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Towel Makiwara

We all like to hit wooden makiwara (a wooden striking post wrapped with rope or leather), or even logs and stones in some people's case. The main feature of a good makiwara is that it kicks back when you hit, requiring you to properly punch and brace yourself for the returning shockwave.

But wood (and stone) are not the only good things to punch. Sometimes I tell my students to hang a towel and strike it like a makiwara. Of course, it does not kick back, but it does give you a good target for focusing your strike. Also, since it gives, you can target beneath the surface (just like when striking a person).

When I travel, I sometimes use the curtains as a makeshift makiwara. In class, I often target the student's gi, which is very similar to a curtain. Sometimes I target the student's skin or flesh, but usually not the bone. Hitting a variety of makiwara helps you to get the feel for targeting different anatomical structures of the human body.

When I practiced Kenpo in high school at the CHA-3 quonset hut in Moanalua (my teacher was Edward Wallace, a senior student of Marino Tiwanak, and his daughter Julie), I remember that the teachers used to tape a piece of paper to the wall. The paper would be taped at the top and would lie flat against the wall. We would try to punch and strike the paper without hitting the wall. If you hit it just right, the paper would lift off the wall. If you struck too deep... ouch! It did help us to develop good control.

I know that it sounds crazy, but in high school I could strike and kick my students' eyelashes and ear lobes. I remember occasions when I punched students on the eyeballs and teeth: my knuckle touched the liquid film on their eyes and teeth but did not strike the surface. I am not suggesting that anyone try this; in fact, I advise against it. What I am saying is that practicing your focus on makiwara, towels, curtains, paper, etc. can give you much better control. And developing good control will make training safer.

Thirty plus years later, my control is not quite as good. Particularly when I use koshi in my techniques, I have to make sure that I step away from my partner before I strike. Sometimes the koshi has a mind of its own and is difficult to control. I also tend to strike my partners with a loose fist or relaxed hand. This way, if I have hit too deep there is a little leeway and time to adjust.


Charles C. Goodin