holland pavers or 16x8x1.5 inch concrete slabs. Red pavers are only like $0.70 each so they are dirt cheap.
 
If you don't mind, can you list them?
Starting with promotion to 9th geup:
Step behind side kick.
Skip side step.
Jump side kick.
Front leg side kick.
Jump spin back kick.
Axe kick.
Roundhouse kick.
Spinning hook kick.
Two station break - roundhouse and spinning hook kick.
Full turning back kick and another break off the students choice.
I think they're useful for some of the smaller kids (i.e. age 4-6 white belts). At least their use there is debatable.
Very debatable. I've never had a kid (who wasn't handicapped in some way) old enough to train who couldn't break a 1" board.
Like I said, the school I recently attended had testing with these, and the majority of students failed to break on the first try.
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they didn't practice breaking. It's like anything else. If it's an expectation, then it needs to be taught and practiced. Not just thrown out there.
 
board breaking is entirely optional at our school, but kids and teens usually opt into it just because it's fun.
That's the best reason for doing breaks.
Lumber is expensive and anything I'm going to see from you doing a break I can find through other drills using equipment we already have, given that breaks are mostly mental. I prefer bricks to boards for older teens and adults just because they are a lot cheaper, and I can still use a broken brick for practical purposes afterward.
Bricks are more consistent. An easy board break can become much more difficult just because it rains.
When we actually do breaks I just go to the hardware store and get some 8ft planks of 1x12 white pine and cut them into 1ft sections and the bricks are just standard red holland pavers or 16x8x1.5 inch concrete slabs. Red pavers are only like $0.70 each so they are dirt cheap.
Consider re-breakable boards. I don't recall where I got them, but I use these:
There's been no noticeable degradation in required force after hundreds of breaks. I have a pile of the green and higher.
 
Roundhouse kick.
What part of the foot do you use for breaking with roundhouse kicks?
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they didn't practice breaking. It's like anything else. If it's an expectation, then it needs to be taught and practiced. Not just thrown out there.
That's being generous. This school had very little quality control in general. I'm talking blue and red belts doing flying side kicks where kick is almost straight down, scissor blocks in forms where the hands don't even cross. I had to spend 5 minutes trying to teach a green belt that when you do a knife-hand block with the right hand, your hand starts on your left and pushes the punch away to the right.

With these boards, the only ones who SHOULD have struggled to break first try are the 4-6 year old white belts, and then the odd student who just didn't bother to aim.
 
What part of the foot do you use for breaking with roundhouse kicks?
We teach arch, ball, and shin impacts. Because why wouldn't you? Most people do the break with the ball of the foot.
 
We teach arch, ball, and shin impacts. Because why wouldn't you? Most people do the break with the ball of the foot.
To clarify: by arch, do you mean instep? (I think of arch as the bottomside of the arch).

Have you ever seen any injury because of using the instep? Or think of any reason why there would be?

There were specific breaks my Master would have students wear pads for. I'm not sure his reason why he did on some and not others, or what he was worried about (injury, splinters, etc). Instep, elbow, and knuckles were the big ones. Keep in mind that the knuckle pads were WT gloves that offer the same amount of padding as cheap carpet.
 
To clarify: by arch, do you mean instep? (I think of arch as the bottomside of the arch).
Sorry, sloppy language. I meant the instep. Technically, there are three arches in the foot.
Have you ever seen any injury because of using the instep? Or think of any reason why there would be?
I have not. I've seen instep break of 6-8" without any problem. I think the ball of the foot impact is structurally stronger, but neither is weak.
There were specific breaks my Master would have students wear pads for. I'm not sure his reason why he did on some and not others, or what he was worried about (injury, splinters, etc). Instep, elbow, and knuckles were the big ones. Keep in mind that the knuckle pads were WT gloves that offer the same amount of padding as cheap carpet.
Here's my thoughts on pads. If you're training strikes and conditioning, then you don't need them. If you're not, you shouldn't be doing breaks.
I have students start bag work with wraps and gloves. Then get rid of the gloves. Then get rid of the wraps. During class, bag work is done without gloves or wraps. Those who are not conditioned are expected to lessen their impact as needed. It works.
 
