A small excerpt from my upcoming book Secrets of Drunken Boxing Volume Three: Internal Alchemy & Tumbling Immortals. Should be published this year 2016!
Iron Training Methods 鐵法
Iron Body, Golden Bell Armour, Iron Vest, Iron Shirt, Cotton Belly, All different names of different methods all aiming at the same results: Not getting injured when struck in the torso. On the other side of the fence we have the Iron Palm, Iron Fist, Cotton Palm, Red Sand Palm and so on methods, meant to cause massive damage from strikes. I find myself referring to these methods often when I am teaching or writing about other subjects and simply glossing over what they are and how to train them so I thought it might be time to take a look directly at them and what they are.
To discuss this type of thing properly we have to establish there are two major schools of thought in these types of training (most training really) you have Wai Gong and Nei Gong or External methods and Internal Methods. Wai Gong training focuses on the exterior of the body, body hardening, muscularity and toughness. These are the methods that although they of course involve mental constructs during training are essentially toughening up so you can take a punch. These types of iron body trainings usually involve the Shaolin style methods of being struck by bags of sand, groups of sticks or chopsticks or other training partners or your own hands. Essentially working the body from the outside in to gain the result desired. In my studies of the Chinese Martial Arts I have come across different methods from the Wai Gong schools and will share some of them here.
Wai Gong Methods 外功發
Iron Broom (Iron Legs) 鐵腿
This is a part of the Iron Body training specifically done to the shins in order to turn them into more formidable weapons although of course the result also is useful when using the shins to act as shields for the body. With all the following training routines at each level be sure to start off with the shins exposed and first rubbing up and down along the shins before starting slapping the shins up and down with the palms of the hands. This is called Shao Lin Pai Fa 少林拍法 or Shaolin Patting method and is used to prepare the body for training as well as cooling down the body after training.
Shaolin Pai Fa 少林拍法
Pai Fa has two purposes: One to stimulate the Wei Qi which is essentially the bodies exterior defensive mechanism, the “protective qi” of the body that deals with external pathogens as well as blows. The patting or slapping here stimulates the wei qi to become more active and by placing it under duress strengthens it just like exercising a muscle group. Wei Qi is also your immune system and as such you can see the link between Iron Body practices and increasing the health of the practitioner. Two, the patting method is done in a specific pattern meant to be confusing to the body and so the body does not become accustomed to blows being dealt in a particular rhythm. With the practitioners mind quiet the pattern stimulates the bodies wei qi to be “at the ready” like a soldier standing guard, ready for attack. The pattern is: 1-2-3 pause 1-2- 3 pause 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 pause repeat. The Shaolin Pai Fa method is an iron body method in and of itself as well and if done as a beginner level exercise should be done all over the body from top to bottom back to top. Be sure to slap the body just hard enough to be slightly uncomfortable if doing it for this purpose. If you are using it only as a warm up or cool down after training the slapping should only be a slight sting from each palm. As a cool down method (which can be used for any training of qigong or iron body ) the pai fa remains the same but with less power and with the purpose of sealing and storing the result of the training. In the case of Internal Practices like qigong or alchemy the body opens up to the outside world in order to undergo a transformation from training. The pai fa here settles the body back into itself and is a good method to use to avoid external invasions, like cold, from seeping into the body.
Tie Tui 鐵腿 Iron Legs (Iron Broom) continued:
This training involves using first your own body to toughen the shins and then moves on to foreign objects. The first level is to sit with the shins exposed and begin with the shaolin pai fa as explained above but with enough force to be uncomfortable and the exposed skin turning red. Practice this way every day for a few minutes for at least 14 days before moving on.
The second level of Iron Broom training uses a bundle of wooden chopsticks. Gather together a group of chopsticks just big enough to comfortably fit into your hand, and then add eight more. Lash them together with something, The bundle we use at my school is bound with thick rubber bands which works very well. Now sitting with the legs exposed, begin with a few of the pai fa to warm up the legs and get the wei qi awake then switch to the bundle of chopsticks. Tapping up and down the shins for a few minutes until it is simply too uncomfortable to continue. Now keep in mind you are not striking the bone in the shin directly but instead striking so the brunt of the force lands on the outside of the shin bone on Tibialus Anterior with only some of the surface of the chopsticks actually hitting the shin bone. It is Tibialus Anterior that must be developed to deal and take damage as much as, if not more so than the shin bone itself. Train in this way for at least 30 days.
