Hojo Undo : Part 1 of 2 Parts
Copyright 1997 by Buddy Govender. Permission to use, copy and/or download any material from this site MUST be sought from the copyright holder.
: The Spirit Sensei
Incorrect makiwara training can cause great physiological damage to your hands and health in general. It is a common misconception that the aims of makiwara training is to produce large callused knuckles which are impervious to impact. These physical ‘trophies’ are supposed to be indicators of strength and power. This is an incorrect perception! Whilst makiwara training does produce callused knuckles that could sustain tremendous impact and cause great damage, it is merely a by-product of the training itself and not the object. There is much more to this method of training than the mere physical condition of one’s hands. The makiwara is as old as Karate-Doh itself, and is primarily an Okinawan training tool that was imported to mainland Japan by Okinawan masters who were responsible for introducing their art of ‘Okinawa Te’ (Okinawan hand). Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Shotokan Karate, in his biography, clearly states that "I think I am in no way exaggerating when I say that practice with the makiwara is the keystone in the creation of strong weapons." Choku Motobu, a famous Okinawan karate-ka who was renowned for his fighting ability, had this to say about the makiwara, "Makiwara is a vital piece of equipment for a karate student to exercise his skill." It is not un-common, on Okinawa, to find makiwara’s in peoples backyards, and to hear the pounding of a makiwara. To a karate-ka wishing to develop into a complete martial artist, makiwara training in vital and absolutely necessary.
The practice of ‘fresh air’ punching only, never gives one the true feeling of actually striking or punching and opponent. This type of training also encourages bad striking and punching habits as there is no measure between your technique and end-result. Our heads are made up of bones and cartilage and is mostly hard and solid, similar to a standing makiwara (tachi makiwara) - see illustration. Therefore it is imperative that one’s hands are conditioned to resist the impact otherwise the first strike to your opponents’ head could damage the bones in your hands or wrist. The makiwara not only aids in strengthening the hands and arms, but it also helps strengthen one’s stance and co-coordinating one’s breathing. Punching ‘fresh air’ does not cover all these aspects.
Today, makiwara training is not practiced with earnest - the pursuit of glory in competition karate has detracted the karate-ka from makiwara training. This is not Karate-Doh! Funakoshi Sensei realized that some may practice karate as a sport and his advice was that ... "anyone who practices karate as a form of calisthenics need not use a makiwara: he may practice and go through all the actions without ever striking a blow." Old photographs of karate-ka training in Japan have often shown students striking the makiwara. I am sure that this training was part of their daily training - is it today?
How to Strike the Makiwara Whilst it not a prerequisite that you should have lots of space to practice makiwara striking, it is important that you have sufficient room to move around your makiwara. You will obviously require some room to move forward from one stance to another practicing your striking e.g.. From migi han-zenkutsu dachi-no-kamae (right leg forward front stance) stepping forward into hidari han-zenkutsu dachi-no-kamae (left leg forward front stance) punching migi-te gyaku tsuki (right hand reverse punch). Do not only focus on punches or hand strikes, as the makiwara can be used to condition all parts of the body. Punches should never be done in rapid succession, but rather with each punch having complete focus and concentration. There are no short-cuts in makiwara training. Start gently and gradually increase the degree of impact. Keep your mind alive (just as in Sanchin kata practice) and focused, and, control your breathing. With every hit breath out on impact and breath in on withdrawing the arm (hikite). Do not get too flustered and lose control of your breathing as this will also lead to the development of bad habits. Do not lift the back heel up and keep your back straight. Keep your shoulder down and your strength under them. Hit the makiwara with your body, breath and spirit! Start by striking seiken tsuki (forefist punch) about ten times with one hand, and when completed change stance and hit ten with the other hand. This will warm up the fist and acquaint it to the surface of the makiwara. Try to use only the index and middle knuckles for striking
Preparing to strike the makiwara (note the potential hikite left hand across the chest)
It is vital that you get used to striking the makiwara and get into a routine of makiwara training. I hit the makiwara every morning before I prepare to get ready for work. I supplement this makiwara training with the practice of Sanchin or Tensho kata as well. When I get to work I diarise the number of hits and kata I had just performed. This is my personal record of my Hojo Undo.
Practice with the weaker hand should be more intense that with the stronger hand. This will ensure ambidextrous strength in the hands. Practice should stop if the knuckles start to bleed and a disinfectant applied to the affected area. An adhesive plaster should then be applied thereafter. Stop striking the makiwaraa with the seiken (fore-fist) until your fist is completely healed, however you can continue striking with the ko uchi (bent-wrist strike), shuto uchi (sword-hand strike) etc.
There are two types of makiwara, the tachi-makiwara and the age-makiwara. The most common version of the makiwara is the standing makiwara (tachi makiwara). However, there are also two types of standing makiwara:
Whip the hips around on a horizontal plane and strike the makiwara with the body, breath and spirit!
(a) a flat wooden post extending up from the ground with a pad (or straw wrap-around) on the top. This makiwara is struck from the front only.
(b) The other type of standing makiwara is constructed of a round pole which is set into the ground as well. Straw padding is wound around the pole, and it can be hit from all sides.
Both these makiwara are essential tools found in the Jundokan Hombu Dojo in Naha, Okinawa. Higaonna Morio Sensei has also adapted this makiwara by increasing the diameter of the pole and inserting baseball- bat protrusions from it. This gives the effect similar to that of the Wing Chun dummy where one can simultaneously block and strike. The type of padding used is up to your own preferences. The traditional covering is coiled straw rope which is coiled onto the makiwara. It is said that the resins in the straw are supposed to provide a natural antiseptic effect for when one skins one’s knuckles. This covering certainly hardens the skin of the knuckles quite quickly. However, the resin also tends to darken the skin causing the hands to appear darkly callused. Consistent use of this makiwara will require quite frequent changing of the straw covering as it is not a very durable medium. The other types of covering can be either a rubber padding or a leather cover. The type of makiwara I use at home has a padding with a canvas covering over (see photographs). This I have found is just right for my needs. The padding has also sunk-in due to consistent pounding (and accurate punching?)
The age-makiwara is made of straw bundles with sand placed in the Centre. This is tightly bound with rope and then suspended from the ceiling by ropes at both ends. This creates a target that is not fixed as the age-makiwara moves in all directions. One is able to incorporate kicks as well as hand strikes when using this makiwara.