The makiwara is a essential training device for the Okinawan karateka. Rarely seen outside Okinawan styles, the makiwara is basically a board about 4 feet long, padded at one end and anchored at the other. The makiwara can be an invaluable teacher. From it the karateka can learn proper punching technique, stance, weight transfer, and hip rotation. It sounds cliche', but with the right practice it turns one's fist into a true weapon.
Traditional makiwara in Okinawa are 'padded' with rice straw twisted into rope, but the best modern pad is, again, from Shureido. To our knowledge there is no other makiwara pad of its kind on the market.
The makiwara on the left presents the best feel, with a hand-made steel base anchored in concrete. Note that the board is angled forward. This allows a good range of motion for the makiwara, and also lets people who have a difficult time tucking their fingers tightly enough still practice. This type, however, is impractical for karateka living in apartments or dojos leasing building space. Dance school owners don't look kindly to having holes for steel plates drilled into their wood floors!
The makiwara on the right is a response to the need for a portable system. Sean Deuby made it for the dojo eight years ago, and it has held up under moderate use. Its features are that the maki board can be unscrewed from the base and the whole system easily stored or transported. The karateka's weight on the base acts as the anchor. It has a softer action than the previous one because there's some flex in the wood components at the base.
It is very difficult to get true makiwara action, and can be dangerous to one's hand, using inflexible makiwara commonly found in catalogs. These usually consist of a pad, covered .by canvas, anchored to a board. The only 'give' on this type of makiwara is from within the pad. If anchored to a wall, the assembly can give very little - most of the give is within one's hand! This makiwara also cannot teach how to drive through one's target with good form because the depth of the strike can't be more than a half inch or so. As you can see on the right, a hard strike to a correctly constructed makiwara allows full penetration practice.
The very first thing to remember when working with a makiwara is that it will always win. If you punch it too hard, too soon, you will damage a knuckle...and it will still be there waiting for you the next time! (This is particularly a problem with young male students, finally given an opportunity to hit something.) The student of the makiwara should initially just push the pad with their punch, taking care to get all the little things right, for example:
With practice the pad can be struck harder, but always keep your priorities straight. If you let your enthusiasm carry you away, you'll be hurting...and the maki will still be waiting.
What's important is not how hard it's hitten but how many times. Repetition is a hallmark of good training with a makiwara.