Modern Hojo Undo

What to do after makiwara training.

Jonathan Walter

What to do after makiwara training.

So you've just finished training with the makiwara. Your hands and your pride swells. Life is pretty good. But now what? Do you just go back to your non-makiwara life cold turkey, or do you need to cool down somehow? Maybe there's some supplement you now need like a makiwara equivalent to the "anabolic window." Who even knows? I'm not a doctor, but I have been doing this for 25 years. This is what has worked for me and my students.

This question has a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is: if you can use the makiwara everyday without accumulating pain then what you're doing is working. You don't have to over-think it any more than that. The long answer is, well, longer.

Before we can get into what you should do to prevent/fix problems we first have to establish what kinds of problems you're likely to encounter. For the sake of length we're also going to talk specifically about hand injuries. The makiwara is primarily designed to train hand strikes, and the hands are the most likely striking surface to be injured. We're also going to talk mostly about the knuckles since, again, they're the most likely part of the hand to be injured. 
With that said makiwara injuries will fall into one of three categories: fractures, abrasions, and contusions.

Fractures are, of course, the most severe, but thankfully they're also the least common. If you take the time to develop good technique, and use basic common sense you should not break your hand on the makiwara. Always remember that hitting it correctly is the goal; not hitting it hard. That being said if you notice any of the following symptoms:
swelling or bruising over a bone,
deformity of the area,
pain that gets worse when the hand is moved, or
pressure is applied
then for God's sake stop hitting the makiwara and go get an x-ray.

The next most serious injury you may experience is a contusion. A contusion is a soft tissue injury, basically a bruise inside your hand. This is most common on the knuckles since there is very little tissue there to handle all the force, but it can also happen on your other striking surfaces. I've personally gotten a few from knife-hand strikes. The best thing for minor contusions is simply ice and rest. The best thing for major contusions, and all major injuries, is to go to the doctor. My regime is to ice for the first two days then alternate ice and heat; never using either longer than feels good. Depending on the severity 15min with ice right afterwards might just clear it up. It is important not to train again until its healed. Contusions are caused by broken blood vessels inside the tissue. Continuing to train with that area will prevent it from healing correctly. You should be able to train other areas so long as it doesn't continue to aggravate it. For example, a mild knuckle contusion should not prevent you continuing to train knife-hand strikes on that same hand. Just remember the cardinal rule, if you can do it without pain (you know what I mean) then it's probably fine.

The last, and most common, makiwara injury you might experience is an abrasion. Skinning your knuckles is very common when you first start with the makiwara. That's why the leather pad has beaten out the original rope pad. It causes less abrasions. Most of the time with abrasions you simply tear off the outermost layer of skin and it stings a bit, but is really fine. I usually train right through small abrasions. You can use a liquid bandage like New-Skin if you like to seal it up. Personally I usually just let it stop bleeding on its own, but then I also build my own makiwaras. I wouldn't feel as comfortable bleeding on someone else's makiwara. Obviously, a severe abrasion or a callus rip is another story. Remember the cardinal rule, and if it isn't healing on it's own you might want to take some time off. There aren't extra points for extra pain. Makiwara training is about repetition and consistency. If an abrasion is making that difficult then just let it heal. The makiwara will still be there when you come back to it.

Those are the most common injuries you're likely to encounter, but ideally we'd like to not be injured at all. Thankfully there are a few things we can do to prevent them.

The first and most important injury preventer is constant attention to technique. This cannot be over-emphasized. The repetitive nature of makiwara training can cause you to "zone-out" while striking. Without absolute focus it is very easy to miss align your fist, miss the pad with one knuckle, hit with a bent wrist, ect... As soon as you start training with the makiwara you should start training yourself to only hit it with complete focus. If you only take one thing from this article let it be constant, complete focus.

In addition to good technique there are also herbal medicines that are supposed to help reduce swelling, and generally help your hands heal faster. If you search for "hit-medicine" or "Dit Da Jow" you can find several different kinds. Many very accomplished martial artists use them regularly and testify to their effectiveness. Personally, I'm sceptical. I certainly won't say they don't work, but since I've never tried any I can't recommend them either. The directions for these products usually call for it to be rubbed into the effected area, and this sounds a lot like something I absolutely can recommend, which is a good hand massage. After every makiwara session I always give my hands a firm massage while stretching out my fingers and wrist. This is the main "pre-hab" I do. After a good makiwara session my hands usually feel very stiff, a little raw, and generally unsuited to any function except hitting things. The massage and stretch is what restores them to their regular function. I would never use the makiwara without stretching and massaging afterwards.

The last topic to discuss is callus management. Despite what most people think the purpose of the makiwara is not to build big calluses. In fact, the bigger the callus the more likely it is to tear off leaving a big hole. That is the exact opposite what we're going for. There are plenty of ways to take off excessive calluses. The way that's worked best for me is something like an emery board or small sanding block with a fine sand paper. The idea is to wear them down to something more manageable. I like to go down to the point that the skin regains most of it's flexibility, but stop before I get all of the way through the callus. A little callus makes hitting the makiwara a lot more comfortable. If you notice the skin getting too stiff then just sand it down a bit. It doesn't take much and doesn't hurt.

So, that's a basic run-down on basic makiwara "pre-hab" and rehab. Preventing and treating makiwara injuries is really the same as preventing and treating any other kind of injury. Maintain good technique, don't go too hard too early, stretch your hands after each session, file down any calluses that get into Mas Oyama territory, and you should be good. If for whatever reason you do need to take some time off, then do. And if you have any more quesions, comments, Dit Da Jow recipes, leave them in the comments.