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.¬†There 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.

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