Modern Hojo Undo

Why Hojo Undo, part 7: Makiwara, what is it good for?

Jonathan Walter

Why Hojo Undo, part 7: Makiwara, what is it good for?

we've already adressed the claims that the makiwara makes your fist, or any striking surface, harder and therefore protects your hand. we found that while the callouses don't do that evectively there is a medical principle that suggests that makiwara training will strengthen the hand bones. So despite any focused research into the area there's every reason to believe that the makiwara does exactly what it claims to do with regards to toughening.

The next benefit atributed to the makiwara is increased punching power, and this is where things get tricky. There are a lot of factors that go into punching power. In fact, power is only one of them. I'm going to start calling it punching effectiveness for this article to try and keep things clear. But first, an example. It's generally more effective, in terms of stopping a fight, to stab someone rather than punch them. This isn't because knives increase power. Knives simply focus that power into a very very small area making it more damaging. This means that decreasing the surface area a stike hits with will increase its effectiveness even if the actual force stays the same. In physics the terms power and focus would be force and pressure. The actual pain a person experiences is more to do with the pressure than the force. But since pressure = force / area you can increase pressure either by increasing the force or decreasing the area. Let's look at each one seperately and see how the makiwara might help it.

First, force. This is the oomph behind your strike. striking force is generated by the muscles, usually the hip muscles, and transfered through the body to the actual strike. If your muscles are weak you won't be able to generate much force. If your technique is bad you won't be able to transfer much to your strike. Either way your strike will be weak. The makiwara helps you generate more power by acting like a wooden resistance band. This is one of the main reasons the makiwara bends. When you hit the makiwara and push into it you push not just with your arm, but with your hips as well. It should be said at this point that the point isn't to push the makiwara back as far as possible. The point is to hit it so that your punch naturally ends a few inches into the pad. That way there is still hip drive behind your punch, but you're not forcing it. If it helps this is basically the same exercise as a standing one-arm cable press, or similar press with a resistance band. The only real difference is that with the makiwara you're able to train the punching mechanic much better because you can start the motion without resistance and thus much more explosively. The resistance only kicks in when the resistance would kick in for a real strike, at the end. This is the benefit I constantly see emphasised by the books of masters.

Second, focus. If you've never hit a makiwara then you might not realize how small that pad is. It's surprisingly difficult to hit it square when puching at speed. And even after you've mastered that ability you will still screw it up the instant your mind wanders. Doing 100 punches on the makiwara is an exercise of mental focus as much as punching focus. The karate punch seiken-tsuki hits with the first two knuckles, and it really needs to hit with both of them. The makiwara is spectacular at letting you know whenever you mess that up. Unlike a heavy bag, or similar, the makiwara is absolutely unforgiving in this regard. This is down to it's flat front and little padding. You can feel instantly and unequivocably exactly how you hit. This lets you constantly make small adjustments to your form until you find how to hit consistantly with those two knuckles. Students usually think I'm exagurating when I tell them to start with 100 punches on each side, but when you think of it as a form check instead of a knuckle conditioner it makes a lot of sense. To give another modern exercise example this is a lot like "greasing the groove." Modern power-lifters and weight-lifters often do sets at an easy weight just so they can get more practice with their form; to better engrain the motor pattern. The makiwara is sometimes called the "second sensei" for exactly the same reason. It will literally teach you how to hit. Another way the makiwara helps your stikes be more focued is in building wrist stability. This ties in with last week's safety concerns too. It's one thing to have the raw strength to keep your wrist straight while punching, but even if you do have it you'll still need a lot of practice actually doing it. Remember, a punch happens very quickly. There isn't time to think through the form. It has to just happen. Add to that the fact that each punch is slightly different, even with a consistant target like a makiwara, and building that unconcious ablity to make those small adjustments needed to keep the wrist straight is clearly something that simply takes time and repetition. Thankfully, once you master it on a makiwara you're pretty much good to go. Human targets are a lot squishier and tend to move and bend to fit around your fist making it a lot easier to keep your wrist straight. The makiwara does not do that.

One last point I'd like to make before concluding. The precision the makiwara adds to your punching is another reason it makes your punches safer. Hand bones are at their stongest when stressed straight on. Any wobble is not only less effective, but also much more dangerous for your hand. Being able to hit consistantly straight on and with both knuckles means that the force is distributed in the best possible way. It's another reason for the large number of strikes traditionally recommended.

In conclusion, does the makiwara help you punch harder? Yes. It builds the muscles needs to generate power, and it helps you deliver that power in the most efficient way possible. Those are the things that can be improved. But, as a wise man once said, you don't have to take my word for it. Check to see some makiwara training ideas. That does it for now on the makiwara. Next week: barbell vs kongoken. Happy punching!

P.S. For the sake of clarity I've used the terms punching and striking interchangibly, but they are, of course, different. We most commonly associate makiwara training with the straight punch because that is the strike most in need of makiwara training. However, all stikes can benefit from makiwara training; hand stikes and kicks.

P.P.S. There is another benefit of makiwara training that I left out intentionally, confidence. While this is a real benefit it can be hard to explain. There's also a healthy loss of confidence that can occur when you first start out and realize just how much room there is for improvement. If you stick with it, though, it does get better.