Thump… Thump… Thump…

Like most things we do, makiwara practice, when it isn’t being misinterpreted, is usually being misunderstood instead. Some people believe that the object of this kind of practice is to strike the target as hard as possible. This will, according to them, develop power, strengthen the wrists, and condition the knuckles. This is close to true. It’s also true that ‘close’, notoriously, only counts in throwing horseshoes and hand grenades. If you practice makiwara incorrectly, you can get hurt. What’s worse, to those who know better, you’ll look foolish while you’re at it.





But before we go on, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Karate doesn’t work – you do. It's really not, as many would like you to believe, about technique. The object of all martial arts training is to act, think, and feel correctly, with precision - naturally. This task is, ultimately, accomplished solely through conditioning.


Conditioning. Many associate the word strictly with calisthenics. Nothing is farther from the truth. In fact, everything you do, or don’t do, conditions you in some way. Another misconception is that you must tear yourself down in order to become stronger. You know, “No pain; no gain.”  But what part of ‘injury’ is it that some people don't understand? Does the word ‘arthritis’ ring any bells? Having said all that, on to our look at makiwara training.


Most makiwara that I see are fixed in a stationary manner to a wall or have a spring mounted target that makes a loud, sexy ‘crack’ when you hit it. A proper makiwara is a cushioned target on a tapered post which is planted in the ground. It’s designed to move approximately six to ten inches when you hit it, and it doesn’t make any neat noises. It's about experience; not muscle.  It demands concentration, dedication, and endless, seemingly thankless, repetition. It’s a source of frustration and exhaustion. It’s not there to make you feel good, but not to hurt you either. It is both your best friend and your worst nemesis. In other words, it’s a teacher.


People often mistake strength for power. If you want to get strong, do pushups. For "karate power", called kime, you’ll need technique. Using the makiwara is the sure, simple way:

             (1)  Hit it while keeping perfect form in mind.

             (2)  Hit it a lot while keeping perfect form in mind.

             (3)  Hit it a lot on a regular basis while keeping perfect form in mind.


... thump… thump… thump…


What happens is this: As you become exhausted, you’ll  naturally abandon unnecessary (re. incorrect) movements that tire you further. You’ll also train yourself at unconscious levels by the simple experiences of hundreds (thousands?) of strikes. In short, you’ll have conditioned yourself to properly strike naturally. Fact: The power of such a technique exceeds that of physical strength alone. Hitting as hard as possible actually works against you because the demands of that kind of performance undermine the perfection goal.


Here's another myth worth busting: Ugly knuckles are really important so that people can be impressed with you while you’re busy being humble. Uh..., no. Yes, conditioning your skin is useful - to a point. Calluses, however, can crack, fall off, and bleed. Not pretty. Big knuckles are caused by either calcium deposits or bone deformity. Neither is good nor useful. Use your head; know when to put the gloves on!


So makiwara practice will make your strikes stronger. Big deal? Maybe, or for some maybe not. However, there is a much larger issue: Makiwara is a study, not just of karate, but, like most karate, of bigger issues.


What’s the difference between what you do and what you are; between perfecting technique and, say, perfecting yourself? Is it the extraordinary things, sometimes accomplished, that makes great people, or a lifetime of striving for a better self while living up to the best at what they already are?


Is it the championship, the promotion, the Size 3 by June that defines your greatness? Or is it a lifetime of healthy living, courtesy, respect, curiosity, integrity, spiritual awareness, responsiblitiy... lived every day, with everyone, rain or shine. good times and bad...


thump… thump… thump…