How to Make a Makiwara

If you’ve ever wondered how to make a makiwara, watch my video below where I take you step by step from beginning to end. This was my 5th time making a makiwara and I have learned each time. Pay attention to the details and you’ll avoid the pitfalls. You’ll be up and punching in no time!

Well, actually it’s going to take you a few hours… and some considerable effort.

However when you’re done you’ll have a traditional makiwara and the satisfaction building it yourself. Enjoy!

Materials required:

  • One 4″ x 4″x 8′ pressure treated piece of lumber (for the post)
  • One 2″ x 4″ x 8′ pressure treated piece of lumber (for the cross braces/supports)
  • Rope or grass cord
  • Straw or similar material for the “cushion”
  • Waterproof sealer or paint
  • Rocks
  • Stones
  • Sand

Equipment needed:

  • Electric skill saw
  • Impact driver / drill
  • Decking screws – 3 inch
  • Paint brush
  • Safety glasses
  • Clamps (to hold the lumber in place while you cut it)
  • A shovel
  • A wheelbarrow is helpful
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape

Skills required:

  • A little DIY knowledge. It’s a fairly simple process but you have to know how to cut a piece of wood and operate power tools.
  • Patience. (You’re going to make mistakes even with my awesome tutorial. Lol.)
  • 3rd grade mathematics.
  • Common sense. =)

Disclaimer! If you cut off your own fingers or do something else to cause yourself injury while attempting to build your own makiwara, it’s going to be much more difficult to use it when you’re done. Please be careful. You are responsible for your own actions. If you’re not comfortable and competent with power tools it’s probably best you purchase one online instead.

And if you have any questions, comments or suggestions I’d love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below and let me know what you think!

As always, stay safe and train hard.

how to build a makiwara

Develop Your Weak Side

How many karate-ka does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one. But he’ll do it 10,000 times with his right hand, then 10,000 times with his left.

(This is the part where you laugh.)

In all seriousness as much as we karate-ka like to think we are equally proficient on both sides of our body, the reality is we’re not.

The fact is most of us are right-side dominant, and not as coordinated as our left-handed brothers, since “lefties” have to adapt to our right-handed world.

Side note: Unless you’re left handed you probably don’t realize how much of a challenge it can be with daily tasks in a right hand world. Think about writing, scissors, tools, measuring cups, etc. For lefties, check out – You’re welcome. =)

Anyhow, let’s get back to the original point.

Typically, by nature we are a one-side dominant species. Approximately 85% of people are right-handed according to Scientific American.

But why?

Well it’s to do with the left brain controlling the right side of the body. The left brain is also what controls speech, and when the written word came to be, it was therefore natural to write with the right side.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

This explains why other primates (who can’t speak or write) don’t tend to favor their right side, yet us wacky humans do.

However one of the requisites of karate is that we train both sides equally. But how many of us seriously do that in every aspect?

ZERO would be a good guess.

Here’s why:

It would be a fair assumption most traditional karate dojo practice either Pinan or Heian kata, wouldn’t you agree?

If we look further at kata it’s apparent they were developed for defense with right side attacks first in mind. Think about the first move in any pinan/heian kata… you turn/move away from a right-handed attacker.

(A savvy reader might argue these right-handed attacks develop a strong left side defense. And I would agree… which is followed by a dominant right hand counter.)

In addition many of the finishing techniques/kiai points are made on the right side of the body. This holds true for almost every kata. This evidence reinforces karate is a right side dominant fighting system. 

Still need more convincing?

Try doing Pinan/Heian Godan as the mirror image of what you regularly practice. You’ll probably get through it, but not smoothly. There are certain techniques that you almost only ever apply with the right side of the body. And when you attempt the lefty version of these you’re bound to feel like a beginner all over.

Consider the kosa dachi/uraken kiai point in Pinan/Heian Godan, or the first move in Bassai Dai for example. How often do you practice these moves on the left side during kihon (basics) or bunkai (application) practice? I’m guessing not very often if at all.

The left photo shows the first kiai point in Pinan Godan. The right picture is a reverse image of the same technique.

With all of this in mind, it becomes apparent why lefties tend to do quite well at karate since they already have the left side dominance as a natural ability. They learn through repetition to be proficient with their right. Often times they can hit just as hard with either side of the body, or perform difficult techniques on either side without much thought.

Makes sense, yes?

And if you’re a right-handed karate-ka, guess what? Your right will almost always be stronger and more coordinated no matter how much you practice both sides equally. It has the natural advantage already. So equal numbers of reps will keep it ahead of your left, less dominant side.

So what’s the solution?

