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Breaking is tough on the striking surfaces of the body that are used to do the breaking. If you plan on doing breaking other than that required for rank testing, you must first condition your body's striking surfaces to condition them for breaking. This conditioning process is call forging.

Forging process

A traditional method of forging is to repeatedly and lightly strike the part of the body to be used for breaking against a semi-hard surface. Other body weapons, such as the spear hand can be forging by thrusting the spear hand into a large container

Battering your hands is neither necessary nor desired. You are forging your body parts into weapons but, as such, they may not function well for everyday tasks.

This does not mean that training in martial arts is necessarily bad for your hands. In 1985, the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a survey in which the hands and wrists of twenty-two karate instructors were examined under x-ray and by a physician. All the instructors had at least 5 years’ experience in their martial arts. The study concluded that "Long-term and routine practice of karate does not appear to predispose to early onset of osteoarthritis or tendonitis in the hands of those studied."

Many are under the misconception that the main purpose of forging is to produce large callused knuckles, but these calluses are needed, they are just a by-product of the forging. When punching a forging post, the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder are being conditioned to the punches more effective; the calluses on the knuckles are merely a side effect of the training.

Callused or keratinized skin is caused by repeated striking or any form of repetitive application of force to an area of the skin. This may be seen by inspecting the area where your pen rests against your fingers as you write. If you write frequently, you will notice a small callus of keratinized skin has formed at the location. The body naturally protects itself if it detects that a part of the body needs extra padding.

When a violinist practices to play better, a side effect of all the practice is the development of callus "pads" on the fingers of the left hand, because of constantly pressing against the strings. The pads do not make the playing better; they are simply a result of the constant practice.

What about the supposed bony development of the metacarpal phalange joint of the knuckles? As discussed above, the bone is not malformed but is a combination of the thickening of the skin of the knuckles and a thickening of the metacarpal extensor tendon. This tendon covers the metacarpal phalange joints and when repeatedly struck, it becomes thicker. Over time, this tendon may become quite enlarged and it is this, combined with the callused skin, that causes the appearance of enlarged knuckles. When left alone, callused skin will tend to return to its original form.

Masutatsu Oyama, the great Kyokushin kai master, was also a master of breaking. His knuckles had huge calluses covering them from years of forging and breaking. In his later years, he said he regretted what he had done to his hands since they hampered use in routine daily tasks.

However, Medicine and Science in Sports (Vol., 1-2;95, 1970) published the results of a study that reviewed x-rays of Mas Oyama’s right hand that were made in both 1955 and 1970. Oyama had been training on the forging post since 1931. The results of the study showed that, after over 30 years of training on a forging post, there was no malformation of the bones in his hand. There was no evidence of any old fractures or calcification and in either set of x-rays, the internal structure of his hand appeared normal.

Forging post

A traditional karate forging tool is the Japanese makiwara (rolled straw) punching pad. The primary purpose of the forging post is to develop a strong punch or strike and to condition the hand and wrist to absorb some impact so the punch may be delivered correctly and effectively. The knife-edge of your hand and the first two knuckles of your fore fist must be conditioned before striking against hard objects. Working the forging post has the added benefit of ensuring that correct breathing and form are used since using a poor technique will cause pain.

The forging does not have to be a rigorous process. Just lightly striking the areas to be forged against hard objects a few times a day will toughen them enough to handle strikes against opponents.

How to make a forging post

Some of the old Okinawan karate masters believed that straw has chemical properties in it to help heal wounds that will invariably happen when forging. Although there is no proof of this, striking a straw makiwara is less brutal and it offers a resistance more like hitting a body then does striking a simple leather pad. Hemp rope is also used as a striking surface. The only problem in using a straw pad or wound hemp rope in martial arts schools is the problem of passing along bloodborne diseases. Nowadays, the straw is usually replaced with a cotton pad.

A common misconception is that the forging post should be stiff. However, the forging post should be flexible so that force is transmitted forward and downward when it is struck, and not back into the shoulder of the puncher, which could result in an injury. Sometimes, instead of placing the pad on a post, it is attached to a shock-absorbing mechanism mounted directly on a wall. Traditionalists realize the value of using a forging post, while modern practitioners opt for a heavy bag instead. Regardless of what is being hit, having feedback from these devices can be of great value in helping you determine how powerful your punch is and what it feels like to punch something solid.

