Using a Makiwara
*(Makiwara means, literally, “rolled straw.” Nowadays, the straw is usually replaced with a cotton pad and is normally placed on a flexible post. Sometimes, instead of placing the pad on a post, it is attached to a spring mechanism mounted directly on a wall.)
Many traditional karate practitioners realize the value of using a makiwara. Some modern karate practitioners opt for a heavy bag instead. Regardless of what is being hit, having feedback from devices such as these can be of great value. This feedback can help you figure out how powerful your punch really is and what it feels like to make contact with something.
Some mistakenly believe that the prime objective of striking a makiwara is to build up the calluses of the punching knuckles. Do you think a violinist does conditioning practice to create the calluses on his/her fingers? A professional violinist develops “pads” on the fingers of the left hand, as a result of constantly pressing against the strings. From repetitious practice, calluses often develop. But these do little to help the practitioner. They are merely a side effect of practice. The idea of using the makiwara to strengthen the fist is not totally wrong. But it is not the knuckles that are being conditioned; it is the wrist and the rest of the arm that are being conditioned to make a more effective technique.
When punching a makiwara (or anything else), several things should be considered that you should always consider while punching the air as well. Check your distance from the target and your stance. Check that you are properly channeling the power of your legs (see March 1998 article for more on the subject). Check that the alignment of your arm during the punch is correct, that you are properly using the hips and that you are properly coordinating the tensing of various muscles involved (see February 1998 article for more on this).
When punching a makiwara (or heavy bag, for that matter), a few things should be considered that may make the punch slightly different than that of air-punching. First of all, if you try to rotate your wrist at the very last moment into impact, you may be jeopardizing the health of your wrist and/or hand. You may need to change the timing of the rotation slightly (not much though) or leave out the wrist rotation altogether.
There is a tendency while punching an object for the practitioner to “push” the punch. If you want to develop pushing power, do push-ups or weight-lifting. Pushing with brute strength is of little use while punching. Pushing is not the same as power. Keep in mind that power is created through a combination of speed and transfer of mass (Force = Mass x Acceleration). As you learn when punching an object such as a makiwara or bag, speed is not in itself sufficient. But neither is just pushing power. You must reach your target quickly and powerfully. Also, one should realize while practicing with a light punching bag that a would-be attacker would most likely be harder to “push” than that bag. This is one reason why the makiwara may be a more realistic training tool; it doesn’t move much (but should move enough to absorb some of the shock so as not to ruin the user’s joints).
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published October 1998)