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We had a lovely night of good, hard training on Tuesday, and I brought along the camera to get some examples of our performance/power phase training on video.

The first clip demonstrates a side plank. To many, “core exercise” is interpreted as doing lots of situps. Situps target the hip flexors more than the abdominal muscles, and are actually counter productive for this purpose.  Side planks strengthen the recruitment of the abdominal obliques and associated core stabilizer muscles. The variations demonstrated here further involve the stabilizer muscles around the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee joints in conjunction with added leverage against the core muscles.

The next few clips demonstrate agility work on a tape “agility ladder.” While moving down the ladder, the student is focusing on exploiting the rebound from stored kinetic energy to move lightly and quickly but powerfully. Hitting the pad at the end of the ladder gives the student an opportunity to experience how momentum and the drop-step can produce fast, powerful punches. As the pad holder advances, the student works on employing the same stability and agility while moving backwards and throwing punches as fast as possible, using the feet to dig in to strike forward powerfully.

Dave Campbell,  shown in two of these clips, underwent complete reconstruction of his left knee two years ago. This type of training, progressing gradually from slow to full speed, has helped him to regain mobility, power and speed.

This last clip is a very short sample  of makiwara work done in a more dynamic fashion. Instead of thrusting with the body as is commonly seen in karate, the student is punching ballistically, initiating with the chest and arm to generate speed. The momentum and drive of the body is linked upon impact. Although the hips are involved as a rotational center, the drive is primarily generated by the active propulsion of the legs. The rear heel is allowed to lift and drive forward, contributing to the forward momentum and allowing stored kinetic energy to rebound into the strike. Keeping the heels flat negates the rebound, lessening the dynamism and power generated, and also encourages excessive strain on the medial aspect of the knee and compression on the posterior lumbar spine.

Thrusting with the body produces a punch that is encumbered by the agonism of the latissiumus dorsi. Although it may feel powerful, such thrusting actually lessens the velocity of the punch, subtracting substantially from the power generated.

In the final installment of the “Ude Makiwara: Notes on History, construction and Usage”, I mentioned that I would soon post some video clips of  drills and training methods. It’s been more than a year and I’m finally getting around to putting some of these videos together-yeah, so timeliness is not a strong suit. The video linked below shows a very basic progression from simple straight punching into combinations utilizing circular strikes and basic footwork. In the next few weeks I plan to get some more videos up showing different drills that progress from simple skills to more sophisticated ones (hopefully before the year is out!)

Randy Simpson poses with his kill before rehearsing for the Japanese Festival Demo.

Part 2 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry.

A Tale of Two Miyagis
Despite the general scarcity of information in historical writings, there are at least two modern sources (available in English) that reference the ude makiwara and provide diagrams. The first, Traditional Karatedo Okinawa Goju Ryu Vol. 1 by Morio Higaonna, contains illustrations of several different types of makiwara, all of which are less common variations on the theme.

The round design pictured is comprised of a post of unspecified dimensions, with two intersecting cuts made into it lengthwise from the top. These cuts create four sections that serve as striking surfaces in lieu of a single tapered board. Rope is shown wrapped around the upper portion as a striking surface. The result is a makiwara that can be hit from all sides with presumably equal amounts of give.

No instructions for construction or usage accompany the diagram. Nor can any specific conclusions about its history be assumed. However, Higaonna trained under Miyagi An’ichi, a top student of Goju-Ryu founder  Miyagi Chojun. According to a recent interview, An’ichi was Morio Higaonna’s sole teacher, and An’ichi himself had been Miyagi Chojun’s only student at times.7

Miyagi’s teacher, Higaonna Kanyro, studied various boxing systems  in China as a young man, which  presents the possibility that the ude makiwara was brought back to Okinawa by him.  He may also have encountered the basic round striking post in China and later created the version pictured in Traditional Karatedo. If either is the case, then the  ude makiwara design shown is an artifact of Naha karate training as taught and propagated by Higaonna, and later Miyagi et al,  although the possibility that the design came from another source certainly does exist.

