Part 5 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry.

Stick and Move

Now that the whole thing is firmly in the ground and well padded, what exactly can one do with it? For starters, try out a straight reverse punch. As with all makiwara practice, take it slow at first. If tenderness begins to develop around the proximal phalanges, in the carpal or metacarpal areas when making a fist, this is a sign that your alignment is off and you are hitting too hard for your hand. Take a few days or weeks off from hitting anything hard until the discomfort subsides, and begin lightly when resuming training on this makiwara. Since the shape of the ude makiwara is rounded as opposed to flat, these sorts of injuries are very easy to rush into. Punches with a curved trajectory will probably feel awkward, particularly if you are only used to throwing straight “karate” punches, or hitting bags. Even a solid makiwara-conditioned wrist will have a tendency to hyper extend as it deals with the circumference of the impact area. Using a tate or vertical/standing punch might feel more reliable to you than the standard corkscrew type punch. The wrist is generally stronger in a vertical postion as opposed to  fully pronated.

Experiment with light strikes from different ranges and vectors of movement, noting hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder alignment. I recommend limiting yourself to three sets of ten punches per hand for the first several sessions. Apply this plan to the different types of punch and strike; becoming fmailiar with a straight punch on the ude makiwara is not the same as being used to throwing hooks or uppercuts, so spend some time working on them seperately.  After several sessions of moderated acclimation, the fun can begin.

The main advantage of the round design is the expanded striking area afforded by its shape. Critics of makiwara training often cite that the flat post only offers one surface to strike, thereby making it an unrealistic training experience. While I find this to be a misinformed perspective, I do agree that a flat makiwara does limit the techniques that can be trained upon it. This is not an issue for the ude makiwara. Combinations of punches can be thrown to the sides of the post while facing it straight on, such as jab/hook/elbow. As another example, a roundhouse kick can be followed by an elbow smash without having to readjust the body. Performing a switchback with the feet allows you to repeat strikes and combinations with both sides of the body in alternation.  Striking from different angles will highlight a poorly centered punch in that it will  simply graze off of the  circumference. If your knuckles are not properly aligned, a very hard punch might seem to “bounce” off of the surface. Again, if discomfort develops anywhere in the punching arm, a misalignment of the impact surfaces or supporting joints is indicated.

This feedback, if heeded, provides a valuable insight into the technique being practiced. Since karate techniques will be applied bare-knuckled in the context of a violent encounter, it is imperative that practitioners have an awareness of exactly which knuckles are making contact at the termination of punches, especially rounded ones. Throwing a hooking punch changes the alignment of the standard “karate” straight punch and often places the unsupported metacarpal bones of the ring and little finger in line to absorb the impact, which can have very unpleasant results.11 This is easy to miss when hitting a bag (very firm ones being an exception), which will deform enough to accommodate the fist wherever it lands. A blow that may well damage the hand on a more rigid target will still feel powerful without any negative feedback aside from a scraped knuckle. But considering that the human face is made up of rather bony structures, a refined awareness of knuckle alignments on all punching trajectories is an imperative skill to develop.

Striking the makiwara from different angles can also highlight any weakness in the muscular contraction around the shoulder joint and torso, and throughout the body, during the delivery of rounded and hooking punches. A hooking punch that is not ‘connected’ via muscular contraction to the body core will produce a feeling of separation in the shoulder joint as the body follows through and the arm stays behind, absorbing most of the impact, and losing power at the joint. This particular problem is  not as evident against a bag, where the punch will still move the target regardless of anatomical efficiency (or lack thereof). If the shoulder is driven upwards upon impact more contraction of the shoulder girdle, lats, serratus anterior is needed to stabilize this area (on impact- tensing before impact will slow the punch and rob it of power). Likewise if the shoulder is raised in anticipation of this rebound, the punch will feel as though it bounces lightly off the makiwara, regardless of body follow through. Extending the arm into a wider hook will concentrate this feedback at the elbow and indicate where a weakness has developed there. Fully committed body rotation behind a punching arm strongly integrated (via contraction of the shoulder/lat etc.) to the body will provide a blow that transfers power smoothly from the drive of the legs to the target without losing any in the displaced shoulder joint. The ude makiwara can inform bag work as an adjunct for ‘fine-tuning’ and naturalizing properly supported form. Alternating between striking the ude makiwara and striking the heavy bag is a good way to higlight bad habits and problems that may develop unnoticed on either tool if used alone.

Since the ude makiwara may be struck from all angles the practitioner is not limited to one general direction of movement. “Walking the circle” drills can be utilized, allowing the user to move around the target, letting the techniques be trained in a free-moving manner, also good for reinforcing an awareness of the ever-changing centerline. The same mobility can be experienced with a hanging or standing bag, although the ude makiwara offers feedback and rotational conditioning that are lacking in bags.

In the absence of training partners, arm conditioning may be pursued on the ude makiwara. Inward and outward blocks/strikes can be thrown in succession without constant readjustment, also motivating hip rotation. There are no angles to be avoided, and the round shape provides a surface that is similar to the curves of an arm or leg. As such, the impact feels a bit more concentrated than with a flat surface. A word of caution: take care that the elbow joints are not locked, and no more than ¾ of the way extended to provide some protection to the joint upon impact. Hitting this target with the arms locked will damage the joint as intensity is increased; pay attention to stiffness and pain between uses, a sensation not unlike tennis elbow. Avoid slamming the lateral and medial edges of the forearm into the post, as the ulnar and radial nerves/arteries run along the respective bones. Forearm smashes should likewise be inclined towards the posterior surface to avoid compressing these pathways. Since the arms can be used in alternation, everything may be done while moving around the makiwara to add variety to training and incorporate footwork.

Virtually all of the strikes in the karate vocabulary may be practiced on this makiwara in conjunction with free moving footwork. Individual techniques can be worked into more dynamic drills as well with the makiwara serving as a proxy for another person. All of these techniques can be worked on both arms in succession, or with a combination of other techniques. Forearm smashes and elbows thrown with alternating arms provides good motivation for core rotation behind the techniques, distancing for close-in fighting and a good general workout (such as Tabata Protocol style “burst training”). Alternating roundhouse kicks against an unomving (but springy) target develops good commitment to the kicks. Shifting off the center from a designated ‘front side’ while utilizing rolling hands or two handed parrying into counter strikes provides nice training for shifting off an attack and counterattacking along an opponent’s weak angle. Sanchin style takedowns can be conditioned by shifting around the makiwara and entering with a close strike followed by hooking the leg around the post as the upper body drives into it.

In closing, I would hope that the information presented in this article lives up to the final comments in Funakoshi’s makiwara appendix in Karate-do Kyohan: “The makiwara is suggested simply because it can be made cheaply and easily; thus anything can be made with some ingenuity, without too much cost, and with readily available materials will be suitable.”

Next: Part 6, in which some training methods for the ude makiwara will be demonstrated