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The Ude Makiwara: Notes on History, Construction and Usage

The makiwara is a familiar sight to most that practice “traditional karate” of some form or another. A
simple plank tapered to provide springy feedback for striking techniques is relatively common in the
karate world. It is an aspect of Okinawan karate culture that has survived quite well amidst the cultural
transitions and subsequent transformations of the art over the last century. In fact, its ubiquity is
interesting in an age wherein stylistic boundaries, commercialism and political bickering often redefine
what “is” and “isn’t” karate in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. Politics aside, the need to hit things is a
happy universal.
Although the makiwara itself has made it to present day practice, the existence and specific histories
of several variant designs are not so well known among modern exponents. The language barrier itself
is probably one of the most significant causes of this gap in information, as there may well be detailed
references that are simply unavailable outside of Japanese, and thus unknown to English readers. From
the available writings, we can see that the majority of the karate men writing in the early 20th century
mention the makiwara and emphasize it as a necessity for correct development of karate striking
techniques.1 Several works, such as Gichin Funakoshi’s Karate-do Kyohan, also include diagrams for
reference and suggestions for usage. In at least one of these sources the standard makiwara shares
mention with a round variety described variously as a pole or ude makiwara. However, compared to
other information published on the makiwara in general, the reference is brief, which leads one to
wonder at the reasons for the lack of equal mention. In this article, we will explore the background of
this somewhat lesser known variety (based on the available source information), methods of
construction for the modern training space, and some observations on its usage. For purposes of
clarity, the standard variety will be referred to hereafter as a tachi makiwara, and the round as ude.
Motobu’s Notes

The only available “classical” work that mentions an ude makiwara and includes specifications for
construction is Motobu Choki’s 1932 Watashi no Karate Jutsu. In the section “How to Make & Use a
Makiwara”, Motobu mentions that there are two varieties, the sage (hanging) and tachi (standing).2
He notes here that the tachi is “usually referred to as ‘The Makiwara’” and was in common use among
many people. Following some notes on the construction of the sage variety, he introduces “another
kind of tachi makiwara that is not so popular but used for developing both arms.” It’s referred to
simply as a makiwara made from a round pole. He goes on to describe this version in some detail:
“…A round shaped pole 210 cm in length with a 9 cm diameter, with 75 cm buried firmly in the
ground, leaving 135 cm above exposed ground …the top should be 3 cm thick with about 30 cm
length wrapped with rope. This makiwara can be struck from the front and sides by either hand to
develop power.”
Sadly, no diagram of this design or any pictures of one being used are included. By the description
given, we can envision the pole as tapering to a smaller diameter at its top to provide a springy target,
but with equal give from all sides. Motobu points out that either hand may be used to strike this
makiwara, which may at first seem entirely obvious, and something that one can do on the tachi as
well. However, if interpreted to mean that it may be struck by either hand from any position, i.e. an
elliptical forearm smash followed by a reverse punch, the statement makes more sense and hints at the
practice of more dynamic exercises, which we’ll explore later. Given the diameter that is prescribed, it
may also be likely that it was intended more for use as a tool for arm conditioning and
forearm/hand/elbow strikes.
Seeing as how Motobu trained under an eclectic variety of teachers from the Shuri and Tomari areas
(Anko Itosu, Sokon Matsumura, Kosaku Matsumora and Tokumine Shitsunen Pechin), the historical
origin of these plans can only be speculated upon.3 He was probably introduced to this makiwara by
one or more of the men he trained with, who in themselves constitute an impressive pedigree of
teachers. Judging by the fact that he regarded it as important enough to include in a book, it is
reasonable to assume that Motobu made use of it in his own training, and it is further possible that he
passed knowledge of this makiwara on to his students, who may then have disseminated it to their
own; this record seems to be lacking, though. However, based on his learning from several prominent
teachers as well as his exposure to the Motobu family ti tradition (via his older brother, Choyu), it is
highly probable that this ude makiwara has a significant history in pre-twentieth century training in
one or more of the major centers of karate/ti practice and development. Motobu sensei’s enthusiasm
for makiwara training can be attested to by contemporary descriptions of his hands.4
There is another 1930’s publication that mentions yet another variation on this variation. In kobudo
preservationist Taira Shinken’s Encyclopedia of Okinawan Weapons, a makiwara specifically for
training with the bo is shown in the Bojutsu section. The detailed illustration shows a solid round post
with a crosspiece set horizontally through it near the top, and a hole bored through the center. Straw
padding is wrapped around these “arms” and the top and lower surfaces of the makiwara.5 Taira notes
that the makiwara should be of “average human height.” Although this version is for weapons training
rather than empty hand, it does demonstrate the adaptability of the basic “striking post” concept.
Functionally speaking, it is reminiscent of the pell, a medieval European weapons training post of
Roman extraction.6

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