Power Testing and Specialty for Grading

Richard Burr IV Dan, Assistant Instructor SCTA.

Power testing (or destructions) and specialty kicks become part of the examined techniques beginning at blue belt and continue  throughout subsequent colour belt and black belt gradings.  The specific techniques to be examined are given in the iTKD colour belt and black belt syllabus handbooks.  In this document think of specialty as a power technique, just delivered whilst you are floating in the air!

For destructions the examiner will want to see that the student is competent in the following areas :

  • Setting up the board holders or equipment correctly
  • Appropriately measures the distance and angle for the technique
  • Applies the technique using all of the elements described in the Theory of Power
  • Observes the appropriate protocol for addressing both the examiner and the board holders

For specialty the examiner will want to see:

  • That the student can jump – of course the higher the better, but taking into consideration your abilities too
  • Understands how to apply the required technique at the apex or TOP of the jump, not jump and kick when the supporting foot hits the ground
  • Understands the combination of approach angles, the pathway of their tool angle relative to the board and where they propose to land
  • Demonstrates coordination of jumping, kicking or striking, breathing….all in a dynamic or moving environment
  • Setting your board holders or machine in a way to maximize your chance of success

To achieve ANY of these, much less all of them REQUIRES PRACTICE!


  • Determine the height that suits YOU, so that you have the best chance of completing your break
  • Play with distances and angles to get the optimum angle between your attacking tool and the breaking material
  • Understand your technique – what is the tool being used, what is your intended target (against an opponent), what stance works best, how to use your body to get maximum effect (Theory of Power!)
  • Condition the attacking tools to make them strong. This also includes conditioning your BRAIN!
  • Understand the expected protocol and practice it so that it becomes second nature.
  • You may begin preparing yourself for destructions and specialty from your very first lesson – understanding the purpose of each technique, correct application, appropriate stances, developing strength and speed and conditioning your tools. Starting a week before grading will only demonstrate your lack of preparation.
  • How many practice breaks? 50? 100?  A good target for beginning students would be 1000 successful breaks or jumps before being examined on that technique.  Sound like a lot?? It is.  How many times would you perform or practice a pattern before being graded on it?


Why do we do destructions?

The average untrained person uses only 10-20% of their potential.  The systematic and scientifically sound basis of Taekwon-Do that General Choi developed allows a person, regardless of size, sex or age to train and condition to use 100% of their potential to create a devastating physical power.  Destructions allow us to demonstrate to the examiner, the public, and more importantly to ourselves that we are beginning to master the elements required to achieve a single blow sufficient for victory.  These elements are described in the theory of power.  But destructions and specialty are more than sheer physical power applied to a target, or how high you can jump.  It is also about demonstrating your confidence

  • showing that you have practiced
  • showing that you know what this is going to feel like
  • showing that you KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING


Before grading

This is 99.9% of breaking and specialty.  On the day it is all over in a matter of seconds – successful or not.

  • Knowledge

Every break or destruction must start with a thorough understanding of:

  • Tool
  • How to get that tool to the target in the most efficient and powerful way
  • Conditioning the tool to withstand the impact required to break without injury

It is absolutely essential to get competent coaching at this point to develop YOUR technique.  Each person is unique and subtle differences in leg or arm length, stance, flexibility and strength have significant effects on the effort required to break.  It may be that your current technique allows you to break one board or jump 600mm high.  But further progress may be limited by the way that you break or jump, requiring you to re-learn with a modified, more efficient or effective style.  Better to start right in the first place.

  • Conditioning
  • Start on a soft target

Every destruction hurts.  Little ones not so much.  Big ones, unsuccessful ones a lot more.  If you are working at, or close to the limits of your ability you will have ONE, perhaps TWO good destructions in you before your body over rides the mind.  You may train your mind to keep telling you I’m going to NAIL this!, but after a big break, or perhaps an unsuccessful one,  the body starts putting the brakes on just before you get to the target – the body instinctively saying this is going to HURT! and trying to lessen the potential for injury.  90% of your technique development can be done on a target pad or hanging bag allowing you to repetitively work up to maximum power without risk of injury.  Don’t be in a rush to see just how many boards you can break – the first bruise will set you back perhaps weeks.

  • Preparing for harder targets

Remember the 1000 breaks?  When you progress to boards or tiles – PROTECT YOURSELF!  Sport shoes generally have sufficient padding to allow you to perform kicks for an extended time.  Mostly the limitation will be boards snapping onto your ankle.  Wear a thick sock wrapped and taped around your ankle.  A shin pad may help too.  A shin pad worn on the knifehand will protect fingers, wrist bone and forearm.  For punching a sparring mitt will help, but you may find forming a tight fist a little difficult.  A shin guard is ideal for elbow techniques.

