The Quick & Dirty Guide to Tameshiwari: Breaking Stuff the Karate Way

By Jesse | 21 Comments

The crowd in the shopping mall went silent…

All you could hear was the Rocky soundtrack (Eye of The Tiger) playing in the background, as I stood on the stage and slowly pulled my elbow back in preparation for breaking the slab of fake concrete in front of me.

Tameshiwari

My inner sensei was speaking to me: “Pretend to focus, Jesse-san… it must look like it’s really hard to pull this off. Remember to add a loud kiai to make it even more spectacular. This should get you tons of chicks for sure… a few seconds more… NOW!”

HAIYAAA!!!

BAM!

*pieces of fake concrete flying all over the place*

WOHO!!! *crowd screams*

And that’s the story of how I instantly got 20 new member to our Karate club, like ten years ago or something. Easily.

By doing a super fake tameshiwari (breaking) demonstration for an unsuspecting audience of youngsters at the local mall.

And you can do it too.

Tameshiwari, the act of breaking stuff (like ice, wood, bricks, concrete, roof tiles and such) is something all people immediately recognize as Karate. Perhaps most famous in the style of Kyokushin (full contact Karate), tameshiwari is a surefire way to impress even your half blind granny, since it’s such a visually impressive feat understood by everyone.

Perfect for demos and/or bachelor parties.

Well… unless you do it the real way.

You see, as with everything in life, tameshiwari isn’t all black and white. It’s not just breaking or not breaking. It’s also about how, what and why you break stuff. And in general, there can be said to be two main categories of tameshiwari.

A quick definition would be something like:

     1. Real tameshiwari

Real tameshiwari is the kind you don’t want to be doing unless you are a bit crazy. Popularized by the founder of Japanese Kyokushin Karate, namely Masutatsu Oyama, it involves few safety measures (except your (hopefully) super hardened body) and is more a test of will power, physical strength, technique, lunacy and mental focus than anything else.

In fact, real tameshiwari is considered such an awesome feat that it is actually an official part of Kyokushin-kai tournaments, where participants are known to break practically every bone in existence during their unforgiving hunt for the gold medal. The more boards you break, the bigger the chances are of winning. As unglamorous as it may sound though, real tameshiwari practitioners are some of the most respected people you’ll meet in Kyokushin circles, as they are known for being almost superhuman.

Real tameshiwari is just as genuine, and just as hard, as it looks.

Mas Oyama, breaking some serious stuff.

   2. Fake tameshiwari

Fake tameshiwari, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. A real crowd pleaser indeed, this type of breaking is 100% pure entertainment and showing off. Truth be told, the pursuit of more and more spectacular ways of breaking stuff has created a whole industry centered around (easily) breaking stuff in front of roaring crowds; with baseball bats made of balsa wood, hollow blocks of concrete and ice, fake movie glass (a.k.a sugar glass), pre-cracked boards and other dubious martial arts products as result. The bigger the object to break – and the more it shatters – the better it is.

The most famous practitioners of this “sport” are often holders of several suspicious “world records” in various forms, yet often they prove to be better at special effects than actual martial arts…

Kids - don't try this at home.

[Fun side note: The forbidden technique in UFC of downward elbows is a direct consequence of these fake tameshiwari demonstrations. As the story goes, a member of the Nevada Athletic Commission (they regulate the rules of MMA, including the UFC) once witnessed a breaking demonstration where some Karate guy used a downward elbow strike to shatter a seriously respectable amount of ice. The commission man was so convinced that he had just bore witness to such a deadly technique that from that day onwards the act of dishing out downward elbow strikes became totally forbidden in MMA leagues like the UFC. The fun thing is, it still is! Ha!]

So now that you know about the two main categories of tameshiwari, let’s pretend you actually want to try your hands (or feet!) at this thing.

Where to begin? How to do it? I’ll attempt to give a brief walkthrough of the most important aspects when it comes to breaking, whether your purpose is for grading (many schools require tameshiwari for black belt), demonstration, tournament or just as a fun pastime activity.

Choose Your Weapon Wisely.

There are more risky ways of doing tameshiwari, and there are less risky ways of doing tameshiwari. The degree of riskiness is closely associated with what part of the body you choose as your weapon for the breaking. Safe choice? Stomp. Preferably with shoes on. The feet are made for walking, jumping and stomping on things, and will therefore be easy for anyone to quickly master.

