Tuesday, April 14, 2009
...like unto iron.
A fellow blogger and proponent of fitness/self-improvement recently wrote about Iron Kung Fu training -- http://the-biomatrix.blogspot.com/2009/04/iron-palm-hurts.html -- and this has inspired me to write about it as well. It’s something that I know a tiny bit about, and I’ll even manage to talk about comic books while I’m at it.
Before talking about what Iron Kung Fu training is, let’s talk about what it ain’t. It ain’t magic, folks. The sight of people breaking staffs and boards over a monk’s forearms or stomach is not the result of supernatural powers. You don’t have to be born with any particular traits (though a higher natural bone density doesn’t hurt in this area) (also, those staffs are usually made of weaker wood than real bo staffs). In fact, anyone can do this with the proper and lengthy training.
Iron Kung Fu training basically consists of hitting a particular part of the body (or hitting objects with a particular part of the body), healing that part, and then continuing. Wash, rinse, repeat. Always repeat. This is the basic method that works for the palms, fists, forearms, shins, and head. The stomach is a bit different. While all of the various focuses of Iron training require some sort of breathing techniques and Qi Gong techniques, the stomach especially focuses on this. Training for Iron Stomach is usually much less about hardening the stomach with multiple blows, and much more about controlling inhalation and exhalation so as to limit the amount of pain a blow to the solar plexus causes. This is also true for Iron Crotch. Though multiple blows (different kind of blows, fellas) are a big part of training the groin area, it’s best for the practitioner to be able to contract certain muscles so as to suck his testicles up into his cavity.
There are various scientific explanations for the effects of Iron Kung Fu training. One is simply desensitization to pain. If you’ve been hurt in the same spot a million times, you kind of get use to getting hurt in that spot. Another is calcium deposit increases. This is why the knuckles of boxers and fighters in general are generally bigger and harder than the average man’s. When you punch something hard enough (but not TOO hard), you can cause tiny, typically insignificant fractures in your knuckles. Your body then does its best to send calcium to where it’s most needed, and gradually the knuckles acquire more and more calcium than is normal. This Iron Fist training isn’t limited to boxers or Kung Fu practitioners, though. Check out the fists on any dedicated practitioner of Kyokushin karate, and you’ll notice that their knuckles are huge, but their fists are basically flat from years of gloveless punching, working the makiwara, and doing knuckle push-ups on hardwood and concrete. A similar thing happens to the shins of Muay Thai fighters and other kickboxers.
Matt Polly wrote about such training in his book American Shaolin. In the book, he talks about an Iron Crotch master he dubs “Monk Dong” (for obvious reasons). This Monk Dong is able to take hits to the groin area, hang cinder blocks from his penis, and pull heavy objects with a rope tied to his dong. Mr. Polly himself takes up Iron Forearm training and is pretty successful at it. He also describes a monk who is able to suction a bowl to his stomach, and no one is able to pull the bowl off of the monk’s body.
Shaolin monks have always been adept at these show-off type things. In fact, another photo of a young student being held up by spears is making the internet rounds. This is possible not only because of hard body training, but also because of proper distribution of weight over a certain surface area, and the fact that demo/training spears have dull tips.
I have advocated gloveless bag punching to all of my students and martial arts-minded friends for years now. If you start out pretty slow and just work your way up to hitting harder, you’ll be doing more realistic training while preventing injury. It’s good to punch and kick a variety of surfaces so as to best prepare your body for many different situations. Before I left my mother’s house for college, I would work the bag gloveless. I would also often punch a bucketful of rocks, trees, the floor, and any other surface I saw fit to hit. When I came to UCF, I had to leave my punching bag behind. I then mostly did shadowboxing, supplemented with hitting my floor (50 punches a day, six days a week), and occasionally punching and shin kicking a tree. Now, I’ve got a punching bag again, and I hope to continue to strengthen my fists (though I may have to take it easy for a while, as my knuckles have already bruised up).
One thing I’ve always been bad about is the healing half of Iron Kung Fu training. The smartest thing I do after bruising my knuckles and hurting my shins is icing them. I should be putting some salve or tiger balm on them, but I’m stupid. Pretty soon, I’ll probably have no other choice but to wise up and start doing some healing after each session.
Now, let’s talk about “Iron Fist”. Danny Rand is a master of all things Kung Fu. Like Richard Dragon, he was created to capitalize on the martial arts and eastern philosophy craze of the 70s. While the comics from the 70s to the 90s are mildly entertaining, the more recent “Immortal Iron Fist” series is brilliant. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction brought in new characters and ideas that mixed very well with the old, and the art of David Aja was pure genius. Now, there’s a new writer and artist, but it’s still pretty good. Danny Rand didn’t spend years punching trees and rubbing balm on his knuckles, though. He plunged his hands into the heart of an ever-reborn dragon, and fists became things “like unto iron”. He did spend years training in the martial arts, though. So don’t you youngsters go thinking that all you need to do is jam your hands into a dragon’s heart to become a master.
If you’ve learned nothing else from this much-too-long blog, at least let it be that you should check out The BioMatrix (http://www.the-biomatrix.net/index.htm), read Matt Polly’s book American Shaolin, and check out at least the first six issues of “Immortal Iron Fist”.
Now go punch a tree.