You don’t need to break the board(s) every time.  Slow repetition of the correct motion of the technique gives your brain a bit more time to process a large amount of information.  Even the most basic technique has a huge number of things going on that at full speed may take as little as 3 /100th of a second.  Crossing, weight transfer, sine wave, trajectory, acceleration, penetration, balance, focus, angle, tool position…..once you have these under control then you can start to look at breaking stuff.  It helps to start slow and get the basics right, gradually adding power and speed to the technique – all the while maintaining all those things that you are doing properly.  Soon you will find the board breaking and you maintaining your good technique!

  • Getting real

At some point you have to make that transition from being padded up to no pads.  Don’t rush this.  But don’t delay it to 2 days before grading either.  A good way to gradually work into it is using a light foam pad on the board, or reducing the thickness of your hand/elbow/foot protection.  You will find that with less padding, more energy can be transmitted to the target. But the trade-off is that your hand/foot/elbow will have to withstand more of the impact.  This is where brain training comes into breaking.  You need to have done enough training, conditioning and repetitions for your brain to be saying Ok…I know this is going to sting a little, but I know it’s not too bad, it only lasts a short time. And I’m going to be so pumped from the board breaking I will hardly notice.  Without all those 1000 breaks in preparation it will more likely be saying WHAT are you doing??!! This is REALLY going to HURT!  I’m going to tell body to slow down so it doesn’t hurt so bad.

A common mistake is trying to moderate how hard you hit a target to ‘just make’ the break, in a misguided thinking that it won’t sting as much as a 100% full speed, full power strike.  You will soon discover that a strike that was 90% of the way towards breaking, and doesn’t succeed hurts 10 times more than a strike that was 150% over the top.

  • Muscle Coordination Training

Often when learning something new we tend to want to learn everything at once.  Remember how ugly your first circular block was when you learnt Won-hyo because you wanted to learn the whole pattern from start to finish?  When we break things down into learning smaller units first, putting them together later becomes much easier.

Specialty requires additional elements of coordination that take a while to master. To perform destructions when flying or jumping we additionally require:

  • The kick is executed at the apex of the jump
  • In most cases the back is kept straight at impact
  • Tucking the supporting leg up
  • Recovery after the technique to regain balance
  • Stable stance when landing

There is a lot of variation in how people best learn coordination activities.  In some cases like the overhead side piercing kick (1st Dan), its best to learn how to land FIRST, and then work backwards.  It’s hard to learn how to jump and kick if you roll your ankle on every landing!

A large part of success in specialty techniques comes from plyometric, or rapid contraction exercises, and training to shorten reflex times – being able to deliver that kick or strike soon after take off.  Use slow walking/knee lift exercises without kicks first to develop coordination so that it becomes natural or second nature.  Add knee lift/rotation for flying spinning techniques (reverse turning, reverse hooking, mid air).  Add jumping/landing (overhead side piercing).  Once these movements become natural feeling and fluid then start to add kicks…small abbreviated kicks for a start until you start to get enough air time to execute a fully extended kick, retract and land correctly with balance.  Gaining confidence in your coordination and ability to land on your feet (not face!) comes before stretching yourself to push those kicks higher and longer.

Setting up

The best executed technique in the world is no good if the board holder(s) moves, or is in the wrong place.  From your repetitive bag/pad work you should be getting a feel of where you naturally throw a technique to.  There are generally minor variations in heights relative to the person for most techniques – apart from reverse turning and flying techniques.  Initially when you start to put power, speed or jumping into a technique it might be a little ‘shotgun’… all over the place.  With practice the variation will become less and less.  Once your techniques are pretty consistently hitting the same mark then measure the height using a part of your own body. It might be nipple height, or the shoulder seam on your do bok, or belly button height.  What is important is you know where your technique is going to go and adjusting the target to that height.  A strike 1cm above or below the line takes about 5-10% more power.  2cm takes 30% more.

The choice of equipment at the grading may not be the same as what you have practiced with.  Generally mechanical board holders are pretty much the same.  They might be different in how they work but they feel the same when breaking.

But you may not have that luxury, or you may prefer to have people holding the boards for you.  A big emphasis in breaking and specialty is understanding what you are doing.  This extends to knowing how to set up and position your board holders so that they hold the board(s) firmly, at the correct angle and the right orientation to suit YOU.  Often the holders may be a more senior rank to you.  In this instance it is irrelevant.  It is YOUR responsibility to direct the board holders as YOU WISH, until YOU are happy.   Of course the normal expectations of courtesy apply regardless of rank.  Breaking is often the last thing at a grading.  Don’t test the examiner’s patience with a hundred little adjustments and testing the strength of the board holders.  Know where you want the board held, direct your board holders with short commands, test their strength and then BREAK.  You need to determine how you want board holders to stand/hold BEFORE grading, not experiment on the day.


The appropriate protocol during the grading is important but is often neglected when practicing.  There is no written protocol for destructions or specialty at grading but the procedure used in most tournaments is a good guide.