The third level of the iron broom training uses a round object like a bottle or a rolling pin. This part of the training is very painful and most people do not progress steadily enough to handle it. There is no reason to rush in this training especially in the case of body hardening exercises, to rush the development is to simply put yourself at risk of long term damage to the body. So if you like being able to walk easily and pain free I would not skip levels if I were you. If this level is too awful to train go back to the chopsticks for another few weeks before trying again. Train slowly and carefully and results will appear without detrimental affects. Take the rolling pin and after warming up the legs with Pai Fa and then a hundred strikes with the chopsticks (108 if you like being all symbolic about it) roll the pin up and down the shin bone. This part of the training is meant to be done on the bone itself and as such should be done with caution, gently at first and then applying more pressure as you train. Roll the legs for a few minutes and then cool down again using the pai fa to bring blood to the area to help heal, seal and store. Train this way as your upkeep from this point on but after at least 30 days you can start kicking things your shins gently to see your accomplishment in the skill. If you have partners to train with and they too are working on this skill you can also train by clashing shins together over and over during a training session – this one is very popular in my school among the students who are working on this skill as it allows them a sense of competition and accomplishment. Be careful.
I have had a couple of students take this training to a high level and they find that kicking their shins through wooden staffs or baseball bats becomes quite easy. One of my first students took a real liking to iron skills and demonstrated kicking through a 2” diameter staff on more than one occasion (mainly because he found it easier than doing forms for demos!)
[ Note that this entire process can also be used on the forearms.
Dit Da Jow 跌打酒 Fall Hit Wine (die da jiu)
There is a great deal of discussion and indeed entire businesses based on the making and selling of the seemingly magical Chinese Potion known as Dit Da Jow (Cantonese) or Die Da Jiu (Mandarin). There are dozens and dozens of recipes passed down through different families and styles and kept hidden from the main body of students and the public for different reasons, perhaps just trying to cultivate a mystique for business reasons, but whatever the case the herbal liniments that fall in this category always come up whenever someone discusses iron training of any kind (Iron Palm, Iron Leg etc etc).
First of all the question of needing Dit Da Jow to train arises, is it necessary to have it to train at all? You have to understand what the purpose of the formulas are, which is healing damage done to the body by training. Different bodies, different training methods, even different climates means different uses of herbs. Basically if you are training in a method that causes enough damage that you cannot train the next day because you are not healed enough then you need a supplement to help you and for this Jow is the answer in most cases. There is nothing secret about the potions, they are a result of solid Chinese Medical Herbology based on diagnosis and in many cases of jows hundreds of years of trial and error over perhaps thousands of students. These secret formulas have been found to work and so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However know that a good TCM practitioner who knows their herbs would be able to create a custom formula for you as well. You don’t necessarily need Grand Master so and so’s secret formula in order to do the training. Its medicine, understand what you are putting on or in some cases, in your body and keep training. My recommendation is to contact plumdragonherbs.com and get a good formula from them you can make yourself and have ready for your training. Apply the jow each day after training and if you are still not healing fast enough, train a little less hard, apply the jow in the morning and after training and worry more about the training instead of the magical thinking about dit da jow.
For your reference or use here is a formula I use often which I purchased from Plum and made at home:
Ku Yu Cheong Iron Palm Jow (Full Formula)
Zi Ran Tong (Pyrite)– 18 grams
Hong Hua (Safflower)– 18 g
Long Gu (Dragon Bone)– 18 g
Wei Ling Xian (Clematis)– 15 g
Wu Jia Pi (Acanthopanax Bark)– 15 g
Bai Hua She (Pit Viper)– 15 g
Ru Xiang (Frankincense)– 15 g
Tu Bie Chong (Wingless Cockroach)– 15 g
Su Mu (Sappan Wood)– 15 g
Wu Ling Zhi (Squirrel Droppings)– 12 g
Dang Gui Wei (Angelica Root Tail)– 12 g
Xu Duan (Dipsacus Root)– 12 g
Bai Zhi (White Angelica)– 12 g
Xue Jie (Dragon Blood)– 12 g
Gui Zhi (Cinnamon Twig)– 12 g
Bai Shao (White Peony)– 12 g
San Qi (Pseudoginseng)– 12 g
Mu Xiang (Auklandia Root)– 12 g
Qiang Huo (Notopterygium)– 12 g
Fang Feng (Siler Root)– 12 g
Chi Shao (Red Peony)– 12 g
Kuan Jin Teng (Tinospora Stem)– 12 g
Ze Lan (Bugle Weed)– 12 g
Tao Ren (Peach Kernel)– 12 g
Mu Tong (Akebia)– 9 g
Rou Gui (Cinnamon Bark)– 9 g
Gua Lou Ren (Tricosanthes Seed)– 9 g
Another great formula I have used for Iron Body training, specifically Yi Jin Jing 易筋經(Muscle Tendon Changing Classic) is Shou Gong San (Harvest the Training Powder/Wine) which is an internal and external formula (and cheaper to make).
