Letters: Makiwara


26 July 2006

I was wondering if Steve holds any value in makiwara training? I ask because so many so called karate experts either shy away from the makiwara or place greatness upon it.

ex karateka after 20 years training

Robert Wall

The simple answer to that is: NO.  There are a number of reasons why.

The makiwara limits you to its vertical plane of alignment, so it’s suitable for karate because it encourages hitting in a vertical alignment, which is traditional to karate.  But it’s terrible from the point of view of trying to get angular shots.  You can change your position, but it’s difficult unless you pad it, to change the angle of your shot, and it’s the angle of the shot
on the body, head, leg, whatever, that causes the damage.  A makiwara, at best, allows you to jolt the head, if it’s constructed with enough flexibility to allow you to do that.  But it doesn’t provide for you to rotate the head, and it’s the
rotation of the hemispheres of the brain on the brainstem, where the reticular activating area is, that creates the knockout.

When I was on Okinawa in Miyazato Eiichi’s gym, what they were doing on the makiwara was pretty tame.  It was just tap, tap, tap, and when yours truly came along and broke the makiwara, I was actually chastised for that!  I was
told it was supposed to be a gradual process of conditioning the hands and the wrists.  Which, if you’re a wuss, is fair enough.  But the thing is, conditioning has to be done at the power level you intend to use in the fight.

Not only do you have to strengthen the power lines at the angulations you need to use in a fight, but you also need to condition the body at those same angulations as well.  The makiwara doesn’t facilitate that.  It’s limited to only conditioning the hand in one dimension; i.e., your fist flat against the post.  On the other hand, the heavy bag allows you to not only
develop the power at different angles, but to condition the hand and the wrists and forearms from those angles.  So you can not only deliver the power to the shot, but now you can sustain the follow-through.  And there’s the key thing.  It’s the follow-through that causes the damage.  You accelerate through the target, and this acceleration is the key.

If your makiwara is too hard, which is often the case, if you try to follow through you’ll break your hand.  But if you don’t follow through, you don’t get a hit.  A lot of guys on Okinawa hit the makiwara.  But when Miyazato put up a brand
new punch bag, they couldn’t hit it for shit.  They hadn’t understood the principle of follow-through.  And they could only hit the bag at one angle. The dimensions of their training, their basic approach to all training, was
one-dimensional.  They were even standing vertical like the fucking makiwara.

For those who argue the point that the makiwara produces hand and wrist conditioning, I would suggest they look at the clip on my site where I’m breaking an engineering brick stood on its side.  The clip is taken from a sequence of breaks, some of which are without spacers, flat on the ground, using fist and elbow.  None of those were reliant upon conditioning I obtained from the makiwara, but hand conditioning from punching bags and crushing tennis balls.  Now, I know a brick is not representative of a living target–don’t have to tell me that–but you find me a fucking guy whose head is harder than a brick! Especially when it’s laying flat on a stone floor.

You don’t need makiwara.  You should only use it if you’re on a desert island and the only thing you’ve got is a piece of wood.  If you have access to a heavy long bag, or any heavy bag, and Thai pads, that’s all you really need.  And
it’s a lot easier to transfer the visualization of a man onto a bag than onto a makiwara.  The makiwara is so one-dimensional it’s ridiculous.

There’s also that perception that the bigger your makiwara, the bigger your punch.  Bollocks.  When I was doing Wing Chun and working on the dummy, what I actually found was that my striking power went down, because I couldn’t get the follow-through.  I was checking the shot; I had to, otherwise I’d have broken my hand.

The other thing about striking is that you need to violently and suddenly change the shape of the target by bending, stretching, twisting, tearing or compressing it, as well as shaking it.  The makiwara doesn’t allow you to explore all
possibilities by which to suddenly and violently change that shape.  Bags and pads do.

The other point is like what happened with Trish.  People when they initially start off need to feel the power they can generate, and then you gradually start to condition for that power.  And that’s why, initially, if you haven’t got the hand conditioning you wear wraps and gloves.  Makiwara tends to start you off at the wrong end.  If you have no hand conditioning and you hit it full power you’ll probably break your hand.  So you never get to really fully explore your full power potential.  With wraps and gloves, you do.  Now in Trish’s case, even with the wraps and gloves she still couldn’t release her full power, so I got her to hit a hanging tire with a pickaxe handle.

Karate normally gets it back to front.  Striking is about firing the bullet.  You put in the accuracy, conditioning, etc. AFTER, not before.  Otherwise you have no explosion; it’s been inhibited by accuracy and this kind of conditioning against a hard surface.

Having said that, the bags in Horsham were pretty hard, and the bags in Earlham Street , people broke their hands.  But you work up to that.  The main thing is that you’re getting the penetration.  Some guy once wrote into me and asked if he should fill his bag with cement powder!

Top of the bag should be light to represent the head–you can smack it around all over the place.  Bottom of the bag should be heavy, representing the changing density of the body as it goes down towards the legs.  The filling naturally tends to settle that way, anyway

If you’re fighting a six foot three guy, you can’t raise your makiwara like you could raise a bag. It’s fixed. And you can’t condition your shins on a makiwara, unless you adapt it in some way and then it’s no longer a makiwara.

Why would you want to go out of your way to buy or make a makiwara when you could just get yourself a heavy bag from anywhere?  And the reason people do is because they are all hung up on trying to fit themselves into a

No doubt somebody out there will point to Higaonna Morio as an example of the benefits of makiwara training, but just because one guy was able to use the thing to good effect doesn’t mean that that was down to the makiwara. In other words ‘Higaonna could fight. Higaonna used a makiwara. Therefore, using a makiwara makes you a fighter.’ That’s the kind of logic that runs around. Martial arts people pick out one guy and use him as an example of the effectiveness of their training methods, when often the success of the guy was down to his attributes or some other factor. I know because this used to happen to me when I was training in karate.

Whereas in Muay Thai and boxing, full contact sports, there are lots of champions who use the bag. There’s no assumption here. We know that bag training works. There are too many guys to count in MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, who have used the bag as an integral part of their training regime, as well as other proven methods.

Personally I think the makiwara is one of those precious tools that should be left in the martial arts antiquities museum on Okinawa. Or binned. Or, along with the gi, burn it!