  • When your name is called for destructions, come to attention and listen carefully to the examiner for what they would like you to do. Sometimes you might get a curve ball – you might be expecting to do a right leg kick on a board holder, but the examiner may want to see a left hand technique, hand held.  Remember those 1000 practice breaks?  You did practice both right AND left didn’t you?  The examiner is unlikely to ask you to perform something well beyond your experience or ability, but may wish to see how you react to being challenged to something outside of your comfort zone.
  • Once the technique has been announced move quickly to set up your destruction. Set your board height/position/holders. When you are satisfied, come to attention and bow ONCE to the examiner to indicate that you are ready to begin.  Wait until the examiner acknowledges you – they might be writing results or discussing something.
  • Once acknowledged, quickly position yourself for the break. When you are ready to break, form a guarding block and kihap.  This signals board holders to tension themselves for your break.  Normally they will reply with a kihap when they are ready for you.
  • Perform your break
  • Return to a guarding block to indicate that you have finished


In the event that you were unsuccessful (and sometimes successful too) you may be given the option for a second attempt.  Quickly re-set yourself and continue from step 3.  Don’t forget to smash it this time!

  • Bow to the examiner once you have completed ALL the breaks required.
  • At the conclusion of the grading thank the board holders and the marshals for helping to make your grading so successful.

Get into the same routine when practicing as you will use at grading, even if you are alone.  Stack up a few boards on the machine.  Bow to the pretend examiner, measure, guard, break, guard.  Measure, guard, break, guard.  Measure, guard, break, guard!  And when you are done bow out.  With practice it becomes automatic and is one less thing to have to think about at grading.  And it looks neat and professional too.

Theory of Power

A break may be achieved using only some of the elements listed in the theory of power.  A great and easy break utilizes every one of the elements. Read and understand Theory of Power.  Then demonstrate your understanding of it with your destructions.

  • Reaction force – it has been estimated that 30% of your power is derived from the reaction force of the opposite hand or foot. It is predominantly the speed at which you can jerk the non-striking hand back to your hip that determines how fast a punch/knifehand/elbow can be delivered.  Pulling both hands back to the hip helps deliver a side piercing kick with some extra sting in it. Reaction force also assists with maintaining balance and centre of gravity.
  • Concentration of both muscular effort and attacking tool. Each technique should aim to recruit as much energy as possible from the entire body to be delivered to the attacking tool.  The larger, slower moving muscles of the hip and abdomen need to be mobilized slightly before the hands and feet.  Jerking the hip initiates a shift in weight, starting a movement like cracking a whip – your core is like the handle, with your tool flicked out with the speed of the end of the whip.  Concentration also involves channeling all that muscular effort down to just the tool that is used.  g. footsword or ball of the foot vs sole of the foot, knifehand vs forearm, first two knuckles vs 4 knuckles.
  • Balance or equilibrium may be thought of as controlling where your centre of gravity is. This involves both dynamic (or moving) stability and static (stationary or finishing position) stability. For circular techniques (e.g. turning and knifehand) you need to pivot around your centralized centre of gravity.  Linear techniques (e.g. punch and side kick) need the centre of gravity to be maintained between your feet, but accelerated towards the target.  Some techniques will involve both circular and linear motion.  Flying techniques may involve circular, linear AND vertical motion! All require your body to be in a stable position at the moment of impact whether grounded or flying.
  • Breath control is the coordinator of all those muscle groups. An explosive breath or kihap at impact is the signal or moment for each muscle to twitch into full contraction.  Think of all the things going on –sine wave, finishing stance, throwing the tool, looking at the target, rotating, throwing your weight forward, reaction force, jerking the hip…a lot of things all happening at the same time.  Some start earlier, some later, but all need to finish at exactly the moment of impact.


  • Did you know that you can more than double, or halve your body weight in a fraction of a second? Utilising knee spring in producing sine wave motion momentarily unweights your body during the upward phase.  Allowing it to fall, or accelerate towards the ground during the downward phase gives you momentum. For maximum power we want to strike at the moment when we have the greatest momentum (but also before we become totally unbalanced and fall to the floor!)

Another consideration for mass is how much of your body weight is contributing to the break.  Think of a standing or stationery side kick.  The power of the technique is determined by how fast you can throw (say 5m/s) the mass of your leg (say 10kg) towards the target. Now consider a dynamic side kick – stepping, sliding or jumping towards the target as well as kicking.  The speed is now 5m/s PLUS the speed of your body towards the target.  The weight behind the kick is now 70kg (your body weight) PLUS whatever you can add with sine wave!

  • Speed is king. Every movement prior to impact should be preparing you to achieve maximum speed of your tool at the moment of impact.  Reaction force, breath control, equilibrium, concentration, relaxation prior to acceleration, flexible and rhythmic motion all coordinate to produce maximum speed.  Why speed is much more important than ‘grunt’ is explained in the last point.


