Personally, I like makiwara’s (padded striking post). And I’m talking about the traditional post type which have a bit of give in them, as opposed to the wall mounted type which generally have no more give than the padding (though they can be good too). Originally in Okinawa, a traditional “post” type makiwara would have it’s base buried in the ground for stability. That is not always practical these days as your partner might not like the garden dug over to put a post in and here in the UK the weather isn’t very conducive for training outside much of the time! I have one bolted to the floor in my loft which is more convenient.
Anyway, some people argue that as a makiwara has so little give in it when you hit it, your striking hand therefore is forced to stop very soon after impact. So (it is argued) you don’t get the feeling of going through the target as you might when striking a punchbag or focus mitt and therefore you are training yourself to stop short.I respectfully don’t agree as I believe that if you can slam your fist very hard into a target that barely gives and not damage or hurt yourself, then you have no fear of whatever you hit at all. Besides, you can practice punching/striking through the target on other pieces of equipment, that is not really what the makiwara is all about.
Although many see the makiwara as a method to harden hands, especially knuckles, Gichin Funakoshi says that the main point of using a makiwara is to learn correct alignment of the body when striking. Harding knuckles etc is secondary. I have heard stories of people deliberately punching walls so as to break the knuckles, so that the bone grows back bigger and stronger. A quick look at Google images and you’ll see a lot of people with deformed and damaged hands from such training. As I often say to my class, what is the point of training to stop somebody else from damaging your body, if you’re going to damage your own body anyway through your training methods. Not to mention the arthritis etc that you’re likely to get in later life!
Delivery of a good technique depends heavily on correct alignment of the body’s skeletal system. This in turn allows you to become more and more relaxed in your technique as you advance, which in turn increases speed, hence more impact.
How does correct skeletal alignment enable you to develop a more relaxed technique? I’m glad you asked me that!
When you strike something, there is a reaction force created. If this reaction force causes a joint to buckle (such as your wrist, elbow or shoulder) then your body absorbs some of the force which would otherwise have been transmitted into the target. Correct bone/joint alignment prevents loss of power as the joints do not buckle, hence ensuring all the power is transmitted into the target rather than being absorbed by your own body.
This is arguably the single most important function of the makiwara, to weed out the bodies incorrect alignments so that you can correct them.
This is best done with a training device that has little give in it (like a makiwara). Focus mitts are good for accuracy and reaction training to a moving target, but they do not offer enough resistance to allow you to weed out your incorrect alignments within your body. Neither training device (makiwara or focus mitts) are superior to the other, they simply serve different functions.
As low grades, we can use a lot muscular strength to support our skeletal structure and stop it collapsing/buckling if there is any miss-alignments. However, as we progress, the alignment of the skeletal structure improves, it can absorb the “impact reaction” with less support from the muscles. As we need less & less muscular support we can therefore become much more relaxed. This in turn enables us to move faster (more impact), conserve energy and actually do more damage with less effort!
The makiwara, normally wooden, is thin enough to flex a bit so that we don’t damage ourselves on impact. This is where care should be taken with some of the modern wall-mounted makiwara’s that have no give other than a bit of padding. You can damage yourself if not careful.
Another often overlooked asset to training with a traditional post type makiwara, is that it pushes back! Have a think about that for a moment. With most other striking tools such as punchbag or focus mitts, after you hit them they generally move away. A makiwara doesn’t. The deeper you punch into it, the greater the force that pushes back against you. Even the average wall mounted makiwara don’t do that. So this over times trains us to subtly stretch out and push through the arm. So if we hit and hold for a few moments without releasing the pressure, not only are we making sure that the skeletal structure is correctly aligned, but we make sure that correct muscles are engaged. You can also find out which muscle(s) are not required. Remember this point, I’ll come back to it!
I have posted before that at the end of a technique our striking limb should be taut on impact rather than tense. I don’t want to talk too much about that here it will distract from the subject matter of this post. I suggest you visit the post so that you can better understand what I’m talking about here. Suffice to say, when we tense, the contraction pulls back and shortens the limb. When we stretch through, the limb becomes taut (which feels similar enough to tension to cause confusion to the uninitiated) and the hand/foot actually penetrates further into the target. Also by stretching through we can engage our fascial system which gives us a strange kind in connectivity within our bodies.
Muscles are separated from each other as they join to bone at each end. But the fascial system connects whole chains of muscles together. So when we learn to engage the fascial system we have an internal connection between chains of muscles which tension will never ever give us. Some of these fascial chains connecting muscles reach from head to toe. You can see in the picture, chains of fascial tissue removed from a corpse. With most of them you can see the shape of muscles that they have been removed from. This is not theory, this is demonstratable scientific fact.
So going back to the point about pushing against the makiwara after the strike and making sure correct muscles are engaged, you can work fascial chains to engage muscle from the fist, through the torso and down to the foot. Notice, I said “engage” not “tense”.
This is what internal power is about, it’s not about developing chi/ki (internal energy). Developing chi/ki energy may be very good for your health, but sorry it doesn’t really have much martial application. Again, internal power is not the main subject of this post, so you can read a bit more at this previous post on internal power.
You can’t get this from a punch bag which separates from your fist/hand after being struck. So once more, this is something that makiwara’s can help us to train in a way that other impact equipment can is really capable of. There were reasons why the Okinawan’s put such a high emphasis on the makiwara and why very small and aged gentlemen could hit much harder than younger, bigger much more muscular Westerners!