Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Give Me a Break! Kids Breaking Boards

Have you ever broken a board? If you practice a Karate or Tae Kwon Do-related system, I assume the answer is yes. So what's the point, especially for kids?

In this post, part of my series on martial arts business practices, I will share why board breaking might be a tool for attracting and motivating younger martial artists, and perhaps even their families.

Several of the Martial Arts SuperShow (MASS) speakers talked about the power of board breaking, especially for kids. At the time of the show, I had little experience with the kids version of the exercise. I had only broken boards as an adult during my year in military intelligence school, when I studied Tae Kwon Do. I remembered thinking it was a fun exercise, and that I needed to pay close attention to placement and punching or kicking "past the board." So how could this be useful for kids?

The MASS business consultants discussed board breaking in several contexts. First, they offered four benefits for kids who break a board at some point in their practice:

1. Confidence. Boarding breaking can help instill the message "yes, I can." Just as you can succeed in breaking a board, you can succeed whenever you apply yourself and work hard.

2. Focus. A child breaking a board cannot succeed by hitting the board off-center. The same focus you exercise during board breaking can be applied when listening to parents or teachers.

3. Determination. Breaking a board requires the determination to succeed. A nonchalant attitude will not yield results inside or outside the dojo.

4. Follow-through. Kids can't stop short of the board and expect to break it. They have to power all the way through it. The same sense of follow-through will serve them well in life.

The second aspect of board breaking discussed at MASS was the family bonding experience. The MASS consultants recommended making the board breaking a family event. Ideally, one family member, say one parent, holds the board for the child. Another family member, perhaps another parent, sibling, or extended family member, records the event using smartphone video. The board breaking takes place on the dojo floor.

The key to the bonding experience is the parent seeing the child's face when he or she breaks the board for the first time. This can be a magical event for younger children. Of course, this exercise should be structured to help the child succeed. Use the appropriate equipment to ensure that a child of a given age, striking the board in the proper location, will break it without injuring himself or herself. This is not a military drill for adults, but a confidence-building exercise for children!

Furthermore, "family" board breaking invokes the power of getting the parents and/or siblings onto the dojo mat. Most people are intimidated by the dojo, and there is a psychological barrier of sorts separating the mat (or wood) floor from the waiting area. A board breaking exercise, whereby the family supports the young student by joining him or her on the mat, helps cross that psychological barrier. I will have more to say about this phenomenon in future posts.

The third and final aspect of board breaking involves attracting new students. This aspect was completely foreign to me, but it made a big impact. The MASS consultants discussed board breaking as a tool to capture the interest and imagination of prospective students. They shared how board breaking could be used at booths and demos. They discussed using board breaking at school visits and birthday parties. I will have more to say about this when discussing those events in detail, but apparently board breaking can be a compelling tool for grabbing the attention of prospective child martial artists.

At this point you may have several objections. Maybe you've read Board Breaking Tips: How Anyone Can, Why Nobody Should. That post documents how board breaking can be a demotivating experience, and how some can see it as a fraudulent activity. To me, it depends, like so many aspects of the martial arts, on what you are trying to achieve.

Consider the point of view of a child, aged between 6 and 10 years old. The idea of putting a fist through a piece of wood, of any kind, can seem intimidating! Successfully breaking a board takes faith, trust, and belief, three concepts emphasized by Krav Maga Global founder Eyal Yanilov -- faith in the system, trust in the instructors, and belief in yourself. Breaking a board is a tangible representation of those concepts.

Since attending MASS, I've seen the power of board breaking for children in my family life. My nine year old daughter is training in Tae Kwon Do, and she broke her first board last month. She recognized that she was not demolishing granite slabs, but she was still scared. She was thrilled when done! She did not know she could accomplish that feat. These are the sorts of progressive steps that build the four benefits mentioned earlier.

A final objection may be that your system doesn't break boards. In my case, board breaking is not a part of Krav Maga, or Kung Fu, or Filipino Martial Arts. However, as a motivational tool for children, as an instructor I would consider introducing it into the curriculum for the reasons outlined here.

What is your perspective on children breaking boards?

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