Modern Hojo Undo

Kids vs Hojo Undo, part 2, the Makiwara

Jonathan WalterComment

Kids vs Hojo Undo, part 2, the Makiwara

If you’re new to hojo undo then this is not the ideal jumping on point. I’ve written several articles here on the makiwara that go more in-depth on exactly how it works, but for review purposes the short and dirty explanation is: the makiwara strengthens striking muscles, toughens striking surfaces and bones, and most importantly reinforces correct striking technique. Although it often gets overlooked the technique aspect of makiwara training is really the most important.

Last week we talked about whether or not kids should participate in hojo undo. Traditionally the answer has been no, but current research suggests that with proper supervision there is no reason a child cannot get all the same benefits as an adult if on a smaller scale. There are problems that can come from children overtraining, and over-loading, but keep it reasonable and you should be good. All the benefits and concerns we discussed last week still apply to the makiwara so I do recommend checking out that article if you haven’t already. Makiwara training is the most important part of hojo undo training so I wanted to devote a separate article to it and give it the attention it deserved.

The problem with makiwara training compared with strength training is it deals with high impacts concentrated on relatively small surface areas instead of loads distributed over the entire body. It also concentrates on parts of the body that are inherently more fragile. This means that it’s easier to overdo it with the makiwara, and more difficult to correct a student before they do. When done correctly makiwara training is perfectly safe it’s just that the margin of that safety is smaller. We also don’t have any scientific studies done on the makiwara. I’ve talked about this before. There is every reason to apply lessons we’ve learned from other exercise research, but none of it is going to apply completely. Also, if you read my last article you’ll remember the discussion of growth plates. Children’s hands are approximately 60% growth plates. It is hard to break growth plates, but this is actually a pretty good recipe to do it. And that is especially true when you consider the fact that a makiwara built for adults is going to have virtually no flex when used by a child. Of course that doesn’t really matter because they won’t be able to reach high enough to hit it in the first place. I makiwara that is too tall is exactly as useful as that stair stepper you got for Christmas and have only ever used as a clothes rack. So in summation, while makiwara training could benefit a child just like all hojo undo the risk of injury is higher, the possible impact of that injury is greater, the makiwara won’t work correctly for them, and they probably won’t be tall enough to use it anyway.

This is, to me, too many problems to overcome, and I’ve never let children use the makiwara in my own classes. The closest I’ve come was substituting a light heavy bag. That was better than nothing, but a heavy bag is not the same thing as a makiwara. I’ve got an article that discusses the differences here.

If you’ve read many of my articles or seen the equipment I sell you can probably guess that this didn’t end there. Most of problems come down to the makiwara being too stiff and too tall. It took me a while, but I think I’ve worked around them. I’m calling it the beginner makiwara. Instead of using the post itself as a spring I’ve used metal springs that keep the post under control, but don’t offer too much resistance. That way they can develop the correct technique with a minimal risk of injury. Obviously this will drastically decrease how useful it will be for toughening purposes, but that’s kind of the point, and as I’ve said before, the technique is the most important part. I also designed a base that can attach to either the floor or the wall so it can go wherever you want to put it.

This is a new kind of makiwara, designed solely to help teach striking technique while taking out as much of the conditioning as possible. Instead of hitting it as hard as possible the idea is to work through the full range of motion of the technique, making good contact, and maintaining constant contact with the pad. Like with a regular makiwara if you hit it wrong you can immediately feel it. Unlike with a regular makiwara if you hit it wrong it will not injure your hand. If you use it like a regular makiwara it will probably break. In fact it’s designed to break before it will injure.

I’ve made a video to try and demonstrate how it works. This is my biggest departure from traditional hojo undo so obviously it will take more explaining. I really think I’m on to something with this. As important as the makiwara is it does come with risks and a lot of people simply don’t want to deal with them. I’ve had several students who couldn’t get over how uncomfortable the makiwara can be when you start that they ended up quitting before they got used to it. The beginner makiwara lowers the bar for getting into makiwara training. This can be as useful for adults as children. Starting on the beginner makiwara can help you establish good technique before moving on to a normal makiwara and adding conditioning to that technique, which could very well decrease the risk of injury. It is also nice for developing pressure point strikes, which are notoriously hard on a regular makiwara.

I’m going to ship them with a 4 ft tall post, which is adult sized. It is very easy to cut down to a better length for kids. If you know what height you need you can let me know and I’ll do that before shipping.

Hopefully the pictures and video help to answer your questions, but if you have any more please let me know. I’m excited to hear what you think. Let me know in the comment