Soft Breaks

Bill Mattocks

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I just returned from the dojo - I wasn't in class today, I have a nasty infection in my arm and was stopping by to tell my sensei I would not be in on Monday night. But I stayed to watch the class (you can learn a lot that way) and at the end of class, Sensei set up some concrete blocks and the class took turns breaking them.

In the year and a half I've been a student at this dojo, we've only broken concrete twice, but both times were what Sensei calls 'soft breaking technique'. I haven't seen anything about soft breaks discussed here, so I thought I'd post a description.

First of all, these are your typical Home Depot concrete pavers. 2 inches thick by 8 inches wide by 16 inches long. They cost 99 cents at the local hardware store.

Sensei sets them up on two cinder blocks set on end, so the blocks are maybe 12 to 15 inches from the floor, not quite knee-high. On top of the blocks, he places a thick phone book that has been duct-taped to keep it from flying to pieces. The blocks do not have spacers in between them.

He explains that a 'soft break' is not like the typical 'hard break', which is based on speed and power. This is supposed to be an event generating power from ki and smooth movement.

He demonstrates - from a standing position, he inhales, exhales, and as the breath leaves his body, he kneels to one knee, bringing his arm up in front of him (as he explains it, "Like an elephant's trunk") and then down again almost like he was cracking a whip. As his knee hits the floor, his flat open hand hits the phone book. It makes a 'thump' noise (as opposed to the 'slap' noise when most of us tried and failed to break the blocks). The bottom block breaks first, which you can tell sometimes when a person tries to break four or five at a time and they hit it good, but they don't break - sometimes the bottom one or two does, but not the rest.

I have tried three blocks, and failed. However, we have women in the class who have broken two, and I know for a fact that they are not very large or exceptionally strong, so I'm guessing this is not a weight or strength thing. Whenever I hit the phone book, it feels like I'm slapping my hand and sounds like it too. My hand stings like crazy and nothing happens. So I'm sure I'm doing it wrong.

However, Sensei demonstrated two blocks with the back of his hand - it looked like he was moving in slow motion, even. He did five blocks with the palm of his hand, and some of his students confirmed that he has done as many as nine blocks - that's 18 inches of cement, no spacers, and all with what he calls 'soft power'. Several of our students did three or four blocks and one visitor to the dojo from a TKD studio did two blocks this morning. Sometimes it is surprising when a low kyu rank breaks the blocks and it looks effortless, and some of the black belts struggle or can't break them at all.

I know you're supposed to relax, let your breathing go, and aim through the blocks, but so far, I can't seem to master it. I didn't think I would ever want to break blocks or boards or whatever, but now that I've tried it, I am curious to actually do it and see how many I can break (once I figure out how to do it, that is).

Thoughts, comments? Soft power breaks - anyone else do them? My style is Isshin-Ryu - breaking is not part of the normal curriculum for us, this is just something Sensei likes to do every so often.
 

ATC

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Yes very hard to get. Most in our dojang don't until Black Belt and even only after 1st or even 2nd.

The one thing I like is when our Sabumnim holds a brick in one hand by 2 fingers (thumb and pointer) and then uses the back of the and in a slow whipping motion (really really slow and soft) and simple touches the brick and the brick just snaps in half. It looks so soft that you almost think it is a magic trick but it is not. The sound of the break is soft also, like the sound of a gram cracker when you break them in half.

Fun stuff.
 

searcher

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Your description is good, but I still would need a visual to make a fully informed comment. So, I will make a less than informed comment. It almost sounds like speed breaking with a slight pushing move. Or even a power break without the body being involved. Either way it sounds like fun. I have trained in I-ryu before andmy instructor never discussed "soft" breaking. Bill, do you have any video? Or can you get some? I would be very interested in taking a closer look.

The use of the phone book is cool. It will definately keep you from getting concrete particals embedded in your hand.
 
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Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

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Your description is good, but I still would need a visual to make a fully informed comment. So, I will make a less than informed comment. It almost sounds like speed breaking with a slight pushing move. Or even a power break without the body being involved. Either way it sounds like fun. I have trained in I-ryu before andmy instructor never discussed "soft" breaking. Bill, do you have any video? Or can you get some? I would be very interested in taking a closer look.

The use of the phone book is cool. It will definately keep you from getting concrete particals embedded in your hand.

I'm afraid I have no video, but one of our students took some photos of the last session and I hope they make it onto the dojo webpage. I had never seen it before either, and Sensei said it was not an Isshin-ryu thing. I don't know where he learned it, I should ask him.
 

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I'm interested in seeing a video/learning this as well. Keep us posted, Bill!
 

JWLuiza

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If you hare having trouble with these breaks, use your ears. It's just hitting it in the right spot to get resonance, it allows you to increase the strike's power. You're still using physics to break it, but by hitting it in the right spot you can break it with the minimal amount of force necessary.
 

