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Record-Breaking Martial Artist Teaches Kids to Break Barriers in E. Village

Breaking Boards to a Better Life
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

EAST VILLAGE — Leif Becker leaves a trail of shattered wood wherever he goes.

On Wednesday at the Boys' Club of New York in the East Village, Becker, a multiple world-record holder in martial arts, snapped dozens of wooden boards to show his audience how to break through real-life barriers. In the demonstration, which is part of a Becker's "Breaking Barriers" program, boys as young as 10 were able to break their own wooden boards using hands, feet and elbows.

“Over half of the boys at the Boys' Club live in single-family households, and more than 40 percent of members' families earn less than $25,000 a year," said Helen Frank, the club's communications manager, of the thousands of boys and young men it serves each year. "Many boys come to the Boys' Club from under-resourced schools, and some go home at night to unsafe housing situations."

The club provides outside-of-school activities such as athletic coaching, leadership training and mental health support.

As part of his program, Becker hopes to teach young people all over the country how board-breaking strength can translate in the real world.

"When someone walks up to a board or walks up to something they want to break through, there is that level of, 'Can I really accomplish this?'" said Becker, 41. "It is overcoming those mental barriers of uncertainty."

After many failed attempts, in 2005 Becker finally broke the existing world record of 487 boards broken in one minute. In 2008, he set another record for breaking 140 boards in 10 seconds.

At Wednesday's event, attended by about 60 boys in the Boys' Club's East 12th Street and Avenue A building, Islam Djellouli cracked a wooden board in half on only his second attempt.

"I felt like our special guest because he tried and tried and still could not get it, so I tried and the second time I got it," said the 10-year-old Boys’ Club member, holding up the two pieces.

"It makes me feel stronger," he said.