Many other styles/systems do not require board breaking. We did it for public demos in the old days and that was it. I grant that it can give one confidence and aid in building power, but we built power by punching a non-breakable makiwara and hitting the heavy bag. I think it depends on the system's philosophy and goals and priorities as to how much time and effort is put into any one type of training.
 
BB Summary OF Breaking Requirements.
BLACK BELT TEST
BOARD BREAKING QUICK REFERENCE
The following information specifies the minimum number of Boards required. This minimum is reduced as
follows: Men >35 & Women >30 -1, Men >40 & Women >35 -2, Men >45 & Women >40 -3 so long as minimum
is not less than 1 Board. Men >50 & Women >45, Breaking is entirely candidates option and choice.
The test board may also modify the requirements based upon a candidates unique physical characteristics.
The test candidate may also choose any appropriate break specified in a USTF Requirement Booklet.

POWER HAND

1st Dan: Men - 3 Boards & Women - 2 Boards
Punch, Reverse Knife Hand, or Downward Knife Hand.

2nd Dan: Men -4 Boards & Women - 3 Boards or 1 Board Suspended Knife Hand
Punch, Back Fist, Reverse Knife Hand, or Downward Knife Hand

3rd Dan: Men - 4 Boards & Women - 3 Boards, or*
Punch, Back Fist, Reverse Knife Hand, or Downward Knife Hand
*Women- 1 Suspended Board: Punch, Back Fist, or Reverse Knife Hand

POWER FOOT

1st Dan: Men - 3 Boards & Women - 2 Boards Men - 4 Boards & Women - 3 Boards
Front Kick or Turning Kick Flying Side Kick, 180 or 360 Back Piercing Kick
Women - 1 Board Flying Twist Kick

2nd Dan: Men - 3 Boards Twist Kick, Step Hook, Women - 3 Boards Front or Back Piercing Kick
or Reverse Hook, or or, 4 Boards Side Piercing Kick
4 Boards Turning Kick, or
5 Boards Side Piercing, 180 Back , or 360 Back

3rd Dan: Men - 4 Boards Side Thrust Kick, or Women - 3 Boards Turning Kick, or
5 Boards Turning Kick, or 4 Boards 180 or 360 Back Piercing Kick, or
6 Boards Side Piercing Kick 5 Boards Side Piercing Kick, or
2 Suspended Boards Twist , Step Hook
Reverse Hook Kick

TECHNIQUE

1st Dan: Men & Women - 1 Suspended Board, Any Kick, or
Men 2 Boards & Women 1 Board: Flying Twin Foot Front, or Flying Twin Foot Turning Kick

2nd Dan: Men 2 Boards & Women 1 Board - Any Mid Air or Flying Kick, or
- Two Target Flying Twin Front Kick

3rd Dan: Men Two Targets 1 Board each. Women - 2 Boards: Any Suspended Kick, or
Flying: Double Kick, Flying: Twin Foot Front Kick,
Or, Combination Kick, Or, Twin Foot Turning Kick,
Or, Consecutive Kick Or, Twin Foot Side Piercing Kick
 
Note the requirements above are the USTF requirements. Items not allowed - Spacers and "Hammerfist."
 
Are there board breaks every test, or only at specific levels?
Board breaking is part of every testing.
What is the assignment when breaking boards? Is there a specific technique? Do they have to do multiple techniques? Is there a list to choose from?
No specific assignment. A student can try any break they wish within safety reasons.

