Tag Archive for makiwara

Old School Punching

I’ve come to enjoy playing with some old school training tools at our karate dojo. One of my favorites is the makiwara, or “wrapped board,” a tool made to train one’s punches. Most makiwara are a rigid board with a pad at the top. With the right application, they flex and push back.

Ask enough karateka and they’ll give you a number of reasons why a makiwara is one of the best tools to train punches:

  • It strengthens the knuckles, wrists, etc. for striking
  • It strengthens the hips and stabilizing/delivery muscles
  • It reinforces good punching technique by offering resistance
  • It replicates the resistance of an opponent’s body
  • It helps reinforce proper bone alignment
  • It helps reinforce stability in stance and delivery
  • It helps deal with the reactive force to the punch (Newton’s third law)
  • It trains proper control and targeting of technique

I’ve seen a few martial artists claim a makiwara is only for one specific purpose, but I think that’s limiting the utility of the makiwara. Slight changes to the way you strike can change what you get out of it. I’ve also seen karateka tout it as the best striking tool out there, but I’m sure a boxer or MMA fighter could get all of the same with proper use of a heavy bag. Also, a speed bag has a totally different purpose, so it also depends upon your goals.

This is one of the problems of traditions: they exist for a reason, but when they’re not questioned, their original purpose can get lost.

When it comes down to it, my feeling is some martial artist built a makiwara a long time ago, maybe because it was easiest to build with available materials, maybe because it’s just an idea he came up with. There’s a good chance it evolved over time, too. In any case, it got the job done, students started using it, and a tradition was born.

I like it, it gets the job done, so I’m going to keep punching it.

What gets a little fuzzier is what to do after punching the makiwara.

After a good session, the knuckles will be a bit sore or swollen (blood means it’s time to take a short break). Most of the time, I’ll just let them recover naturally. However, I’ve been reading a lot of about martial artists using dit da jow, or “drop hit wine,” an herbal remedy that’s supposed to sooth the swelling and even strengthen the striking area, depending upon who you ask.

This particular bottle says it’s for use after striking a wooden Wing Chun dummy, which can produce some swelling and bruising on the hands and forearms, and at a very basic level isn’t all that different from punching a makiwara.┬áThere are a number of dit da jow recipes out there, most involving some combination of herbs, an alcohol (sometimes just vodka), and a bit of aging. You can buy the herbs on their own, or you can buy the final product.

I look at these, and my first reaction is they’re just old versions of Icy Hot, Bengay, and similar analgesics. However, because they’ve been around forever, there’s a lot of mysticism attached to them, too. Maybe modern analgesics simply hit upon the chemicals and compounds that worked best, and maybe there’s some aspect the modern stuff is missing from the old remedies (like toughening the flesh).

Because it’s traditional, there are a lot of martial artists who swear by it, but even they don’t always agree on its application. This particular bottle says to put a little on a cotton ball and rub it on the affected area after training. Conversely, I watched a video by a guy who covered his arms and hands with the stuff like sunscreen before and after punching a makiwara and doing forearm strikes against similar tools.

So does it really work? Beats me. Everything I’ve read is anecdotal at best. My instructor has been curious as well, so he picked up a couple bottles. Recently, he gave me the one pictured above. He doesn’t have a strong opinion on its effectiveness, so I’m going to try to be a little more scientific: I’m just going to put the stuff on one hand and see if there’s a difference over time.

Like Bengay, this stuff’s pretty pungent. It’s not as strong from afar as the modern medicines, but it has a sharp odor like a bad wine. If it works, great. If not, I guess my knuckles will stink for a bit.

Time will tell.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Building a Makiwara

I am officially the worst carpenter on the planet. I’ve done several small projects around the house, but if it involves cutting wood, I’m pretty well screwed. As such, I’m surprised my new makiwara came out as well as it did.

I’ve been thinking about building a makiwara — a board for punching practice — for some time. Most theories say the benefits are either strengthening the knuckles, wrist and arm or improving your punching technique. Proponents of one theory tend to look down on the other, but either way, the old masters used makiwara training quite a bit, and several modern karateka still use them. Why not give it a shot?

