Correcting mistakes

Board Breaking Tips

One of the things I love most about Taekwon-Do practitioners is their unique openness to trying new things despite potential failures. Not the least of which is our exposure when demonstrating a board break at a test.

Everyone wants to break on the first attempt (including the holders!) All eyes are upon you as you stand there staring at those boards knowing you just have to hit it hard in the center, but knowing there is the risk for failure. Missing on the first attempt can be embarrassing and even physically painful. Then, one begins to feel disappointed in oneself, especially if the board holders were injured in the process.

Having had more than my fair share of failures in Taekwon-Do, board breaking and otherwise, I decided to share some words of encouragement and also explain how to use your mistakes and failures to become a better practitioner.

At our last test, I decided to give a demonstration and failed to break the boards on the first (and second) attempt. The poor gentlemen holding boards for me claimed dislocated thumbs and other serious injuries as a result. I’m very grateful for their trust and support and it is in honor of their spirit and sacrifice that I decided I must “go to the video tape” to make sure it doesn’t happen again. (This idea was inspired by Master Paul Hoppe’s book, “Way of the Poker Warrior”)  As the images below indicate, I made several physical mistakes. My technique was off. But I made a big mistake before I even took my first step. I failed to commit my mind to my success.

The last time I did a board break, it was 5 boards and I had never broken 5 boards before. But when I stepped up to do the break that day, I heard myself say out loud and in my head “I’m gonna smash these boards right now”. I felt it in my heart. I felt in my stomach. I didn’t just THINK it, I KNEW it. The result was success and I can’t lose the look of Ken’s face after I broke through. It was utter bewilderment as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Contrast that with the things that went through my mind this time: “I SHOULD be able to break 4 boards. I’ve done it before. It would be really embarrassing to fail in front of all these people. I’ll be fine. I’m sure I can do it.

Now, having a good attitude and confidence is a very significant part of successful board breaking, but no amount of confidence will overcome bad technique. After my second attempt, I knew that I was missing the proper extension. I hadn’t “stretched the rubber band” far enough to create the elastic snap needed to generate the speed and subsequent power. At this time, I also heard the enthusiastic and electric words of my teacher, Grandmaster Kim: “Just pick your knee up and KICK IT!”

Martial arts board break mistakes
Click on the image to see a larger view

At that point, I got a little mad and I decided there was no way I was going to miss a third time. I decided I would intentionally make my first motion stronger and faster and pick my knee up toward the target.

So, what can you take away from all of this? What does this teach us about mistakes? First and foremost, mistakes can and should be corrected whenever possible.

In order to correct the mistakes, you have to go backwards in time.
What was the mistake? I didn’t break the board.
Why didn’t I break the board? I didn’t hit the center.
Why didn’t I hit center? My knee wasn’t high enough.
Why wasn’t my knee high enough? I didn’t have enough speed.
Why didn’t I have enough speed? I didn’t elongate my leg and torsoe enough at the proper angle in order to cause the proper snap.
Why didn’t I elongate properly? I didn’t think to do it.
Why didn’t I think to do it? Because I didn’t commit to my success and I lacked confidence.
Why did I lack confidence? Because I hadn’t warmed up sufficiently or practiced diligently enough.

I think this method of thinking can be applied to all kinds of mistakes in our lives. Usually, we see only the last consequence, the unbroken boards and feel the pain. Sometimes, we see the prior event that led to the failure directly. Only by continuing to ask “and why did that happen?” can we trace back to the initial mistake and the subsequent mistakes made further on the journey.

Why did I lose my temper at work? I was upset.
Why was I upset? My boss took credit for my hard work.
Why did my boss take credit for my hard work? Because I didn’t sign my name to it…….

I urge you to take a look at something that happened to you recently which felt like a failure and ask yourself the “why” question 10 times. See if it provides any answers. I humbly offer my gratitude to Tom and Brian for agreeing to hold the boards for me and promise to be better prepared next time!

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