Hojo Undo 101: Chishi

A number of people look at martial artists and think, ‘do you even lift, bro?’

Actually, yes, we do lift, bro. We lift asymmetrical weights and grip things and punch objects of high resistance (ie: planks of wood). Hoju undo is supplementary training, designed to improve the physique through simple, repetitive weight and resistance training. Correct training with hojo undo implements assists in faster and stronger movement as well as improved posture and coordination. It sounds too good to be true, but be warned – the work is hard and doesn’t come in shiny plastics and coordinated colours. The implements used in hojo undo are made from stone and wood, and now have their modern counterparts in kettlebells and barbells.

For this post, I will be focussing on the chishi. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed or should be corrected on, please let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: as with all martial arts techniques/ideas/training, your mileage may vary, and please consult your local wise Sensei and a physio/biokinectist before attempting anything. All of the below is the product of my own research and could be wrong. (It happens.)



What is the chishi?

Made up of the words power/strength (chi) and ishi (stone), it sounds like something the Power Rangers might use (and now you’ll never forget what it means). Made up of a wooden rod embedded in a stone, it is used to strengthen the wrists, grip and forearms. With the correct exercises, it can also build the triceps, lats and deltoids. It is relatively cheap to make yourself – you just need a broomstick, some grout or leftover concrete, and a yoghurt container. Here’s a video on making your ownHere’s an example of an adjustable, home-made chishi made using gym equipment by Goju.com.

In essence:

The chishi, or stone lever weight, provides resistance by forcing the user to overcome the effects of leverage and load, which aids in strengthening muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones. The range of motion with the chishi is greater than with a conventional dumbbell, and since it is unbalanced on one end, more effort is required to control the weight, and various muscle groups can be exercised at one time within a sequence of movements.

– Supplementary Training For Miyagi Chojun’s Goju Ryu Karate hosted by Porta’s Karate (this entire article is a wonderful insight into the history of supplementary training in Goju Ryu.

How to use chishi

No matter how strong you may think you are, if you’re just starting out with chishi it is best to start with a light one – under 2kgs, if possible. It requires a great deal of concentration and precision to do the exercises without injury, and a heavy chishi coupled with inexperience is asking for a long term injury. Incorrect usage can damage the soft tissues and ligaments. As mentioned in this excellent and well-researched post:

However, the chishi is also capable of causing and encouraging poor movement and control of the shoulder joints (particularly the glenohumeral and acromioclavicular articulations) and scapulae. Several of the standard chishi training exercises involve two movements that are especially problematic for these structures:

  • movement of the weight over head and behind one’s back, a la a back scratcher or a triceps kick back

  • internal rotation, or moving the end of the weight towards the body’s center with an extended arm

– Fight Sciences Research Institute (it is a very long and complex post, but it is filled with important wisdom regarding proper form)

And as further mentioned in the article regarding Sensei Miyagi’s chishi training:

As to the actual motions, the chishi should always be moved slowly and deliberately with the weight under control at all times, never using momentum or “swing” to move from one position to another. This controlled motion aids in neuroeducating the muscles, joints, and ligaments to not only work in communication with each other, but also to react quickly and forcefully when called upon to do so. (emphasis mine)

And now for shiny videos!

A series of chishi combinations: techniques only

Further resources:

Dento Karate – Traditional Chishi Training Video 

Get More Out of Your Chishi Training with Proper Kinematics – Fight Sciences Research Institute


6 thoughts on “Hojo Undo 101: Chishi

      1. Zoe Hinis says:

        That’s the spirit! When my hojo undo training is regular and I work my way up to heavier weights, I don’t gain much bulk (being a lady and all) but the muscles are strong and the kata is better, and that’s what matters!

    1. Zoe Hinis says:

      It does depend on practitioner to practitioner, but I would start with 2kg (4.4lb) and with a long handle, so that you can adjust your grip further away from the weight as you get accustomed to it. Once that weight is comfortable over long sets, time to add 50% and start again!

      Like with running, increments must be gradual over time to prevent injury. The dojo kun reminds us to take care of our health, and to train according to our strength.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this little blog – I really appreciate it!
      – Zoe

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