An Interview with Master Frank X. Garza

Story by KSN Kevin MacKenzie

The martial arts enthusiast can go to just about any martial demonstration and see practitioners break a wide range of materials with varying techniques. To many, martial arts’ breaking is nothing more than an extravagant exhibition with no purpose, other than to show brute strength. However, is it? To answer this, we must analyze breaking methodically, rooting the discussion in the traditional; including reasons for each technique and the related principles behind them.

Throughout the ages, martial artists have sought to improve and perfect techniques over a wide spectrum. They did not break for show, but to test the correctness of a technique. It demonstrated a practitioner’s skill level in relation to one or more of the following: power, speed, accuracy, body alignment or form, conditioning and internal energy control. In Kuk Sool Won™ the traditional values, techniques and reasons for each break thrive in the present.

Kuk Sool Won™ incorporates numerous breaks into four major categories: Brute strength, speed, yusool and controlled breaking (which is utilized in speed and yusool breaking). Each employs the use of various materials; such as one inch thick boards, granite, coke bottles or even cigarettes; depending on the application.


In Kuk Sool Won™, brute strength breaking is considered rudimentary. It requires the least amount of training and conditioning in comparison to other breaks. This is considered a supported break, meaning that the board is braced on two sides to minimize movement. The student usually starts with a one inch thick board and relies on his/her strength and correct body motion or positioning to accomplish the task. Tile or granite may later be broken. The trained student will focus on a reference point beyond the surface of the object and try to strike through to that point during the break.

Common striking tools include; but are not limited to; the palm, knife hand, ridge hand, mantis hand, foot, fingertips and elbow. As the student advances in skill, he/she attempts techniques that are more difficult, rather than adding additional boards, which may damage joints, cartilage and bones.


The second level of breaking skill in Kuk Sool Won™ is speed breaking. This is considered an unsupported break, meaning that the board is either held by two fingers, balanced on end or even thrown and struck in mid-air. One must strike the board in the center for a proper break to occur. If the strike is too high or low, it will usually remain unbroken.

The student must display enough speed; accuracy and form in movement to be allowed an attempt at this break. Usually, after a minimum of one year, a student is ready to begin speed-breaking techniques. Speed is the source of power. Then, degree of penetration, not brute force, is the determining factor of effectiveness. Boards are generally used. The most widely applied technique is the spin kick, although hand techniques are also effective.


Yusool or soft technique breaking is the third and highest level of breaking in Kuk Sool Won™. The student actually breaks objects with "soft" or relaxed technique. This relaxation enables proper energy or ki flow. In combination with speed developed by Dahn Juhn Ki Bub or internal ki training exercises and degree of penetration, yusool technique soars above that of brute strength.

Yusool breaks are preceded by Ki Cho Ja Ki-an exercise that gathers ki in the lower abdominal region, then directs the energy to the hands or feet. Ki Cho Ja Ki is done in conjunction with Sohn Sahl Li Ki (spreading the fingers) which strengthens and helps "pull" the energy to the hands or feet. This action is similar to that of pumping a well, only ki is directed, not water. Obviously, only highly trained practitioners that have developed the necessary speed, form and internal energy control are proficient at yusool breaking.

Perhaps the best demonstration of yusool technique is the breaking of a coke bottle. Students begin by wrapping the bottle in layers of paper to protect against injury. After speed and ki are further refined, the student will break a bare bottle. The martial artist must hit only the surface and allow the energy to pass beyond to execute the break. Too much penetration will cut the hand; too little speed, velocity or penetration will not break the bottle. A proper break will shatter the bottle and spray glass from both ends. Do not attempt this unless you have been properly instructed in the technique and have broken in this way several times under supervision.


Controlled breaking is a favorite technique of Master Frank Garza; from Kuk Sool Won™ of Ft. Myers, FL; which was passed on to him by the Grandmaster: Suh In Hyuk. He, in turn, teaches it to his students as an important attribute of well-rounded training.

According to Sa Bum Nim Garza, control breaking is rarely seen among today's martial artists, but actually originated with the Buddhist monks who did not believe in killing, only applying enough force to stop an attacker. Speed and yusool breaking use controlled breaking techniques as a refinement tool.

The student begins by taping 4-6 inch paper strips to a wall or corner at various heights. He/she aims for the first quarter inch of each paper strip. Striking without proper distance will impact the wall or corner. As accuracy increases, the paper is cut shorter until the student can consistently strike the first quarter inch of any length strip. The trained student can perform various kicks from different positions and stop or go past, just to the front or to the side of a target. He/she should be able to touch the skin or lightly penetrate at full speed. Most of the kicks also extend the toes to increase reach or to attack sensitive pressure points of the body.

Kicking a cigarette from another’s mouth with such kicks as the round, hook, or jumping spin kick effectively demonstrates this technique. The cigarette will not break without sufficient speed or focus. This shows that one has enough speed and penetration to cause damage, but enough accuracy not to cause damage at will.

Mastery of control breaking enhances a student's accuracy, ability to judge distance and knowledge of correct penetration, depending upon intent. Master Garza believes controlled breaking practice creates a more complete, confident and skilled martial artist:

"Over time, one's confidence and skill will soar as he/she is able to kick through objects, simply touch the surface or penetrate to a chosen depth at a precise location or pressure point. As such, during a confrontational situation, a practitioner has augmented options. One can control the amount of injury, if any, to an assailant while effectively keeping oneself from harm. In fact, very few situations actually require the use of maximum force to make a point or defend one's person. Controlled breaking, in conjunction with other techniques, leads to a martial artist with skills that very few possess.”

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