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Why the makiwara should be the non-choice of impact training? Let me explain further, although, I am not going into the pluses or minuses of the makiwara. My views on the subject are my own suffice to say that this particular piece of equipment found in the karate dojo since the beginning has helped to forge some very powerful and well-known karateka both past and present.
It is a formidable piece of karate training equipment and there is no doubt that it is still has a place in the traditional karate practitioners training regimen. For developing the fore-fist for correct punching it has no equal. But, today I believe that this old tradition of forging a fist of steel is on the decline and I doubt whether there are many karate practitioners outside Japan or Okinawa who actually still use it.
There is an alternative however, and that is the heavy bag. Now this serves two purposes: The first is it gets your fist and body mechanics used to landing solid punches or kicks with every strike you make on the bag. Notice I say heavy bag not light bag. Producing strong impact with your blows is an essential part of any type of contact training whether it’s karate, boxing or MMA. So you see, training in order to obtain a strong punch that can knock out an opponent when hit is the corner-stone of impact training.
Moreover, with the introduction and emphasis on sport karate and non-contact training in most dojo today there is no reason or incentive to develop a really powerful punch. Unfortunately, it simply is not there anymore although, with the increasing popularity of mixed martial arts and cage fighting, the need to develop a powerful punch or kick has returned so who knows, this old traditional method of impact training may someday make a return?
The downside of the makiwara is that it is static and you are limited to the type of techniques you can do on it. The famous Shotokan karate master Masatoshi Nakayama once said in his book Best Karate Vol 1″ The makiwara should not be missed even for a single day. The truth is, the heavy bag does provide a better body target to practice on daily because you can use every type of punch, kick or open hand technique you want.
Not only that, it will also accustom you to landing sold strikes on an opponent that the makiwara or light bag cannot. Strong impact training has traditionally been taught by many leading karate teachers who recognised the true importance of such training which was cultivating the type of blow that would damage an opponent when hit. The tough conditioning of the hands on the makiwara and other devices was a common site in most dojos before the inception of sport karate and the modern stress of non-hitting an opponent.
What this meant was, as previously stated, no real incentive to develop a strong punch. Unfortunately, this has lead to some black belts not having any real conception of impact. Never having hit a makiwara they have a false sense of power. Anyone who has trained on or hit a makiwara will know just how hard the piece of equipment truly is and you certainly learn very quickly what correct technique and real power in your punch means, anyway, their sense of power is derived only from tensing their body whilst performing kihon (basics) or kata.
I realise, what I have just said may be controversial for some people ,but I am afraid sadly it’s the truth. The good news is that although the makiwara is good for developing power and focus in your blows it is limited in many ways.
Therefore, you would be wise to seek out some modern-day training gear such as: focus pads or the heavy bag because they offer you a useful and flexible training alternative where you can practice the full range of karate techniques. Jumping, spinning kicks, (not advisable to use in the street however) head butts, knife hand, hammer fist strikes and so on can be practised and honed to perfection as well as, building up your stamina and strength.
Also, with focus pads you can work with a partner, training together for two or three-minute rounds at full speed and power incorporating functional combinations whilst exploding into each technique to give you an exceptional workout whilst improving everything else at the same time. You can use body shields, kicking shields to improve your movement and positioning whilst delivering a barrage of long and in close fighting techniques especially knee strikes.
What the above equipment allows you to do is ensure you understand and appreciate the importance of correct distancing, slipping and moving your body around whilst at the same time delivering a good hit on an opponent who is trying to hit you. In conclusion, whilst some traditionalists may not approve of this type of training preferring to stick to just the makiwara, that’s fine, but there is no doubt in my mind that using pads and the heavy bag greatly made my training sessions not only more productive, but significantly helped develop more impact, power and speed in my punches.
A word of caution though when using the heavy bag in particular because it is unforgiving by that I mean, hit it wrong and it will bite you back in the form of an injured hand or foot. For that reason, correct focus and use of technique is as important as when you hit the makiwara so maybe the old and the new or not so far apart as they first seem after all when it comes to karate power to the fist.