  • Power – this is the summary of application of all the above points. The power of any technique can mathematically described as

P = ½ MV2

Where P =  power, M = mass and V = speed or more correctly velocity (velocity is speed in a defined direction).

In the above stationery side kick example:

Power = ½ (mass of the leg) x (speed of the leg)2

= ½ (10 kg) x (5m/s) 2

= 125 Joules (or units of energy)


If we increase the mass by using all of the body weight behind the kick, and keeping the kick at the same speed then:

Power = ½ (70kg) x (5m/s) 2

= 875 J or about 7 times the power!


Now if we increase the speed of the kick by about half as much again (7.5m/s) let’s see the result

For the stationery kick

Power = ½ (10kg) x (7.5m/s) 2

= 281.25 Joules or 2 ¼ times the power


Now using both body weight AND increasing the speed of the kick……

Power = ½ (70kg) x (7.5m/s) 2

= 1968.75 Joules or nearly 16 times the power!


From the above you can see that increasing your applied body mass by 7 times (from 10 to 70 kg) power increases by about 7 times.  By increasing your speed by ½ as much (from 5 to 7.5m/s) increases power by 2 ¼ times.  Combining both gives a massive 16x increase.

Use everything possible to both maximize your speed and mass – coordinated, concentrated and balanced into the moment of impact

General points for techniques


  • If the technique allows, maintain straight lines from the tool at the moment of impact to the grounded foot. Bones are phenomenally strong in compression compared to muscles.  g. a front punch – aligning front two knuckles with wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints is much stronger than any bent joint relying on muscle strength to support that position.  The exception is reverse knifehand which needs a little buffer to keep from hyper extending the elbow.
  • A combination of both linear and circular motion may increase your power. But it is much more complicated to coordinate as well.  Master one before getting too tricky.
  • Sight your target early – focus exactly on where you want to break. Then strike where you are looking.  You may initially close your eyes or blink at the moment of contact.  Practice deliberately keeping your eyes wide open throughout.
  • Total relaxation at all times until you start your forwards motion. Think smooth, rhythmical approach with an explosive end….followed by relaxation.  Sounds like patterns, right?
  • Much of the hip twist or jerk is accompanied by a change of stance e.g. from L-stance to walking. Pivot on the balls of BOTH feet.  Allow your feet to pivot freely, suddenly locking into the supporting position (e.g. walking, sitting, L-stance) at impact.
  • For circular motion try to keep the attacking arm or leg bent, compact and comfortably close to your body for the initial part of your forwards movement, allowing full extension in the final moments before impact. This will help in the ‘whip’ action to increase speed. Think of how an ice skater spins so much faster when compact compared to arms outstretched.


  • In general most hand techniques are most powerful and best supported by the body when delivered slightly lower than the shoulder. Similarly kicks are strongest when about hip height (reverse turning is a special case).  This also applies to flying techniques.
  • Once you measure up, don’t change your foot position. If you need to it tells the examiner that your previous measure up was a waste of time (like measuring up, then coming to attention to bow to the examiner!)
  • Flying kicks are meant to demonstrate your mastery of the kicking technique to a high (usually) target in a dynamic way. You are being examined for you technical ability, coordination, and jumping ability, rather than absolute power as all flying kicks lack the reaction force of a grounded stance.  The hardest thing with flying techniques is getting enough time to prepare the kick, deliver it and recover before having to land.  It comes down to air time and quick reactions.
  • Air time, or hang time can be increased two ways. Either jumping higher or keeping your body off the ground for longer – no, they aren’t the same thing!  Jumping higher depends on your ability to flex and then very quickly contract your muscles to propel you upwards.  You can help this by literally throwing your some of your weight into the air as you jump.  As you launch throw both arms up, feel like you use your arms to pull the rest of your body up to the same height.  Drive one, or both knees sharply upwards as well.  Bring the knees to the chest, rather than feet to bum, as this is lifting all of your thighs, not just your feet.  Try to tuck the non-kicking leg tightly up underneath you as you kick.


  • Keeping your body off the ground for longer takes a certain degree of bravery. This is delaying when you HAVE to put your feet down to land until the very last second.  It is the difference between landing standing fairly upright and landing in a deep crouch.  With practice it looks as if you float in the air for a very long time effortlessly, landing lightly on your feet crouched (and grinning) like a big cat.
  • Quick reactions are equally important – retraction speed of a grounded hand or foot technique is often overlooked. The faster that you can kick and retract, the more time you will have to ‘pose’ the kick at the moment of impact.


Specific points for techniques

Blue Belt

  • Front elbow strike

May be performed with predominantly circular motion (like a knifehand strike) or a linear motion (as per Yul Gok movements 24 and 27 except pulling the opposite hand to the hip).

Circular motion: critical to get the angle and distance from the target correct so that the arc of motion (path that the elbow follows) allows it to hit the target at 90 degrees. Pivot both feet to get maximum torso movement.

