Breaking Bricks And Life’s Other Obstacles

by Marc Winitz

There is actually not that much to breaking a piece of wood or brick, other than the fact that if you don’t do it correctly you’ll hurt yourself. And you have to believe in yourself. Although that seems obvious, it really isn’t. The “art of breaking” is a skill that is learned. There is no magic to it. Virtually anyone can break wood or bricks with proper training. But breaking in a martial arts context is basically a mental test for dealing with an obstacle. It’s really not a physical exercise at all. And it’s an excellent metaphor for life because a lot of the obstacles we face, while very real, are not necessarily as difficult to overcome as think. We just need to look past their initial appearance and at our own mental reaction to them in order to gauge how real they truly are.

Air, Wood or Steel – How “Breakable” is the Obstacle?
When most people are presented with an obstacle the natural tendency is to shy away or back down from it based on how we initially perceive it. There are certainly those people that don’t give up easily and will not stop until they figure out a way around the issue. We’ll analyze that behavior in more detail because, while admirable, it’s not always the best course. One of the quickest ways to assess an obstacle is to understand how “breakable” it is.

When I first learned the art of breaking a black belt said to me “There are some thing’s that nature let’s you put your hands through and some not.  Air. Wood. Concrete. Ice. You can break all of those if you will allow yourself. But you can’t put your hand through steel. So don’t try.”

The fact that we haven’t done something previously holds many of us back from trying at all. In a sense we see something as much harder to overcome than it really is because we don’t trust ourselves enough to try.

This is one of the reasons that breaking in a martial arts dojo, while an important marker of skill and progress in training is not considered “a holy grail” of proficiency.

“Boards don’t hit back.” – Bruce Lee

I like to visualize situations and I see objects in nature as metaphors that let us quickly classify and assess obstacles.

Air – The obstacle is passive to non-existent. With a minimal amount of effort you can overcome it because it is very easy to move through (you can accomplish your goal). In short you know you can deal with the issue (obstacle at hand) as it is fleeting.

Wood – The obstacle is real and right in front of you but it can be over come with work. You need to assess it, understand it, work it at and get yourself to a point where you can move through it directly. This is “breaking” in a martial arts sense.

Steel – The obstacle cannot be overcome directly. It doesn’t mean it can be dealt with however. You are going to seek indirect methods for overcoming the obstacle or barrier, moving around it perhaps, or backing off of it to seek another path. But direct confrontation means you will automatically fail.

Move Through The Wood – It’s More than Willpower
It is easy to simply revert to sheer “will power” to move through challenges and obstacles, and sometimes that technique or attitude works. But I think a more useful exercise is to recognize that you likely have more power of an outcome and the ability to make progress than you are willing to give yourself credit. It’s amazing to me how many successful people doubt themselves but succeed anyways. Part of the reason for their success is that they get from a point of thinking they may be able to do something to knowing the can, as I have written about here. However, often times you don’t know whether or not you will be able to move through or past an obstacle. It’s as if you have no training in brick bricking and someone tells you to “break the brick”.

The issue isn’t so much that you can’t break it, you just don’t know how to do it or you don’t think you can do it.

In wood or brick breaking once you have decided to do the break your mind has to allow your hand to move through the object. It’s a temporary barrier, albeit a firm one that must be dealt with to get through the wood or concrete (literally) or past the obstacle (figuratively) to reach your goal.

Strategies You Can Utilize for Overcoming Obstacles
There are a lot of issues to consider when facing a challenge or obstacle. Try the following to see if the problem/issue/obstacle you are dealing with is “breakable”.

  1. Recognize the Type of Obstacle – Air? Wood? Steel? However you categorize these, take an initial stab at trying to classify the problem or issue.
  2. Don’t Give Up – You may try several methods for dealing with the problem or obstacle at hand and not succeed right away. That’s exactly how the Art of Breaking works as well. Don’t automatically give up if things you try initially don’t work out.
  3. Find Other Ways – Try and look at the problem from multiple angles. Where is its weakness? Everything that is breakable has a weakness. What existing strengths or capabilities do you have to deal with the issue or obstacle? As in breaking so is the case in problem solving.
  4. Move Through the Wood – In breaking theory your hand/foot/elbow moves through the wood or brick to a point beyond on it. You don’t strike at the object, you strike through it. The same goes for overcoming obstacles or problems. See it. Understand it. Commit to moving past it. And then do it.
  5. It’s Steel (Go Around) – So you can’t overcome the problem or obstacle. That’s fine, look at other ways to deal with it without approaching it “head on”. But at least recognize that all the commitment and tenacity in the world won’t get you past the problem. You need to seek other ways to deal with the issue, problem, or obstacle. No sense in bashing your hand (or head) with a guarantee of no results.

So now that we have bruised ourselves up a bit, tell me – how do you overcome obstacles?

Thanks for training with me.

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