I've always wanted to take karate lessons for basically just one reason - the board breaking. I never really understood what happened to one's body that allowed them to gain the super powers that enabled the average hand to break the formidable, structurally sound, wooden board. To this day I'm still yet to take my first karate class, but I have been able to answer that question none the less...and, the answer is...absolutely nothing! Board breaking is pretty darn easy, and in my opinion, just about anyone can do it.
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.***
Wide pine boards are the most readily available, inexpensive, and consistent type of wooden boards to break.
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.
The person holding the board is just about as important as the person breaking it - try holding your own board and breaking it - very difficult to do - need a mutant third hand!
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.
This is the most important step, but also the simplest.
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.
When both the board holder and the board breaker are set and ready, tense your arm and move your hand forward with as much force as you can and break through the board as if you were going to punch something that's just a few inches behind the board itself and deliver the strike.
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.
As I said before, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to break a wooden board. Everyone who tried to break a board in the Instructables office was able to do it, regardless of size, gender, and arm strength.
Once you've mastered simple board breaking with your hand, it could be time to try some 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.
As I wrote into the warning in the intro step, if you break boards with zero experience, it's likely that you'll eventually hurt yourself. I sure did.
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.