Shotokan Myth #6 Makiwara Training

Makiwara is a true tradition of karate and its training is a must for all karate-ka.

The makiwara has been a fixture in karate dojos since its introduction to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. We have seen pictures of Funakoshi sensei punching one with his geta (wooden clogs) on. I have even heard that some of the modern day sensei would carry portable makiwara in their suitcases with them when they travel.

The makiwara had been an important training tool in my karate life as well. Let me explain how I got introduced to this traditional equipment in my first days of karate training. At the first dojo I joined in the early 60’s (Kobe Shotokan Karate Club), I remember there were several makiwara posts, some were wrapped with straw ropes and some with softer pads. I also remember that those pads were no longer white or have their original colors, whatever they were. The pads I saw were reddish black, covered in dried blood. It was obvious that my senpai punched these posts over and over again even when their fists were bleeding. My senpai, Kato-san once said, “Now look. My fist is so strong I can punch like this.” He punched straight into a wooden 4 x 4 beam of the dojo. Bang! Bang! The beam shook but he felt no pain. (At least he did not show it.) Wow! I was very impressed. If he could punch that beam like that, he could easily kill me. Honestly, it really made me scared of this senpai and he won unconditional respect from me. So as soon as I was allowed to punch a makiwara I started the tradition with full might. My dohai (student who started at the same time) Nakai and I punched the makiwara hundreds of times every day. In a year Nakai had developed some very respectable calluses but I couldn’t. I was frustrated and thought I was not punching hard enough. No matter how hard I punched the makiwara, the calluses on my fists did not get larger. ( Later, I realized that this was due to my skin’s very rubbery and soft characteristics. Actually, these characteristics are very good for they also allow me to be flexible as well. ) Despite not developing any respectable calluses, I kept the makiwara habit for more than 15 years. I must admit that the resonating sound made by hitting a makiwara in a dojo was euphoric, especially when the rhythm is so close to that of my own heartbeat.

I wondered if makiwara training is a true tradition and whether it was handed down for many centuries.We knew that the makiwara came from Okinawa but we have little documentation to support its history. I discovered, to my surprise, that this tradition is only 100 years old since its invention. It is believed that Matsumura Sokon (1809 – 1899) initially invented the makiwara and Itosu Anko (Master Funakoshi’s sensei, 1830 -1915) popularized it in the early 1900’s. Matusmura sensei took kenjutsu called Jigenryu of Satsuma. Jigenryu is a very unique style and their main practice is (read more...)

Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

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  • Anil Patil says:

    Respected Shihan Yokota,
    I am a karateka from India practing karate since last 37 years. I was member of JKA then JKS (Asai Shihan) and now with Hanshi Kato. I am holdinf 5Dan from Hanshi Kato and member of IJKA and Chief instructor of IJKA (India. I would like to have your books as well as video. How can I make it.

  • Shihan Yokota says:

    Reply to Sensei Parker:
    Sensei Parker kindly pointed out that my assumption of the history of makiwara was incorrect. In my first book, Shotokan Myths I wrote that the origin of makiwara would be not too much older than 100 years. He mentioned a book called “Nanto Zatsuwa 南島雑話” in which the illustration of makiwara is clearly shown and the book was written in 1852 so this proves that makiwara was commonly used at least 160 years ago. I appreciated this comment as I had never heard of this book. As you may know that there are very few old books about karate that exist in Japan including Okinawa. I asked Sensei Takeda, my budo friend in Amami Oshima, part of Ryukyu Archipelago to find more about this book and the information in this book about makiwara. He sent me many other photos but he could not find any writing about the photos on two different kinds of makiwara training tools. Unfortunate as this book is a collection of the illustration of the Amami people in their daily life. The author, Nagoya Sagenta 名越左源太(1820 – 1881) and he wrote this book some where between 1850 and 1855 while he lived on Amami Island. He was a samurai from Satsuma Clan and he held an important position in that clan but he got in a political problem and he was exiled to this remote island. While he was spending his sentence of 5 years Satsuma government ordered him to record the facts of this island as it was not well known then. The subjects he covered were very wide and he recorded with many illustrations about the life of the islanders but also the geography, animals, plants, religious activities, clothing, language and dialect, governing operations, etc. This book is a valuable and rare material to learn about this island but it is not too much known among the karate people because it had only these two illustrations of makiwara but without any description or explanation. However, this is a valuable fact to show that a makiwara that looks almost identical to the present one existed more than 160 years ago. I am still doing the reading of the different parts of the materials I have found. I have not bought this book though available from Amazon Japan. I still think the origin of makiwara is from Jigenryu (sword style) of Satsuma but it is very possible that it started more than 200 years ago. Amami was captured by Satsuma Clan in 1609 and sent many samurai and their families in 1613. If Okinawa-te already existed in Amami in 17th century then it is very thinkable that they adopted the training method of Jigenryu which beat the logs with bokken (wooden sword). Even though we still do not have enough historical materials to show anything older but now I am convinced that my earlier assumption was incorrect. I want to thank that sensei from another style to bring this up to me and pointed my error. I also want to thank Takeda Sensei in Amami for taking his time to visit the local library and museum to do some research on this subject.

  • Ryan Parker says:

    I’m sorry but you are just spreading false information. We have drawings illustrating old karate training *including makiwara training* that are 163 years old (from 南嶋雑話 written by visitor to Okinawa from Satsuma). The text makes it clear that makiwara training was already at that time a fundamental, popular, and quite old training method within “Kenpojutsu” (karate).

    • Shihan Yokota says:

      Sensei Parker,
      Thank you very much for bringing up this book which I did not know. It is certainly worth looking into this. I have a friend in Amami Oshima, one of the islands in Okinawa. I asked him to check into this book. He will send me back the pages from this book. If what you claim is true then I have to change my conclusion from my research which I do not hesitate to do. The historic documents for Okinawa (particularly of Karate) are rare. I am very happy you mentioned this. Thank you. I will post what I find as the information reaches me.

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  • I would be interested in the opinions of my 21st Century spin on the Makawara which I invented. Full specification of this light weight portable variant as a PDF on the Product Data page of my site. Look forward to all comments. All questions responded to.

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