However, if that’s not impressive enough, elbow and knee comes in second  – although Mother Nature definitely did not design neither elbows nor knees to be used for breaking things.

A little higher on the riskiness scale we find the fist. And unless you know what you’re doing, keep it closed. A strong hand is a closed hand. Hammerfist is recommended over straight punch (seiken) all day every day.

Lastly, the exotic classic of slamming your forehead into a stack of bricks isn’t as stupid as it initially seems, since the cranium is surprisingly tolerant to resistance – but it’s nevertheless attached to your neck, which isn’t the strongest of bodyparts.

Unless you nickname is The Machine.

(Don’t) use your head, okay?

Stiffness = Success.

An often overlooked factor in tameshiwari is the stiffness of both the material you’re about to break – wood, concrete, ice, etc. – as well as the floor.

Judo mats? Springs under the floor? Grass? Check it out.

These are the things that can make or break (haha!) any tameshiwari attempt. If your force is absorbed by a soft or bendable material, things have a tendency to *not* break as they should.

And believe me, I’ve seen too many demonstrations of Uechi-ryu stylists in Okinawa trying to desperately break baseball bats over and over again to know that it’s just as embarassing for the onlookers as it is for yourself.

Don’t be that guy.

Always make sure everything is as rigid and stiff as possible, before you try chopping anything to pieces.

Comprende?

Stack Like a Pro.

Dead easy.

The more bricks you break, the cooler it looks. We all know that. But, there’s an astronomic difference between cracking boards stacked directly on top of each other versus cracking boards stacked with some space between each layer. Obviously, the same goes for bricks, roof tiles, ice and anything else you might want to break.

You need space between the layers.

Why? Because if you stack the material without spaces the degree of difficulty will double for every level you add(!), whereas the difference in difficulty of breaking five, ten or twenty boards will be hardly noticeable if you divide the boards with space between.

In classic Kyokushin tameshiwari they stack the boards without space, and thus five or six boards is around maximum even for elite Kyokushin-ka! However, slide in a couple of small dividers between the boards and suddenly something magical happens: you can easily triple the height of your stack – making for a considerably more impressive show!

With really high stacks it might even become easier to do the breaking when you have space between, since the weight of the top layers will aid you in breaking the rest as you chop down.

In conclusion, spaces are your friends.

Wood, Ice or Bricks?

Choosing material is super important.

  • A very easy and cool choice is ice. It’s cheap too. All you need is a semi big freezer and some time. The advantages of breaking ice are obvious: It looks harder than it actually is, it’s unconventional (compared to bricks and boards), it’s technically uncomplicated to make and it looks quite spectacular when it shatters. Also, you can use pretty thin slices of ice (½ inch or 1-2 cm is enough), since it looks almost as impressive as thicker slices would.
  • Wood is another favorite. But the hard part about wood is finding the right type. Boards are traditionally made for resisting force, and the sad truth is that most boards can easily resist even your mightiest Karate chop, Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kicks included. Indeed, during the 80’s golden days of tameshiwari, many people were known to break both fists and feet in naïve attempts at breaking boards that were either not stiff enough or not dry enough (wet boards = bad idea). Also, it goes without saying that you should never break against the grain! Look at the fibre before attempting anything stupid.
  • Roof tiles are hardcore. The good news is that they’re not really meant to be punched at, while the bad news is that they have a weird surface that will make the force of your blow spread unevenly over the tile. Therefore “judo chops” (shuto) are preferred when it comes to roof tiles. Also, for all you cheaters out there; you can leave the roof tiles in the sun for a couple of days and bake them to make them easier to break. I’m just sayin…
  • Bricks are seriously hardcore. I mean, hey – there’s a reason houses and walls are built using them. However, there’s an old trick to use when it comes to breaking bricks. Simply place your fingers under one side of the brick, and just as you’re about to hit the brick you flip it up a little and hit it with your other hand, making it smack against the surface below. Boom. Broken. Easy. Peasy. Also, lighter bricks are easier to break in general, so choose those.
  • Stones, coconuts, skeleton craniums… These are super badass. Especially the last one. I mean, a cranium?! C’mon! How cool isn’t that? I doubt your local authorities would approve though… Stones are hard or easy depending on what kind of stone, and coconuts are nice since you can drink the content. I prefer water melons though. Or pineapples. Then get some booze and turn it into a Piña Colada as grand finale.

