Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

·3 min read

EDMONTON — Whether he's breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement bricks or stacks of cinder blocks in half, Kevin Olsen says every chop requires the same four skills.

"You have to hit it with speed, perfect accuracy, focus and strength," says the Canadian master of taekwondo with a sixth-degree black belt.

"You have to visualize putting your hand right through to the floor and deliver that technique with everything you've got. If you're lacking in any of those (skills), it's not going to happen."

The 53-year-old has been practising the Korean form of combat, which was developed in the 1950s and is mixed with various forms of martial arts, for 35 years.

"It really changed my life. It becomes part of your body, your mind and your spirit."

He says that's why, when COVID-19 hit, martial artists from around the world and in Canada were devastated. They couldn't train the way they used to and many instructors of various martial arts weren't able to teach, says Olsen.

"It's pretty devastating to be losing people and once students stop training for whatever reason, it can be very difficult to get them back."

Olsen, who was born in Edmonton and raised in Fort Saskatchewan, channelled his sadness into organizing an international online demonstration for noon Saturday. It will include martial artists punching, backspin kicking or elbowing through the middle of a one-inch thick wooden board to break it in half.

Olsen says he hopes the demonstration — called Break for a Breakthrough — re-energizes the 100 or so students and instructors participating from around the world and snaps them out of their pandemic fatigue with a united and loud "kihap."

"Kihap" is a shout in taekwondo that loosely translates to a spirited or energy yell, says Olsen, who works as a property manager. He's also a tandem master skydiving instructor who has fallen from the sky about 1,800 times.

"When you break that board, there's instant proof that you have developed your technique, you have speed, accuracy, and power. It's a really good feeling. It's a bit of a rush."

Young and old martial artists from Canada, India, Poland, and Malaysia are set to join the online demonstration that Olsen will host from a south Edmonton martial arts studio called 4Point Taekwondo.

One of Olsen's former students, who owns the studio, will hold up a board as Olsen — wearing a Dobok, the uniform worn in Korean martial arts — breaks the board in half. A few other students will be behind him standing three metres apart.

Olsen, who has broken hundreds of boards — including six bricks stacked on top of one another in one swift move — in his lifetime, says each of the participants will have a board. Some from other parts of the world who can't be up in the middle of the night have submitted clips, which he says will be played during the demonstration.

"Generally everyone in taekwondo, and most karate schools too, they break boards for promotion of the art and to recruit people," says Olsen.

But they also do it to build skills.

"It's a test of your mental ability to concentrate and focus when you're nervous. And a very, very important thing, probably the single most important thing in taekwondo, is your ability to handle pressure."

He says if the participants break the board on the first try, they will feel a little sting in their hand.

But if they don't, it can sting a lot.

"That's the other element of pressure...you can actually hurt yourself."

Olsen says the demonstration is the first one he has ever done, and he hopes it's not his last.

"There may be glitches, but we're putting our heart and soul into it. Not just me. Lots of instructors and lots of students. It's gonna be awesome."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press