Modern Hojo Undo

Why Hojo Undo? Part 1: Makiwara vs Bench Press

Jonathan Walter

Why Hojo Undo? Part 1: Makiwara vs Bench Press

The purpose of this series is to compare the fitness solutions from different schools of thought and see how they compare to the needs of the martial artist. The purpose is not to say that hojo undo is “better” than other ways of exercising, just that it is better for the martial arts. In that vein we’re going to start with Makiwara vs Bench Press. If this seems like comparing apples and oranges, and it is. That is the point. Both deal with making you better at extending your arm that is where the similarities end. One makes you better at pushing. The other makes you better at punching. First, let’s look at each exercise on its own to identify their individual strengths.

Bench Press- The bench press is one of the most important muscle building exercises in modern weight training. Primarily it builds the chest and triceps, but in order to get maximum strength the lifter has to develop a strong core, strong grip, and solid leg base. It is a total body exercise. The lifter also has to develop very precise and consistent form. The weight must follow the exact same perfectly straight path on each repetition. Difficulty is increased by adding more weight over time. How much weight? The current unassisted world record for bench press is over 700lbs!

Makiwara: The makiwara is a lightly padded upright wooden post that is struck near the top. Anything that is not a lightly padded upright post is not a makiwara, even if it claims to be. The makiwara is a very old training device developed in Okinawa and used by every karate style that originated in Okinawa or Japan. Being a tool and not a specific exercise the makiwara can be used in many different ways. For simplicity’s sake we’ll just deal with the most common one which is to stand directly in front of the makiwara and strike the pad with the first two knuckles. The object is to hit the pad with speed, power, and correct joint alignment. The impact is absorbed by the knuckles and transferred through the wrist, arm, shoulder, back, and eventually the feet. If the joints are not aligned correctly then the makiwara gives instant feedback in the form of pain. The main force when hitting the makiwara comes from the hip rotation with the fist and arm simply transferring that force. Over time this develops increased punching power by conditioning the fist, perfecting body mechanics, strengthening hip drive, and increasing confidence in all the above. How effective is it? The world record for most boards broken with the hands in one minute is 487!

So as we can see both the makiwara and the bench press are very effective exercises that target the arms. Both have useful applications for martial artists. If you can do both, great! But if you can not do both which one should you choose? Choose the one that best suits your needs. Choose the one that best helps you perform the techniques you are training. In this case that is the makiwara, hands down.