Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hojo undo

Hojo undo, or supplementary exercises, in Okinawan karate are
Using the forearm to attack in
Saifa and Seiunchin katas.
usually done with a variety of old-style implements one often sees in a traditional dojo. You can make them yourself or employ various modern substitutes to effect the same results. To me, however, the one caveat is that the implements and the training one employs should be used to develop or strengthen the techniques one sees in the classical katas. In fact, one could argue that everything one does with respect to hojo undo training should be practiced with that in mind; how the exercise benefits one's technique, one's ability to perform the techniques we see in kata and bunkai. So, as blasphemous as it may sound, training on the makiwara (punching post), for example, as ubiquitous as this tool is in traditional karate dojos, seems to me to be rather low on the list of hojo undo practices. There are many other techniques in the classical kata of Goju-ryu that actually seem more common or at least as deserving of supplemental training as the straight punch (tsuki). (Though, of course, the straight punch is not the only technique one can train on the makiwara.) What about training implements to develop one's forearm strikes? Or something to work on strengthening knee kicks? Or twisting motions to develop the mawashi techniques?

Using the knee to attack the head
in Seiunchin kata.
I suppose one could rely solely on kote-kotai (arm pounding) to develop one's forearm strikes. But there are implements one can also use. I have a couple of saw horses in my dojo. When Sifu Liu, the noted Feeding Crane master, saw them, he suggested I round the edges on the top 2 X 4s a bit and use them for arm pounding. He thought the height was just about right for that.

The iron geta can be used to develop leg strength for knee kicks, but some sort of horizontal kicking post would also be good. I've sometimes also used a medicine ball held in two hands for working on knee kicks--gruesome thought, but a fairly good approximation of the opponent's head in many of the techniques/bunkai we see in Goju classical subjects.

Using the grip to pull the opponent
down in Saifa kata.
The gripping jars (nigiri-game) are good to work on grip strength, of course, which occurs everywhere in Goju classical subjects, but there's also stick bundles. You get a handful of those three-foot skinny bamboo tomato stakes and put them in a cloth bag. You can twist them and work on splitting them with your fingers while gripping them. My teacher used to have us work in pairs twisting belts (obi) for the same effect.

The kongoken is another useful hojo undo tool. Legend has it that Miyagi Chojun sensei saw it being used by wrestlers on a visit to Haiwaii and decided that it would be a good addition to the arsenal of Okinawan training equipment. It's a large, metal, elongated oval. It's heavy and perhaps a bit ungainly looking, but it would be a good way to train the use of the arms and hands in applying mawashi techniques--most of the mawashi techniques that we see in the classical katas are not for blocking, but rather twisting the head and neck of the opponent.
Using the grip and twisting strength
of the arms against an opponent's
head/neck in Seipai kata.

Another tool one could use in a similar way is the sashi-ishi--a large, round stone or concrete ball with a wooden handle through it. Since there is also significant weight here and the grip can be alternated, it can provide excellent resistance training for the mawashi movements so important in Goju-ryu finishing techniques.

Hojo undo training is important, but one should remember to keep it functional. Despite the appearance of techniques in kata--and one should always remember that the appearance of techniques in kata may be quite different from their actual applications--Goju-ryu is largely comprised of forearm blocks, grabbing, grappling, forearm attacks, knee kicks, and head/neck twisting techniques. This is what we want to develop with hojo undo training--that is, it's not simply to develop strength per se. In fact, a reliance on physical strength often makes one's Goju-ryu too "Go"--often appearing too hard and rigid--and gets in the way of truly understanding what is meant by "hard and soft."


  1. You said this while in Miami but in reference to the basics we often practice. Rather than practicing a bunch of random punches and blocks head chest and down, its much more useful to drill the sequences in the classical kata.

    Some would argue that fundamental punching and blocking are good for structure, the structure of what is the question.

  2. My point exactly, Cris. Why not drill structure by practicing kata techniques? What's the difference? Of course, this is not to say that the techniques we normally practice in basics--head punch, chest block, etc.--don't occur at all in kata or bunkai. They do. Just not to the degree that basic training would have them appear.
    All the best,

  3. If you're looking for traditional hojo undo tools check out www.modernhojoundo.com