Do we need those big knuckles? 拳ダコは必要か?

Kendako 3The big knuckles a karate-ka has developed on his hands are called “ken-dako, 拳ダコ” in Japanese. They are typically developed on the index and middle fingers. Typically, the young karate-ka would proudly show off the bulging and discolored knuckles as a proof of their “hard” training. It is almost like a war medal or a qualification badge. We all know how these knuckles were developed. They became big from the ponding, thousands of times on the piece of karate training equipment called a makiwara. The question I bring up today is if these big knuckles are really necessary for a karate-ka to be called an expert. The thoughts I share with you are purely my own personal opinions. I do not claim what I am proposing is correct but one thing I can say is that I have a very strong opinion about this subject. A makiwara has become an iconic training tool of karate. It seems that every dojo must have at least one makiwara post to claim its legitimacy. Most of the sensei of dojos I have visited almost always showed me their makiwara posts very enthusiastically. Makiwara FunakoshiA makiwara comes in various heights, thicknesses, . and of many different kinds. I have already written a chapter on training with a makiwara in my book, Shotokan Myths. If you are interested in this subject please refer to Chapter 4 in my book (available through Amazon and Kindle). In fact, I must say that makiwara training is one of the most popular topics that the karate-ka wishes to discuss. I am the main contributor of Karate Coaching (, the worlds most advanced and comprehensive online karate instruction service provider. The editor told me that the demonstration clip of my makiwara training received the most attention. As a conclusion in Chapter 4 of Shotokan Myths, I wrote in essence that the senior yudansha need to graduate from makiwara training and move to the next level of training. I almost wanted to write that makiwara training was no longer needed for the senior practitioners but I decided not to. I was afraid my true meaning would be misunderstood by such a comment. It is true that many senior instructors including the world famous ones are believers of makiwara training. Those instructors include Funakoshi, Shotokan founder, Mas Oyama, Kyokushinkai founder, Tetsuhiko Asai, Asai-ryu karate founder and Higaonna, 10th dan Goju-ryu. Mario_Higaonna_striking_stoneIt is well known that Master Oyama and Higaonna both have huge knuckles. I am not completely against makiwara training. Those masters are professionals as well as karate experts so those knuckles are well fitting and there is nothing wrong with that. After having written that I would still say “no” to the original question; “Do we need big knuckles?” I am sure many readers will wonder why I say this. Probably many of you will argue that by having big knuckles the practitioner’s effectiveness (destruction power) of his fists will increase. One karate-ka told me, “Sensei, a fist with big knuckles is like having a 44 magnum gun. If you have the untrained knuckles you cannot break the bricks or 10 tiles. A fist with the small knuckles would be a 22 pistol.” Even though I am not sure if the analogy is quite accurate, in essence I agree to what he was trying to tell me. Even then I still say we do not need a set of big knuckles in order to be qualified as a senior karate-ka. You do not need more than a 22 pistol to kill an assailant in a standard self-defense circumstance. Let me explain why I claim that we do not need big knuckles. • The biggest myth with huge knuckles is the following. The big knuckles are toughened to the point a fist with those knuckles can knock out any opponent. However, I must say that simply having big knuckles does not necessarily translate into a destructive or scary punch. In the case of a magnum gun it does have tremendous fire power no matter who shoots it. But you must remember it is a gun and a punch is a totally different story. In order to have an effective or devastating punch, one must learn how to punch correctly. A big and toughened fist can be a good tool or at least a scary looking one but it must be backed up by a punching technique to make it work or effective. If your punch is slow or delivered poorly then it will not matter regardless of the size or the hardness of your fist. In fact, if you want something for your self protection it is better or more useful if you would carry a baseball bat or a stick. If you are a professional karate-ka who can train 4 or more hours daily then it is not a problem to punch a makiwara for 15 minutes or even longer . However, I assume that the most of the readers can only train 2 or 3 times a week and each training period must be 90 minutes or shorter. In this situation I hate to see a practitioner spend the valuable 15 minutes pounding on a makiwara. Don’t you think spending that time on kihon or kata is better or more productive for your karate improvement? • Secondly, I do not think the idea of showing off the deformed knuckles bodes well with one of the karate-do values called humbleness. This is the same idea of not showing off one’s blackbelt to the public. When I was in a business meeting in Japan I used to hide or position my hands so that the discolored knuckles would not be visible. It was not because I was embrassed with the fists or felt ashamed of karate training. In Japan the people would easily know what my fists mean and I did not want to intimidate anyone. I may sound as if I’m exaggerating but it would be like placing a knife on a negotiation table. I do not think the sight of big knuckles will bring any pleasure to anyone who are non karate-ka. • The third reason is most important. As we advance in the skill level of karate we need to graduate from the crude punching and overt techniques to more advanced techniques. They are less visible and more like piercing or tapping techniques that are mainly aimed at the kyusho, the critical parts of thebody. The kyusho such as eyes, neck, ears and groin are typically soft and the toughened fits and hands are not necessary to deliver an effective attack. At those targets a fist, a knife hand, the finger tips and a wrist are all effective even if they are not toughened. In addition, once you learn the one-inch-punch technique you no longer need to smash your fist into an opponent to knock him down. Of course this is an ultimate technique but it is not magic and anyone can learn it. • Another reason why I discourage anyone from developing big knuckles is the ill consequence it may cause. I am afraid the deformed knuckles could result in an arthritis symptom when a practitioner gets old. I do not have the medical expertise nor scientific data on this so I would like to receive the input from the readers on this. • Lastly, I am sort of a romanticist. Frankly, I hate to see our fists deformed and making them look like those of a zombie (see the photo below). This is far from beauty and I detest it. Earlier I explained that the toughened fists are not necessary to deliver an effective karate technique. So, why would you want to deform your fists? Kendako 2 Karate is the genetleman’s art and this is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. For those reasons listed above it is my strong belief that the ugly fists do not fit in the art of karate-do. These are my personal opinions and the feelings I have towards Kendako. You are welcome to leave your opinions and thoughts on this subject.