Linear motion: Load up the rear leg – explode forwards with knee spring.  Use the hip but try to maintain full facing at impact

Both:  Raise the elbow early – horizontal path to the board. Keep the elbow tucked close to the body – fist about on opposite chest line, not on chest line.

  • Knifehand side strike

Start with predominantly circular motion.  Allow both feet to freely pivot.  Initially point the elbow towards the target, let the arm flick out to full extension at the last minute.  Twist the hand at the last moment.  Rise up slightly onto the balls of the feet as you wind up, get the feeling of dropping your weight as the strike is delivered.  Watch that your arm extends horizontally…not chopping downwards.

  • Reverse knifehand

Can be performed with the arm extended to the side of the body with reaction force hand pulled to the hip (walking stance normally), or striking centre line to the body pulling the opposite hand to the shoulder (sitting , perhaps L-stance).

Extended to the side –  be conscious that your shoulder and elbow joint need to support your body mass being thrust forwards against the resistance of the board.  Strike the board with a slightly bent elbow to keep it from hyperextending. Strike when the board is parallel with your chest – don’t allow your shoulder to be in front of the target at the moment of impact.  That’s one way to dislocate a shoulder.

Centre line strike – free the feet to rotate, keep the striking arm close in until the last second.  The arm action is like throwing a baseball.  Initially open the chest then use the power of your pectoral muscles to whip it forward.

Both: – rotating the striking shoulder forwards slightly will help with getting your thumb knuckle joint out of harm’s way.  Easy to chip the bone until you learn this!  Learn to make a proper reverse knifehand and condition learning to roll the shoulder a little.

  • Flying front snap kick (non destruction)

At this level you may be asked to demonstrate the following techniques in line work as well as step sparring.

Practice driving the kicking foot’s knee high up the front to a hand held at waist high or higher. Only kick after your knee has touched the hand. This will help deliver the kick as close to horizontal as possible, driving through the target. If you start the kick forwards the moment your foot leaves the ground, it travels in an upward arc and tends to skim off the surface of the target, not penetrating.  Flying needs to be in this order:

  • Take off or jump
  • Drive knee upwards as your height climbs
  • Snap foot out and back at the top of the jump
  • Gather yourself to land lightly on your feet

As with all techniques focus on where you want to deliver the kick, kick to where you are looking.

  • Flying turning kick (non destruction)

Read the notes for red stripe destruction (below) for tips on delivering this kick from a stationary position. When executed as a flying technique try to imagine a string lifting the hip of your kicking leg. As you rise upwards the string is pulling hard straight up, helping you to lift that knee high as well.  As you reach the apex suddenly the string goes slack, allowing you to flick your hip over, extending the lower leg at the same time. For flying non destructions keep the body relatively vertical and retract the kicking leg smartly as landing in a similar facing position will be important.

  • Flying side piercing (non destruction)

Prior to now you may have been performing most of your side kicks as a 2-step operation. Firstly chambering the kick (often with a bending ready stance).  And then almost as a separate technique extending the leg to kick and then retract.  Now (or before!) is the time to practice this as a fluid 1 step motion.  Use the chambering action to help lifting your body as you jump. Fire the kick out at the peak of the jump, and at the same time try to slap the sole of your other foot on the inside of your thigh.  Retraction speed is just as important as kicking speed – otherwise this landing is going to get ugly!  Be prepared to land in a lower crouched position rather than completely upright as this will give you more time in the air.

Red Stripe

  • Front snap kick (destruction)

This is one kick that doesn’t work well in a mechanical board holder because (a) the angle that the foot is travelling and (b) orientation of the board.  Although it is quite possible to break a board with the split line horizontal it tends to be much easier if the split line is vertical.  This also allows your foot to penetrate without the risk of hitting your shin on the holder!  Even though the action of the front kick is to lift the knee first and then extend the kick in a straight line, in practice it is difficult to get the ball of the foot to hit a vertically held board at right angles.  Get your board holders to tilt the top of the board forwards SLIGHTLY to get the best impact angle, but not so far that your kick becomes an ugly sort of low front rising! Get the feeling of throwing your hip towards the target.  This greatly accentuates the snap.  Allow enough distance for full leg extension at impact.

  • Turning kick (destruction)

Like the knifehand strike this can be performed with a combination of circular and linear motion.  Start with just rotation and perfect that first before getting complicated. Think of the turning kick as traveling on a horizontal path only (for a start!).  The first thing you must accomplish is getting your ankle and knee into that position from the ready or guarding stance.  If you are less flexible lift the knee up first.  As you start to rotate lift the ankle to the same height as the knee.  More flexible people may be able to lift both knee and ankle directly to the ‘dog peeing’ position.  Once it’s up, then it’s on the right plane, or level to hit the board at right angles.  Angle and distance from the target are critical to ensure a perpendicular strike.  Free the feet to rotate, allow the torso to fully wind up using your arms as well.  As you start to unwind let your kicking leg pop up into position.  Follow the arc all the way to the target.  A common error is throwing the knee directly towards the target from the ready or guarding stance.  Practice kicking over an object close to waist height.  Use sine wave by lifting your weight slightly at the start of the movement and consciously dropping at the finish, rolling the hip over to drive your body weight behind the kick.