Tames D

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I just feel that using a phone book for breaking is for sissy boys. Hell, you might as well wear shorts.
icon12.gif
 

geezer

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Bill, your description of "soft-breaks" sounds a lot like some Chinese "iron-palm" training I was briefly exposed to back about '79. I switched schools and did not do much more with breaking except to play around on my own a bit. I also have some old VHS videos of one of my old instructors breaking a very large ceramic vessel with a soft palm slap like that. So if you inquire down on the CMA dept. you might find people that know more.
 

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It's not magic -- but it's a subtle and really an advanced technique, using relaxed power. You see similar techniques in a number of arts, across several cultures. By using proper alignment, sinking of the body, and delivering the strike in a very relaxed manner where you're not fighting the force, it'll happen.

Bill -- next time, don't watch the blocks, and don't watch the hand that's hitting. Pay attention to the body dynamics that support it. I bet you'll see that, when it's done effectively, the knees and hips play a very important role.
 

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I have never used the phone book but yes when we break we use ki principles (specifically weight underside) as opposed to pure power.

Braking is not a part of our rank advancement criteria but we do break often. It is not uncommon to have a young beginner (example 10 year old yellow belt) break 2-3 caps (as mentioned originally) after 10 minutes or so of training. There is no trick and it is not difficult at all as long as you can "relax" during the break. My favorite is using the back of my hand but we primarily use the downward elbow, knuckle punch, chin and head.

The head of our system Grandmaster Kuoha, has been known for breaking since the 1970's. He was on the Jay leno show awhile back breaking ice with his head. All of our breaks are accomplished using ki principles in lieu of physical power.


Cheers!
Jamey
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Next 23ish people can watch this. I'm the guy crosslegged who looks surprised when it breaks :0

http://www.youtube.com/watch_private?v=KsynpXJQ-D4&sharing_token=ZiDRtEUKcnl7jWedvsX77Q

Thanks for posting this, John! This is nearly exactly what our exercise looked like. Same blocks, same palm movement, but we began from a standing position and dropped to one knee, with the hand going up in front like the motion of a person about to crack a whip (Sensei called it an elephant's trunk) and then came down as the body drops to one knee. Hand hits at the same time the knee hits the floor. It had the same 'soft' appearance as John's breaks, though. As noted, I tried to do three blocks and failed, but others did four and five, no spacers.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Bill, your description of "soft-breaks" sounds a lot like some Chinese "iron-palm" training I was briefly exposed to back about '79. I switched schools and did not do much more with breaking except to play around on my own a bit. I also have some old VHS videos of one of my old instructors breaking a very large ceramic vessel with a soft palm slap like that. So if you inquire down on the CMA dept. you might find people that know more.

Thanks for that info! I did a Youtube search for Iron Palm and I saw this:


Somewhat similar. The main differences were that we were standing and dropped to a one-knee kneeling position. The blocks were just less than knee-high. Same blocks, though. We used a phone book instead of that bag that they use. We don't use dit da jow. We also don't condition the hands. In our version, the hand came up further in the air - but the landing was that same 'no force' or 'soft' looking manner, very very similar, I think. And of course, the tiniest woman in the dojo broke two on her first try; most of us were required to try three or more. I failed at three, but several in the class did four or five, and had never broken before or at most once before. Sensei did three with the back of his hand, and to my knowledge, he does not do makiwara or anything like that to condition his hands.
 
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Bill Mattocks

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This guy shows one version that looks like what we were doing - he calls it the 'palm drop' method. He does it standing, but notice the arm looks like an elephant's trunk going up and then down in a relaxed manner.

 
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Tez3

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Yeah, I see your point. Next time, I'll use my forehead.

Don't even joke! My instrcutor will break concrete roof tiles, in piles of ten on bricks (not sure if you have the same things as we do?) for charity fund raising, we don't do it otherwise and one time I said jokingly you should break them with your head, so he did, I was horrified though he just laughed and didn't seem any the worse, well no worse than usual any way! Really wouldn't suggest anyone normal does it though!

 

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Craig Pumphrey demonstrated this in a nat geo show where he broke a stack of concrete tiles (dozen or so) with his head while wired up with accelero meters.

After all the measurements were analysed, they basically showed that IF you do it correctly, you will not be harmed at all because your head doesn't decelerate. It all boils down to having perfect technique and NO fear that would make you 'pull' your shot.

The kicker is that if your technique is not perfect or you pull back out of fear, you won't break all the bricks. Then, your head comes to a sudden stop and the energy bounced back into your skull and you basically get the effects you'd expect from slamming your head into a pile of concrete :)
 
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Bill Mattocks

Bill Mattocks

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Well, it's been awhile, but we did soft breaks in the dojo again tonight. This time, I broke two 2 inch pavers stacked on top of each other in a 'soft break'. I tried for three, but again could not quite do it. The one on the bottom cracked, though. Next time for sure.
 

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