Sensei Problems

April 23, 2018

Sitting next to you is a distinguished gentleman or gentlewoman older than you. Although their outward appearance is rather regal, they carry the burden of their days of teaching. Their gi (e.g., uniform) looks like a rat eaten corn sack, and the mangled ribbon around their waist was a black belt at one time. When they walk the left knee goes pop! boing! snap! And they will give a grin with a tooth missing. Their feet resemble two rawhide chew toys, and their hands…well, their violin playing days are over.

Artist: Peter Deeley

Welcome to the Black Belt Club!

If you go to your distinguished sensei’s house, you are likely to find; a hole in the garage wall, a tree stump, a bent steel post that sensei at one time tied the dog to, and a barbecue pit with a wall missing. Oh yeah! A missing dog! You too will go through the time honored routine of trying to find a place to put your makiwara, ignoring what your sensei said to you about installation.

So, Where do I put my makiwara?

Okay, for those readers not familiar with a makiwara…it’s a board firmly padded (as in hard) covered with canvas that has all the smooth texture of sandpaper. Makiwaras are mounted on trees, walls or posts. The martial arts practitioner then kicks or strikes the board with feet, open or closed hands, elbows, etc. Kicking and striking the makiwara improves form, focus, targeting and also toughens the skin. Recommended regimens include striking the makiwara 50-100 times per day for each hand and foot. As long as the practitioner is properly placed to strike the board at the proper angle with the right amount of force, practice will help the practitioner improve striking power. A poor strike will cause a glancing blow and could cause injury, as..As in a very serious “OUCH.”

So why does all this cause a problem about where to mount the makiwara? BECAUSE, the wrong supporting structure will have some very unexpected results. As in:

1. Mounted on a tree – your tree dies a miserable death;

2. Mounted on the wrong stud in your house – you’ll find where the termites are hiding;

3. Mounted on your wall – you will have some very rustic ventilation;

4. Mounted on a metal post in your back yard – the metal will fatigue before you do…and your dog will run away.

Artist: Peter Deeley

The thing is…the energy of a strike to a makiwara travels to the supporting structure. If that structure is living; then the repeated, concussive energy waves will kill it. If the structure is man made, but not properly supported; then the structure will fail.

The problem for higher ranking practitioners is that more training and experience = greater energy delivered during a strike or kick. Hence, down goes the trees, walls, posts, and studs. 🙁

So, What happened to our revered sensei?

Student’s happened!

We all begin as white belts, and I even shudder to wonder what I was like as a white belt. Typically, the white belt is the young person with no impressive physique, has very little coordination, and no control. Their tuition is being paid by their parents, which is the upkeep for the dojo. The owner needs to keep these young students around: So, you don’t break them!

  • One such student tries to kick a bag with both of his hands tied behind his back! You spring into action and save him from a broken neck, but your right knee pops and you limp the rest of the night!
  • You direct another young person with glasses to punch to the middle of your chest, and your nose explodes with white stars, and pain! All you can do is say, “You missed!”

White belts are very scary, because they are wild, uncontrolled, have the wrong attitude, and no idea that their Sensei is having to work 10 times as hard just to avoid hurting them while protecting themselves. White belts tend to hit or kick in flailing, unpredictable motions and do not have the control to pull punches, prevent injury, or practice restraint.

Instructors tend to hold back their own strikes, kicks, blocks, etc. in order to encourage a new student by giving them a sense of accomplishment and to prevent injury to the student. However, white belts, due to their inexperience, tend not to realize the restraint practiced by their instructors nor recognize that their “I’m a bad a–” attitude is unmerited; so they don’t hold back or practice restraint.

Eventually, they become brown belts. Now is the time the sensei can remove the remaining vestiges of “bad attitude” from the student. Very often they want to test sensei, and see if he knows his stuff. Usually, the best course of action is to counter their actions with something they have never seen, and give them one second of stark terror, grinding bones, and pain. They will stay off your back for months.

Uh…how do I fix the hole in my wall?

I don’t know. I’m not the least bit handy and don’t know anything about how to fix holes in the wall.

So if you do manage to knock a hole in your wall I recommend going to your local hardware store and asking an expert for advice. OR hiring a handyman or contractor.

My favorite sites are:


How do I stay safe?

So what are the keys to staying safe?

1. Research the possible sites where you could mount your makiwara. Do your homework and make sure that the supporting structure can support repeated strikes without suffering a catastrophic failure. Unless of course you absolutely hate that tree and really do want it dead; although you’ll still have to pay to have it cut down and removed after you’ve killed it. Oh! and get rid of the termites!

2. Again, you are responsible for ensuring safety in the training environment. Emphasize with your students that they must practice safe training habits. Any student who refuses to check their “I’m a bad a–” attitude at the door, should be instructed to leave the mat until their attitude changes.

3. Remember that when you are teaching or working with lower ranking students you are responsible for their safety. The main purpose is for the lower ranking student to learn. It also gives you an opportunity to learn control. Practice control.

4. Don’t make the hole in the wall to begin with. Options include but are not limited to:

  • installing material on the walls that will absorb blows. One dojo I know of installed mats on the walls;
  • placing your training area in the center of the room with plenty of space between the training area and the walls;
  • practicing situation awareness and avoid hitting the walls.

Pain and Gain

Are these the only problems you’ll run into as a Sensei? Of course not… I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

Overall, I have had an enjoyable time teaching, with few mishaps, and I still have most of my body parts, including all ten toes: four on the left foot and six on the right.

So I invite you to leave a comment about a problem you’ve run into and information on how you solved the problem.
Thank you 🙂






  • Mario83 May 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    When I was a kid, I loved to watch fighting sports. I have been always impressed with the way how fighters crush wooden boards and bricks. I think your tips for striking makiwara are very useful and helpful, in order not to hurt yourself. Personally, I wouldn’t be so brave to kick makiwara, because it hurts me only reading about it.

  • Joshua Warren May 6, 2018 at 3:03 am

    Well, if you are not a kindred spirit, Rita.

    I’ve been a practitioner for many years and studied Shorin Ryu for about a year or so. I was in the US Air Force at the time and had to study whatever was available at my (then) present assignment. I also studied Tae Kwon Do off and on for a number of years and reached brown belt level. I’ve also trained in Kali, Krav Maga, and Judo. However, my 2nd Dan ranking is in Shaolin Kenpo.

    I’ve never been a full-fledged “Sensei,” but I did have a business where I trained women in self-defense tactics and was a certified instructor with Divas in Defense, also training women.

    I used a homemade makiwara board throughout my training years and can vouch for its effectiveness and durability. It was one of my favorite tools.

    I wish you continued success with your business, Rita.



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