  • Side piercing kick

Performed correctly this is one of the most powerful kicks of any martial art. As with the front punch we want to make the body as strong and rigid as possible at impact.  This involves getting quite a number of joints aligned – footsword, ankle, knee, hip, opposite hip, knee, ankle all the way to the edge of the heel of the grounded foot.  When measuring up you need to account for

  • Full extension of the kicking leg
  • Leaning into the break – using all your mass behind the break
  • Any slide that you might do as you explode towards the board

When stepping away from the board after measuring up, step along exactly the same pathway that you will use when breaking.  Step in front after the measure.  Step behind the grounded foot when coming in to break.



Even more so than most other techniques, the side piercing kick’s power comes from the non-kicking leg, loading up with all your body weight and then launching towards the target.  When stepping through drop your weight onto the supporting leg, pivoting it to point directly (almost) away from the target.  Because we are using a step, there is a little more to sine wave than usual. Your ready stance is the ‘down’ part of the cycle.  As you begin to move forwards you are lifting up to make the step.  As you make the step you are dropping into the next ‘down’ part of the cycle.  As you begin to chamber the kicking leg you are rising in the next cycle, just before dropping and launching forwards to impact.

Try to sight down your shoulder or front of the chest to your target.  Keep the back straight, no bend at the waist at all.  Don’t allow your front shoulder to roll over too far – this changes your foot position significantly to looking like a back kick.  Get used to the feeling of being overbalanced at the conclusion of your kick.  It seems to contradict the theory of power – being balanced or in equilibrium. But in reality you want to have your centre of gravity low and centered between your feet at impact.  But one is on the ground, the other at waist height in front of you.  Which is good for impact.  It will just be a bit more effort to withdraw your kicking foot and re-establish a finishing stance.  By pulling both hands back to your hip this will both add reaction force and counter some of the weight of your extended leg.

  • Flying back piercing (non destruction)

You may be asked to demonstrate this technique with or without spinning. In both cases it is important to use your peripheral vision to sight the target rather than turning your whole head. Try to maintain close to full facing directly away from your target, keeping the knee of the kicking leg close to your body. Think knee up the front, kick straight out the back, heel is the tool, dont let the shoulders roll too much. If your shoulders roll too much it becomes more like a side piercing and you end up using the footsword rather than heel.  Jump high and kick horizontal rather than leaning away to try to kick high.  A good way to practice this is to have someone lightly holding both cuffs of your do bok sleeves as you kick to maintain that almost full facing away from the target.  Another practice tip is to stand with your kicking leg hip almost touching a wall, or another person.  This will force you to lift the knee forwards first and kick straight to the back.

  • Flying reverse turning (non destruction)

Crouch low to prepare to jump. As you begin your jump initiate your rotation of the upper body leading with the same elbow as the kicking leg.  Aim to have your body follow the pathway of a corkscrew, lifting vertically.  Try to keep the centre of your rotation in the same place initially, rather than jumping towards or away from the target.  Bend slightly at the hips (like a bad side kick) as the heel of the kicking leg sweeps in an arc from the ground (at take off) to maximum height (360 degree rotation).  As the kick reaches the target straighten up the bend in your waist for that last bit of acceleration.  Don’t try to limit how far the foot rotates past the target as you kick.  A nice flying reverse turning you should end up with the kicking foot landing well behind the other.

  • Flying vertical (non destruction)

Think of this as slapping your opponent across the face with either your footsword (outward vertical) or reverse footsword (inward vertical) instead of a fish .   Inward vertical – lift the knee to the side initially, opening hips, then sweeping across the front at the peak of your jump.  Outwards vertical – lift the knee across the body (like starting a twisting kick motion), continuing the motion in an arc.  In both cases, aim to have the kicking foot vertical at the moment of impact.

Red Belt

  • Flying turning kick

The same comments made for the turning kick also apply here, except that you will be off the ground at the moment of impact.  ‘Flying’ means delivering the kick when neither foot is in contact with the ground.  You may be 2cm off the ground, or closer to a metre (better!).  You may start from a stationery position and jump directly up, or take a run up and kick whilst jumping.  With a run up think about the direction you are running and the angle for the kick.  Approaching parallel to the face of the board, the timing of the kick needs to be spot on as you pass in front of the board.  Try to imagine an invisible string is attached to your hip.  As you start to jump you are dragged upwards by your hip.  Just at the apex of your jump the string is relaxed, letting you flick your hip over and deliver your kick.  Again lift the knee high early to kick at the TOP of your jump, not when your grounded foot hits the ground!

