Why Hojo Undo, part 5. The Once and Future Chi Ishi
No one knows exactly where the chi ishi originated, but what we do know is that the idea is hardly unique to Okinawa and karate. It isn't hard to see why either. Any time you add a lever arm to your weight you make it much harder to move and much more realistic for real world strength. I mean, barbells and dumbbells are great and have their place, but they can really trick you into thinking you are stronger than you are. Picking up 100lbs on a barbell is fairly easy, but picking up a 100lb treadmill, then carrying it down stairs, and worming it through the slightly too small door frame is a truely humbling experience. (Tredmills are my nemesis. If you can think of a worse thing to have to move please leave a comment.) The fancy exercise science term for that is "multi-planar movement", and in addition to being the new craze in exercise it's also the old craze in exercise. In fact, we see martial artists using impliments very similar to the chi ishi all over the world.
Indian clubs, so named because they originated in ancient Persia and Eygpt, are esentially chi ishis made entirely from wood. They start at around 3lbs and go up to 50lbs, and are swung in circular motions to develop strength for wrestling.
The Hindu Mace, which looks a bit like a giant all-metal chi ishi, actually was developed in India. Training looks a lot like two-handed chi ishi training, which makes sense since they are both designed to do the same job.
There is even a modern equivalent with the new trend of sledgehammer training. It is literally the exact same thing.
The best thing about any multi-planar movements is that they can more closely reflect the movement you really want to train. That is why most chi ishi exercises are done one-handed and from a solid stance. More time in sheikodachi is always good. You're not just building your muscles, but your ability to move momentum through your body. The fancy term for that is kinetic linking, and it's the key to striking power. This is also why most chi ishi training is done with relatively light weight. A 10lb chi ishi is really all you need. At first 10lbs will seem very heavy, especilly with a two foot handle. After a while you'll get used to it and be able to move to a heavier weight, but that doesn't mean you always should. It's very easy to get a weight too heavy to actually control so you end up just flinging it around. Remember, for martial arts, on some level, everything is about practice. It's often better to do more reps with a lower weight so you can better engrain the movement and so you can better feel what you're doing. Incidentally, this is why I started making adjustable chi ishis. I like to mix up the weights without having an entire collection of chi ishis. This is also why it's better to punch the makiwara 100 times lightly instead of 10 times really hard. Your knuckles might feel the same after either, but the more times you hit it with good form the more likely you'll hit squarely if you had to do it for real.
You can find some videos with chi ishi routines atwww.modernhojoundo.com/index.php/videos. The chi ishi is easily the most versitle piece of hojo undo equipment. If you had to choose only one it should be the makiwara. But if you can have two then the chi ishi is a very close second. I highly recommend it for any karateka.