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Martial Arts for Dummies

Although we all have great training partners, sometimes you need somebody to just pound. Granted, you'd have to find someone willing to take all the punishment. The ideal partner for this kind of training is one that's always there when you want to spar, and never complains no matter how much or how hard you hit it. In short, you need a real dummy--and I mean a real dummy--a wooden, plastic, or stuffed fabric representation of a human opponent.

At its simplest, it can be merely a section of tree trunk or a duffel bag filled with rags. Sophisticated models include padded arms that react to blocks and strikes, providing a human-like response, or electronic sensors to indicate how hard you actually hit the thing.

Probably the most rudimentary dummy is the makiwara, or striking post. This training tool is a wooden post sunk into the ground and wrapped with cord for a striking surface. Back in the "good ol' days" of karate, the corns and calluses built up over years of makiwara use was the mark of an experienced karateka. Today, many of those "old-timers", including legend Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, attribute hand problems like arthritis to damage caused by over-zealous makiwara use.

Great Lion's Muk Yang Jong

photo courtesy The Great Lion Company, used with permission

A classic training dummy is the mook jong of wing chun gung fu. This dummy consists of a section of planed and sanded tree trunk with three wooden arms and one wooden or metal leg. Wing chun includes several forms for solo training with the wooden dummy; these forms help you remember technique sequences while you toughen your hands and arms.

The use of the gung fu wooden dummy dates back to the fabled Shaolin Temple. It's said that the monks who trained at the temple not only used the dummy as part of their daily training but also had to run a gauntlet of 18 dummies to "graduate". Each dummy would be manipulated by the temple elders to test a different element of gung fu.


Some folks might blanch at the cost of commercial wooden dummies, as most are priced around $800 US. Why are they so expensive? Clark Thornton, of The Great Lion Company, says it's because of the work and expertise that goes into each dummy. Thorton makes around six dummies each month, using mostly hand tools. That's a lot of sweat and sawdust. As with any consumer product, you're paying for the relative quality and finish of the product. It's really up to the purchaser and how much you want to spend.

Thornton provided some very sound consumer advice, stating, "Do your research. Deal only with reputable companies who have been in business for long time. Ask for references in your area. Check with the state office of consumer affairs for complaints. Check the better business bureau. Talk to someone whose actually bought a dummy from the company." Makes sense for buying a car, or just about any big purchase, not just a wooden dummy.

Next Page: Page 2: Getting a realistic experience from your dummy partner

Kathy Long knees BOB in the abs


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