Tag Archives: karate equipment

The Ude Makiwara: Notes on History, Construction and Usage, Pt. 1

Part 1 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry. Update: See bottom of this post for links to parts 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.

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

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

A Review of the 12 oz. Hemp Canvas Gi from Earth-Gi

10/8/09 Note: Earth-Gi is on indefinite hiatus due to the shifts in the economy and resulting increase of the cost of importing hemp fabric.Hopefully our government will soon get it’s priorities straight, and legalize production of non-recreational industrial hemp for American manufacturing so that we don’t have to import it from Canada.

Earth-Gi carries the distinction of being the only 100% Hemp fabric gi on the market. Hemp isn’t just a hippie obsession; the fabric from hemp plants is superior in many ways to cotton- for starters, it’s four times stronger than cotton fabric and hemp will naturally resist yellowing and rotting over time. Industrial hemp is NOT at all the same as the variety that produces marijuana; so no, there is nothing psychoactive or drug-related about hemp products. Unfortunately, industrial is illegal to cultivate here in the United States. The materials for Earth-Gi are imported from Canada and the gi is hand made by a husband and wife team who make hemp active wear for karate practitioners and yogini. According to their web site (www.earth-gi.com), each gi is made to order and Earth-Gi will craft custom size gi at no extra cost. Orders are shipped within 1-2 weeks. Embroidery is also available.

Earth-Gi can stand by the fact that it is not produced through sweatshop labor, something that many gi manufacturers cannot claim. Hemp canvas is also an environmentally responsible choice, as it requires none of the harsh pesticides that the cotton industry uses, and does not require nearly as much fertilization. The end product is a very well made gi that more than holds it’s own alongside comparable commercial brands.

I received my Earth-Gi just in time to test it out in an evening karate class. Right out of the box, the 12 oz. hemp fabric feels like a good work shirt that is broken in just right. The fabric is free from flaws and the stitching is clean and straight. Based on measurements that I sent to the Earth-Gi team, the gi fits me closely enough not to be a flapping nuisance, but is loose enough that it does not restrict movement, especially in the legs and midsection. The overall cut of the gi is very much in line with the “traditional” cuts of the Meijin and Tokaido gi that I have used in the past. The jacket is slightly longer which keeps it from pulling out of the belt. Above all, this is a very comfortable gi to wear.

A difference that is immediately apparent is the color- this gi is not the crisp bluish-white cotton that is a bit of a fetish amongst karateka, but a mellow creamy tone. The hemp fabric is not bleached for two reasons: bleaching is extremely destructive from an environmental standpoint; and bleaching significantly weakens the fibers in plant derived fabrics such as cotton and hemp. Although it may look different than the typical gi, the Earth-Gi will last longer than bleached fabrics and does not contribute to water pollution. As an aside, the uber-white gi is a relatively modern artifact, as industrial bleaching was not around in pre-WWII Japan.

The construction of the jacket reminds me of a cross between a good Judo top and Carhartt work clothes. All jacket seams are triple stitched with heavy thread. The inside of the sleeves are reinforced with a second layer of hemp fabric, and the lapels and front panels are two layers thick and stitched with five lines of thread. For those of us who engage in rugged karate practice with much pulling, shoving and throwing, this extra reinforcement means that the gi will last for far longer than a few months. Although sturdily made, the jacket is not bulky or noticeably heavier. It feels just as strong as my old Judo gi without being nearly as thick. In fact, it closes and maintains the same profile as a lighter weight gi despite the thicker, much stronger fabric. Just for grins, I had the largest student (a football player with arms the size of my thighs) in my class pick me up by the lapels and throw me around a few times. The jacket seams did not show any signs of stress or tearing.

One of my biggest complaints about the “traditional” heavy cotton gi is that the pants often bind on the top of the thighs when kicking, especially after a good sweat- it’s counterproductive to have to readjust for each kick. The Earth-Gi pants allow for full range of motion without any obstruction. The draw-string waist does not bunch excessively when pulled tight, leaving plenty of swing room in the crotch and legs. The inseams are reinforced here as well. It also does not hold sweat the same way that a cotton gi tends to, making this a very breathable gi to train in.

I immediately noticed that the draw string loop of the pants is far sturdier than in other brands. In all of the gi I’ve owned, the loop is one of the first things to rip from regular use and abuse. The Earth-Gi design is inverted, meaning that it’s horizontal as opposed to vertical. The loop is of folded and stitched hemp that is secured to the folded waist band of the pants with more reinforced stitching. If you like to roll around and toss each other across the dojo, this feature is worth looking into.

So why is a hemp gi so special? A gi review is no place for preaching from the soapbox, but bear with me for a moment. Modern karate is the product of globalization, the mingling of cultures and individuals exchanging ideas. An art that began on the relatively small island of Okinawa has spread to every continent and been embraced by people from myriad nationalities, religions, languages and walks of life. This implies a certain kinship, a responsibility to relate to each other not only as karateka but as human beings who share something that has become the property of the global community. That awareness extends to our decisions about where or food comes from, how our products are made, and who is affected by these processes. Certain choices can have a positive impact on those who produce these goods for us. Please see the bottom of this review for some facts about the human and environmental cost of modern cotton production.

All environmental and ethical reasons aside, the Earth-Gi is worth looking into. The investment is worth it when you consider that the fabric will outlast cotton, and that the manufacturers are real people who you can deal directly with about custom sizing that’s actually made to order, not just mix and match sizes. The price is comparable to a heavy-weight Tokaido or Meijin gi. Compared to the 12 oz. gi offered by other brands Earth-Gi is designed and made every bit as well- possibly better, when you consider the attributes of hemp fabric for this use. I recommend Earth-Gi to anyone who is serious about good training equipment and about their footprint on the rest of the planet.

For more information, visit:



or email: tim@earth-gi.com

For more on the human cost of pesticide-dependent cotton production, visit: