Part 3 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry.
To make one of these makiwara for some hands-on investigation I used the diagram provided in Higaonna’s book as a model, and that is the design that I will describe here, installed outdoors. I have taken a few liberties as far as materials and measurements go, and have attempted to err on the side of caution when deciding upon the post’s diameter and the length of the cuts needed. The post should be of the following dimensions: 8’ long and between 4” and 5” in diameter.
Depending on your location, a suitably sized round post of treated lumber might be easy or difficult to come by (I was amazed to find that no suppliers in my area, a rural part of Virginia, carried these with regularity). You may be able to find one at your local lumberyard, especially in the gardening section during the Spring and Summer months. If that provides no results, call around: rural farm communities and farm supply co-ops may carry them.
If this search is fruitless, there are naturally available alternatives that have the added bonus of involving you in the process of making your training equipment.
Black locust is a quick growing hardwood that has strong natural rot resistant properties. In fact, locust posts are known to remain solid up to 70 years in direct contact with the ground (our landscape is dotted with grayed locust posts standing beside their decaying treated lumber counterparts). Red and Western Cedar are also naturally resistant to rot and bugs and will hold up for quite a while as well, but cedar is much softer than locust wood. Locust will resist impact and splitting as well as decay. The bottom line is that you should be able to hurl all types of abuse at it with no problems, and it will last in the elements for a very long time. Extra steps, such as cutting, hauling and debarking, make this option a bit more labor intensive than simply buying a post at the store, but the payoff is worth the trouble. Since I could not readily find a treated post, I decided to use a locust cut from my property. (Fig. A)
The log should be as uniform in diameter as possible; irregularities in the circumference will be magnified once padding is applied. If there are little knobs or angular protrusions where branches were cut, smooth them out with a drawshave or jack planer. Secondly, make sure that the log is sound and doesn’t have fractures in it from past damage, which could weaken the potential striking areas. A seasoned (well cured/dry) piece is preferable to a green one. Carrying the 8’ log through the woods makes for nice Sanchin training. You will also need to remove the bark from the log. A drawshave (pictured in Fig. B) will take care of this in short order. If you don’t have one of those lying around, a horizontally held machete or hatchet can be pulled down the log to achieve the same result. Fig. B shows the debarked and smoothed log.
The next part is slightly more involved, regardless of materials used. In order for the post to be able to give equally from all sides, two cuts must be made into the log lengthwise, making an X shape when viewed from above (Fig. C). These cuts result in four flexible slats that each offer a resistance similar to a typical flat makiwara. For the 5″ diameter log pictured above, I measured my cuts to be about 30 inches from the top end, or roughly halfway down the above-ground portion. Once the post was firmly in the ground I used a chainsaw to make the cuts, but found in later experimentation that securing the log horizontally at waist height makes for more accurate cutting– it’s also safer. I do not recommend this method for those unfamiliar with chainsaws and the requisite safety precautions. A sure hand is required, particularly since locust can give even a sharpened steel cutting chain trouble. I recommend that a table saw with a guide be used for accuracy and safety’s sake. If you are blessed with a willing building supply store, using the cutting services of the lumber department might also be a possibility worth looking into- it usually only costs a few dollars to have them cut something custom for you. Whichever route you take, keep in mind that there needs to be enough space between the slats to allow for them to travel and recoil when struck, so at least ¼ inch of wood needs to be removed from the cut (a chainsaw will do this in one pass). The slats will begin to splay outward slightly as the cuts lengthen (Fig. C).
Once your cuts are made, the slats must be tested for resistance. Too little is dangerous, too much is useless. As with a tachi makiwara the wood should give under moderate static pressure. To test this, stand in a frontward stance and extend a reverse punch, placing the knuckles firmly against an individual slat. Pick up the front leg and lean into the post: the slat should flex inward under this pressure, but not collapse completely. You should be able to bounce lightly against it by lowering your back leg and pushing forward (while still pressing the knuckles firmly against it). Repeat all around the makiwara. If there is too little flexibility, i.e., the slat does not move at all, increase the depth of the cuts. Or, following a variant makiwara shown in Higaonna’s book, a piece of durable rubber placed in between the slats near the bottom of the cuts may resolve the problem by splaying them outward a little bit more and providing some shock resistance. An industrial rubber bushing or piece of an old bumper is a good candidate for this.