Hojo Undo
(Supplementary training)

Hojo undo, or supplementary training, is the term used in Karate to refer to training with equipment (also known as kigu undo). Since ancient times, Okinawan karateka have been using domestic tools to build up strength, develop impact power, and therefore enhance their martial practice. Using the tools is the key to developing the devastating power of Karate techniques. Miyagi Chojun Sensei stressed that the practice of kata without the correct physical conditioning of the body amounted to nothing more than gymnastics and could not be considered true bujutsu (martial art). By forging the techniques found in the kata, the value of hojo undo training becomes apparent.

Supplementary exercises, hojo undo, are practiced with the aim of perfecting the kata. The purpose of these exercises is not only to develop strength and power in the body as a whole, but to develop each part of the body individually in order to develop complete body power.

Miyagi Chojun

Kenkyukai Dojo - Kigu
The various training equipment used at the Karate Kenkyukai Dojo
Kenkyukai Dojo - Hojo Undo
Miyagi Chojun overseeing hojo undo training at the Kenkyukai Dojo
Miyagi Chojun - deshi - kigu
Miyagi Chojun surrounded by young students and hojo undo equipment

Lifting tools

The benefits of hojo undo training are well documented, and contrary to what many believe, we don't think that modern weight training comes even close to providing a way of exercising that is so specific to Karate technique. The important thing to remember here is that hojo undo is not intended to build large muscles. For this purpose modern training methods are undoubtedly much more effective. The purpose of hojo undo is to help the practitioner realise a 'feeling' for specific technique. The muscle building and conditioning element of hojo undo is a welcome side effect of the training.

Training for any physical activity always requires supplementary equipment. In Karate there are some tools that are essential and have not changed since the founding days of this art but, these days, there are those who reject them, considering them outdated. In my opinion they remain critical.

Motobu Choki

(Gripping jars)

These have been used extensively in both Okinawa and China for centuries to develop the grip. All hojo undo strengthens the grip of the user, but the gami promote a specific type of finger strength which relates to gouging and tearing as opposed to simply maintaining a hold upon something. More importantly, the gami serve to promote good symmetry in body structure, which is vitally important to a good Sanchin. Goju-Ryu is heavily dependent upon developing an instinctive use of efficient body structure and the gami teach this like no other tool. Despite the relative simplicity of the exercises, this is arguably the most important piece of hojo undo equipment. Sand or water is added to the gami gradually to increase the weight as the user's ability improves.

Gami at the Shinsokan Dojo
Richard Barrett - nigiri-gami - Jundokan Dojo (Okinawa, 2011)
Richard Barrett practicing with nigiri-gami at the Jundokan Dojo
(Okinawa, 2011)

(Stone of power)

The chiishi is said to have come from China according to popular theory, however, similar implements in both use and design can also be found in India. The chiishi develops good grip strength, particularly in the thumb and little finger. It also builds strong tendons in the wrist, elbows, and shoulder, whilst developing the bicep, triceps, latissimus dorsi and trapezius muscles. Regular practice with the chiishi ensures that the practitioner is able to lock their techniques into the tanden, learning to use the large muscles of the back and the core for punching and blocking, rather than the weaker muscles of the arms.

Chi-ishi at the Shinsokan Dojo
Richard Barrett - chi-ishi - Jundokan Dojo (1985) Richard Barrett - chi-ishi
Richard Barrett training with the chi-ishi

(Double-handle chi-ishi)

Heavier chi-ishi which is used exclusively for two-handed exercises.

Sashi-ishi at the Shinsokan Dojo
Richard Barrett - sashi-ishi
Richard Barrett training with the sashi-ishi

(Stone/Iron padlock)

This tool almost certainly has its roots in China, where similar methods are referred to as 'stone chain training' and have been used for centuries. The ishi sashi promote tendon strength in the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders, as well as helping to develop the ability to link the arms to the torso, using whole body power to defend and attack. The ishi sashi can also be hooked over the feet to strengthen the legs for kicking techniques.

Ishi-sashi - Tetsu-sashi
Ishi-sashi and tetsu-sashi at the Shinsokan Dojo

(Iron ring)

This tool was introduced to Okinawa in the 1930's following Miyagi Chojun Sensei's trip to Hawaii where he was inspired by the strength of native wrestlers who grappled with large chain links from the anchors of ships. Large, heavy, and cumbersome, the kongoken presents a challenge for the karateka, pulling their body weight around and unbalancing their stance in a similar way to when engaging an opponent.

Kongoken at the Shinsokan Dojo
Richard Barrett - kongoken - Jundokan Dojo (1985) Richard Barrett - kongoken - Jundokan Dojo (1985)
Richard Barrett training with the kongoken
(Jundokan Dojo, Okinawa)


In China, the term tan refers to a unit of weight, and similar tools are used extensively in Shuai Jiao (wrestling). The tan develops torso and hips power, using the larger muscles of the back and legs as opposed to the tendons of the arms as with the chi-ishi and ishi-sashi. Fewer schools regularly use the tan compared with the chiishi and ishi sashi, but the arm strength developed through using these tools is useless if the practitioner cannot link it to their body. The tan provides a way of effectively achieving this.