Shou Gong San (Harvest the Training Powder)
Dang Gui (Angelica)– 1.5 oz
Chen Pi (Aged Citrus Peel)– 1 oz
Chen Xiang (Aquilaria Wood)– 1 oz
Hong Hua (Safflower) — 1 oz Jiang Xiang (Rose Wood)– 0.5 oz
Zhi Shi (Immature Citrus Fruit)– 0.5 oz
Tao Ren (Peach Kernel)– 0.5 oz
Making Jow is a simple matter and since this discussion of iron skills has led us here…
Once you have the herbal ingredients for your formula, which are generally to make one gallon of dit da jow (as the above formulas are), find a glass jar to age the wine in. Put in the herbal formula and then the gallon of alcohol. Store it in the dark and shake it whenever you think of it. To age it faster warm the alcohol (which should be 40-60% alcohol content- traditionally rice wine but I tend to use vodka or tequila which I find carries the herbs through the skin a touch easier) to a temperature where it is just too hot to touch but not boiling and pour it into the jar with the herbs. This tends to age it more quickly. Store it for at least three months ( I try to do one year minimum ) before using it for training.
Iron Arms Training 鐵臂法
San Xing 三星
The methods described before for the iron broom can be done as well on the arms in the same way. However there are a couple of extra methods that can also be employed in this training. The most common among styles is known as Three Stars Arm Banging (San Xing 三星) and is done with a partner.
Standing facing one another the two players begin by striking the top of the forearms together, right hand on right hand side by turning the torso. The striking surface here is the outside or yang side of the forearm and strikes both the radius and the ulna. The second star or strike is done upwards with the palms facing up and the forearms clashing on the radius (thumb) side. The third strike is done downwards with the palm facing the ground and the forearms striking on the ulna (little finger) side of the forearm. This training should be done slowly and carefully at first before building up to more power and speed. Cooling down with the Shaolin Pai Fa and then use of Dit Da Jow is best to avoid injuries from stopping tomorrows training.
Praying Mantis Forearm Grinding 螳螂磨骨
Another method I learned from a Shifu of Northern Praying Mantis he called Forearm Grinding. Here after properly warming up and bringing blood to the area of the forearms close the fist and bend the wrist forward, flexing the forearm with great force. The training itself requires an apparatus, in this case a table, countertop or bench. Something that is sturdy and has a solid top, when I learned this from him I was at his grocery store in Chinatown and he demonstrated and taught it to me on the herbal dispensary counter. With all the force you can place the palm side of the forearm, near the elbow on the edge of the counter and drag it backwards while pressing down in to the edge of the counter. When the wrist is reached turn the arm over (palm up) and push it back away from you from wrist to elbow all the while pressing down so the edge of the counter drags on the forearm the entire way. Repeat until you can stand no more and then cool down with pai fa and use dit da jow. (This one I always needed to jow to recover from). It is a bit extreme but this method results in very muscular and hard forearms, I saw this Sifu demonstrate receiving strikes from a shovel handle just using the underside of his forearms, and I was not swinging lightly!
Praying Mantis Forearm Striking Method 螳螂骨擊法
The Ma Family also has a small praying mantis system in the style and it has its own apparatus training for iron forearms. Taking two saw horses or benches to act as support legs for the apparatus at waist height, attach a flexible stick or staff across them in the shape of a “TT” with the staff on the top. Standing in Horse Stance or Tang Lang Bu 螳螂步(Praying Mantis Stance) strike the staff with the forearms, one at a time, bottom, side and top of the forearms. The flexibility of the stick is key here as a stick too hard will cause damage to the arms and will injure the player if struck too hard. I was taught that a piece of bamboo would have been used traditionally (green, not brown and dried out) but since that is not always available a flexible staff like a new cut sapling from the forest or a staff made of waxwood or rattan will work just as well. After training rub the arms with as much pressure as you can, use the pai fa method and Dit Da Jow to help heal for the next days training.
Iron Bar Rolling 鐵桿滾
A common wai gong exercise for conditioning the forearms uses an Iron bar or sometimes a small log. Rolling the bar down the forearms with the arms stretched out in front of you then tossing it into the air and catching it again and again on the forearms to work and condition them to strikes. To quote a friend of mine Logan “Train don’t strain.” Be careful with this exercise and be sure to heal each day so as to avoid damge to the bones of the arm. A more modern variant I have seen of this uses a metal pipe with some sand inside and the ends capped, this makes the weight adjustable and mobile during the exercises.