The Metaphysics of Board Breaking

by Marianne Z.

raimi_breakI stand before a seemingly impenetrable wall of wood. The boards will not yield to my foot like a bag, like the bag I have kicked countless times before. I will have to go through them, penetrate the illusion of their solidity. For once, I actually see myself as an athlete and feel a kinship with those who try to pitch a no-hitter everytime they step on the mound, or break the world record everytime they race. My situation is not as grand, but still I will have to achieve perfection with this kick because there is no middle ground: either the boards will break or they won’t. I see before me momentarily an image of other obstacles in my life, past and present: everyone who’s ever slighted me, authority figures who have discounted me, friends who have let me down. I know everyone is watching me, wondering if I will do it. In my life, I feel like I’ve been beating my head against a brick wall for years, and now here if front of me is another wall, this time a wooden one. Before I even realize it, my foot has left the ground…


A feeling like revenge rushes over me, revenge for the time I was homeless and no one would help me, for the struggle of putting myself through college, for every rotten thing my family did to me… Crack! The destruction feels cathartic.

For a moment, it feels more than symbolic, and I am truly vanquishing my demons — breaking their bones and their power over me. There is no sensation on impact but as my foot penetrates the wood I feel its fibers scraping by. For a split second my organic foot and the organic wood seem to become one, defying natural law. If somehow the momentum could be stopped, I feel I could be frozen into these boards forever like Arthur’s sword in the stone. but the boards give and before I have time to doubt my success, two halves forever torn fall to the ground, and I am unable to suppress a smile. I realize I could break someone’s bones with that kick.

For a moment, it feels more than symbolic, and I am truly vanquishing my demons — breaking their bones and their power over me. But as the splinters fly and the boards fall to the ground, something more mysterious has taken place. For a split second I became one with the boards, with their intractability. In fact, there would be no excitement, no rush of achievement had those boards not been in front of me as an obstacle. They have been held there, tauntingly, as a reflection of my deepest fears and hardest fights, a reflection cast up from somewhere inside to confront me right to my face. Through a combination of physical training and force of will, a barrier has fallen. In breaking through, I am at peace with my perceived enembreak-1ies; my bitterness and fear and resentment have fallen away like rain. And maybe if I can achieve what seemed impossible a few years ago and put part of my body through a block of wood, maybe I can overcome the insurmountable challenges of my own self-doubt.

For a moment I am a hero. Not because I have done something no one else could, but because I set a goal (even something as arbitrary as putting my foot through three one-inch boards) and met it. If I can do that, as have countless people before me, perhaps there is so much else I can also achieve. And perhaps I can inspire others to do what seems impossible, as I was inspired years ago.


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