Tan at the Shinsokan Dojo
Richard Barrett - tan - Jundokan Dojo (1985)
Richard Barrett training with the tan
(Jundokan Dojo, Okinawa, 1985)

(Wrist roller)

Historical illustrations from the Shaolin Temple show that this tool has been used for hundreds of years to strengthen the forearms, grip, and the resolve of practitioners. The rope is gradually wrapped around the handle by rotating and gripping in order to raise the weight from the floor.

Makiagi at the Shinsokan Dojo

Impact tools

The impact tools allow the karateka to learn how to transfer strength into a target, increase striking power, and experience the effects produced by real blows. Proper body structure and joint alignment is also learnt through impact training.

Conditioning is essential in Budo Karate. The varous strikes of kata are worthless if the tool is not as strong as its delivery. If you strike harder than the tool you are using is capable of absorbing, this will most likely result in injury to yourself. Each tool must be conditioned to the extent that you can deliver the necessary force required to have the desired effect upon the opponent without damaging yourself.

Karate-do has unique training methods which have been handed down to us. These include various kinds of supplementary training equipment for conditioning each part of the body, changing it into a powerful, iron-like weapon. This kind of training will bring greater value to your Karate-do as a martial art. Only through repeated effort and training with this equipment will you make slow, but continuous progress.

Nakasone Genwa

(Striking board)

In Okinawa it was common for the machiwara (as it is called on the island) to be used by males who were not even martial artists. Miyazato Eiichi Sensei relayed stories about his uncle who was well known in Naha as a strong fighter. Although he did not practice Karate, he regularly used the machiwara and chiishi in order to make himself strong, advising the young Miyazato Sensei to do the same.

The machiwara is the number one tool for developing punching power, and learning how to link the limbs to the ground. Traditionally bound in straw and rope, modern variations use a leather pad to simulate skin over bone.

The makiwara is the "number one" tool in Okinawa. You cannot do enough with it, and the hardest you can punch it is the hardest you can punch.

Richard Barrett

Makiwara Makiwara
Makiwara at the Shinsokan Dojo
Michael Clarke - Richard Barrett - makiwara - Jundokan Dojo (Okinawa, 2011)
Michael Clarke and Richard Barrett punching the makiwara at the Jundokan Dojo
(Okinawa, 2011)

(Wooden post)

Originally trees were used as natural machiwara to strengthen the forearms and certain striking tools, but with the introduction of purpose built dojo, creative practitioners devised ways of retaining such methods indoors. Traditional tou consist of a rounded post attached to the floor in an upright manner which is then used for forearm conditioning (ude kitae). Variations include the addition of strike targets, flexible or rigid arms, and makeshift legs, to provide a training partner for solo practice.

Tou at the Shinsokan Dojo

Kakite Bikei
(Blocking post)

A post set in the ground with a movable arm counterbalanced by a weight, this tool allows the karateka to practice many techniques and combinations as well as develop a good feeling for pulling and pushing linking the arms to their bodies.

Kakite bikei Kakite bikei
Kakite bikei outside the Shinsodo Dojo
Richard Barrett - kakite-bikei
Richard Barrett training with the kakite-bikei


An extremely versatile piece of equipment, the bag provides a moving target and similar 'feel' to that of a human torso, useful for strengthening certain striking techniques.

Bag at the Shinsokan Dojo

(Bamboo bundle)

This tool has its roots in China. Lengths of bamboo are bundled together in an upright manner and are then struck using nukite to strengthen the tips of the fingers and the hand form. Various exercises also develop the accuracy and grip of the student.

When you take into account the number of times the technique nukite (spear hand) is used in Karate kata, it should come as no surprise to learn that there exists a training tool to facilitate the growth of strong fingertips whithin the hojo undo arsenal.

Michael Clarke
The Art of Hojo Undo (p.122)

Taketaba at the Shinsokan Dojo

(Pebble container)

Instructions for using this piece of equipment can be found in the famous Bubishi. The ishi bako conditions the fingertips in a different manner to that of the taketaba, providing a Ju to the Go. Both methods have their merits.

While there is no escaping the brutal makiwara, there are numerous other ways Karate-jutsu uses to condition the body. For example, training the fingers so that one is capable of piercing or pressing them into the weak parts of the body requires filling a container with sand so that repeated thrusting into it helps develop and harden the tips of your fingers.

Funakoshi Gichin

Ishi-bako at the Shinsokan Dojo


This is nature's gift to the martial artist. Coral rocks and river stones were rounded smooth by the elements and used for centuries to develop the strength and conditioning of the creative Karate practitioner. The ishi develops the blunt striking tools (shuto, teisho and tettsui) and the deadweight manner of hitting the target.

Ishi at the Shinsokan Dojo

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”