by David Gimberline
What does everybody think about makiwara training? I await your reactions.
I see that my response is very long. I hope it makes sense. It is much easier to show and teach than it is to describe.
I think makiwara training is one of the most important and most misunderstood training aids to karate development.
Karate has never come very natural for me. Throughout my karate development, I have always been slow & tense. In order for me to progress, I had to come to understand the basic body mechanics of each movement, the expansion & contraction of the body center, and how they relate to movement and to transference of energy into the target.
The 3 most necessary activities that produced results for me are (in no particular order): Slow repetition emphasizing exact body mechanics and expansion contraction (especially for kicks), makiwara training, and the kata Hangetsu.
(Looking at what I just wrote, this might all be one thing.)
Makiwara training, IMHO, should be a training device for developing ‘center’, ‘stance’, and ‘focus’. The fact that it conditions your hands and makes you physically stronger is just a side benefit.
I feel the most common mistakes are; trying to ‘hit’ the board, trying to hit the board hard, ‘reaching’ for the board, bracing for the anticipated impact, tensing and expanding the body frame in an attempt to push the board, taking too big of a breath, and failure to hold the focus long enough to feel what you are doing.
While avoiding all of the aforementioned problems, what you want to do is to refine your body motion and muscular contraction, using the board for immediate feed back.
I think of it in these terms:
“Isolating the Finishing Position” / “Isolating Initiation” for the Twist, “Maintaining” the body frame & muscular direction during the movement
“Isolating the Finishing Position”:
One of the first exercises I have people do on the makiwara, and I do my self when I have been away from it too long, is put yourself in a ‘good’ reverse punch position with your punching hand on the board (I recommend starting with your bad side). Without too much detail on the stance, your initial position can be fairly high, especially if you are using this as a warm-up (which I do after tons of arm circles & rolling out my joints), and try to feel that your center slightly leads the rest of your body (chest & shoulders). In your finished position, you are done with your twist and both hips and both shoulders should feel they are pulling forward and together to meet your center, including your inner thighs, at a point several feet in front of the board. The pressure should feel like it is coming from ‘underneath’ your body & not ‘over the top’. To help with this feeling, you can slightly lift your front heel, while simultaneously dropping the muscle group under your hips on your back leg, and squeezing your inner thighs. The result should be a feeling of generating energy down & forward from your center at a 45 degree angle. This is a ‘settling’ feeling and not a tense or forced feeling. (Try to understand this compression and consciously control the contraction rather than relying on exhaling a lot of air to compress your body. )
Increasing this feeling and using your legs to push your center forward should result in more pressure on your fist on the board. There is no more reach or penetration from here, you are already done punching. Sit in this position and relax, so that the weight in your center comes to dominate the feeling. (Nishiyama says ‘soft elbow’, ‘soft shoulder’). If you can, feel the weight on your back heel, under you hip, your center, and your fist; and try to maintain this lineage. (Although at first people may have to think of their elbow and not their fist, but either way, as the punch extends it feel like your elbow is being pulled closer to your center, even though in reality it is moving away).
“Isolating Initiation” for the Twist, [although you can hit the board harder by shifting your weight back and forth as you hit the board; adding shifting power to twisting power, I strongly recommend that you leave your center stationary and isolate the twist]
This is where almost every messes up. I feel the dominating feeling should be one of your body pulling together. I think most people initially initiate by starting a muscle action that results in the body separating. Lets say you are in your reverse punch position and you are about to jab. To get the ‘pulling together’ feeling, have someone grab your extended arm and pull lightly on it. You will respond by trying to pull the energy (and fist) through your center to your back heel, without actually starting the twist. (Also pull the drawing arm elbow to your spine & there is an elbow to elbow relationship) As you feel this pulling energy bringing your body together, it sort of hits a wall in the back of your center and this becomes the base that you start to twist from. When you feel like you have the energy going the right way, twist and jab.
Now they grab your extended jab and you again visualize pulling the energy through your center, into your back leg. As you feel the weight increase in your back heel, let that be the energy that starts your twist. This is very similar to the idea that you generate the force by using your heels/ feet/ ankles to push on the floor. It is just a higher degree of refinement. The energy to your heels relates to your center and your whole system, and the weight never comes off the feet, it is still compressing when you hit the target. It is also the same as ‘more drawing arm’; it’s just sort of a ‘drawing body’.
If, when someone pulls on your extended arm, there is a significant settling of your shoulder (or for that matter, any of your joints), your are over extending, or reaching. There should also not be a major switch in muscle direction. Have this same helpful partner pull on your extended arm, and you respond by pulling together; then have them push on your fist & you should pull even more. It is a very common mistake for someone to try to ‘push’ against the push, but as they come to understand focus a little better, they will start to get the importance of pulling together and feeling the energy flow though them rather than try to directly resist the action.
“Maintaining” the body frame & muscular direction during the movement:
At the initiation of each movement, this directional contraction that leads towards and results in a focus, but it is not the same. Many people, especially those that are already prone to excess tension, try too hard and focus too soon and in so doing, disrupt the continuity and connection they started with. To combat this, after you have the contraction to start the motion, move your legs, move your hip, and let your hand go last (only as a training method), and fly into the board with no effort on your part. AFTER you have hit the board, try to settle and focus and hold the position. When you release this held focus, you should feel a sharp inhale of breath (but not on purpose) and a slight ‘up’ feeling due to the muscle expansion. If, when you release your held position, air comes out of your lungs and you sink a little it means you are tense. (your focus should represent your most settled position). Try to try less. Do not anticipate the impact of the board; Your hand just happens to hit the board as you complete your punch. If you are still tight at the point of impact, give up the focus and do just the punches, but hold the end position, until it starts to settle like in the first section. If it isolates in your shoulder, back off and hit the board very lightly, no power. Just a little powder puffy punch, and then practice settling into position.
It is important that you are able to succeed. If the board is too stiff, or you are trying to penetrate too deep, you are interfering with the ability of your body to come together.
Every once in a while, you will relax enough to hear the board ‘smack’. Your excitement to reproduce this will ensure that it won’t happen. As you get more confident in your punch, start to commit a little deeper, but only to the point where you are still succeeding.
This energy that flows through your system should generally feel like it goes through the center of your bones. If it doesn’t there is either some structural defect to be corrected or there is a misdirection of muscle contraction. Another feeling is that your bone structure is very straight and tall and remains that way during the focus, while the muscles contract around the frame and the energy flows without disrupting the structure..
OK. I’ve used up far more than my fair share of space. I hope it’s understandable. Please write back with input.
Dave in Minnesota