Some people argue that a makiwara is a necessity for developing good kime (focus) and impact for punching. Others claim that training with a makiwara can lead to damaged hands and wrists and should be avoided.
While makiwara training is still widely used throughout the world, many schools do not offer makiwara training. Alternate training tools are often used instead to develop good kime and impact. For example, impact pads, focus mitts, ceiling to floor ball, etc.
I had heard arguments for and against makiwara training and read loads of articles of how to build and use a makiwara and decided the only way to really find out about the myths of the makiwara was to build one for myself and come to my own opinion.
This article takes you on my journey of building a makiwara. It focusses on the key points you should be considering when building your own makiwara and best practices so you’ll avoid the pitfalls. It also will bring you up to speed with some brief history of the makiwara and its use.
Before I get started explaining how I built my makiwara, here’s some quick Q & A to bring you up to speed if you’re not familiar with the makiwara.
What is a makiwara?
A makiwara is a punching board. The head usually has layers of straw padding, bound with rope and covered in canvas, while the other end is buried and held in place by the earth. When struck the makiwara provides some give as the board moves because the head isn’t secured.
Usually it is a seven or eight feet in length and stands vertically in the earth. Typically, the board is thicker and wider at the base. Approximately four feet of the makiwara stands above the ground, so the top is level with the chest when in your punching stance. The remaining length is anchored below the ground. The head of the makiwara is cushioned and forms the impact point for hand and sometimes foot techniques.
Makiwara is made up of two words, maki literally meaning “wrap” or “roll” and wara meaning “straw”. The result – “wrapped straw”. – Historically the wrapped straw was used on the head of the makiwara as the cushion at the point of impact.
Where did the makiwara come from?
The origin of the makiwara comes from the same place karate was born – Okinawa. Usually you can find a makiwara (or more than one) in traditional Okinawan dojos.
What is a makiwara used for?
The makiwara is used to develop kime (focus), good technique and impact. It toughens the knuckles and skin, and teaches the importance of having “connection” with the ground. It helps develop concentration and technique to the point where it is said the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of your mind and body, meet as one at the exact point of impact, delivering incredible power and penetration into the target.
Why do some people consider a makiwara dangerous?
There have been plenty of reports of people damaging their hands and feet from using the makiwara. It should be noted that long-term use of the makiwara has been reported to lead to calloused knuckles and sometimes more severe injuries. However, like everything if you take time to learn how to strike in the correct fashion from a qualified and experienced instructor, the risk of damage to yourself should be minimal.
Why do others argue the makiwara is pivotal to learning effective punching technique?
If you continually punch only fresh air, you become very good at punching only fresh air. This in itself isn’t particularly helpful when faced with a situation where you have to have good impact. However using a makiwara is one of the best ways to develop effective technique. Studies show that using a makiwara can help you develop impact up to hundreds of pounds per square inch. One report even suggested up to 2000 pounds per square inch! This is as high as humanly possible.
What you need to build a makiwara!
One four by four inch thick wooden post, eight feet in length. You can pick up one of these from your local timber supply or hardware store. I paid around $12.00.
Important things to consider when choosing your timber!
Your chosen piece should :
- be 8 feet long
- be 4 inches square
- be as “knot-free” as possible
- have the grain running as parallel as possible to the long side, not diagonally, as it makes for easier cutting and stronger support when striking
The makiwara should be approximately half an inch thick at the top, while the other end (base) should be 4 inches square which is the size of the post. I made mine a little thicker at 3/4 inch for a little more resistance, and also cut 12 inches from one end to give an overall size of 7 feet long.
Mark and then draw a line from the base at the corner edge to the point 3/4 of an inch from the edge at the top. Then cut the wood diagonally following your line. An electric saw will make this job simple. If you don’t have a saw or don’t fancy attempting this yourself, then ask your hardware store if they will cut your wood to size. If you do cut the wood yourself, be sure to take proper safety precautions!
You’ll also need two 12 inch wide two by four pieces of wood to form the cross supports. The supports should be placed approximately 8 inches and 30 inches from the end that will be inserted into the earth. Use some 3 inch self tapping screws to fasten the cross supports to the post.
It’s important that the cross support closest to the bottom is attached on the “front” of the makiwara, while the other cross support is on the “back” side. This provides maximum resistance to the force applied when struck.
You also might consider lacquering the makiwara to protect it from rotting. Remember it’s going in the earth and will be exposed to weather so it’s only a matter of time before it will begin to weaken. I coated my makiwara with a waterproof sealant. Be sure you are coating, and simply not “staining” the wood. You want to keep water out as much as possible to extend the life of your makiwara.
Grab a shovel and find a suitable place to dig your hole. Remember your hole will have to be 3-4 feet deep depending on the length of your makiwara post. Be sure to find out if there are any water pipes or other utilities beneath the earth where you’re planning to dig. You want to be clear of any potential hazards.
Be sure that your hole is deep and wide enough to hold the makiwara and that the top cross support is at least 6 inches below the surface of the earth.
Pack the hole for the makiwara with rocks, (or fill with concrete if you prefer), and fill the remaining gaps with the soil you removed when digging the hole. Be sure to compact the earth around the base after you’ve secured the makiwara in place.
I chose to use a piece of 4 pound, 2 inch thick, dense foam padding (closed cell polyethylene) similar to what boogie/body boards and other floatation devices are made from. This padding is the same material used to make impact pads. You can usually get a sample from packaging companies at little or no cost.
I then used some high quality cloth tape to fasten the padding to the head of the makiwara.
The entire project from start to finish took approximately 4 hours and cost approximately $50 US after purchasing the wood, tape, padding and sealant.
It was also relatively easy for me considering I had access to power tools and plenty of space to work.
The head of the makiwara can be made from anything that provides resistance, but at the same time it must provide a cushion for you to strike.
You could wrap the head will a towel and tape it securely or you might like to make one of straw, rope and canvas in the traditional way.
In part 2 of this article we’ll look at what techniques you can use on the makiwara and how to get the most from your impact training…. stay tuned!