Go For It, Champ!

To you sceptics out there who believe tameshiwari has nothing to do with real Karate, consider this: In no other area of the martial arts do you get such a direct measurement of your mental powers, your full commitment, as in tameshiwari.

Seasoned tameshiwari guys will tell you this all the time, that it’s 90% psychological and 10% physical.

It’s in your head.

Whether you believe you can do it or you believe you can’t do it, most likely you will be right.

Spectacular techniques aside, real tameshiwari is all about having the guts to mentally commit to your attack – not allowing doubt to enter your brain for even a split second. Hesitate and your health could be in serious trouble, because something has to break.

Don’t become that something.

Go for it.

No mercy.

Words of Warning.

Breaking should be fun. It should look awesome. But there are no supernatural talents at play here. Not even Mas Oyama, legendary founder of Kyokushinkai Karate and arguably the biggest influence in spreading tameshiwari throughout the world, was a superman. Although he did chop the horns off of ferocious bulls… (who some believe were drugged!).

Use common sense.

Take care of your body and remember to always be safe rather than sorry.

Despite all tricks and fake tameshiwari products out there, even the most innocent attempt can go horribly wrong if a piece of the puzzle is forgotten. Use your head.

Be awesome.

Now go break something!

About the author

Jesse Enkamp is a Karate Nerd™, #1 Amazon best-selling author, national team athlete and founder of Seishin - the world's first crowdfunded & crowdsourced gi. He thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

21 Comments

  1. Jim

    August 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Hey there Jesse, good stuff, my style does not break, after this article i am still not so sure they should either. Its one thing to commit to an act with the knowledge that what you are doing can and will result in a lot of force, but the question is where would the practical application be. Unlike Kata which you have pretty much championed i am not so sure i see that here. Still the article is pretty useful for when i do understand :-)

  2. Te'o

    August 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Okay, speaking of breaking…here’s the best. The other day I saw an ad in the paper for a karate school, NOT mine, and their introductory offer. $9.95 get you a new uniform and two free classes. After the two free classes they “test” you and part of this is breaking a board. You have then “earned” your white belt and are now eligible for some really fantastic offers. I really couldn’t believe this, so I recruited my 8 year old daughter and her friend and we went down. I paid the tuition and watched the “lessons” They consisted of a front punch, a shuto, a horse stance, and how to kiai. They were told to practice and we came back for the “test.” They did a few punches and shutos into a focus mitt, then demonstrated a horse stance. Then came the “breaking” of the board. The “board” was a piece of pine that was 10″ wide by 4″ tall and 1/4″ thick. The “sensei”, who was like 16 years old, was bending the board so much I thought it would break from that alone. Anyways…the girls broke the boards with a loud kiai, I complemented the sensei on their marketing strategy, and politely declined the offer. Pretty funny what some people do.

    • Jesse

      August 16, 2011 at 7:42 pm

      Interesting marketing strategy indeed!

    • Jim

      August 18, 2012 at 2:53 am

      If it’s anything like my dojo, the bars are set WAY differently for children than adults (to the extent that you usually have to start over in the ranks when you go up an age category). The reason is that adults and children go into it for different reasons: adults join because they want to learn self-defense, maybe stay in shape, learn a way of life etc. Kids join because their parents want them to have fun and learn to behave themselves (basically, anybody under the age of 13 is going to a finishing school moreso than a dojo). Since there are different priorities, they don’t really care if your 8 year old can strike with any force. Had you taken the offer, I’d be willing to bet those guys would have done things a bit differently- though if they’re having students do breaks after just two classes, maybe not!

