Makiwara – A user guide

Intro to Makiwara:  

What is a Makiwara?  A training aid as a target made of wrapped straw, typically mounted on a post used to develop striking power, conditioning and targeting focus to develop confidence in delivery of Kime!  

Typically, in my experience, the Makiwara is used by very few martial arts practitioners but is an asset that can teach us a lot.

Perhaps, many of us see it as a one dimensional hitting tool as opposed to a training aid that helps us develop focus, atemi, kime and promotes proper body structure needed and understood by it’s innate immediate feedback.  The Makiwara challenges us to do better.

Conditioning of Hands:

Loosen hips, resonate feet into the ground and loosen legs in a wave motion through to your hips (koshi) through torso into shoulder following into arm, wrist, fist to contact point (knuckles.).  All joints in turn participate from ground up.

  • shake out shoulders and wrists.
  • Bent over rows and over the head shoulder presses with weights are a good exercise as are planks on the floor for core development.  These exercises enhance your lats, shoulders and lower back.
  • On the ground on all fours, place your two prominent knuckles into the ground with shoulders directly above, single and both, roll your weight onto these a number of times (up to you.)  Finger tips starting with 5 fingers and reduce fingers down to two on your own time to develop confidence in your hand power.

Makiwara Presentation:

The Makiwara sits off to the side of the dojo as an inobtrusive sentinel awaiting the opportunity to guide us through self discovery on full body participation of striking!  

Makiwara can be anything from very flexible to very rigid and less forgiving.  You will notice that the higher up on the Makiwara, the more flexible it is and then targeting a point lower will then provide more rigidity.  Whatever type you train with, get a feel for it by lining up your stance, shoulder and fist in front of it. Hand on top and just use your koshi by way of resonance from feet up through all your joints to direct energy up and into your gripping hand pushing it out. 

Use both hands with resonance from the feet on up a number of times and feel the fully body participation.     

Maximizing Makiwara Strikes:

There are a number of ingredients employed to maximize our Makiwara strikes.

Tsuki, seiken (front of fist), shuto, haito, uraken and kicks all can be utilized on the Makiwara but for our purposes, we’ll focus on seiken.

  1. Stance and delivery can be with either a step in and then deliver our strike or with one foot lined up, koshi twitches to unleash our strike into our target.  To start and during our warming up, we feel the flow from the ground top via all our joints in a relaxed manner and delivery.  Look at your structural alignment.
  2. In groups of ten, alter the strike direction with both hands.  Try horizontal as opposed to vertical striking contact.  Maybe, punch upward for ten and alternately, punch in a downward direction for ten.  Emphasize the index knuckle and then emphasize both prominent knuckles.  Again, the approach is relaxed and a “feel” for our Makiwara interaction is very important!  
  3. With this relaxed manner, we tend to develop an ebb and flow to our striking delivery and our joints are felt as participating as well as our internal structure.  A Feel for ‘resonance’ eventually becomes an important ingredient in our striking delivery, meaning as our feet stabilize and our body drops slightly, we create a compressive energy into the ground via our feet that releases up and outwards to aid our technique.  This takes time but is a very important aspect of Kime delivery!
  4. ‘Breathing’ – through your technique in Makiwara, the same as in kata and anything else we do, should be natural and continuous.  To halt our breathing is to invite tension and contributes to an interruption of our focus.  An exercise I found to be useful which melds a meditative aspect to our  Makiwara training, is to, over the course of five relaxed strikes, exhale for the count of five and then for the next five more strikes inhale.  Repeat this inhale/exhale ten times and you will have done one hundred strikes!   Focus on your count and strikes with your breath and you will find this a form of ‘moving’ meditation into your practice! This is also a good warmup!
  5. As we ingratiate our Kime via our warmed up strikes, recognize how our feet stabilize, knee, hip (Koshi – which offers that igniting movement), lower back, lats, shoulder blade, shoulder, elbow which backs up our wrist alignment to our two prominent knuckles into Kime, by way of fluid motion through these joints and body structure – we are locking in that delivered strike and releasing.  

That delivery can be Kekomi (thrust) with penetration or Keage (snap) like breaking glass.

As we deliver more deliberate strikes and Kime, it is important to develop a ‘Heaviness’ in our strikes borne of relaxed interal energy and a slight dropping and forward movement of our mass into our target.

6.  Mental and focal participation in our training is of utmost importance and is very much in evidence in our Makiwara training and is often not given the credence it deserves.  Here, we can develop even further our focus and intent, ingredients that while not physical, make our physicality that much more viable!

The mental aspect is the attitude within us and is formed and directed by the  Intent directed by our eyes!  In our desire to strike a target, we mentally determine the intensity and reason.  Is our target a life or death determination that must be dispatched harshly or is it something lesser and we are just repelling a not so perilous attack? 

Whatever our response is, attitude is formed, intent is determined and eyes follow through directing that intent with our technique relevant to the response required.  Kime is the end result of that technique, delivered by focus, power, intent and directed with our eyes.

This mental participation and follow up delivery is quite evident and developed within our Makiwara training and thereby our kata practice also takes on this Makiwara training flavour.  

Our mind is always focussed on the ‘Now’ in the present moment!  Whether it is in Makiwara, kata or any other training, we cannot be thinking of what was or what is yet to be, the present is where we live!

Gary Christensen – Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu

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