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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:

Shotokan Myth # 5 Kime

Kime – Trademark of Shotokan karate


The readers will agree that perfect kime is what we dream of when we do the oi zuki or gyaku zuki. Bang boom! Look at Enoeda sensei’s tsuki (photo on below)  Yes, this is Shotokan.

Indeed, the powerful punches and kicks are trademarks of Shotokan karate.   When you look at Shitoryu kata, their performances look smooth and fluid but their techniques look “weak.”  The Gojuryu kata have a lot of neko ashi dachi and sanchin dachi, and although their arm movements are circular, these movements, just like their stances, look short and do not have enough kime. (Note: I want to emphasize that I am in no way trying to bash any styles at all.  I am simply comparing the general impressions of shotokan and other styles.)  If the impressions above coincide with yours, then you want to ask, “OK, so what?”  Hold your breath, here is a shocking statement: Kime (more precisely, encouraging it) is probably the most harmful action for most Shotokan practitioners while training, particularly for beginners. I am aware of the graveness and controversial nature of my statement.  However, I am convinced that all instructors and serious practitioners must be aware of and understand well this prevalent problem in Shotokan training.  Despite the risk of being misunderstood, I dare to write this article as I believe this knowledge must be expressed publicly.  So, please read on to catch the true essence of my statement.

I want to emphatically state that I am NOT identifying kime itself or having a correct kime in your techniques as a problem.  If you are capable of producing a good and correct kime and you feel your overall movements are fluid, then this may not be an issue.  What I wish to convey is that the overly tensed body that kime creates is the problem. (read more...)

Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth #4 Returning to the starting point in Kata

Must we really return to the starting point in our kata?

When we do kata is it really mandatory that we come back to the exact spot where we started?  I can almost hear your reply; “Yes. Nakayama sensei said so in Best Karate.“  You are absolutely correct.  He listed 6 important points for kata in that famous book:

1. Correct Order

2. Beginning and End

3. Meaning of each movement

4. Awareness of target

5. Rhythm and timing

6. Proper breathing

For item 2 above, he clearly stated that “Kata must begin and end at the same spot on the embusen.  This requires practice.”

If you are in a tournament this is absolutely a requirement, isn‘t it?  If you are off by, say, one meter, I am sure those careful judges will take some points off of your performance.

Have you ever wondered why there is such a requirement?  Nakayama sensei did not explain why in his book.  Maybe it is such a natural thing and you may think I am wasting my time asking this.  But, I have wondered about this and foolishly investigated why for many years.  I was curious to know if the creators of kata (Itosu for Heian kata for an example) really designed all kata in such a way a performer will always return to the starting point.  After much investigation and direct questioning I concluded that this was not the case.  Someone changed the rule and created this new requirement of coming back to the exact starting point.  I wanted to find who was behind this and for what reasons.  This is a mystery and I wish to share my findings and my theory on this mystery with you today.

If you are a Nidan and above, you must have learned Chinte and this kata could be your tournament kata, especially if you are a female practitioner.  We know this is a very unique kata (Chinte literally means “unique or strange hand”,) but do you realize it also has a very unique (strange) ending (three hops backward)?  I have researched for many years and asked many sensei about these ending steps.  For the longest time, no one could give me a believable bunkai for these “unique” moves with the feet in heisoku dachi and hands clasped together.  It had been a big mystery to me, as I could not figure out the meaning of these strange hops.

The following is what I have found in the process of investigation.  One Japanese sensei, whose name I cannot reveal, told me it was for balance training.  Yes, it is indeed difficult to keep the balance with your feet and hands put together.  But if you think it through, it just does not make any sense as you wonder why they were put at the end of the kata.  After the final delivery of a kime technique (right gyaku zuki to chudan with ki-ai), we can expect a zanshin move as seen with the last step in Enpi.  However, why would anyone put three backward hopping steps that are not stable as a zanshin move?  Even if you buy this idea of having this balancing move there, why hop with two feet together?  Hopping with only one foot is more of a martial art move (like a tsuru ashi dachi in gankaku.)  No matter how much I considered the possibility, I cannot buy into this theory. (read more...)


Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth #3 Silent Kiai


When we think of Ki-ai what do you think?   If you are an old guy or a gal like me you remember that funny sound Bruce Lee made.  An amusing story from the past involves the men’s after shave called Hai Karate.  If you remember this then you must be at least 50 years old.  This product was advertised on TV in the 60’s and possibly in the 70’s.  Here is what the announcer said:

ANNOUNCER: “Hai Karate aftershave is so powerful; it drives women right out of their minds. That’s why we have to put instructions on self-defense in every package. Hai Karate, the brisk splash-on aftershave that smoothes, sooths, and cools. Hai Karate, aftershave, cologne, and gift sets. Hai Karate, be careful how you use it.”

Then there is a skit with a guy who has to fight off the girls who would try to grab him after using this aftershave.  Some of my friends must have believed that I needed this because for several years, each Christmas I would receive numerous bottles.  I really appreciated their genuine interest to help me out but I had to toss most of them because I could not use them up if I had lived to 100 years old.  Besides I did not like the smell.  I knew the aftershave would surely drive the girls wild or rather; it would have surely driven them away.

