A Matsubayashi-Ryu practitioner from the U.K. wrote me: “...why spend all that money, time and effort for a makiwara. Just wrap some rope around a tree and punch and kick away. Problem Solved!”
Well, actually, no. Problem not solved but Emergency Room visit created.
Physics 101: Moving Fist + Immobile Tree + Abrupt Deceleration = Damage to the weakest of the two (i.e. you fist - or foot) When one object collides (at speed) into an immobile object one or both of the objects must absorb the force of the impact. The least solid or more poorly constructed object deforms to absorb the force of impact. If you strike a tree makiwara (not a sapling) the tree will not deform but your fist/foot will.
You ever wonder why they don’t build cars out of iron? They would withstand substantial impacts without even a scratch. However if they did not deform then the object inside the care (you) would. Better a bumper than my face. Its different but still the same basic physics involved in the fist vs. tree.
Think about it; I, and most yudansha, can easily break multiple concrete slabs, roofing tile, multiple wooden slabs, etc. It’s not magic, again it’s physics and “mizo no kokoro”. But you know something, I never lay them on the floor and try to break them because I’m not stupid. I place them on a support that allows the energy of my strike to be absorbed into the object (e.g. concrete) causing it to deform and shatter. With multiple layers I simply have to maintain the energy of my strike and the first block will help break the second, etc. While it’s the law of diminishing returns, it still works.
For those of us old enough to remember the massive “ice block breaks” from the 70’s, it would appear I’m inaccurate in my statements. Two words: piano wire. Yes I’m sure.
Well what about when practitioners get hit with the 2x2 while holding a stance in demos? Repeat after me: Not magic - physics. I don’t have to have assume the “secret iron horse stance of Kusanku”, I just have to be pretty stable and trust my kohai. They must strike me with the 2x2 with the grain and choke up on the beam so that more of the beam extends past me than between the kohai and the target (me). I do not break the beam, I merely stop it, then physics kicks in: an object in motion tends to stay in motion. The momentum of the 2x2 causes it to break itself.
Back to the makiwara. A satisfactory makiwara must have play and flexibility in it. (See graphic above) A 4x4 tapered to a 1x4 allows that flexion. I’ve also seen wood squares cut with open spaces to allow flexion when struck. While that’s not idea, it is far better than placing a rag on a concrete wall and punching it.
When one achieves yudansha status it is not an end rather the very beginning of learning. The best learning starts with a question and a refusal to believe in magic or secret techniques. Again karate is not about secret techniques . . . well maybe it is, to some of us common sense can seem fairly elusive at times.