Why I like a stiff makiwara
Last week I introduced a new, less stiff, makiwara designed to lower the bar for makiwara training and even let kids benefit from makiwara training. I realized there was an unspoken question in that article that I’ve never fully addressed before. Why do I make my makiwaras so darn stiff in the first place? If you don’t have much experience with makiwaras you won’t have much to compare it to, but I can confirm that they are in fact stiff. The boards are stiff, and the pads are stiff. I do that on purpose because I believe it’s better.
First, makiwaras have always been stiff. Then you see a master punching his makiwara and see the post flex it is easy to expect a lot of flex when you go to hit the makiwara. The problem with that is, unless you’re also a master, you won’t be hitting it anywhere near as hard. It takes years of practice to get to the point where you can safely put a lot of force into a makiwara. Also, if what you’re seeing is a demonstration there’s every reason to think that they’re playing it up a bit for effect.
Second, makiwaras simply work better when stiff. The purpose of makiwara training is to instill good technique. The way it does that is by giving instantaneous feedback on exactly how you’re contacting the pad. The stiffer it is the better the feedback. If you’re skeptical about that go punch a pillow and see how little feedback there is. That’s one reason why heavy bags don’t work as well for karate punches. It’s also why boxing styles changed after they introduced gloves. Obviously there is a balance. We don’t, and shouldn’t, go around punching rail-road ties. Some flex is necessary. It provides safety. It also provides progressive resistance which is good for building strength. It’s just important to keep that flex minimal to preserve the most important part of makiwara training.
Third, a stiff makiwara lasts longer. When a material flexes it develops microscopic breaks and tears that in time will cause it to fail. Some materials are more resistant than others. I’ve been using my makiwara for years with no problems, but it will eventually break. A stiff makiwara with less flex will be less damaged with each use, and therefore last longer.
I make my pads stiff for the same reasons, but also for one more. A stiff pad helps protect your wrist. The absolute last thing you want in a pad is for it to bend your wrist sideways when striking. I’ve used softer makiwara pads that almost felt like a heavy bag they were so padded. That not only defeats the point of the stiff board, but is simply less safe.
Agree? Disagree? Is there some makiwara you’ve used that is your favorite? I’d love to hear about it.