Physical Culture

Hojo Undo: Ancient Conditioning For Combat

I’m always intrigued by interesting training methodologies and especially old world physical culture.  Often, when one thinks of physical culture, the first thought is of western culture and strongmen such as Arthur Saxon.  But Eastern/Asian cultures have a robust history of physical culture that deserves exploration.

The picture to the right shows an assembly of traditional Karate Hojo Undo equipment.  While many of the exercises done with this equipment could perhaps be better done with modern equipment (old/ancient is not always better), some of the training modalities would be a worthy addition to your training if you’re a karateka (karate practitioner) or martial artist.  Here are a few of the tools with names and my thoughts.

Nigiri Game – Gripping jars, filled with varying degrees of sand and held by the mouth.  Exercising with these items increased grip strength.  Everyone can use better grip strength (I’m comfortable saying everyone), and this modality appears just as valid as others.

Ishi Sashi – These tools look like padlocks, and are very similar to one of my very favorite fitness tools, the kettlebell.  Like the kettlebell, the weight is offset and the tools inefficiency contributes to its effectiveness in delivering real world strength.  I have never trained with a stone padlock, but from the material I’ve been able to review online, much of the training involved is very similar to kettlebell training, with a few differences here or there.  I would hazard a guess that a good kettlebell program could obviate the need for authentic ishi sashi practice.

Chi Shi – Weighted levers, these tools can be seen in the topmost picture.  They look like a short barbell with a weightplate on only one end.  These tools were used to increase wrist strength and were used in conjunction with actual karate moves and poses.  Leverage clubs like these are used in many other cultures, most notably in India.  I would say this is an aspect of physical culture that isn’t adequately addressed using modern fitness equipment.  Modern weightlifting is very linear, and not circular at all.  The leverage club allows one to train the wrists and shoulders in a very circular fashion, hence the term “circular strength training.”  Take a look at the video below for an example:

Makiwara – This is a wooden board with rope tied around it used for developing punching power and conditioning the knuckles and striking surfaces of the hand and feet for combat.  Call me overly cautious, but in terms of developing punching power, I prefer the safety of boxing handwraps, gloves, and the heavybag.  Like most things, punching improves with tons of punching, and the heavybag is much more forgiving to the human bone structure.  I’m certain that purists would disagree.

If any readers know a bit about the subject, please chime in, I’m always looking forward to learning a thing or two.


3 thoughts on “Hojo Undo: Ancient Conditioning For Combat

  1. Makiwara training does not begin with striking the Maki. The practitioner stands with the rear foot in line with the maki in a short forward stance. The fist is placed on the twine with the elbow pointing down directly – arm extended, the body as in a reverse punch posture. The complete body is projected forward to push the post back and then lessen the pressure, without removing the fist. This is the initial training. This forces you to keep the posture which should be the correct body alignment for the punch, making it unstoppable. You must keep the elbow bent and pointing down. In Okinawan Karate, this is the rule for the elbows. You begin pushing forward using all body mechanics – hips, alignment, breath, intention, projection. Eventually you pull your arm into “chamber” – to us that means fist ready to thrust forward position. You strike the maki lightly and hold, repeating the initial process of projecting, etc. After a while you are punching. You begin to notice if you’re out of alignment because you will feel the weakness in the strike/technique. This will make you use the proper punching alignment every time.

    Hope this helps.

    • Hannibal,

      Thank you very much for your insight! I’m admittedly a beginner when it comes to all things martial arts, and the more I learn about the things I think I’m well versed in, like exercise, I only realize there’s so much more to learn. 🙂

      Thanks for providing me another opportunity!

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