Monday, July 21, 2008

Breaking fun

The other day, we spent some time in class talking about the spear hand strike and other fingertip strikes. Fingertip strikes are amongst the legendary techniques, and among the few strikes that impress even the most skeptical of anti-breaking martial artists. We've often heard the tales of ancient masters plunging their hands into buckets filled with sand or beans to strengthen their hands and deaden their nerves to the pain.

Jack Hibbard's book Karate Breaking Techniques outlines similar strategies for refining the spear hand strike, but an especially helpful hint he gives is to practice with 3" strip boards instead of the full-sized board. Work your way through the increased resistance, and perhaps you too will one day break 4 boards with a spearhand strike.

One of my eager black belts was quick to follow this advice, and promptly brought in a stack of 3" strips for our yudanja to attempt. Knowing full well he didn't have access to a power saw, I asked where he had the cuts done. The gentleman at Home Depot did it for him. I'm sure that he was NOT particularly thrilled with that task!

A few of us decided to give it a shot and we all succeeded, at which point we had a 6" board to try. To his credit, the student who bought the wood was brave enough to attempt it. It didn't work out, but luckily his fingers bent in the correct direction, and no major injury was sustained. I didn't want his hand to look like that of Shinjo sensei of Uechi-Ryu fame (above.)

There's nothing worse than an unbroken board in class. It just silently mocks the group, questioning the ability of everyone. It needed to be broken for the good of the club. The question was how. To break it with an "easy" technique such as a kick or punch would not have been enough. A fingertip strike had to be used, but I was in no mood to break my hand!

I decided to try a technique I've used in sparring from time to time: a beak strike, or washide uchi as it is known in the Japanese arts. It's done as a sharp, whipping strike, and I felt I'd have better luck with it than a thrusting strike.

Luckily, it worked, but not without some discomfort. Specifically, it ripped a little bit of fingernail back. Oddly enough, Hibbard's advice about keeping the nails trimmed short rung true in my head about 30 seconds too late.

I really like the power in the Washide Uchi strike, since the fingers can press against each other for strength, and can deliver a sharp blow to a hard area such as the solar plexus, jaw, or temple. The small surface area of the strike penetrates very nicely as well.

In all, I was very glad to be successful. A missed break often carries a lot of psychological baggage with it, making you question the power of your strike. To know I could at least break something with it was a positive inroad for the development of this strike.
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