Hand conditioning is a common element in almost all martial arts. As the body becomes more powerful and is able to generate more and more force behind its strikes, the hands must be conditioned to be able to deliver all of that power. A very powerful strike delivered with a hand that is not conditioned may result in injury to the practitioner.
Kung fu’s most famous style of hand conditioning is iron palm, while karate is famous for its makiwara training. Some differences are as follows:
Equipment – Iron palm uses a canvas bag filled with beans or rocks placed on a table. The martial artist stands in a horse stance and drops his hand onto the bag. The palm is always used, but some variants may also include the side of the hand (knife edge) or the back of the hand. The fist may also be used.
Makiwara training uses a wooden post buried in the ground, with the top part covered in tape or canvas or some other softer material. The karate student stands in various stances in front of it and delivers punches with the fist to the target. The fist is typically used, but the student may also use a knife edge or palm strike.
Medicine – Chinese palm training brings with it a vast selection of Chinese herb liniments called Dit Da Jow. These liniments are designed to promote blood flow and energy flow in the hand to help develop internal power as well as help facilitate healing between sessions.
Makiwara training doesn’t typically involve any liniment, but some practitioners choose to use some kind to help heal their hands.
External conditioning – Palm training doesn’t typically result in any visible change. The palm is soft, and the liniment helps prevent the buildup of callouses.
Karate fist training, on the other can, can often result in callouses on the knuckles from the repetitive striking and the hard nature of this training.
Results – Both styles can allow the martial artist to develop devastating power in their hands. Iron palm practitioners can shatter stacks of bricks with their palm strikes. Karate students can destroy concrete slabs with their punches. Both allow significant damage to be done to an opponent in a combat situation, too.
This isn’t to say that one style of hand conditioning is better than the other, only different. In fact, there are some people who practice both. It depends on the style and what type of conditioning you desire.