  3. Raddon

    August 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    I think the trouble with breaking is that doesn’t necessarily give a true estimation of your striking power. Virtually all breaking is done with hard but brittle materials. As was mentioned in the article, you don’t want any ‘give’ in your target, which is exactly what the human body has. Punching through concrete is considerably easier than punching through rubber, after all. Different techniques are required depending on the target. For example, striking something like the jaw or the nose lends itself much better to a whip-like strike where deep penetration isn’t an issue (similar to most tameshigiri), whereas a strike to the stomach generally requires much more in the way of thrusting penetration (more similar to hitting pads).
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the development of any skill whether it’s practicle or not, and tameshigiri IS a cool skill. And, as was mentioned, the mental aspects are laudable. I just feel that few people recognise the disparity between the physics of striking a human and the physics of striking hard but brittle materials like wood & tiles.
    I’ve hit just about every material & striking surface known to man, and I can honestly say that if you want to develop truly effective striking power, the good ol’ fashioned humble heavy-bag (punch bag) is king.

    • Joel R.

      August 17, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      I am afraid I would have to disagree with you. I have done an immense amount of iron body training and board breaking conditioning and I have never once broken a knuckle in a street fight (which I have had more than my share of).
      I have lived out the full practicality of this, and I know the usefulness of being conditioned.
      Breaking bricks is a totally different feat than punching a heavy bag for an hour.

  4. jaybee5

    August 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    It’s amazing what the human body can put up with
    Check out this video @ about the 2 minute mark.

    http://vimeo.com/12113203

  5. Francis Duguay

    August 17, 2011 at 1:16 am

    I used to practice and teach goju-ryu. I had always tought of Kyokushin as ”false karate” and of breaking as ”useless on the (almighty and fearfull) streets”.
    Untill the day I actually decided to join a kyokushin club. the montreal’s seibukai kyokushin club in fact.
    Do you know what I learned? Breaking is awesome! Breakins, makiwara, and hojo-undo all are awesome.
    You don’t understand why? Get punched in the face, for real. Not a jodan seiken tsuki that you are all so well used to block and dodge. No. A simple, form-less punch, in a fight with someone that is mad at you and stronger than you. That hurts.
    And then punch him.
    I guarantee you, it is super nice to be well-trained.
    Yes, breaking is only a test. Every form of training need a form of testing, and training ROCKS.
    so does breaking.
    Breaking rocks.
    Sure, the board won’t hit you back.Nor will they hop around.
    But nor will your opponent punch you in the face in a kyokushin tournament. (thus fucking up a lot of combat realism)
    Nor will your opponent display any kind of combat realism in a point-fighting kumite. ( no, people do not actually die because you touch them. You are not that deadly)
    But they are all great test of skills.
    Kumite and Tameshiwari are not real fighting simulacre and or not meant to be that.
    They are ways of testing both your mind and body.
    Ways of testing your training.
    Have a nice day everyone

  6. Low man on the totem pole

    August 17, 2011 at 2:09 am

    Thanks for the fun article. Many many many many years ago when I was younger and less wide, I remember testing for my 2nd dan in TKD and having to break. We didn’t have tiles so I had to go through wood. I had broke several times before in multiple tests throughout the years, but this time I wanted to get a high score. That day I broke 5 1″ thick pine boards with a downward punch and the same number with a back kick. I remember the next day my hand was a very discernable shade of purplish-pink. Never did it again, but I think I still hold the record for itin the class. Its fun, but like you said, if the factors aren’t there and you aren’t on your game in regards to technique and power, you’d better hold off. I’ve seen way to many injuries as a result of poor technique and power control from trying to break.

    Great article!

    • mahmood

      January 29, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      next time ,it is better for you to use some DIT DA JOW, RUB ON YOUR HAND after every 15 minutes ,when you train on the makiwara

  7. ANDREY TAMPA FL.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

    OSHU !!!

    VERY INTERESTING !!

    PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THOSE OLD

    BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO COME FROM PLEASE ?

    THANKS

    ANDREY…

  8. ANDREY TAMPA FL.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:05 am

    OSHU !

    TEAM BUNKAI ANAN IS GREAT CONGRATS.

    THIS IS PURE KARATE.

    IT IS A GREAT MOTIVATION.

    SORRY I HAVE TO G TO TRAIN.

    THANKS

    ANDREY…OSHU !!!

  9. Mukesh

    August 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Jesee-San
    I had stumbled your blog some time back and am on a reading spree and truly enjoying your insights into karate/ Kobudo and your fun writing style. mmm… and I’am loving it. Thanks…….
    Have restarted karate after 8 years a white belt as advised in your other article (although before reading it).

