Knuckle conditioning in different martial arts


Black Belt
Apr 8, 2018
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Knuckle conditioning has been around for a long time, in various martial arts and has been used for a plethora of purposes. In styles of Kung Fu, knuckle conditioning was known as Iron Palm or Iron Fist. According to its page on Wikipedia, it allows fighters to use their techniques with extreme power, their hardened knuckles and hands being able to take extreme amounts of punishments compared to that of the average person as if they were made from iron.

This type of bone conditioning has been seen in many fighting styles, namely Muay Thai, Karate and traditional bare-knuckle boxing. This type of knuckle conditioning specifically aims to harden the bones of the hand allowing the utilization of techniques that couldnt be properly applied otherwise, whilst minimizing the damage a fighter might suffer from punching with incorrect technique, or striking harder areas of their opponents body. Common injuries include the Boxers Fracture (which I suffered myself). This is a fracture of the outside of your hand caused by striking with pinky and ring finger knuckles.

Knuckle conditioning comes in two forms: conditioning the knuckles themselves by causing miniscule bone fractures which are healed and make the bone stronger, and the callousing of the skin around the knuckles themselves which prevents skin being torn. Training methods for this vary depending on the martial art, as different cultures had different ideas and equipment available to them. The process of conditioning the bones usually takes years, so its important to be patient with this training. Some martial arts also focus on conditioning other areas of the body with similar exercises.

The most commonly known method is using a piece of equipment called a Makiwara, thought to originate from Okinawa. It was developed for the practitioners of styles of Okinawan Tote (an ancient Okinawan martial art) and Okinawan Karate. The Makiwara is a striking post, which is secured to the ground, and is usually wrapped with thick rope to outline the striking area. Although the Makiwara is primarily used for other purposes (such as the development of focus and technique) it can also serve to cause callousing of the knuckles. The repetitive striking (not at full power) of the post builds up knuckle damage over time, which when healed, will make the knuckles stronger.

In contrast, Muay Thai fighters usually focus on the conditioning of the shins, to ensure the surface that they kick with is rigid and can take the punishment of bone-on-bone contact, which tends to be extremely painful. Muay Thai fighters are notorious for their incredible kicking power, and this is due to the power they can put behind them. Much of their conditioning comes from numerous exercises the most impressive of which consists of repeatedly kicking their local banana trees due to their soft and rubber-like wood. But dont get the wrong idea, kicking these is still a pain for the inexperienced. Another common, but not as well-known exercise, is the repeated light striking of the shins with sticks; the striking is more of a tapping, but the repeated abuse builds up very quickly in less than a minute. Rolling the sticks on the shins while applying pressure is done too.

Furthermore, this article at states that rope-skipping and jogging can be used for conditioning the shin bones too. Though it is worth noting that the repeated stress of bouncing on your legs can cause pains on the shins known as shin splints , which can be very painful. On the other hand, these arent very good exercises for conditioning if they are not paired with some of the other exercises above you are more likely to wear down your knee tissue from repeating these movements too much as they put a lot of strain on the leg jointss.

Bare knuckle boxers from back in the day also used to condition their hands to avoid injuries. However, their conditioning differed from that of the styles above. They mainly focused on the hardening of their skin. They hardened the skin on their hands as it could sometimes cause light cuts on the opponent, and also hardened their skin on their faces and bodies to avoid such cuts. Instead of conditioning their knuckles to be able to punch the skulls of their opponents, they adapted by mainly targeting the body of the opponent. This is why their bizarre fighting stance wasnt focused on protecting their head, and only covered up their body. In fact, many boxers used their head as a weapon to take advantage of the fact that punches to the face caused damage to the hands they would purposefully aim to get their forehead in the way of their opponents fist in an attempt to break it upon impact.

The conditioning of the skin was done mainly through two means: menial work causes callousing on your hands. Before machines were used to carry everything, men had to do it with their bare hands, which led to roughening of the skin. The second method was done through the smearing of different liquids and concoctions. According to this article from, this was done through either the use of brine, or a solution of water and rock salt.

In more traditional martial arts, conditioning would allow the employment of techniques that could not be used otherwise without breaking fingers, knuckles, wrists or hands. Jesse Enkamp, a passionate martial artist and karate champion who founded the Karate Nerds community, gives perfect examples of such techniques (which are present in Karate but also other arts such as Taekwondo) in his video below.