I also have a very memorable incident with ki-ai which I would like to share.  I started karate 46 years ago (1963) in Kobe Japan.  Thanks to the following experience in my very first class I still clearly remember that wonderful day.  I can vividly picture this senpai, Tanaka (not the famous JKA sensei) in front of me.  He stood a little over 5 foot but he was a towering figure to us.  He slowly stepped up to the new students (me included of course).  We were brand new, excited and were dying to learn those deadly techniques.  He said very nicely, “You boys (no girls dared to join as it was thought to be too rough, but that was exactly the reason why I joined) have to learn how to say Osu.”  As the readers know, Osu is a very convenient word in Japanese that can be used for meaning “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “I will try”, “right”, “sure‘ or whatever.  It could mean almost anything and, we were always happy to use it as we could sound like a tough karate guy.  So, we all said “OSU”!  The senpai then said “What?  I can’t hear you!”  So we repeated with a louder voice but that still did not please him.  He then said “you guys just don’t have spirit”.  “You are going to learn how to Ki-ai today and you will learn to show your spirit.”  Then, he gave a real LOUD Ki-ai which pierced through our bodies and sent shivers down our spines.  Then he smiled and said “OK boys you will Ki-ai without stopping until I return.”  We thought he would return in a few minutes but he did not come back until the end of the class, 2 hours later.  We were yelling “Ya” or “Tou” or whatever the Ki-ai we thought cool (we didn’t know Bruce Lee yet).  The senpai’s word was the command (plus he was looking at us from the other side of the dojo) so none of us would stop.  After 30 minutes or so we started to cough and lose our voice.  At the end we could hardly make any sound at all.  We left the dojo very quietly that day.  Incidentally, all the brand new students except one did not come back after the first day.  That was his way to separate the normal people from the crazy one (me).  My voice was gone for several days but I showed up at training the very next day.  I could only whisper on the following day and my mother did not seem to mind as the house was quiet for a change.  Thankfully the senpai did not ask me to Ki-ai on the second day but my training did not get any easier either.  He now told me to stay in Kiba dachi for 2 hours.  He kept on saying, “Lower! “.  When my legs gave out and I fell down, I guess I was too “low” so he said “Get up”.  It went on like that (very simple exercise but very looooong) and I am sure you can guess how the rest of the Japanese way of training or breaking in the new student went on.  I am still not sure if that senpai really knew what he was doing or if he was simply too lazy to figure out a more sophisticated training.

OK, you’ve heard enough funny stories about Ki-ai.  Now more serious stuff… There are many articles on Ki-ai and most of the authors stressed the importance of doing Ki-ai and how to do it.  Some explained the meaning of Ki-ai and the others showed the relationship to breathing.  If that is the case, then you will ask why I am writing this used up and uncontroversial subject.  Well I am one of those people who do not like to take things for granted.  So today I want to take up the challenge and ask “Is ki-ai really important?” and “Is ki-ai necessary in karate training?”  You might say, “You must be crazy to challenge these things.”  Maybe the readers are correct and I may fumble nicely with this subject.  But I think it is a good exercise to investigate instead of just believing something because many instructors and the “experts” say it is so. (read more...)



Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Nunchaku, an unique weapon & its benefits to Karate

The nunchaku (ヌンチャクin Japanese and 雙節棍in Chinese) is a traditional weapon of the Kobudo and consists of two sticks connected with a short chain or rope.  I do not believe further introduction of Nunchaku is necessary as it became very popular among us by the Kung Fu movies in 70’s stared by Bruce Lee.

Out of a dozen or so different kinds of Okinawan Kobudo weapons such as Nunchaku, Sai and Tonfa, Nunchaku is most popular or known by the public.  Less known factor is that Nunchaku can produce the most dynamic and versatile techniques among the Kobudo weapons due to its construction of having two sticks joined by a chain or a rope. The quick swings and striking motions are very sexy and many people remember the fight scenes of Bruce Lee.  One can spin Tonfa pretty fast but it cannot beat the speed of Nunchaku.  Sai can be a deadly weapon with its sharp end as it can spear through just about any protectors, but the destructive power of Nunchaku at a full impact of said to be over 500kg is far greater than Sai or Tonfa could produce.  Not only it is fast and destructive but also it has another very exciting characteristic; flexibility of two sections. I am not saying Nunchaku is a better weapon than Sai, Tonfa or other Kobudo weapons. Just as one cannot say a certain style of karate is better than another, different weapons have their own particular uses and advantages thus cannot be compared by a simple set of observations.   It is very unfortunate that modern day Shotokan (at least from what I know of) has dropped Kobudo from its regular training.  I do not know the situation regarding this subject in other karate styles such as Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu and Wado-ryu, so I will discuss this subject only referring to Shotokan style organizations.  There was a justifiable reason (at least then) why Kobudo was dropped but I will not go into this historic aspect of karate even though it is a very interesting subject.  What I want to mention here today is that karate definitely lost a very effective and useful training tools when the masters decided to drop Kobudo from its regular syllabus.  I do not think they were aware at that time of the seriousness and the amount of handicap and disadvantage this omission would bring.  Shotokan style now is said to be very linear and lacks circular movements.

However, this claim is not true as one can observe the kata like (read more...)



Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

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