The martial arts can incorporate some pretty eclectic training techniques that can often appear strange or unusual to those who don’t use them. Often, certain techniques or training tools may remind us of the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, teaching Daniel karate by having him perform yard chores. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying to do karate against an opponent simply because you’ve been waxing your car or painting your fence all summer, there are some atypical things that traditional, Okinawan karate styles employ. Enter: the Chishi.
And no, despite my comedic title, it’s not the sound of someone sneezing. The Chishi is an Okinawan training tool used in Hojo Undo, which basically means “supplementary exercises.” It covers strength, stamina, muscle tone and posture by using a specific set of prescribed exercises and some rather arcane looking training tools. In fact, the makiwara, which I’ve written about in a few previous posts, is used in Hojo Undo for conditioning of the wrists and knuckles.
The basic construction of the Chichi consists of a lump of concrete attached to a wooden pole. That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? There’s little more to it, especially if you’re making your own at home. You’ll need to get a few screws or solid nails through the end of the pole that sits in the concrete, to make for a stable setting. These weight clubs are used in Okinawan karate as a means of strengthening the fingers, wrists, hands and arms, as well as the shoulders. If you’d be looking to make your own at home, there are several really good DIY videos on YouTube that show you how.
If you’re like me and you’re a little on the cheap side, you may not want to buy a bag of cement simply to make a couple of these. After all, you can easily train in karate without them, since most modern dojos don’t use them. But if you’re looking to change up your training routine and get back to karate’s roots, a chishi can definitely be the way to go. You can easily recycle old materials (wooden pole, screw or nails) and go easy on the concrete.
The best I’ve found is a 10-pound bucket of “Quikrete” for about 20 dollars, which is a small bucket of quick-drying cement. And since you probably shouldn’t start with anything more than 5 pounds per chishi (since it’s a weighted lever effect, it will feel like more than 5 pounds when using it), this small pail can provide you with exactly what you need to start out. Or you can be a stubborn practitioner and do what I do… Use a fuckin’ sledgehammer!
In the photo above, you see me using an 8-pound sledgehammer as a makeshift chishi. The handle of a traditional chishi would usually be shorter than the handle of a sledgehammer, so some adjustment usually needs to be made. But here, you can see me doing an exercise where I’m in a seated horse-stance position, and I’m thrusting the hammer out and bringing it back in towards my chest in repeated succession. The balance of the weight at the very top, combined with the movement of the arms, feels a bit strange at first.
In this next photo, I’m doing an exercise meant to strengthen the forearms and wrists. You can tell I’m getting fatigued at this point, since my horse-stance is starting to rise and the positioning of my right forearm and wrist isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But I can tell you that after repeated reps on each side, 8 pounds starts to feel like 80!
In this last photo, I demonstrate how a sledgehammer can also be used for some more traditional weight lifting exercises, with an added twist. The photo above is the starting position to a dozen squat thrusts, using the sledgehammer as a bar. I drop into a deep squat, followed by pushing the bar out in front of me as though I were doing a chest press, bring the hammer back to my chest and rise to my feet. Not only do I get the benefit of squats, performing a thrust with all the weight on one side and nothing on the other adds a certain amount of muscle confusion, which is great for working the core and some of the stabilizing muscles we often neglect.
This isn’t something that’s all too easy to purchase. For the most part, most practitioners make their own or use a substitute, like I do. Plus I get to feel a little like Chris Hemsworth, holding that hammer. But the best I’ve managed to find online are some shitty-looking units on Amazon or from the UK that range anywhere between $20 to 30$ (before shipping and all that good stuff). I’m certain there’s more out there, I just haven’t dug too deeply. Since that small, 10-pound pail of Quikrete I mentioned earlier costs about $20, you may consider it easier to simply order one online. To each their own.
There are all sorts of stabilizing and weightlifting exercises that you can do with a chishi. It allows you to incorporate whatever’s needed during your workout with a traditional feel, while remaining true to the roots of your art, presuming your art is Okinawan karate! But even if it isn’t, any practitioner can benefit from the exercise one can do with a chishi. Since you’re dealing with a heavy, concrete weight levered at the end of a stick, you just want to be mindful that you don’t bash your head in or drop it on any of your limbs. And as usual, consult your medical practitioner or at least an experienced Sensei before starting any new training regimen. ☯