Why Hojo Undo, part 8 Barbell vs Kongoken
I'm a big fan of heavy barbell training. There is a real case to be made for general strength training and nothing is more general than barbell training. The beauty of the barbell is it's ergonomics. The weight is centered on a bar you can then center over your center of balance.
I said center too much and now it sounds weird.
Anyway, with the weight so well balanced you can totally focus on recruiting all of the muscles possible and lift the most amount of weight. More muscle lets you lift more weight. More weight equals more work done. More work burns more calories, builds more muscle, and lets you lie about bigger numbers on the bench-press. An off- balance load might feel more difficult, but in a physics-sense more weight is more workout.
In fact, there's only one thing that barbell training doesn't do. It doesn't do anything in particular. Yes, it builds more muscle, but it doesn't teach you how to use it for anything except lifting more weight.
As important as strength is to a martial artist, skill is so much more important that ideally it would be worked into all of our training. That is why the hojo undo answer to the barbell is the kongoken. The kongoken is easily the heaviest single piece of hojo undo equipment; starting at 50lbs and going up to 100lbs. Instead of making the weight as ergonomic as possible its arraigned into a large oval to better approximate a human body. That means that every time you pick up a kongoken you are effectively practicing a throw. (For those you might not know, yes, karate has throws. Lots of them.) Working with a kongoken you start to feel the best ways to tip it, move it, find it's center of balance, and lift it up. You're building grappling skills and strength at the same time. The oval shape also allows you to do twisting motions that build striking and throwing power, and would be completely pointless with a barbell.
I've compiled some kongoken training videos herehttp://www.modernhojoundo.com/index.php/videos
I would not consider the kongoken essential to being a good martial artist. It is very good, though. I can't think of another piece of equipment that works so well to develop twisting motions for grappling and striking power. I noticed a major difference in my sheiko-dachi stability after I started using a kongoken. You can also do total body, general strength work. Kongoken squats and kongoken push-ups are both killers. If you don't have a makiwara then get a makiwara. If you don't have a chi ishi then that would be the next thing. But, if after you've covered those basics you're still interested in more hojo undo I highly recommend the kongoken.
P.S. As some of you are no doubt shouting at me through the internet there is actually a traditional Okinowan barbell called the "Tan." It is made from wood with stone weights on either end. While it is used for some barbell-like exercises it's not traditionally as heavy as the kongoken, and is mostly used for iron-body conditioning. Also, I don't sell it. If you're curious about it make sure to add "hojo undo" to your search bar. Just Googling "Tan" will get you something else entirely.