In order to feel more coordinated on your weak side, a simple exercise would be to make a list of movements from kata for which you only practice the right side of the body. Take those movements and incorporate those directly into your kihon (basics) section of class and you’ll see a marked improvement in your students’ skill sets.

For example, from yoi dachi have your students step in (on your count) to kosa dachi and make uraken per the picture above. On the next count have them return to yoi dachi. On the next count they step in with the other side of the body. Repeat.

What other techniques can you think of to practice in this manner?

Post away!



You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market…

This year to date I’ve enrolled 20 students… roughly 6 per month.

Guess how much I’ve spent on marketing during that time?


I’ve been lazy.

(Actually I’ve been extremely busy with another business. I just have fallen behind in marketing my dojo this year.)

The funny thing is that even though I’ve done nothing in terms of dojo marketing, it’s nice to know that my school is at a point where it just ticks over like clockwork bringing in new students without lifting a finger.

And I am extremely grateful for that.

However it wasn’t always that easy.

You see when I first started I was working my tail off, promoting left and right. I was doing events, posting ads, doing demonstrations, joint ventures, mailings, and doing loads of internal marketing.

I was doing exactly what a mentor of mine says, “You’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.”

martial arts marketing

But with so many different people telling you different things on what works and what doesn’t, how do you ever know what’s true?

Here are a list of things I’ve done over the last 12 years in terms of martial arts marketing:

  • Flyers
  • Door hangers
  • Direct Mail
  • Demonstrations
  • Joint Ventures
  • Signs
  • Bring a friend day
  • Karate parties
  • Cold calling door to door
  • Vendor booths
  • Hand out business cards
  • Web site
  • Coupon books
  • Online ads
  • Newspaper articles and ads
  • more

And you know what? Guess how many of those things I do now?


That’s 3 out of 15.

Or 20% of the things on that list.

Funny how the 80/20 rule works.

80% of your students will come from 20% of your marketing!

And I estimate the other 20% takes 80% more effort, more money and more time to acquire.

Seems like a good idea to focus on what works best, right?

But how do you know?


Test it.

What works in my community might not work for you in yours. So test what works and what doesn’t. When you find the things that work best for you, invest your time, energy and marketing budget into the things that bring you best results.

However, before you start marketing drinks for sale in 100° F weather, you might want to consider if it’s hot cocoa or ice-cold lemonade you’re going to sell.

Same holds true for martial arts. You’re not going to have a hugely successful kids program in a 55+ community. (In fact you’re not going to have much of a martial arts program at all in a 55+ community, but you understand my point!)

When I first started teaching here in the US, I didn’t want to teach kids… but because of the location where many adults commute and get home late, getting them into class has always been a challenge. However, getting kids has been easier than shooting fish in a barrel. My dojo demographic is about 20% adults (16 years and up), 80% teens and kids.

Yet back in Australia, friends of mine run dojos where their adult / kid ratio is about 50:50.

It just depends on your market, and how well you position yourself in that market.

“But I just want to teach karate… enough of all this marketing stuff!”

Yep, I hear you. But that’s why your dojo hasn’t grown in 4 years….

Truth is, if you want to grow your school or have a full time club, you’ve got to market and market and market and market and market and market and market <take a breath> and market and market and market and market and market and market and market and market.

Until you get to a point where your dojo is self-sustaining through passive marketing methods.

It took me 3 about years. Then a funny thing happened. I reached a stable 100 student strong base. And now it just seems to take care of itself with minimal effort. My active student count is around 125 right now and it goes up to as high as 140 and drops back down with seasonal changes.

And it’s been like that for the last 9 years.

Could I grow it bigger?

Of course.

Do I want to?

Not particularly. There’s a point where you need more infrastructure and employees… and it takes a lot more effort to take it to the next level. I would rather serve 125 students to the best of my ability and maintain high skill standards, than have an overcrowded dojo with massive classes and poor skills.

But if I did want to grow bigger… can you guess what I’d have to do?

I’d have to market and market and market and market and market and market…

Creating Community Goodwill Through Charity

I often get asked, “How do I get more students?”

There are a ton of ways which I’m not going to go into today.


That would be an entire book by itself (and in fact one that I’m writing currently).

However, I do want to share with you one way I stumbled across last week to create exposure and goodwill in your community through charity. And this in my opinion is key to establishing a great community reputation and ultimately new students over the long term.

It’s simple and everyone wins. Your charity wins because they get paid. Your dojo wins because it creates a tighter group of students, families get involved and talk about it, etc. It’s also a great way to create community exposure through newspaper articles and social media.