There are several types of makiwara, the most common types being the tachi-makiwara (or standing makiwara), and the age-makiwara, which is hung from the ceiling and then kicked. There are two kinds of tachi-makiwara, a post in the ground with a pad at the top that is hit from the front, and a round pole in the ground with the top surface cut at an angle so knife-hands may be practiced on this part of the post. Rope straw may also be wrapped around the top foot or so of the post and beaten with a piece of wood to make it smooth. Since the tachi-makiwara with the pad is the most used makiwara and it is easily constructed, it is the one discussed in this article.


A forging post consists of a straight post with a striking surface at the top. The post is a seven or eight-foot-long 4x4, cut diagonally down its length so the bottom stays at 4” thick and it tapers until the top is about half an inch thick. Traditionally, the striking surface consisted of a bundle of straw at the top foot of the board with rope tightly wound around it. Nowadays, a piece of rubber covered with canvas or leather is used. Anything that cushions the shock of impact may be used, such as a tightly bundled t-shirt attached with duct tape. The striking surface is attached to the flat side that is opposite the tapered side. At the base end of the board, bolt two parallel sections of 2x4 boards perpendicular to the length of the post facing the same side as the punching surface.

Choose a site that will not be affected by the weather. Ensure that the ground in which you are mounting your forging post has good drainage and is firm.

To install the forging post, dig a hole three or four feet deep and wide enough to accommodate the 2x4's. Pack the bottom of the hole with stones. Place the base end of the board in the hole so that the middle of the punching surface is at the solar plexus level. Fill in the rest of the hole with dirt. The top of the board should flex five or six inches without exerting too much pressure. Having a board too flexible is better than not flexible enough.

Reasons to use forging

  •  shows you what it feels like to hit something solid.
  • It strengthens your wrists and joints, as well as muscles, ligaments, and your mind.
  • Proper hand and foot positions are developed.
  • It builds powerful techniques and speed. Like the heavy bag, the forging post builds stamina and endurance. Unlike the heavy bag, which will make your kicks and punches sluggish and stiff, the forging post develops speed and mental activity.
  • The forging board is called the "Board of Wisdom;" it tells the truth. It tells you how strong or weak your punches and kicks are, and it tests your stamina. It also tests your spirit because at times it takes courage to continue.
  • It builds powerful techniques and teaches proper distancing and hip position to maximize force.
  • The traditional martial arts goal is to develop the ability to achieve "One blow-one kill!" The forging post is an essential piece of equipment to develop this ability. Do not fool yourself, heavy bag work won't do it.
  • The forging board develops focus. 

Forging safety tips

  • Keep the wrist is straight and locked.
  • Strike with the first two knuckles only.
  • Start with half-power punches and gradually increase power over weeks and months.
  • Forging years to develop your body weapons. Do not be in a hurry. Your body and mind will tell you when to go harder.
  • Ensure the pad has a covering to help prevent skin cuts.
  • Ensure the post is flexible.
  • Skin toughening medications may help prevent injuries.
  • Do not lock elbow at the end of the punch.
  • Do not drive shoulder too far forward when punching.
  • Lock back leg upon impact and simultaneously tense all the muscles in the body.

Forging training tips

  • Train the left and right sides equally.
  • Use a wide variety of techniques, not just punches.
  • Training with a partner is a good idea as it will motivate you both to keep up with each other.
  • The goal is not to break the forging post but rather to condition your hands and body so that your techniques will be stronger and more effective.
  • Train after class as a supplement to your training.
  • Stay mentally focused on the forging post.

Common forging mistakes

When punching a forging post (or heavy bag, for that matter), you may need to punch slightly differently than when air-punching or punching a bag. If you try to rotate your fist at the very last moment of the punch, you may injure your hand or wrist since the pad has a lot of friction and resists the rotation. You may need to change the timing of the rotation slightly or leave out the rotation.
There is a tendency to tense and expand the body to "push" the punch while punching an object.

Pushing with brute strength is of little use while punching. Pushing is not the same as power. Keep in mind that power is created through a combination of speed and transfer of mass (Force = Mass x Acceleration). As you learn when punching an object such as a forging post, speed is not in itself sufficient; but neither is just pushing power. A would-be attacker is harder to "push" than a bag, so the forging post is a more realistic training tool since it doesn't move (except to absorb some of the shock so as not to injury the user).

Other common mistakes are:

  • Trying to "hit" the forging post instead of just performing a simple punch.
  • Trying to punch the forging post too hard.
  • Reaching for the forging post.
  • Bracing for the anticipated impact.
  • Taking too big a breath.
  • Failure to hold your focus long enough to feel what has occurred.

To avoid these problems, refine your body motion and muscular contraction by using the forging post for immediate feedback.

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