I asked a friend of mine who IS a karate master if we could break boards one day. She said sure, not asking if I had any karate experience...hmm, I guess she trusts me.
After rounding up some appropriate wooden boards and performing a few of those awkward slow motion "practice hits" where I visualized my hand going through the board, I was breaking boards left and right, at home just for fun, with friends at parties, and with the other members of the Instructables team at work.
I find the process of breaking boards to be far more pleasing than "hitting a pillow", which was my mothers suggestion of what I should do when I was a kid and wanted to break something. The rush from breaking the board never gets old, and when you can one-up other inexperienced board breakers by adding second, and dare I say third boards into the mix, well, the fun just never has to stop.
***Please use this Instructable at your own risk and thoroughly consider this warning. Although this Instructable encourages board breaking, and the author of this Instructable promotes all forms of board breaking by people with absolutely zero experience, all board breakers must understand that the risk of hurting yourself is real, probable, likely, and imminent. If you break boards with the kind of limited understanding of technique and safety that I have, and share in this Instructable, please be prepared for the possible outcome of broken fingers, wrists, hands, elbows, arms and heads.***
Step 1: Get Some Wood
Pine is a pretty soft wood, so it's a good wood to mess around with, if like me, you don't have any experience with this sort of thing. if you're looking for more of a challenge, try breaking a harder type of wood like oak, ash or walnut.
So, head on down to Home Depot and pick up a long length (96" for some real board breaking action) of 1" thick by 12" wide pine shelving. Crosscut the shelving into smaller lengths so that your finished boards are around 10" x 12". The size isn't crucial - anything in the ballpark will work.
Remember, actual dimensions of milled lumber are less then what they are sold for, so, just to be clear, the shelving that reads 1" thick on the tag, will actually be 3/4" thick when you measure it with a ruler.
This is an important point, since, if you're milling your own wood and attempt to karate chop through a 1" thick piece of wood that's actually 1" thick, it might be significantly more difficult.
Step 2: Get Set: the Board Holder
Hold the board out in front of you as tightly as you can. I've experimented with holding the grain both up and down and left to right, and as best I can tell, it doesn't make a difference either way.
Work with the person who is breaking the board to find the right angle and height that's comfortable for them. I've found that holding the board at chest height, with just an ever so slight upwards angle is best.
Next, lock your elbows and put your dominant foot in front and get ready to take a blow.
Finally, make sure that your fingers are curled around to the front hitting surface of the board as little as possible. Even though the board should be around 12" x 10", strikes don't always land in the dead center, and as the "try not to get hurt" video in step 10 shows, it's entirely possible to get a smashed finger.
Step 3: Get Set: the Board Breaker
Put your dominant foot forward and towards the board holder. Then, using your dominant hand/arm, hold your hand so that your fingertips are pointing towards the sky. The goal is to hit the board with the heel of your hand, delivering the blow with the soft fleshy parts of your palm, and not at all with your fingers. See the detail photos below.
Move your arm through the motion a few times so that your body can get used to the movement you are about to execute.
Once you feel like you've warmed up a bit and can visualize the heel of your hand hitting the center of the board and breaking through, pull your arm back one final time and gather your strength getting ready to break the board.
Step 4: Break One Board
This is one of those moments that's hard to put into words and much easier to see. Check out the video to get an idea of how the whole thing comes together and how simple and easy it can be.
Step 5: Experience the Rush
Breaking a board is pretty exciting and gives you a nice rush. I felt like I had the strength of a thousand bears and that my arms and hands we're actually deadly weapons!
Sarah is feeling the rush too.
Step 6: Screams and Kill Faces
Committal is the key I think.
In order to increase your level of commitment, try making a "kill face" as you're striking the board to increase your focus and summon more force.
If you still need even more encouragement, try releasing a small scream, yell, or inspirational word of your choice as you deliver the blow.
"Hi-ya" comes to mind...
Step 7: Babies Can Do It
It's so easy, that even babies can do it!
Step 8: Other Methods
There are ways to break boards with kicks, hand chops, elbows, knees, heads, and just about any body part you can imagine. Since I'm no expert though, I'll leave the explanation of these more difficult methods to a professional.
The reverse elbow blow pictured in the third photo below seemed to be the next best and easiest way to break one board. After consulting with my karate expert friend, I learned that the reverse elbow blow is actually more powerful then the heel of the hand blow, but it's just not quite as much fun or attractive, so I'm still sticking with the hand.
Luckily, if you've bought plenty of pine boards, you have enough wood lying around that you can try them all.
Step 9: Break Two Boards
So far, Eric N was the only person to successfully break more then just one board at Instructables HQ.
I have tried breaking two boards with my hand several times, but so far I haven't been able to get both boards to break.
Be warned, breaking two boards really does hurt - evidence of the pain can be seen in the video below and in the "try not to hurt yourself" video in the next step.
Step 10: Try Not to Hurt Yourself
To minimize injuries, practice just breaking one board at a time before moving on to two, and make sure that you're breaking boards that are large enough to protect your fingers. The smaller the board, the more likely it will be that your fingers will accidentally get whacked when your partner delivers their blow.
Furthermore, if you're going to start breaking multiple boards, or delivering other types of blows, consult more than just this overly simplified Instructable. I wrote this up because I wanted to share how invigorating and exciting breaking boards can be. It's by no means meant to be a complete guide that will enable you to become a karate master. For that, I think you've actually got to take the class.