Karate equipment varies from dojo to dojo; but one piece of equipment that should be common to all is the makiwara board. What is a makiwara? It’s a board used for striking to develop power in karate techniques. It’s the traditional piece of karate equipment, as opposed to heavy bags and focus mitts, for developing speed and power.
Generally it’s karate equipment that is a four inch-by-four-inch post diagonally cut so the top is ½” thick. The top traditionally was covered with straw—hence the name, maki—wrap—wara—straw. Today people use sponge padding covered by leather as a striking surface. The bottom of the post is driven into the ground and secured in a way to give the makiwara flexibility so when it’s punched or kicked it will recoil and absorb the force.
It’s the best type of karate equipment for developing power because it develops focus—the concentration of power at the point of impact. This focus is a unity of the mind, body and proper breathing technique. Remember, karate is a martial art—it’s not street fighting. It’s a science that demands all aspects of a student’s being be in sync. Hitting the makiwara teaches the student to
- Visualize striking a point several inches beyond the striking surface;
- Use proper form to gain power from the hips;
- Exhale and tense at the moment of impact, and inhale on withdrawal.
- Develop strong wrists and ligaments for the rigors of striking.
You just can’t get the same feel of hitting something solid from hitting a heavy bag or focus mitt. The same focus isn’t there. It doesn’t feel the same, especially if you are going rounds with bag gloves. That’s why the true masters are known for the power of their one-blow kills—years of intense training on the makiwara karate equipment. They deliver blows that cause internal damage from shock as well as external damage.
The Secret of Better Striking - Learn to Relax More
One way to get more out of your makiwara karate equipment training is to learn to relax even between the impacts of strikes. A fist or shuto moving from a relaxed body to a state of tension will be much quicker than one from a body that’s tense. Here’s a mind/body exercise used by practitioners of internal styles of kung fu both to develop a strong root and to learn to relax a tense body: (remember, Okinawan goju-ryu karate is a direct derivative of white crane kung fu!)
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes facing forward. Bend the knees an inch or two. Tuck the sacrum. Keep the spine straight. Keep the head level as though the top of your skull is pressing toward heaven. It should feel as if a string from the center of your skull suspends your skeleton where the bony plates seamed when you were a child. Raise your arms in an arc to the level of the sternum, palms facing inward, fingertips of your hands eight inches apart pointing toward one another. Breathe from your abdomen; that is, expand your abdomen slightly and allow your diaphragm to move downward. Inhale, filling your lungs gently from the bottom up. You are now in the posture of Embrace the Tree. Now you meditate by focusing on your breath coming in and out of your body. Start with five minutes, and gradually work your way up to twenty.
If you stick with this standing post meditation you will find you have a stronger root, thus much more power when you hit the makiwara, You will also increase your speed, as you will learn to relax in a difficult posture, then explode at the end of a strike with tension, like a rattan stick released from stress. Doing this exercise will greatly increase the power of your makiwara karate equipment training.
Bob Ellal is a freelance writer living in Norwich, Connecticut. He currently practices aspects of various internal kung fu systems, which helped him defeat four bouts of cancer in the early 90’s. He’s written a book about his experiences using chi kung, ancient Chinese mind/body exercises, to help beat the disease. He’s been clear of cancer for eight years. He was an avid hard-style martial artist in his youth, when he had cartilage between his joints.