Notes From Matsumura Shorin Ryu
Another variation on the ude design appears in Bishop’s Okinawan Karate.8 This information comes from an interview with Seiki Arakaki, a late student of the late Hohan Soken, who trained in the Matsumura Orthodox lineage. When discussing makiwara training, Arakaki states:

“There were, and still are, basically two types of makiwara, the flat board and the round post. The flat one is used for practicing the straight corkscrew punch and the round one, which has one or two splits to halfway down the middle, is used for training the fist, elbow and the side of the hand.”

As for the makiwara itself, a clear drawing with measurements for the height of the post is included but no information for the diameter. The diagram indicates a 200cm long post that has been cut lengthwise four times as opposed to twice, resulting in eight flexible sections instead of four. The top of the post is also shown wrapped with rice straw rope.

As a royal bodyguard and officer at the end of the second Sho dynasty, Matsumura Sokon himself would have been privy to knowledge gained from exchange trips to China and resident Chinese envoys. According to Kerr’s work Okinawa: The History of an Island People, in the days of the second Sho dynasty “residence at Tomari suggested scholarship and association with the Chinese living there.” Given his access to these resources, it  would not be difficult to imagine that Matsumura introduced the ude makiwara from a Chinese source into the larger community.

But cultural diffusion seldom takes one path- Kerr continues,  “The Naha man was presumed to be less conservative, to be more knowledgeable in the latest songs and dances, the newest patterns and styles of dress, the latest slang.” And the Naha community was likely exposed to a wide spectrum of fighting- the ports there were backdrop to a shifting mixture of sailors from China, Japan, Korea, Siam, Java, the Pacific islands and continental Southeast Asia. The ude makiwara may have been an intentional import form China, or an incidental one from  exchanges at the ports.

Back to Goju?

Its tempting to attempt to trace this makiwara back to Matsumura’s days (via Hohan Soken), but Arakaki had more than one teacher. As well as training with Hohan Soken in Matsumura Orthodox Shorin Ryu from the 1950’s on, Arakaki had also trained in Goju-Ryu under Seiko Higa, who in turn was a student of Kanryo Higaonna (and later, Miyagi Chojun). Arakaki’s Goju background brings into play the possibility that the ude makiwara shown is a product of his Goju Ryu exposure, along the same lines discussed earlier.

Arakaki might well have come by this makiwara via his training under either teacher and lineage- but it may be that he knew it from an unrelated source, or that it was simply common knowledge via one or both routes of cultural exchange with China. If that is the case, the ude makiwara shown should have equivalent cousins in Chinese boxing systems that may well still be in use, or referenced in older reference publications and manuals. While it does not provide us with a definitive history, this information does suggest that either or both the Matsumura Shorin Ryu and Naha (Goju/To’on) traditions practiced (and practice still) with this design, and that it may have come to Okinawa as a result of inentional or informal exchange with Chinese martial artists.9

Without notes on the specific origins of any of the three versions (a tapered pole, a post with two splits, a post with four splits), its difficult to place these designs in context with karate’s historical timeline, or to compare the different methods of using them. However, given the reference in Motobu’s book, inclusion in Morio Higaonna’s work and the dual possible origins presented in Bishop’s (via Arakaki), it is safe to assume that the ude makiwara was at one point a relatively common piece of equipment in the generalized Shuri, Naha and Tomari karate circles that has been overshadowed in propagation and modern use by its flatter relative.

by Randy Simpson

Part 1 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry.

The makiwara is a familiar sight to most that practice “traditional karate” of some form or another. A simple plank tapered to provide springy feedback for striking techniques is relatively common in the karate world. It is an aspect of Okinawan karate culture that has survived quite well amidst the cultural transitions and subsequent transformations of the art over the last century. In fact, its ubiquity is interesting in an age wherein stylistic boundaries, commercialism and political bickering often redefine what “is” and “isn’t” karate in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Politics aside, the need to hit things is a happy universal.

