Makiwara training

Makiwara training

Takayuki Kubota’s hardcore makiwara training

By Hank Hamilton

Traditional Warrior Perhaps the most famous grandmaster in the world known for his „body armor” and incredible breaking ability is soke Takayuki Kubota.
The only living soke (creator of a complete Japanese style karate system practiced worldwide), and one of the very few

holding the 10th dan (highest attainable
rank), Kubota has long been known for
pounding his hands and shins with a
steel sledge hammer a thousand times
a day.

I first became aware of
grandmaster Takayuki Kubota in 1963.
He was on the cover of a martial arts
magazine, smashing his closed fist through
the center of a 100-pound block of ice.
The cover story described this small
(5 feet 4 inches and 135 pounds) civilian
warrior being used as a one-man riot
control by the Tokyo Police Department.
He was also a special instructor to
their officers.

In 1964, he relocated his
International Karate Association (IKA)
to Hollywood, California, under the
coaxing of many ranking officers of
the Los Angeles Police Department and
local karate enthusiasts, and it THE
MAKIWARA The makiwara board shown in
our illustrations is fairly well standard
in most Japanese dojo (training hall).
It is usually made of a block of wood
covered by a swatch of fire hose, or
coarse rope, attached near the top of
a tapered (bottom to top) strong, flexible
plank of wood. A steel base that is
bolted to the concrete floor holds it
in place. You can also install a makiwara
outside. All you have to do is dig a
hole two feet deep and secure the makiwara
with cement.

The makiwara is used to
toughen the striking points of the knuckles
(seiken), elbows (empe), back knuckles
(uraken), back of open hand (haisho),
thumb joint (haito), tips of extended
fingers (nukite), heel of open hand
(shote, harete or pesho) and the famous
karate chop (shuto). The more spartan
can also toughen their shins and feet
by striking them on the makiwara.

The makiwara is used to
toughen the striking points of the knuckles
(seiken), elbows (empe), back knuckles
(uraken), back of open hand (haisho),
thumb joint (haito), tips of extended
fingers (nukite), heel of open hand
(shote, harete or pesho) and the famous
karate chop (shuto). The more spartan
can also toughen their shins and feet
by striking them on the makiwara.

Technically, makiwara training
is not included in the IKA’s training
regimen. However, occasionally students
will work on it a little after a demonstration.
The general rank and file of public
students can more than accomplish their
goals in conditioning and self-defense
techniques without having to endure
the pain and some disfigurement inherent
in serious makiwara work. Needless to
say, the more dedicated IKA warriors
spend hours of their own time honing
their physical weapons by pursuing Kubota’s
personal training techniques.


When he was a youngster,
about five, Kubota developed some training
techniques that he would carry into
adulthood. He started with striking
a bag of sand with his bare hands and
feet. He later switched to a bag of
rice and graduated to a bucket full
of loose rice, jabbing his open bare
hands into the abrasive grains. These
drills, of course, create calluses and
durable skin.

When he was a teen in Tokyo,
Kubota-san used to take nightly walks,
just for more exercise. Kubota recalls
that there was one long fence with tall,
thick, bamboo poles about every four
feet. He would do a few shutos on each
as he passed, then he would stop at
a steel light pole and punch it several
times with his bare fists. One night,
when he was 15, he started slamming
into the steel pole and, due to the
vibration of his many poundings, the
screws in the arm holding the light
had come loose, causing the whole thing
to start sparking and fall to the ground.
He jumped out of the way. Seeing the
loose live wires jumping around sparking,
he figured he should beat a hasty retreat.

Eventually, he built his
own makiwara board and would practice
each of his strikes a thousand times
a day. Later, he began to pound his
hands, knuckles, shins and feet with
a steel sledge hammer. When he was away
from home, he carried a flat stone in
the palm of one hand and continuously
pounded his other fist.

To maintain and build power
in his strikes and kicks, he still incorporates
the traditional training into his routine,
but he points out the necessity to strengthen
the wrists, joints and muscles – not
just the surfaces of his weapons. A
hundred push-ups on the first two knuckles
of each hand, followed by an equal amount
on the extended fingertips, the four
folded knuckles, down to just the first
folded knuckle on each hand is a good
start. This can be done daily. Follow
that by standing on your folded-under
toes and jumping up and down a few times,
and you’re on your way.

Knowing that none of these
exercises are easy to do, soke suggests
you start the push-ups on your knees
– instead of full extension with a straight
back and legs. Also, do only 10 at a
time. You can work up to the 100 at
your own pace. As far as the folded
toes are concerned, you might want to
hang from an overhead bar and gingerly
put your weight on your folded toes.


To derive the most benefit
out of the makiwara drills, Kubota stresses
the importance of striking the training
device properly. First, get in your
stance. When making full contact with
the covered block, stop; then, using
your hip, push. He says that it’s important
for the body part you’re conditioning
to be flexible because you do not want
to destroy your bones and cartilage.
This [technique] also helps in the power
development as well. He cautions against
too-powerful strikes with joints such
as the elbow and knee, as it will build
up fluids and lead to arthritic problems.
And he reiterates frequently how important
it is to scrub up after each workout
to protect against infections.


Many of you are probably
thinking, „What effect does this kind
of self punishment have on you in later
life?” Kubota says that everyone is
different and his or her bodies will
respond differently. Most people who
take proper care while working out and
make sure they don’t expose themselves
to infection, should not have any trouble
later, he says.

As for himself, in his
mid-60s, having practiced hard body
conditioning since he was five, every
bit of him is totally flexible. His
fingers, which when extended can break
through a two-foot stack of roofing
tiles, give him great relaxation and
pleasure playing his prized guitar.
I, myself, have trained on the makiwara
for more than 36 years, and I have no
noticeable repercussions (although I
still can’t play the guitar).


Takayuki Kubota’s entire
life has been a true dichotomy. Raised
during wartime with America, and trained
to hate Americans, he has yet probably
done more in training Americans to defend
themselves than anyone else. He was
even the personal bodyguard to an American
Ambassador to Japan. He’s known as one
of the most invincible fighting men
of all time and CFW Enterprises called
him „Karate’s Most Dangerous Man.” Yet,
he is as loving and friendly to kids
as a wet pup, as well as head of the
largest, family-oriented, brotherhood
dedicated associations in the world.

Tenth dan, soke Takayuki
Kubota is almost as famous for his friendliness
and sense-of-humor as he is for being
the man of steel. But, what the heck?
If you don’t have anyone, or anything
to fear, it’s got to be easy to laugh.

About the writer: Hank
Hamilton is a sixth-degree black belt
in karate, a screenwriter, talent manager
and movie actor who has trained personally
with Takayuki Kubota since 1965. IKA has
mushroomed since then (there are IKA dojo
across the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii
and Puerto Rico, and in 52 countries
worldwide). Gosoku-ryu, the karate style
soke Kubota created (and for which he received
his „soke” title from the Japanese Ministry
of Education), has become the fastest
growing and most popular form of Japanese
karate in the world. „Go” means strong,
„soku” means fast, and it is a true
blending of many soft Chinese techniques
with the bone-jarring power of the Japanese
styles, plus a lot of jiu-jitsu, aikido
and sheer originality thrown in.

Takayuki Kubota’s hardcore
makiwara training

By Hank Hamilton