Simply do a fundraiser, kick-a-thon, spar-a-thon, break-a-thon  or a whatever-a-thon at your dojo. Have your students get involved and then give away the raised funds to charity. You can donate all of the money or part of it. You might keep 50% for dojo upgrades for example and donate the rest. Or you might simply set a goal of donating $1000 to charity. Whatever feels right for you.

(In fact a friend of mine created a wildly successful fundraiser in which he raised and donated $14,000 this year alone! How awesome is that?)

Then simply go to the charity and tell them you want to make a donation. Notice I said “go to” and not “call”. There is a reason for that.

1795967_10152031925172076_1831520668_oOlivia and I with Ellen Bilney, director of development at AFV.

When I walked into Animal Friends of the Valleys (the local animal shelter) last week and told them I would like to donate $700 they welcomed me with open arms. The director of development came to greet me and my daughter and asked if we would like a tour of their premises. Of course I said yes. For 40 minutes Ellen showed Olivia and I AFV’s operation. It was impressive and we learned a lot.

I asked if it would be ok if we took a photo (to show the parents involved in the fundraiser we actually donated the money). Ellen said of course and offered immediately to post it online if I would simply email it to her.

So I did and within a couple of hours we were all over AFV’s Facebook page with loads of likes and comments from local people thanking and blessing me for our contribution. Wow. That was unexpected!

My intent was never one of self-promotion. It was simply one of charity. The byproduct of this action was community exposure and the creation of goodwill and reinforcement of a great reputation for my dojo in our community. And I’ll take that every day of the week.

This is something you can do to help the local charity of your choice and simultaneously create exposure for your dojo too…



Watch the WKF World Champs live…

You may know the WKF World Championships begins tomorrow in Paris
from November 21-25, 2012.

What you might not know is that this year’s event will be
broadcast live on YouTube in countries that don’t have television

So, for many people that means you can watch the event LIVE on
the official WKF YouTube channel.

More information can be found here:

Even if you don’t get to watch it live, there are a ton of videos
on the channel for you to see – kata, kumite and the team events.

Pretty neat if you’re a fan, a coach, or a sensei wanting to help
your students improve their skills for karate tournament.

Hope you get a moment to catch the action…

Up, Up and away?

Here’s a super challenging up/down burpee-type martial arts fitness drill that will test even your fittest, strongest students.

Start by having your class jog in place, and then on each of your commands below students must complete each associated action, in this order…

  1. “Knees Up!”

    Students must jog in place but knees must rise to hip height with each step. Have them do this for about 5 seconds before calling…

  2. “Jump Up!”

    Students must jump as high as they can stretching their body and reaching towards the ceiling, and as they land call…

  3. “Push-Up!”

    Students now drop to a squat position, hands in front of their feet, jump their legs back to the push-up position and complete a full push-up, at which time you shout…

  4. “Sit-Up!”

    Students must now transfer weight onto their hands, extend their arms straight as they tuck up their legs returning to the squat position. From here the lay down with knees bent and complete a full sit-up, and hear your final command…

  5. “Stand-Up!”

    Students immediately spring back to their feet and resume jogging.

Do 5-10 sets at the beginning of class as a warm-up depending on the fitness level of your group, or 10-20 sets at the end of class as an endurance test.

Is it a burpee?

Is it an up/down?

No it’s… (I need a name for this drill – post your suggestions!)

Karate belts, your Students’ Prized Possessions

I don’t know about you, but one of the most irritating things for me as a karate teacher is having to tie kids’ belts every 2 minutes.

Yes, I know, I hear you saying, “Just make them tie it themselves!”

And for the most part they do, but there are times in my youngest class where 4 and 5 year olds have a hard time especially when they are beginners.

Now I could always go for one of those “Velcro belts” (pre-tied) that just wrap around your karate kids’ waists and never come undone, but that really wouldn’t be karate now would it? Part of the discipline is learning to be responsible and tie your own belt.

I REFUSE to go down that Velcro-belt path and you should too… (To quote my daughter, “If you do that then I won’t be your best friend!” – not sure where she got that from, but that’s 3 year old negotiation skills at their best).

Now I’m sure you ask your karate kids to practice tying their belts at home, and maybe some of them will, but you’ll always be faced with those lazy kids with over compensating parents who always tie their belts for them.

Well, last week I came up with a little incentive for my youngest kids to keep an eye on their belts and make sure they don’t come off.

I told them, “Sensei just made a new rule. If your belt comes off, then it belongs to Sensei for the rest of class!”.

A few of the litte ones laughed, some looked at me with wide eyes, and some probably wondered why I talked about myself in the third person.

Anyway, as soon as the first belt hit the floor, I quickly snatched it up faster than a magician in a coin-snatching contest and tied it around my waist, over my black belt.

