In a recent posting on the Facebook Wall of the Ryukyu Martial Arts the subject of calluses came up. Somehow, and this is not the first time I personally have been asked about this from karate-ka, practitioners got this idea that the purpose of the makiwara is to condition the hands, i.e. build up calluses on the knuckles, etc. along with building the calcium deposits around the knuckles under the skin, etc. This is just not so.
First, review “Wolff’s Law.” Then review the following video, “Machiwara Undo, by Jonathon Hallberg.”
Second, the calluses you may, stress may, develop on the parts of the body used with the makiwara are a byproduct. They are not the goal but just one small thing that you get from “proper makiwara training.” The degree depends on how you practice and train the makiwara. I firmly believe that if you train and practice in a manner that meets the principles of martial systems you will lessen the development of those calcium deposits and calluses.
Third, the use and practice of the makiwara, to my minds eye, is more about training the body, mind and spirit. When you watch the excellent video you can see in the first exercise that it is more about things like physiokinetics, i.e. for example that exercise teaches you about something called the “step punch (also referred to as the falling step punch as first explained by boxing champ, “Jack Dempsey.”).”
If done properly you see the simple falling forward creates power and the proper responding is for the body to return to standing up position from the proper application of the hand to the target.
I had someone contact me who said they just returned from Okinawa where in the honbu dojo they spent a lot of time on the makiwara. Their concern was the extreme calluses, etc. that were formed on the hands and that this would result in some medical issue later in life. My response was, first, this is not necessary to benefit from makiwara training. Second, you can adjust your training so that you lessen the byproduct of calcium and calluses and still get the full benefit of makiwara training. When I described how, etc. they got one of those “oh crap” moments.
I believe that in some dojo this practice of makiwara calluses, etc. is more about perception than actual martial benefits. I try to convey that the goal of makiwara training is to learn how to apply the fundamental principles of martial systems to application of technque because when you properly apply the principles like physiokinetics and technique you can see, feel and hear them through makiwara training. Just watch and listen to the video and when you begin to use the makiwara you then can feel it when done properly.
In my final opinion on this matter, when an instructor teaches and informs a practitioner that the makiwara is about developing large knuckles, calluses and calcium deposits for defense, etc. then they are missing out on a larger and more critically important aspect to makiwara undo training. Similar to the maxim that if you learn something incorrectly it takes you double or triple the time to correct it than if you just learned it correctly at the start.
Two additional points as well. The first is the purpose of using the makiwara. If your goal is for self defense or tameshiwara then that requires additional professional guidance. Second, if your being taught that makiwara undo is about protecting the hand against hard targets then you need to go back to the basics again. You don’t use the fist against hard targets such as the skull, etc. because even if you develop large calluses and calcium deposits with a strong hand, arm and so on if you are in the fight you still run a high probability that your hand will break against a hard target. This is why in fighting, combat and most important self defense you use the fist against soft targets and the open hand against hard targets. This may sound unusual but when properly instructed and trained you will readily see the benefits.
Finally, having large deformed hands at one time may have been a mark of a professional expert karate-ka but that is also a misnomer. When the chemicals are dumped into your body your large deformed hands if not properly trained and utilized will be nothing more than large deformed hands.
Makiwara calluses are a byproduct, not the goal. Makiwara trains you to apply the fundamental principles of martial systems so that you can apply them in a real life self-protection event, i.e. self-defense. Makiwara more than any other device, i.e. heavy bag, returns the lessons of correct and incorrect applications better than anything I have used except actual experience itself. Use the makiwara correctly and you will enjoy the benefits. Use the makiwara incorrectly and all you do is create large deformed hands that may result in difficulties later in life.