8 Responses to Do we need those big knuckles? 拳ダコは必要か?

  • Thank you Sir for this article. I completely agree with you on this matter. Some goes for the myth that you need callus on your feet to be able to throw a effizient kick.
    I enjoy reading your articles.

    PS. When I started with Taekwondo in 1967 I was on the makiwari for month and month and I remember it as as great experience because in these days and memory from the past – but I dont have a makiwari in my school now and for the last 20 years. And neither my students nor I miss it at all.
    Best regards from munich Germany

    • Sensei Huss,

      Thank you very much for your feedback. I believe there is a place for a makiwara in karate training. However, just like you and I, it is also possible to conduct the proper karate training without makiwara at all. Once we understand the purpose of a makiwara such as correct alignment of the wrist, etc. and we know how to train for those effects, we no longer need a makiwara. Ossu

  • Ossu Shihan. I hope you are well.
    To the original question, No, big knuckles do not make you an expert. I dont see the point of developing big knuckles either, however I do see the point of using a makiwara.
    I train nearly every day for and hour to 2 hours.
    I train ALL the aspects karate asks of me, kata, basics, strength conditioning, cardio and impact training. Not all at once of course, but in a structured regimen that suits the time available to me. That the by product of training with the makiwara is big knuckles is something I can live with given the other imho, very necessary technical and mind conditioning development areas that the tool affords. Lets face it, it is a far cry from punching air. You have no choice but to make a correct fist. A good grounded stance must be adopted,
    the shoulder kept down for gyakyzuki, and legs, hips and torso developed in unison and of course there is timing, as well as mind conditioning as it might hurt a bit, and also to mention developing the correct punching muscles and strengthening of all the bodies support network to the business end….the fist.
    Of course you know all this. For me it is a large part of my training as karate should be individual to each of us, again my humble opinion. I would sooner know that should I need to call on my primary weapon then it is up to the job with no doubt in my mind.
    Thank you for reading and thank you for the question.
    Oss……jon brassington.

    • Dear Sensei Brassington,

      It is great to hear from you again. It has been many months. I hope your training is going well for you.
      Thank you very much for your input and your thoughts on this subject.
      Please send me an email and let me know how you are doing at your new dojo.


  • Why is it, so many karate ka consider the machiwara a tool for hardening your knuckles? The hardening is only a bi-product of the use of machiwara. The reason we use tachi machiwara, as karate ka, is for studying subjects as chinkuchi points, training accuracy and delivery system when combining the striking of machiwara with tenshin, learning to keep the waki closed while striking and some other vital and important points! The hardening of the knuckles, and the enlargement happens, yes, but as I wrote, this is NOT the primary reason for hitting the machiware. All respect, Jan

    • Your point is exactly what I wrote in my article. I even wrote the answer to your question. If my explanation is not sufficient, then let me know where. Oss

  • Sir
    the title says, do we need big knuckles? but you also said that is it necessary that a karate ka need to have big knuckles to be called an expert? I think what makes one a karate expert is his mastery of movements to defend or attack effectively. The big knuckle is just contributory to the effectiveness of strike of the karate ka. if you have big knuckles then as if you have a knuckle weapon attached to your fist. Big knuckles is also necessary but not essential in becoming a master karateka. I think striking the Makiwara with bare fist daily is a maintenance routine so that the punching power is constant. like running athlete that should keep on running to maintain running condition. just like also a boxer pounding daily the punching bag to maintain punching power or else it may deteriorate with out constant punching.

    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, the title says so but did you read my essay? I wrote a content almost same as your thoughts described above. If you have not read it, please do so and let me know what you think. Oss

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