The class errupted with laughter and the student who just lost their belt stood there in shock. His precious belt, his most prized possession now was tied securely around Sensei’s waist.

Not 3 minutes later the second belt hit the floor. I pounced on that one like a cat and tied that sucker on top of the other.

This time there was less laughter, some concerned looks and a lot of focus on the state of their own belts.

When the 3rd belt came off just a couple minutes later during an exercise we were doing, I claimed that one too. At that point every child checked the status of their belt. Every student pulled on their belt to make sure it was tight!

The kids without belts had anguished looks on their faces and the others realized that pretty soon Sensei would have more belts than the rest of the class if this trend kept up.

Toward the end of the class I returned their kidnapped belts, and those kids who “didn’t know how to tie their belt” suddenly learned how.

And I’m happy to report since that class, we have less belts coming off, more self awareness and less interruptions.

This little trick worked well for me, and feel free to use it too.

What methods do you use to ensure belts stay tied?

– Jason

Kids Karate Game: The Safe Game

Here’s a great kids karate game you can use as a warm-up or a reward at the end of class, that kids go crazy for…

It’s called “The Safe Game” and here’s how it works:

  • It’s basically a game of tag / cat and mouse with a bunch of “safe groups”, and requires 10 or more  students for best results.
  • Students pair-up and stand side by side at random locations on the floor, with a minimum of about 5 feet between groups. These are the “safe groups”.
  • Then choose one student to be the Cat (the tagger) and one other to be the Mouse (the runner).
  • On your command the game begins and the Cat must catch the Mouse. The only way the Mouse can be safe is to run to a safe group and yell, “SAFE!”.
  • This action releases the person on the far side of the safe group, who now becomes the Mouse. The Cat must now catch this new person, and the new Mouse must run to another group and call “SAFE”.
  • In the event the Mouse is tagged by the Cat, roles are reversed and now the person who was being chased is now the chaser.
  • The game continues until students pass out from exhaustion, or you decide that it’s gone on long enough!

Some rules:

  1. There can only ever be 2 “safe” people in a safe group. The person on the outside is ALWAYS the person who is released.
  2. If the person on the closest end of the group accidentally runs (instead of the outer person), the game stops, the person who broke now becomes the Cat, the original Cat becomes the Mouse, and the original mouse is safe.
  3. To make this more challenging you can allow/deny “tag-backs”. You can also have 3 Mice and one Cat, so there are fewer safe groups.
  4. To make it more karate-related, have each of the safe groups stand in a different karate stance.

Try it out and let us know how it works for you!


~ Jason

Are you listening?

Today we continue our discussion about the different learning types. So far we talked about 3 basic types of learners and went into some detail about visual learners. We’ll continue and this time explore…


So are you listening? Yes, you right there who is not looking at me when I’m speaking to you…

You can tell an auditory learner almost immediately particularly in a group situation. Your visual learners will be looking at you and seemingly paying attention, while their minds are wandering. But your auditory learner might be visually zoning out, looking at nothing in particular and might have their head turned with one ear toward you.

That’s your auditory learner right there… he’s listening to every single word you say, while at the same time looking at his feet or scratching the back of his neck. I encounter this a lot in class, particularly with kids who haven’t been taught to “look at someone when they’re talking to you” (which by the way is counter-intuitive for an auditory learner who might generally prefer to turn to hear you).

Auditory learners also like to hear themselves speak… they can’t keep quiet for long, but they like to listen to learn and follow verbal directions well.

Which way are his
eyes pointing?

A quick test for an auditory learner is to watch their eye movements when asked a question about a place or time they remember. You’ll recall visual people will generally look up to their left for remembering images, and up to their right when constructing them. Auditory learners tend to look either horizontally to their left (remembering sound) or to their right (constructing sound).

Ever had a someone play guitar just for you? They kind of give you this creepy zoned out look where you’re not sure where they’re focusing their gaze, but it’s really them listening and thinking as they play.

Auditory people also use words like “I hear what you’re saying”, “Let me explain it again for you” and “Listen to that!”.

So this is all great and fascinating stuff, but how the heck do you teach those guys when you’ve shown them 5 times already Mr. Visual karate instructor??


Just use your voice! 


Give clear verbal instruction.

And have your students repeat back to you or someone else, what you just explained

Try this with your students…

A little exercise I do sometimes in class is to teach a technique visually and verbally, and then have students pair up and take turns teaching it to each other. You’ll notice your visual learners will just show the technique and your auditory learners will break it down, step by step with explanation.

So that brings us to the conclusion of our brief discussion on auditory learners. Who’s up next??

Hmmm…well let’s just say you’ll have to experience it to understand all about those crazy kinesthetic learners…

Until next time.