The characters/ideograms mean, “Breaking bricks, etc., (martial arts).” The first character means, “test; try; attempt; experiment; ordeal,” the second character means, “proportion; comparatively; divide; cut; separate; split.”
Apparently this training model was popularized by Sensei Masutatsu Oyama of the Japanese system of Kyokushin Karate. It requires one train with “karada-kitae” or “body hardening techniques.” This model is not a part of traditional karate. At least not the karate from the 1600’s to the late 1800’s of Okinawa, the birth place of karate. At least not as far as one can determine by the spotty documentation and historical information that is available.
The use of tameshiwari is questionable. It is a form or demonstration of how well a karate-ka has developed the body, mind and spirit through not just karate practice but karada-kitae, body hardening. It does provide feedback as to application of fundamental principles of martial systems as the failure to adhere to those principles can result in failed breaks as well as injuries. Principles like structure, alignment, speed, power, sequential locking and unlocking, etc. that result in proper form, focus, breathing, etc., that are also principles.
It is important to understand that karada-kitae and karate knowledge are not the only requirements a karate-ka must know, understand and gain proficiency in so that tameshiwari will work. The hardening of the body is one, the understanding and application of principles is second but the rest is as important as the first two, i.e. the materials to be used and choosing those materials along with how the physics work with the materials you choose to break.
You just don’t go out and purchase just any type of wood. When you have the right wood then you have to choose wood with the right grain for breaking. Even a 1/2” piece of wood will be harder to break or unbreakable if the grain is not right. Then there is density, moisture and other environmental type factors that affect the materials chosen.
Bricks depend on the material they are made of, the firing process and the mixture of materials that provide for varying levels of hardness, etc. must come into play when choosing that for tameshiwari.
Some might say that tameshiwari is indicative of mastery of a martial art. I contend that this is a false assumption. I have trained the uninitiated in breaking wood and bricks. When I gave demonstrations, unlike many other karate-ka who would break at demo’s, I would allow a gathering after the demo to provide them the “how it is done” aspects so that they don’t go away with the misconception that tameshiwari is indicative of proficiency and mastery in martial arts and/or self-defense.
Tameshiwari has its purpose but I believe it came into its acceptance from the introduction of karate into the Okinawan and Japanese educational systems just before the World War II. Tameshiwari is impressive especially to the uninitiated as a means to entice enrollment for schools who depend on enrollment and fees.
Please don’t misunderstand, like professional WWE wrestling it still takes skill, dedication and a body, mind and spirit way above what would be normal to achieve proficiency in tameshiwari especially those who take it to extremes. Even knowing and understanding all the processes that make this an “art form” it still requires discipline, dedication and diligence in training and practice to achieve mastery. It is a outward manifestation of a mind-state or mind-set that builds on confidence, etc. that makes a martial artist a martial artist.
Remember, choose your materials and breaks carefully. More important, “know when to hold-em, know when to fold-em and know when to walk away.”