Alot of people think that traditional methods like makiwara etc. are solely for building some kind of "super bones" or knuckles...such an idea is pretty questionable imo.
What this kind of training is meant to do is to teach proper striking form primarily, the toughening of the skin etc. is a byproduct of the training, not the goal, and not a very convincing reason for this kind of training by itself.
You don't need knuckles of steel to defend yourself, however you do need to know how to put your force into something, there are a ton of different ways to go about doing that.
Striking rigid things with a certain amount of give is a good method of impact training in traditional arts, but it's main purpose isn't really physical "conditioning" so much as it is a way to audit your physical structure and technique...at least that's my take on it after being exposed to a few different schools of thought on this kind of training.
I personally like partner training with a phone book (or two depending on who is doing the hitting) and a partner for this kind of thing, in general it's not too hard on the knuckles and then the partner can give feedback as well.
I've tried using a focus pad as well but generally they are too thin and the person holding it against them will not want to do so for long.
Also the arthritis thing is a moot point, unless you are overdoing it, or doing it improperly there is no evidence that this kind of training causes arthritis, studies have been done on this, I can probably dig them up if you want.
Basically if this kind of training is causing injury then 1) The implement you are hitting does not have enough give
2) You are hitting wrong and messing up your joints in the process, if training this kind of thing is particularly painful (beyond the process early on of just hitting stuff) you likely need to re evaluate how you are doing it.
Edited by Zach_Zinn (04/12/09 05:21 PM)