Re: To Slap the Ground or Not
Hmm, I cannot say anything about the makiwara as I do not have experience with it. In fact, I just learned about it here and had to look it up and now I understand why Cady is right and my experiences are rigtht as well.
As far as I have understood it, the makiwara is more or less a board on a pole where the board is covered with straw and rope. More hmmmm here
IMHO this leads to exactly what Cady is saying. A lot of thick, hard, and very much dead skin on your fists. This has nothing to do with the bone and joint thickening exercises in Kung Fu. (Karatekas might object my opinion)
In Shaolin Kung Fu (SKF) advanced hardening exercises go like this:
You choose the object you are going to hit. This can be wood, brick or iron. Then you have to decide if you want to hit with the backside of your hand (while clenched to a fist), with the flat palm, with the fist, with a single spot on your outside wrist or with the wrist just beneath your palm.
Flat palm and fist are advanced techniques and are not for "beginners" (talking about Shodan level here).
The exercise goes like this: Your must hit the object every for a thousand times (both left and right) for a hundred days, every single day. You miss one day, the count resets. This exercise is actually more a Chi Gong exercise and one of the hardest mental exercises I have ever experienced than a hardening exercise. Lets leave this aspect for a seperate discussion should anyone be interested.
Why the decision wood, stone, metal? Well, if you choose a block of iron it hurts like hell from day one and the bone and joint is starting to get hard from the outside to the inside. If you choose the softer wood, it is the other way round. The senior students advised me not to do it because it hurts even more and they did not know anyone who made it through the hundred days with the wooden block. The brick is a compromise, still hell on earth in regards of pain, but at least somehow bearable.
The physical effect is awesome. The spots on your hand/wrist become bigger (permanently. I am not talking about the swell :-D) and harder. Other students took this exercise as their specialization and started excessively hitting with their fists afterwards and the result was that their fists are now a solid area when clenched, without any spaces (moulds?) between fingers or knuckles. Hard to explain, I hope you get the point.
Now, I would strongly advise not to try this without proper guidance and Chi Gong (or Ki) training beforehand as this exercise is more of an energy exercise than a hardening one. To me it was explained that after some years of Chi/Ki training this exercise lets all the Chi/Ki escape through the spot which is hit permanently, and with it also all the poison/garbage/bad stuff in you. I was terribly tired all the time, completely without energy, not to mention the demons I faced in me which I thought I had successfully buried I mean you really start to ask yourself very soon why the heck you are doing this at all and what's the sense of it all. It's like some kind of spiritual development in ultra fast forward. Many dropped out during these hundred days never to return to the dojo