At the end of this summer’s TKRI/Seijinkai Gasshuku, Robert Miller charged me with a mission: to figure out a way to make a kongoken out of parts found at the hardware store and document the process. I’ve made all sorts of training equipment for myself and for the dojo out of a mixture of concrete, duct tape, logs and items scored through dumpster diving, so making a kongoken seemed like the next logical project. Our dojo will definitely benefit from having one around, but Bob’s ulterior motive was to provide Chopper (his student, my teacher) with a conditioning tool that he could use safely following an upcoming knee surgery.

The kongoken was adopted into the Hojo Undo repertoire of Goju Ryu after Chojun Miyagi visited Hawaii in 1934. The story goes that he observed Hawaiian wrestlers training with these large metal ovals, which may have been pieces of anchor chain from large ships. Miyagi brought the idea home to Okinawa, and kongoken were established in the Goju training tradition. To exponents of the Duct Tape Ryu school of supplemental training equipment (make it if you can’t afford it), the kongoken represents a unique challenge. 5-foot tall ovals of heavy iron pipe just aren’t easy to come by, nor is the equipment needed to bend such a length of pipe. After consulting with my father-in law Ben, who’s mechanical genius puts MacGyver to shame, I realized that my prospects for bending a kongoken into existence without heavy equipment were not very good. So I headed to the local Lowe’s and spent some quality time in the plumbing department. The sales associate was more than a little perplexed as I explained what I wanted to do with the collection of pipe and fittings that I’d laid out on the floor. After configuring and reconfiguring all of the angled pipe fittings it became clear that making an oval out of threaded pipe was not possible- but making a rectangle was. I decided on 5’ lengths and 1’ end pieces, 1” thick (Lowe’s was out of thicker diameter pipes in the lengths I needed). I gathered up the pipe and fittings and checked out, wondering if this collection of items would place my name on some post-911 warning list.

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Pipe sections laid out

Once home I threaded all of the pipe together into a rectangular frame. It was quickly apparent that the final corner of the assemblage would not thread into it’s fitting without unthreading the other end. The joints also gave the frame enough flexibility to twist out of alignment when I swung the frame on it’s axis. A bit of welding was called for to make the kongoken solid and rigid. Fortunately, Ben had bestowed a spare MIG welder upon us and I was itching for a reason to weld some stuff together. But first I needed to add some more weight to the pipes. To make the kongoken heavier, I threaded three of the pieces into a U shape and filled the 5’ lengths with concrete. I mixed the concrete slightly wetter than normal so that it would pour into the pipe, but this proved to be easier said than done. I started out using a cup with a hole cut to the diameter of the pipe as a funnel but this quickly became jammed with chunks of gravel.

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Putting my hoe to work                             The attempted funnel method

What worked best in the end was cramming handfuls of concrete into the pipes and then tapping the bottom against the ground to help it settle, then adding more. It would be wise to wear some safety glasses when doing this, as the percussion will splatter concrete all over the place. I ended up cramming a little bit more than a third of a 60lb. bag of Quikrete into the pipes, adding around 25 lbs. to the overall weight. After cleaning the threads of concrete I left the frame upright to dry overnight. The combined weight of the pipes with the concrete works out to 45ish pounds.

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Pipe full of concrete

The next evening I threaded the last section of pipe into place and muscled the un-threadable corner into place to match the others. I laid the kongoken on a flat deck and stepped on all of the corners to make sure that it was as flat as it could be. Once it was square the fun could begin- I got out the MIG welder and welded the corners solid.

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Don’t try this at home

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After 20 minutes of peering through the welding shield I had a solid, decently heavy square kongoken. It was about this time that the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song began repeating in my head. I tested the newly minted kongoken out for a few minutes and banged it around to make sure the corners held. Despite it’s square ends, it moves the same as an oval one, and rotating it on one corner has the added challenge of shifting the weight across it’s transverse axis while maintaining a grip. Satisfied, I hauled it over to the dojo for the evening class and presented it to Chopper.

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Chopper squaring up

The total cost involved:

1″ diameter black iron pipe x 5′: $12.63 X 2

1″ diameter 1 x 1’ black iron pipe: $4.50 X 2

90 degree elbows: $2.35 X 4

60 lb. bag Concrete: $4.82

=$45 plus tax

$45 and a little bit of work is much nicer than the price ($120 from one source) that it would cost us to buy a kongoken. I think that the next version will involve thicker pipe and more concrete so that we end up with both a light and a heavier model to use. Aside from the welding, this is something that can be made easily with just a few relatively inexpensive items. If you lack a welder, a garage or repair shop could probably do the welding for a few bucks. In the mean time, we’ll be happily shoving this heavy iron rectangle around and trying to stop humming that damn theme song.

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