Friday, May 17, 2013

Tameshiwara - Testing A Martial Artist's Ability to Break Boards, Bricks, etc.

Arizona Tameshiwara - the Art of Breaking
The Phoenix sun rises high in the Arizona sky, daylight dominates the early Spring and Fall evening - it may be time for tameshiwara: the art of breaking

When I started training in karate in the early 1960s, most people in the US were uneducated in martial arts (most still are), and many had the wrong impression that breaking boards was the primary function of karate and jujutsu when this is actually a very minor aspect of martial arts. I think it was Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon who said, "boards don't strike back". Although not totally true, as most physicists would suggest boards do exert a force on the striking hand. Even so, breaking is a very minor part of karate.

I was told by my mother when I was very young that a person needed to develop callus on the side of their hand to develop a 'judo chop' by daily striking sand and gravel. She apparently had no training in martial arts

Shihan-Dai Kyle Gewecke, head instructor of the Gillette Wyoming Seiyo
Shorin-Ryu dojo, prepares to break rock at the University of Wyoming in
Laramie using a classical 'Judo chop' or 'Karate chop' known as "shuto
uchi" in Japanese.
It wasn't until Bruce Lee in the Green Hornet TV series in 1966 to 1967 that people began to take note of martial arts in the US, even though Mas Oyama had already toured the US taking on any and all fighters to demonstrate the effectiveness of karate 14 years earlier in 1952. I can still remember hurrying home after kyokusin kai karate classes at the Black Eagle Federation dojo next to my junior high school in Sugarhouse (SLC) to watch Kato do his incredible gung fu. At the time, I was studying Oyama's karate and knew of his encounters with bulls.

Years later, I watched David Caridine, a dancer, as he introduced us to the philosophy of martial arts from 1972 to 1975 in the Kung Fu TV series while I was working on graduate degrees in geology at the University of Utah and later at the University of New Mexico. It didn't matter all of the martial arts had to be filmed in slow motion for Caridine; this series was about the 'do' of martial arts - the path, which separates traditional martial arts from lookalike fighting systems like MMA that are not martial 'arts'. I fell in love with karate and martial arts as a young kid. I wanted to be one of the best, so I tried to surround myself with the best in the world. First, Mas Oyama's karate (even though I never met Sosai Oyama), and years later by Dai-Soke Sacharnoski who I see as the best in the world today. I also trained with superstar - Tadashi Yamashita.

One of our greatest fears as men is taking one in
the nads. At a halftime martial arts demonstration
at the University of Wyoming, Sensei Donnette
Gillespie kicked me in the groin so hard that if felt
as if she lifted me off the ground - this was done
without any protective athletic cup or any other
When most of us think of fearless martial artists, we think of martial artists like Sosai Mas Oyama, Dai-Soke Sacharnoski, or Hanshi Kirby Roy. These three are incredible and stand alone, above all others in martial arts in the world today.
Back to breaking and karate in ArizonaTameshiwara is a very minor part of karate and practiced to assist in development of self-confidence. Many martial arts schools today use rebreakable boards - these may save some money, but they are nothing like good o' lumber, Spanish roofing tile, bricks and in particular, rocks. Even so, if they assist in self-confidence, they are serving a good purpose.

I’m also a geologist, so I know there are rocks willing to assist in our martial arts endeavor. Rocks are usually cheap, unless you live in the Phoenix valley. As a geologist, I think it is great people pay huge sums of money for landscaping rocks and for boulders. Where I come from (Wyoming), rocks are free; so to see people pay for these was a surprise.

When I was a research geologist and kyoju no budo (professor of martial arts) at the University of Wyoming from 1977 to 2007, I would typically head to the field behind my house to search for stream-worn limestone to fill the back of my pickup with these rocks for spring classes at the university. Prior to some of our half-time basketball martial arts demonstrations at the university, I would head to the university quarry north of town (a location where stone bulding blocks were cut for buildings at the university) to collect slabs of rock to break with my head to entertain the Wyoming community. One thing about rocks: it is the martial artist against Mother Nature - and you just never know who is going to win because each rock is different and some will fight to the end to keep a martial artist from breaking it.
University of Wyoming tameshiwara (breaking of rocks), or what I like to
call, Geology 101, or Introduction to Geology for Martial Arts Majors.
Rocks in the Phoenix Valley are different from limestones in Laramie. Limestone is Mother Nature's concrete - its what concrete is made from and a very good medium for breaking. In the Phoenix area, the great majority of rocks are rhyolites, andesites and basalts. Volcanic rocks can be finicky due to their porphyritic texture (rocks with both little and large crystals). For the times I teach tameshiwara for my students from Chandler, El Mirage, Gilbert, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe, I generally search the Salt River flood plain for rocks. If I get out of town on one of my prospecting ventures for gold, I always take a geological map to look for areas with limestone, sandstone, slate or quartzite and bring home a pile of rocks.

I once thought about picking up samples of kimberlite (one of the host rocks for diamond) when I was at the University of Wyoming, so our karate club could suggest we might have cleaved a diamond during rock breaking - but never did. With all of the many tiny microdiamonds in the matrix of the Colorado-Wyoming kimberlites, who knows? 
Breaking Spanish roofing tile in 1976 in Las Cruces New
Mexico. I found roofing tile to be a great medium for breaking
for karate demos.
If you have never tried breaking rocks, it is recommended you seek a qualified instructor of martial arts who has - otherwise, it is likely you will end up in the emergency room to get your hand reset. Any attempt at breaking rocks can (and likely will) result in breaking your hand (or head) if you do not have proper training and instruction. So, get some good martial arts training and hopefully, you will not break anything other than the rock or a board.

George Chakmakian, petroleum engineer and shodan, breaks his first rock at the University
of Wyoming.

Breaking cinder blocks at the University of New Mexico

Breaking tile with bare knuckles at New Mexico State University.

Donnette Gillespie, 9th kyu white belt, breaks her first rock in 1977 at the Laramie
Bushido dojo.

Arizona Martial Arts Instructor and Geologist inducted into two Halls of Fame. The photo shows a folded specimen of gneiss - a rock type that is usually not very good for breaking.

University of Wyoming martial artist inducted
into Hall of Fame
University Professor inducted into National Black Belt Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame induction for Mesa Martial Artist
Letter from the President to Arizona and Wyoming martial arts professor
University Karate Club one of the best martial arts programs!
Karate Professor Inducted into World Karate Union Hall of Fame

Karate Instructor awarded "Grandmaster of the Year"

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