  10. Fatihsan

    August 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I can’t think of a moment in time where I need to perform this movement Tameshiwari in daily life. It’s kind of silly, if you think about it.

    • Viking

      August 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      In english it is now called late night shopping. Front kick to the shop window has been demonstrated clearly on the news. I was always taught to bring the foot back on the same line so it didn’t get cut.

      Road rage; to the car window when they won’t listen to you.

      Construction when you want to leave the bricks in one piece and use them again.

      Locked out, split door etc etc

  11. Szilard

    August 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Tameshiwari was part only my very first year of training, which was basically an army stile kyo training. Well, I was a draftee in the army, and the trainer was into kyoukushin karate. We did first roof tile breaking, no space between them. But it turned out to be rather expensive, the trainer had to stay in budget, so he came up with a better idea: break single hanging tiles: no support, we break less at a time. You have to be really focused. For beginners we used prepared tiles: overnight on low heat, that would be 200F, will stiffen up the tile, and it will become very fragile.
    There is a trick to this kind of breaks. Soon we were breaking too easily too many tiles at a time, so my trainer again came up with a new idea.
    There were 2 types of tiles on the market: one that is about as thick as you palm, and the other is like a mm thick, I think it is called slate. So he took one real tile, and put a slate behind it, and he used matches as spacers. This means there was about 1-2mm space between the two tiles. The front tile is difficult to break, the back tile breaks very easily. He hanged it on the same old rope harness we used for the previous set of breaks, and the successful break was when the front tile broke, but the back tile did not.
    I just loved this one.
    The thing is hanging, there is no support, so you have to focus. And when you hit you can not go through it. Just hit really focused and KIME. Freeze. full body freeze or kime will help a lot to save the second tile. You have to start completely relaxed, hit really fast with a really tight fist and in a very short distance get in a completely rigid hard stop. Noobs broke lots of slate, so soon he replaced them with a sheet of paper, which can tear just from the fragments of the tile, so I didn’t really like that solution, but the slate version is awesome.
    Unfortunately however satisfying this exercise is, it does not have much of a show value. You break a single tile, and the second one doesn’t even break, it is not much to look at.
    As far as show value is concerned, when 5 guys are holding the slab you are going to break, that kinda emphasizes your strength. Breaking the same thing when it hangs from a rope, has much less show value, even if it is way more difficult to do.
    And as a final comment here is my favorite tameshiwari video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwB4vYTr23g

  12. warrioress

    August 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    We’ve never practiced tameshiwari at our dojo, but I remember an occasion 3 years ago when we had a watermelon and no knife…

  13. Joe Akrazo

    September 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Regardless of spacing when breaking wood, you always want the grain of the wood going down. Breaking against the grain of the wood increases the difficulty of the break. Also type of wood determines ease of break. Pine is a good practice wood.

    Same goes for bat tameshiwari. Break at the skinniest part of the bat and always break with the grain of the wood. Type of wooden bat also determines degree of difficulty. Pine wood bats are much easier to break than ash.

    Finding a good holder for tameshiwari is just as important and was not outlined here.

  14. Dave

    September 14, 2011 at 5:55 am

    I remember my Sensei back in the 80s saying words to the effect of; “when building materials start to attack me i will learn to destroy them!…in the meantime, i will concentrate on defending against people…” too funny! i take the point about commitment and technique though.

  15. Cleo

    May 24, 2013 at 2:48 am

    You could certainly see your expertise in the article you write.

    The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

  16. Athena

    August 3, 2014 at 5:20 am

    I am not sure where you’re getting your info, but great topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.

    Thanks for great information I was looking for this info for my mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image
Enter Code*:

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Question: Do you feel like you're struggling with Karate too much?
LET ME HELP YOU IMPROVE TODAY.

I've written a free report titled "25 Karate Hacks" that I'm ready to send to you. It's based on real scientific research from my travels around the world, guaranteed to intelligently help you fix the following:

  • Improve your Karate & boost dojo performance.
  • Increase training motivation & avoid stupid injuries.
  • Feel worthier of your belt & train smarter (not harder).
Okay! Where should I send the free 25 Karate Hacks?

Enter your email address below and I will send it to you immediately.

You rock!
Check your inbox soon.