The Makiwara – Thoughts, Ideas and Quotes

The other day I headed to the local Sumo arena, just to look around a little. Usually you will see about ten or fifteen kids (in Sumo outfits), screaming and wrestling with each other.

If you are wondering: They’re not all fat, but some are.

Anyway, there wasn’t any practice scheduled that day so I sneaked down to their secret underground practice area. As I walked deeper and deeper into the Sumo dungeon, I noticed something strange…

A wooden post that was cut off at the top.

I took a picture:

Now, if a wooden post is supposed to support the structure of the building, why would anyone cut it off? Sabotage? A trap? I don’t know.

So I decided to explore some more.

As I sneaked closer, I noticed something even more strange!

Look:

Judging from the marks, somebody has been hitting this wooden post… That’s when it dawned upon me:

This is a “Sumo makiwara!”.

For those of you that don’t know what a makiwara is, here is a picture:

This makiwara stands in the garden of the main dojo I practice in. As you can see, it is simply a wooden board with straw (wara) wrapped around (maki) it. Hence the name, makiwara. This is the old model. We also have the newer wall mounted makiwara, as in this picture:

Believe me when I say that you don’t want to see the knuckles of the man who owns this makiwara. Those nightmares still hunt me…

Anyway, that’s the two most common makiwara you will encounter if you train Karate. Now back to the Sumo version.

“But you are not allowed to punch in Sumo” somebody might say. Yes that’s true. But… you are allowed to do palm strikes! So they practice palm strikes on that wooden post!

That got me thinking… if Sumo wrestlers practice with a dummy, what other Martial arts (other than Karate) use a striking post/dummy? What a stupid question. In ten seconds I came up with about every Martial art that exists.

Don’t believe me?

Here are some examples:

1. Wing Chun – The classic wooden dummy.

2. Wrestling/Grappling/Judo/MMA

3. Kyudo (the Japanese art of shooting with the bow).

4. Kendo (Japanese fencing).

5. Okinawan Kobudo

6. Boxing/Kickboxing/Self-defence/other Martial Arts

So, as you see, Karate is not unique in this sense. All Martial arts seem to have the need for striking/punching/grappling/kicking something other than air or a live person.

But why? What do you get from a makiwara that “punching in the air” or “punching your friend” doesn’t give you?

Well, first of all, if you punch your friend, you won’t have any friends anymore. So for that reason you may want to punch a makiwara instead. Other benefits of using a makiwara are for example:

  1. To receive feedback on the correct alignment of the bones and joints (physical geometry) when striking (and kicking etc) and provide feedback on hitting power.
  2. To overcome the psychological resistance of striking through a target, especially the impulse to tense excessively on impact or withdraw the arm, and thus reduce the penetration of the strike.
  3. To improve the co-ordination of hand, hip, arm, legs and back on impact. To develop kime.
  4. To get cool bruised knuckles.

Now, despite these obvious benefits of using a makiwara (especially #4), there are people who say that makiwara training is bad! Everything from increasing the chance of arthritis in the hands to crippling them all together.

Yes, that can happen. I know Karate masters here in Okinawa that have had surgery to remove big chunks of cartilage from their knuckles.

Therefore, take the advice of Mr. Funakoshi Gichin:

“The trainee should be very careful not to give into the youthful enthusiasm to strike the board either without plan or with too much strength. Overtraining can not only injure the knuckles, sometimes permanently, but it may occasionally be the cause of diseases of the internal organs.”

That said, I hope you find time and energy to use the makiwara. Even if you don’t use it daily, you will learn a lot. I’ll give you another quote just to be on the safe side. This is a good one:

“One whose spirit and mental strength have been strengthened […] with a never-say-die attitude should find no challenge too great to handle. One who has undergone long years of physical pain and mental agony to learn one punch, one kick should be able to face any task, no matter how difficult, and carry it through to the end.

A person like this can truly be said to have learnt karate.”

And what better way to endure “physical pain and mental agony” than to pound the makiwara?

10 Comments

  • Oliver
    By hitting the makiwara or the heavy bag you also develop the necessary musculature around the shoulder needed for striking.I like the sumo-makiwara :D But shouldn't it be elastic in some way? Doesn't look like it is..
  • Yeah, the sumo-makiwara is cool :) and it was rock solid.Sumo-people are hard.
    • Thanks for ?nformat?on Sensei. I m Founder of Enkin Kai?kan Mart?al Art . Osu.
  • John Arena
    Another great article. I had practiced what I considered to be traditional karate for about 30 years before experimenting with the makiwara. I began training at a time when our orginazation was emphasising competition, so I did not understand the benefit of this type of training. After a training session with Hokama Sensei of Okinawan Goju Ryu I started to have a different perspective. I can truly say that I did not begin to understand effective striking until I began consistant makiwara practice. I was also forced to confront some real weaknesses in my character and nature. Not a pleasant experience but very useful. This type of ttraining reveals all. I am guessing that most Okinawan practitioners could not concieve of karate practie without makiwara training.
  • @JohnI agree with your comment 100%By the way, guess who the owner of the wall-makiwara is.../Jesse
    • warrioress
      No way! Please tell me it's not you! (just kidding)
  • Holy mother of cow - I only just noticed that image in the top right of the page! Has that guy got spikes on his makiwara?!
  • warrioress
    I got a question. I may sound really stupid but what are the advantages of makiwara training compared to punching (and kicking) a heavy bag?
  • Gerry
    Personally, I don't use a makiwara, but both a standing and hanging heavy bag with thin leather gloves instead. I feel I get sufficient feedback on technique, plus I can practice many more types of strikes from different angles than using the makiwara.
  • Bruno
    Well, first of all, if you punch your friend, you won’t have any friends anymore.i'm at work and dropped a loud laugh when i read this sentence...

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