Although the makiwara itself has made it to present day practice, the existence and specific histories of several variant designs are not so well known among modern exponents. The language barrier itself is probably one of the most significant causes of this gap in information, as there may well be detailed references that are simply unavailable outside of Japanese, and thus unknown to English readers. From the available writings, we can see that the majority of the karate men writing in the early 20th century mention the makiwara and emphasize it as a necessity for correct development of karate striking techniques.1 Several works, such as Gichin Funakoshi’s Karate-do Kyohan, also include diagrams for reference and suggestions for usage. In at least one of these sources the standard makiwara shares mention with a round variety described variously as a pole or ude makiwara. However, compared to other information published on the makiwara in general, the reference is brief, which leads one to wonder at the reasons for the lack of equal mention. In this article, we will explore the background of this somewhat lesser known variety (based on the available source information), methods of construction for the modern training space, and some observations on its usage. For purposes of clarity, the standard variety will be referred to hereafter as a tachi makiwara, and the round as ude.

Motobu’s Notes
The only available “classical” work that mentions an ude makiwara and includes specifications for construction is Motobu Choki’s 1932 Watashi no Karate Jutsu. In the section “How to Make & Use a Makiwara”, Motobu mentions that there are two varieties, the sage (hanging) and tachi (standing).2 He notes here that the tachi is “usually referred to as ‘The Makiwara’” and was in common use among many people. Following some notes on the construction of the sage variety, he introduces “another kind of tachi makiwara that is not so popular but used for developing both arms.”  It’s referred to simply as a makiwara made from a round pole. He goes on to describe this version in some detail:

“…A round shaped pole 210 cm in length with a 9 cm diameter, with 75 cm buried firmly in the ground, leaving 135 cm above exposed ground …the top should be 3 cm thick with about 30 cm length wrapped with rope. This makiwara can be struck from the front and sides by either hand to develop power.”

Sadly, no diagram of this design or any pictures of one being used are included. By the description given, we can envision the pole as tapering to a smaller diameter at its top to provide a springy target, but with equal give from all sides. Motobu points out that either hand may be used to strike this makiwara, which may at first seem entirely obvious, and something that one can do on the tachi as well. However, if interpreted to mean that it may be struck by either hand from any position, i.e. an elliptical forearm smash followed by a reverse punch, the statement makes more sense and hints at the practice of more dynamic exercises, which we’ll explore later. Given the diameter that is prescribed, it may also be likely that it was intended more for use as a tool for arm conditioning and forearm/hand/elbow strikes.

Seeing as how Motobu trained under an eclectic variety of teachers from the Shuri and Tomari areas (Anko Itosu, Sokon Matsumura, Kosaku Matsumora and Tokumine Shitsunen Pechin), the historical origin of these plans can only be speculated upon.3 He was probably introduced to this makiwara by one or more of the men he trained with, who in themselves constitute an impressive pedigree of teachers. Judging by the fact that he regarded it as important enough to include in a book, it is reasonable to assume that Motobu made use of it in his own training, and it is further possible that he passed knowledge of this makiwara on to his students, who may then have disseminated it to their own; this record seems to be lacking, though. However, based on his learning from several prominent teachers as well as his exposure to the Motobu family ti tradition (via his older brother, Choyu), it is highly probable that this ude makiwara has a significant history in pre-twentieth century training in one or more of the major centers of karate/ti practice and development. Motobu sensei’s enthusiasm for makiwara training can be attested to by contemporary descriptions of his hands.4

There is another 1930’s publication that mentions yet another variation on this variation. In kobudo preservationist Taira Shinken’s Encyclopedia of Okinawan Weapons, a makiwara specifically for training with the bo is shown in the Bojutsu section. The detailed illustration shows a solid round post with a crosspiece set horizontally through it near the top, and a hole bored through the center. Straw padding is wrapped around these “arms” and the top and lower surfaces of the makiwara.5 Taira notes that the makiwara should be of “average human height.” Although this version is for weapons training rather than empty hand, it does demonstrate the adaptability of the basic “striking post” concept. Functionally speaking, it is reminiscent of the pell, a medieval European weapons training post of Roman extraction.6

Coming in Part 2: A Tale of Two Miyagis, Notes From Matsumura Shorin Ryu

After a week of slushy winter rain, wind and snow, Spring is looking better and better! Here are a few shots taken by Lisa Henderson in the back yard dojo last year- so much green…img_1486




"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


July 2020

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