  • Flying back piercing

This can be performed starting with your back towards the target (back piercing), or starting facing the target (spinning back piercing).  Practice the motion on the ground to ensure your knee comes up the front first, turning the head only to try to sight the target (you need to rely on your peripheral vision here).  If you allow your shoulders to turn as well it becomes more like a side piercing.  Keep the kicking knee tucked in close to the body driving a straight line with the heel from the knee up position to the target.  Starting facing the target allows you to add the considerable power of your rotation to the kick, but adding to the complexity, coordinating both the height of your jump and the rotation so that your kick comes out at the right time, height and direction.  In either case don’t try to aim your kick high.  Instead jump high and kick horizontal.

  • Flying side piercing

Like the turning kick, plan your approach angle and direction that you will be kicking and landing.  Don’t just lean into the kick – endeavor to deliver a nice sharp chamber, kick, recover motion.  This is more difficult, but not impossible from a standing position.  In either case your leg has to make 4 separate motions whilst in the air – chamber, kick, re-chamber, recover to land.

  • Flying reverse hooking (non destruction)

May be performed off the front leg without spinning, or the rear leg with spinning.  Flying spinning reverse hooking is very similar to flying reverse turning up until almost impact. Instead of allowing the heel to arc across the target, reverse hooking strongly contracts the heel towards your bum at impact.  Performed with the front foot the initial movements are similar to an inward vertical kick with the kicking leg knee lifting across the body.  Instead of arcing across the target, the foot is lifted and extended out as the jump is started, retracting the heel towards your bum at the peak of the jump.  In both cases use both the thigh and calf muscles to pull the kick towards yourself.

  • Flying twisting (non destruction)

Possibly more so than just about every other kick the twisting kick relies on flexibility of the hips and groin to deliver a nice looking, well directed kick.  Think of the twisting kick as a partner to a turning kick – turning kick is delivered inwards with ball of the foot, twisting delivered outwards with ball of the foot.  The high twisting kick is a little unusual in that you can’t maintain a guarding block while executing it.  The kicking foot knee is driven upwards and across the body before turning sharply towards the target as the leg is extended.  Dropping the kicking foot hand during the kick will help with opening the pelvis and extending the kick up to head height.

  • Mid air (non destruction)

The mid air kick is essentially a flying side piercing kick performed whilst spinning either 180 degrees, or 360 degrees (as in competition).  Jump, lifting both arms to gain height, driving the non-kicking knee high directly towards the target.  As the kick peaks, sharply roll the non-kicking knee over to start your rotation and chambering the kicking leg. The kick should be delivered as the shoulder rolls over allowing you to sight the target.  In many cases in competition the kick is delivered too early in the rotation and it comes out looking like a spinning back kick.  The rotation of the body continues as the kick is retracted, landing facing the same way as you started (360 degree kick).

Black Stripe

  • Hand power technique (tiles) General comments

To date, in the progression of grades, this is one of the most mentally challenging of breaks.  Often tiles to practice on are hard to come by.  The nature of clay tiles means some special considerations need to be observed.  During breaking small sharp shards may cause minor cuts.  The purpose of a hand towel is to minimize this – not to act as a cushion.  The shape of tiles means that they will never be 100% stable when stacked.  They also have a several ridges used to strengthen them – not a good idea to strike on a ridge. A large stack of tiles can be mentally intimidating if you have not broken them before – somewhere in your subconscious mind it looks like a solid block of material 400mm thick!

The key to successful tile breaking, whether knifehand or punch, is to

  • strike absolutely perpendicular to the surface
  • follow through with as much body weight as possible
  • aim to finish with your hand touching the ground



Downward punch

Depending on how tiles are stacked, and the supporting blocks, the top surface may be close to fist height with the arm extended downwards.  Regardless of height it is imperative that at the moment of impact the arm is extended VERTICALLY, no bend in the elbow, locked out and ready to support all of your body weight driving it downwards.  .  Place your feet so that you can kneel very close along the side of the stack.  The knee should be only slightly behind the fist when the arm is extended, back straight.  Keep the fist close to the body – close to the shoulder or touching the jaw as you lift your bodyweight, lifting the elbow close to vertical before driving it straight downwards.  The moment your hand comes away from the body, you are setting up to deliver a glancing blow.  This is usually accompanied by breaking 2-3 tiles and a big loss of knuckle skin. Just DON’T! Lift your bodyweight as high as possible.  Aim to have your punch fully extended by the time it has reached the second tile.  The rest will be broken by the momentum of your following body weight.  Drop your bodyweight vertically – don’t lean forwards.  Don’t forget the reaction force hand jerking back to your hip. Aim to finish kneeling on one knee, fist almost touching the ground.

