A few years ago, a friend asked me what I’d do if I had a million dollars. I didn’t have to think before answering – "I’d move to Okinawa, Japan to train under Grand Master, Morio Higaonna-Sensei". It was only later, that it dawned on me I didn't actually need a million dollars to pursue this dream...
So now here I am, living in a little apartment above a busy Japanese restaurant barely 2 minutes walk from Sensei's Honbu dojo. I've been training with him daily now for 6 months and decided it was finally time to start recording some of my experiences and "ah-haa!" moments.
Building a chiishi is one of the first things I set about doing when I got back to Aus and since then I've had a few additional requests. Lukily, like most traditional hojo undo equipment, the chiishi is relatively inexpensive and easy to make. For those interested, I've put together a simple little step-by-step guide with pics:
1. Get your hands on the following ingredients:
A bag of white cement (you can mix it with some gravel to add strength)
Some dowel (Tasmanian Oak's nice, but even a broom handle will do)
Two large bolts and,
A bucket (approx 27cm in diameter)
2. Decide on the length of your chiishi. The handle
length should be approximately the same as the distance from the ground to the knee joint.
3. Drill two holes in one end of the handle and twist the screws through so that they form a cross
4. Create your concrete/cement mixture in a separate bucket (I used a 50-50 mix) to help prevent cracking and crumbling
5. Put your chiishi handle in the bucket and gradually pack the cement mixture in. Aim for an even distribution. It's important to get the handle straight in the very center of the bucket and for the mix to be spread evenly (lop-sided chiishi are harder to work with).
6. Once you're happy with the position and mix is even, smooth it out and let it set (leaving it for at least 24-48hrs is probably a good idea).
7. And voila, pop it out of the bucket and you've got a shiny new chiishi to play with. Just be kind to it for the first month since it can take this long for it to fully dry and harden.
The chiishi (pictured above) is one of my favourite hojo undo training tools. It may not look like much, but don't let that fool you - you can do more with this little cement stick than half a dozen pieces of training equipment at the gym.
Like many of the hojo undo and kata of Goju Ryu, the chiishi is believed to have originated from China. It's said that Kanryo Higaonna Sensei (the founding father of modern-day karate) practiced daily with the chiishi and other hojo undo implements during his 14 years of martial arts study in Fuzhou, before returning to Okinawa.
Today, the chiishi has become a relatively common training aid in Okinawa and in the honbu dojo we'd usually train with the chiishi as part of our general hojo undo sessions at least 2 - 3 times a week. As with all hojo undo, the chiishi has a standard series of techniques to work through (the chiishi kata), as well as an infinite number of variations. On average the exercises take approximately 15-20 minutes, however with variations you could easily spend hours working through techniques.
The chiishi is generally described as a tool for conditioning and strengthening the wrists and arms but it's also excellent for training blocking and striking techniques as well as the importance of synchronizing breathing with whole-body power. We were often told that it's important to practice hojo undo with the intent of improving techniques and kata. In this sense, chiishi and its focus on upper body and breathing seem to compliment sanchin kata well - which is probably why we would frequently begin sanchin training in this way.
For those that are interested in the chiishi kata, there's an excellent series of instructional pics (with the Japanese) on Sensei Helmut Leitner's website. There's also a good black and white YouTube video of Higaonna Sensei with a section on the chiishi kata (3:24-6:35).
And, if you're interested in some of the other applications and variations I've included a video of Alessandro Sensei demonstrating some advanced chiishi techniques in the honbu dojo.