So this happened on January 18th:

“Are you excited?”

The sweet, outgoing eleven-year-old girl with blonde hair and braces smiled up at me. We were hiding out in the corner of a large gym preparing for our first tournament of the year and the first time either of us had competed in board breaking. As I often am, I was lost in my own head as I popped my legs into snap kicks and stretches.

“Very,” I said. “Breaking boards is so fun.” She nodded and mimed through her routine with our coaches.

She’d asked me if I was excited about board breaking before during class, and once again it pulled me out of my busy, choo-choo-train brain and reminded me of my ultimate goal for board breaking…and taekwondo really…and life if you want to split philosophical hairs about it–was to have fun.

I agreed to try board-breaking in our locally-hosted tournament for the sheer hell of it. Why not? It would be nice to have a few people representing our school since we were hosting the tournament, and it’s not like I’ve never broken boards before. I was skeptical about how well I’d do since we only had about three weeks to plan and the Christmas holidays in the middle of it. Even though I am sometimes game for spontaneous ventures, my need to and comfort with thorough planning often nudges my anxiety up.

I joked with my Master that I might very well get a bug for competing, but she shouldn’t hold her breath since my time and money are going towards other things this year.

This little spontaneous venture was a good exercise in maintaining perspective. In the middle of “worrying” about, or okay, we’ll say “dealing with” or “handing” a somewhat demanding full-time job, keeping up a household, my third dan test looming at the end of this year, and a published book looming soon after, it was really nice to focus on something so simple and pure and, in the big scheme of things, fairly easy. I’m greatful my little classmate reminded me of what I need to be doing more often: getting excited about having fun!

Breaking board is really fun, and we taekwondo students don’t get to to do it very often. We spar, do lots of kicking and striking drills, practice poomsae, and work on self-defense techniques regularly, but how often do we get to practice breaking? It’s a big testing requirement along with the other four major techniques. We might do target practice for “whenever you’re testing,” but how often do we get to break honest-to-God pine boards? For black belts who wait years between testing, we don’t get very many opportunities to truly practice breaking.

And breaking is so cathartic.

So, with the help of my coaches, we came up with a routine that was somewhat challenging but not too risky for my first time competing:
1. Spinning knife hand strike (I had tried and failed this at my second dan test, so this one was weighing more heavily on me)
2. Right hand punch
3. Jump snap kick
4. Spin kick
5. Jump roundhouse
6. Flying roundouse
7. Elbow
8. Jump roundhouse
9. Jump back kick
10. Flying snap kick

I was nervous about the jump back kick. My kick has improved a lot over the last two years, but I’d never broken with it before. I kept missing it when I was practicing with my coach. But when I did finally hit it, it was solid and consistent. I just needed to get it on that first try…or at least the second try.

So back to the tournament–I was excited! I was also a little nervous, but not too much. It was that same feeling I’d gotten when breaking at tests: okay, deep breath, just like you’ve practiced it a dozen times, here we go…

My heart started pounding a little faster when my coaches and I bowed and marched to the middle of the ring. They set up the stations as I grimly gazed forward at the three judges. Here we go…

“Okay, loud ki-yahp!” my coach whispered to me as he steadied the first board.


I nailed the knife hand! YEEEESSS! I’d finally made up for my second dan test flub! This IS fun! I happily punched through the second board and popped up into my trusty left-foot snap kick, my favorite kick. SNAP!

And then there was my one and only ground kick–spin kick, which took a long time for me to get right and hasn’t been super consistent over the years. But it’s a trusty kick for breaking, and I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to–



THUNK. Oh…okay. I was a little disappointed that it was a dud on both tries, but I didn’t let that stop me. I glared at the next board in front of me, skipped into a jump kick, and then broke into a run for my flying roundhouse kick. POP! POP! Elbow–CRACK! Jump roundhouse–POW!

And then came the jump back kick. Deep breath, line up your shoulders, keep your body compact, just like you practiced…


YESSSSS!!!! I was so happy about nailing that jump back kick that it almost felt anti-climactic to finish with the flying snap kick.

I had pretty good scores: 7.9, 8.3, and 8.8. One of the judges complimented me on my technique and said she was really happy to see a woman doing breaking. I didn’t have anyone to compete against since I was the only adult and only black belt in a small tournament, but that didn’t bother me. When I did long-distance running I was very competitive against my own scores, so now I had a baseline.

As for the spin kick–meh. It didn’t bum me out the way my missed knife hand did for my second dan test. That really got to me and took a while to get over. I hope I can face more disappointments and upsets the way I did with my missed spin kick–let it go immediately and keep fighting.

…and I got the bug for it. I want to do more tournaments. I’ve already come up with some ways to tweak my routine–more complicated flying kicks, weirder hand strikes. I want some stiff competition from other adult black belts. I want to try tricky breaks that I’ve never done before. I want push my body and my athleticism while I still have the ability to fly. And winning gold at the nationals tournament in July wouldn’t be bad either.

It sure was fun.

How often do we get caught up in our “busy” lives that we forget to have fun? How often do we catch the Chicken Little syndrome that is so pervasive in American workplaces even though what most people deal with at work are rarely life and death? (That’s why I like working with ER physicians. They have the best perspectives of all.) How often do we take everything so freaking seriously? It’s kind of ridiculous when you stop and think about it.

There is room in your life for fun, even if you have to force yourself to remember it at first. It’s not always going to be amusement parks and taekwondo tournaments. Sometimes we just have to change our perspective from one of drudgery and dread to one of gratitude.

In my last post, I talked about a longing to take risks, because they seemed alluring and fun. I see that in my future over the time few months. It seems like that’s my catch phrase lately at work and in taekwondo: “I’ve never done it before, so let’s just try it and see what happens.”

I think this is going to be a fun year.


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Stay tuned for my upcoming book – “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!

4 thoughts on “Don’t Forget to Have Fun (and Breaking Boards is HELLA Fun)

  1. I’m interested. This sounds really cool. We do things differently. For your tests you increase in the amount of boards and technique with one technique and sometimes two. Tournaments, you compete in black belt or advanced black belt with a maximum of two breaks. It is also broken down by gender. So if a woman breaks five boards with an advanced kick only, she could potentially score higher than someone breaking two boards with two techniques. How does your school do it?

    1. I think the 2020 USAT rules have gone down to a max of 10. Recently it was at 30 which was ridiculous. People were just gaming the system—they might break 30 boards but with crappy, easy techniques because each board added points. Someone who did fewer boards but with good technique didn’t stand a chance. (And it’s a money making racket since you have to buy the boards). I think lowering the number will force people to apply better and more thoughtful technique. At my old school for testing it got up to about 3 for color belt, and I did 5 for my 2nd dan. They do a lot at my new school for black belt tests. I might have to do between 10-15.

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