I found several plans on the ol’ Internet, and they’re all very close. I went out for a sledgehammer on Father’s Day (to resolve the post problem), got a bug up my butt to finally build the makiwara, and assembled my materials:

Makiwara Materials

  • 1 8′ 4×4 (cut down to 7′ by Home Depot drone)
  • 2 scraps of 2×4
  • Tapered-head screws
  • Sewer line connector
  • Dumbass cat (optional, actually)

Lesson #1 is to bring your plans to Home Depot. I didn’t only because it became an impulse purchase, but I might have gotten things done faster had I showed them what I needed as we debated many options before I settled on the sewer line connector. (One plumbing department employee was a grizzled old dude with a never-healing knuckle and several missing teeth. His never-healing knuckle was due to punching something wrapped in rope, and I suggest other things wrapped in flesh. I should have made him stick around as he obviously knew from punching, but someone else needed his help and dragged him away.)

They assumed I wanted to wrap the sewer line gasket thing around the post, but no, I wanted to cut it and make a flat surface, like so:

Makiwara Pad

It’s a little thinner than I wanted, but it’s easier on the knuckles than wood. I want to build them up, not shred the shit out of them. A simple carpet knife went right through the rubber, and I just tossed the two metal constrictor rings into my miscellaneous junk box.

Next came the lumber cutting. Negotiating the 4×4 through a bandsaw or jigsaw, both of which I believe I have available at work, didn’t sound like a good idea. In fact, had I tried it, I’m certain I would have come home minus a few fingers if not a limb. The Home Depot lumber guy recommended a simple circular saw, which I had already borrowed from my father-in-law to cut up and burn our old porch scrap. See, cutting things to pieces, I can do. Making precise cuts? Not so much.

I laid down a chalk line on opposite sides of the 4×4 and they seemed to match. I made the first cut down the length of the 4×4, flipped it over, and made the second cut. The good news: direction-wise, they matched and I didn’t end up with an X. The bad news: I missed by about a quarter inch on one side because I deviated from the chalk line a bit. I wrestled the two halves apart, broke off and sanded the broken edge, and ended up with posts that are a bit thicker on one half (vertically). I tried to take this pic from a more flattering angle:

Makiwara Board

At least all of my fingers survived.

Notice the pic was taken at night under my garage light. Yes, I insisted on getting it done anyway. I used my father-in-law’s post hole digger to dig a hole just over 2.5 feet deep in the corner of the yard, then attempted to screw the 2x4s to the makiwara post. My cordless drill ran out of juice, so I used a corded electric drill, only to strip the shit out of the screw heads before they could bury themselves completely. I decided it didn’t need to look pretty because they’d be buried anyway, but as it turned out the 2×4 — even as short as I had them — didn’t fit into the post hole. Good thing I tested it after the first 2×4 and didn’t waste my time on the second.

No worries, I thought, I’ll just take the one 2×4 off the post and wedge them both in around the post in the hole. I wondered how I’d get the 2×4 off the makiwara post with the screw heads stripped, and as it turned out I was able to just yank it off. One screw had gone maybe an eighth of an inch into the 4×4 and the other two screws never made it through the 2×4.

Yes, I made pilot holes with a drill. Like I said: I am the world’s worst carpenter.

The 2×4 wedged neatly down into the hole, though I could barely reach it as I laid on the ground and reached into the hole. It held the post nice and still (and level!), however, and even with no room for the second 2×4, the makiwara post was good and stable. I think it helped that I used a post hole digger rather than digging a big hole with a shovel. I filled in the dirt, tamped it all down, and boom, I had my makiwara post.

I wanted to use string to tie down the rubber pad, but the Home Depot guys talked me into screws. The screw went right through the rubber and through the back of the makiwara post. So much for that idea. I turned to black electrical tape as a temporary measure. When it starts to fall off, I’ll go back to string.

Here’s what I ended up with the next morning:

Makiwara Completed

Not too shabby despite being built by the world’s worst carpenter.

Now to screw up my knuckles beating on it. I gave it at total of about 40 good whacks on a side yesterday and have small cuts on each of my middle knuckles.

Masochism: it’s what’s for dinner.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.