A few weeks ago, I was sent a spring loaded dummy arm for makiwara by its inventor Braulio Mira (Dimira) from Portugal. His website www.ronin777.com features lots of great training aids and having already made great use of one of his dummy arm sets in my dojo for over a year now, I was excited to see how his newly designed makiwara arm would hold up.
I've been incorporating this product in my training routine now for around a month or so and wanted to share a quick review for any interested karate practitioners who may be thinking about purchasing one. I know how important it is for martial artists to find good quality training equipment, so I hope my honest views below may help readers make an informed decision about this, or similar products.
Here's a short video clip of the product in action...
My garden dojo contains lots of training equipment. I love to experiment with various items, both traditional and contemporary, simply due to the fact that each have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Nothing is perfect for every goal, so mixing up the equipment I use provides substantial coverage, keeping things fun and alive.
The makiwara is one training tool that lends itself to a range of diverse views regarding it's overall effectiveness, versatility and applicability in today's karate practices. Personally, I'm very fond of makiwara training for a number of reasons. Repeatedly hitting the post has helped develop my karate on physical, mental and even spiritual levels. Striking the makiwara early morning provides me with an almost meditative experience and sets me up for the day ahead. I love the relentless challenge that regular makiwara training offers and I enjoy the sense of 'connection' to the roots of my art. In short, I have learned a great deal from facing the post - about both karate and myself...
...All of this without a single mention of developing calloused knuckles!
However, as much as I enjoy hitting the makiwara. I also appreciate that this piece of classical karate equipment has certain limitations in terms of 'practicality'. Specifically, the static and repetitive (some would argue monotonous) nature of makiwara training does little to represent a dynamic combative environment. And although the progressive resistance offered by the sprung nature of the tapered post serves to help develop certain attributes associated with power generation, it clearly does not represent the same feeling or indeed feedback of actually striking a human target. This is why I believe that holistic impact development for karate cannot be sufficiently gained through makiwara practice alone, or indeed a single method of training. We need to practice and develop impact through a range of methods, drills and with a variety of equipment, so that the specific benefits of one may overlap and fill the gap associated with the inherent limitations of another.
As such, I have found that using this new spring dummy arm has helped to minimise two limitations to regular makiwara practice, which I'd like to mention below...
Inactive Use of the Non-Strking Limb...
Traditional makiwara technique usually requires one to pull back the non-striking limb towards the waist in the typical 'hiki-te' fashion. However, the argument comes into play that this is not always necessary (or indeed possible) in application, especially if there is nothing in the hand to pull! The other aspect of this is the fact that we should not develop a dependency or habit associated with the mechanics of retracting the non-striking limb in order for us to generate impact. We should be able to strike hard no matter where our other limb happens to be or what in fact it may be doing.
Due to the above, some practitioners choose to keep the non-striking limb it up and in some sort of guard position whilst striking the post. Others hold it loose by there side so as to minimise dependency and a few make use of items such as nigiri-game (gripping jars) or nigri-taba (straw bundles) etc. to have the non-striking limb in some form of 'active service'. All of these methods warrant exploration and I tend to make use of many variations throughout my training.
Attaching the sprung loaded dummy arm to my makiwara instantly offered the ability to incorporate the old-school principle of meotode (husband and wife hands) and have both limbs in play and working together. It negates the possibility of having a 'dead hand' and allows the practice of limb control tactics, either on their own, or blended with strikes to the target using different rhythms and timing.
Unrestricted Strike Paths...
Traditional makiwara training places no demand whatsoever on the ability to generate or clear strike paths. The area in front of the target is always clear for unrestricted strikes, whereas in reality, this may not always be the case. In fact, it's likely that you may have to physically create new strike paths by altering trajectory, removing barriers, moving offline or a combination of these. Holistic impact development needs to take into account the fact that in application, your strikes may be stifled in some way - distance, time and/or route, requiring the ability to maximise what you have and find some workable potential within the restriction.
It is of course possible to move around the static makiwara, alter strike angles and restrict distance etc, but in all cases, the area around the target is always free from obstruction. Attaching the spring dummy arm to the makiwara instantly challenges this luxury as it sits directly in front of the target, requiring you to clear barriers before every strike. In short, this means that you now have to work for each repetition and as such, offers a unique and alternative feature when compared to traditional training.
This product is generally well-built and has obviously had some real thought put into its design. The spring quality of the arm feels great and so far has lasted many hours of practice. Judging by the longevity of my other spring arm product from Dimira, I expect that it will stand the test of time. The taper of any makiwara allows for the arm to connect quite firmly in place and installation requires absolutely no modification to your post. It fits most sizes of makiwara, plus you can attach and detach the product within a matter of seconds, allowing you to freely mix up traditional striking drills with those that incorporate the arm and thus gain the most from each session. The method of attachment is obviously not as strong as having the arm permanently connected and very slight rotational slippage sometimes occurs, but the versatility of its design certainly makes up for that. Plus I'm sure that no genuine karate practitioner would ever fancy drilling holes into their beloved makiwara!
The arm obviously adds some weight to the front of the makiwara so if you strike the post without holding on to the arm, then you'll naturally get some movement and vibration. Plus if course, the very nature of gripping/pulling/twisting the arm stabilises the makiwara somewhat and changes its feel when struck. Again, this may be a significant issue if permanently connected, but having the flexibility of attaching/detaching with complete ease makes it much less of a problem.
The only real downside I've noticed so far is that the black finish applied to the bracket has caused a couple of very minor marks on my makiwara, due to slight frictional movement. This is hardly noticeable though and I suppose a little padding in between the bracket fixings and post would instantly solve this. It's also worth mentioning that the design allows for the arm to be attached pointing down (rather than up), which gives another element to training and some interesting low-level limb control options (applications of Gedan Barai for instance)
My experience so far of the products sold by www.ronin777.com is that they have shown high quality and durability. It's obvious that they've been designed and built by a fellow martial artist and in the time I've known Dimira, he's always been helpful, willing to listen to feedback and requests, plus very accommodating to individual needs. For instance, this particular product is available in either a one arm or two arm set and a quick browse on his website will offer many alternative ideas and combinations to cater for most requirements/budgets. He even offers makiwara options for those who don't already own one.
Overall, I'm really enjoying the addition of this new makiwara dummy arm in my dojo and I think it adds an interesting element to a practice that I'm already very passionate about. For martial artists with less space available for multiple pieces of equipment, then this is also a great option since it offers both impact and limb control capabilities at one 'station'. So if you already own a makiwara then you'll be ready to rock and roll literally within minutes of opening the box!
Anyway, I hope this review helps those who may be interested and you can find out more about this product and similar designs here >> http://ronin777.com/makiwaras/
Chris Denwood has been studying martial arts since childhood and specialises in the practical application of karate's traditional principles for civilian self-defence, personal development, life integration and discovery.