Far and away, white and yellow belts will do a kick or strike they have regularly practiced in class. If they balk or are unsure what break to try, we will suggest a break. I am sure all instructors have run into this moment. Helping a student get through it is a huge mental boost for them.
Sometimes a student will want to do a technique outside the norm or above their rank. Unless there is too much risk they get to try. This is a huge positive in confidence building or a realization in the difficulty of the technique building component during hard contact. Either is a win when explained, critiqued, and processed correctly.
If someone is having ease with the more common breaks, say they do an axe kick and easily break one board, we will line them up again and, based on the previous results, add one or two boards. Most know there is an exponential effect when stacking boards, so rarely is more than one board added at a time (for lower belts).
For higher belts, above green belt, both hand and foot breaking are required. Age and anatomy always play a factor. For first Dan, there is a 16-board minimum distributed between each hand and foot. A person can have a strong side and weaker side if they wish. Board size is based on the persons anatomy and general skill.
I reiterate, breaking has nothing to do with pass/fail. That fleshes out in class and the rest of testing.
What are the expectations? Do they need to break it first try? What if they've failed after several attempts?
Board breaking success OR failure has zero bearing on a person's testing scores.
Do you use pads?
Huh, what? Nope, never heard of that and never will do it. To put it bluntly, that is rather stupid, and completely counter to the purpose of breaking. And dangerous by boosting false confidence and a false ego.
What size boards do you use? Do you use demo boards at all in testing?
We have always used mill grade pine shelving board. NOT decking board as it is not sanded smooth. Dimensionally, it is 3/4" thick by 11-1/2" wide, but commonly called 1" x 12". We use 12" wide, 8-9" wide, and 6" wide, and the length is always 12".
 
FWUW as stated above a "1x12" board is really 11.5" wide. As a Board approaches it's "Square it becomes more difficult to break and somewhere read that as it passes the square it becomes exponentially more difficult.
 
Thanks for all the replies. I think I know how I want to do it when I make my system.

One thing I liked at my main school is that the last break for degree tests was a power break with hammerfist, with your new belt underneath the board. Metaphorically you're breaking through to get your belt. I don't see why this can't be applied at every level, especially when I plan to have fewer promotion tests than any other school I've attended. I plan to have 8 tests to get black belt, and 0 intermediate tests between degrees. I also plan to have a longer wait time between tests and more focus on quality of technique between belts than just the memorization.

Because there are less tests along the road, it became difficult to pick which techniques should be used at each level. What I've settled on is this:
  • White - hammerfist only. All other belts include hammerfist by default, so I won't list them every time.
  • Yellow - choice of front kick, roundhouse kick, or side kick. The 4 basic kicks I plan to teach white and yellow belt are these three plus axe kick, but at this point the axe kick is mostly a dynamic stretch.
  • Purple - choice of any kick.
  • Orange - 2-direction breaking (one break to the right, then one to the left). At least one must be a kick. The other can be another kick or a hand technique.
  • Green - same as orange.
  • Blue - 3-direction breaking, including one or two kicks and one jumping or flying kick. This could be a 3-direction break with a jump kick included, a 3-direction break that starts with a flying kick, or a 2-direction break followed by a flying kick.
  • Brown - same as blue.
  • Red - 4-direction breaking.
  • Black - custom-designed breaking sets, more sets per degree. A "set" can be something like 3-direction or 4-direction breaking with simpler techniques, or can be more athletic or technical breaks (i.e. the types of kicks Earl Weiss listed under "Technique" a couple of posts above).
One of the things I originally set out to do with my tests was to give a lot of agency to the students, and I've pulled a lot of that back. I think this is a good place to give it back again. I think breaks are more likely to succeed if students have prepared that technique for it, and I think students are more likely to prepare a technique they chose.

I made a similar question on Reddit, and one of the replies was that there weren't any specific requirements, other than that you couldn't do the same technique on future tests. I like the idea, but I really don't want to keep track of who did what. I think increasing the requirements at each level and expecting students to choose a higher difficulty at each level will help students naturally rotate through new techniques to break with.

I do agree that pads are a little bit weird, aside from putting a small pad over the board to help a young white belt gain confidence in hitting it hard enough to break it. I also may want to include heavy bag work instead of just standing bags as a way to help condition properly. Not just for board breaking, but for fighting as well.

Now that I've got a drafted plan, I'm open to suggestions and feedback.
 

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