Thursday 24 September 2009

Makiwara Training

My doctor cheekily asked “How many times have you broken your knuckles? Either that or you are a karate man!” When I told him I have trained in karate for well over 20 years, many of which I’ve been a full-time instructor, he was surprised that I never told him before (He’s been my doctor since I returned to Japan in March of 2007). He thought from my physique that I was doing “gymnastics or something”.

He then went on to ask the typical questions (boringly typical here in Japan) if someone finds out that you do karate “Do you play in K1?” and “Do you break bricks with your hands?” Both to which I of course answered “No, I do dentotekina karate-Do”. He then asked “so how did the index and middle finger knuckles of your hand develop like that? (Pictured below)". So I explained to him that it’s probably from my use of the makiwara since youth. I then went on to explain that “to me the makiwara is not a tool for hand conditioning as much as it is for harmoniously using the body, particularly the legs, waist and back, to muster and channel maximum energy into a target”.

Clearly uninterested in my comments he suddenly slapped his hand on my seiken (fore fist), which was still closed, and was shocked “Ouch! Your hand is killing weapon!” Of course I couldn’t help but smile. He then went on to ask “Are you suffering any pain from complications such as arthritis?” And I responded by saying “Thanks to God not yet, and hopefully never!”

The last thing he said to me was “As a karateka do you make your students do such training?” And my answer was “No! I don’t expect anyone to risk their body for karate and educate my students on the dangers of all practice methods, teaching/promoting only what is safe. That is my responsibility as an instructor.” As a Japanese, he was surprised by my response, as here in Japan, people who teach budo/martial arts are often very stubborn, still promoting outdated practices which are very harmful for the body (their justification being ‘tradition’).

My view on the makiwara as a 'conditioning tool' for myself: Obviously conditioned karada no buki (weapons of the body) are less likely to sustain damage when impacting on various parts of the human body. Also sharp and hardened weapons ARE MORE EFFECTIVE. However, with any form of training, there is a price to pay, and a level of risk. Probably the most dangerous practice of all is makiwara training... In saying that, I admit that I value the conditioning aspects of hitting the makiwara 'for myself'.

Many people question the safety and effectiveness of makiwara training, and rightfully so. As a total believer in the makiwara, I am not afraid to say this, and are also keen to talk openly about the dangers and benefits of this traditional training tool.

My best wishes for your training & good health!

© André Bertel, Japan (2009).

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