Knifehand downward strike

As for the punch it is imperative that the knifehand strikes the tiles perpendicular to the surface at impact. If you are right handed, the left foot should be in line with where you want to strike (and visa versa).  Lift the striking hand as high as possible, lifting the body at the same time.  To me it feels more natural to lift the hand in a circular motion to the top of the arc, then chopping straight down.  Drive the hand down sharply, jerking the reaction force hand back to the hip, following with all your body weight as you drop to one knee. Don’t stop at one tile.  Aim to drive that hand all the way to the floor.  You will need to practice the coordination of hand movement with the timing of dropping your body weight to ensure that your forearm is horizontal to the surface of the tiles at impact.

Foot power technique – side piercing kick

For some, this may be the first time that you have encountered wooden boards as opposed to plastic polar boards.  There is no special consideration or change to the technique outlined above (red stripe syllabus) that needs to be made.  Pine boards vary considerably from green (or wet) rough sawn, knotty mongrels to sweet kiln dried, straight grained, dressed timber.  You won’t be able to choose, so don’t let it concern you.  The only thing to check is that the grain of the timber runs horizontally for all boards.  A quick look at the edge of the boards is all it takes to confirm this.  Don’t fuss about having the grain all cupped the same way – this will depend on how the boards are sawn.   Just  line ‘em up and smash ‘em. The ‘special stack’ that you sort through and prepare before breaking will invariably get used by someone else, get put in the holder the wrong way around, be taken apart and mixed up.  It shouldn’t matter to you.  Set the height, one measure up (with balance!), guard, break, guard. Just like you’ve practiced

Special techniques

Flying high front kick

Similar to flying front snap kick.  In competition this is described as twimyo nopi apcha busigi.  At grading you have the option of taking a run up, or jumping directly upwards if you wish. Flexibility is important in delivering a high kick, as is jumping and the ability to deliver the kick at the apex of the jump.  Practice knee up walking, only kicking when the knee touches your palm (blue belt syllabus).  Progress to taking a couple of steps run up before jumping.  Focus on the snapping out of the foot at the top of the jump.  This is what is going to BREAK the board, not just touch it.  As you jump look up to the target, don’t drop the head as you jump. Instead lift the hips, leaning back to stretch up to the target.  Use both arms at take off, lifting both knees to the chest if you can to help maximize the height of your jump.  Plan to kick THROUGH the target…this is a break, not just to see if you can touch it!


Flying overhead kick

This is essentially a flying side piercing kick performed after clearing a horizontal object in your path.  The key elements here are

  • accelerating hard towards the target
  • jumping high
  • swinging the feet through into the tucked position
  • delivering a sharp kick aimed at chest level
  • continuing the rotation to land facing the direction of take off

Start by learning to land properly.  If you hold a side kick position and land side facing, your foot touches down with the footsword, with all the momentum of your body weight behind it. A great recipe for a sprained ankle, or worse.  To prevent this learn to continue your body roll – from full facing at take off, roll to side facing to deliver the kick, continue to roll to face the direction of take off at landing.  This will allow the natural bend of the knee and ankle to absorb the shock of landing with horizontal momentum.  Practice this with a natural take off, roll the hip over as with the flying side piercing kick in Choong Moo, tucking the feet up and landing facing the other way.  Having to tuck the feet up will teach you to jump high.  Slowly increase speed at take off, maintaining form as the horizontal distance is increased.

Once this is mastered, try to accelerate hard with the last couple of steps.  This is what is going to carry you the distance, and also help with breaking the target board.  Focus on taking off leaning forwards slightly, then swinging your feet through to the tucked position in front of you. Don’t extend the kicking leg until the last moment.  This needs to be a sharply delivered kick, not just falling through the board.  Ensure that your board holders are spaced wide enough to squeak through between them, but not so far apart as to hold the board weakly.  Finally, land lightly on your feet.

Final Words

New Zealand has a huge respect from every Taekwon-Do nation in the world, particularly in the disciplines of specialty and power.  For good reason.   29 Gold Medals, 14 Silver, 22 Bronze in power. 25 Gold medals, 17 Silver and 18 Bronze in specialty at World Championship level!

We train hard.  We strive to understand.  We aim high.

You don’t have to be a world champion to impress an examiner though.   A student that demonstrates that they know what they are doing (and why!) will always be better than someone who breaks or jumps ugly.

Practice is at the heart of all improvements.  Once some of the basic techniques have been learnt, a great deal of practice can be done on your own on either a hanging bag or a suspended target.  A stand alone board holder for power and specialty is a huge bonus. Holding a target, boards or a board holder for someone else gets tedious real quick.  The best practice is where you can stack up a bunch of boards, break them one after another till they are all broken.  Then start again.  1000 successful breaks? Yep.

All of the above suggestions and advice are not a substitute for coaching and training from your instructor.  There may be things, movements, techniques that they disagree with me.  In all cases trust your instructor to know what is best for you.