Iron body is a subset discipline within Shaolin Kung Fu. Students of this martial art form subject themselves to daily exercises that harden body tissue. The practice is applied to the legs, trunk, hands, arms and head. After many years of diligence, a persistent student develops the ability to withstand blows of tremendous force and deliver the same without sustaining serious personal damage.
There are four tiers of iron leg training. At first, the legs are simply slapped with the student's own hands in a half kneeling position 100 times each. This is done two to three times daily for three to six months. The next level involves the same practice with a sturdy canvas bag filled with mung beans. After another several months the beans are replaced with gravel. The final step places steel balls in the bag. There are variations of this practice from sect to sect, especially during the third and fourth phases, where bamboo sticks and the legs of other students come into play.
The first phase for the torso begins with the use of the fists to repeatedly strike the abdominal muscles, chest, outer arms and ribs. The practice is done every morning and night for up to six months. Fists then are replaced by the canvas sack of mung beans, which are systematically replaced by gravel and finally steel balls. Each specific area a practitioner wants to train must be individually struck 100 times per session. This protocol can vary from school to school, the principle being that the implement used to hit becomes gradually harder and harder over time.
Beginning students use a canvas bag that measures approximately 10 inches by 10 inches for iron palm training. During the first phase, it is filled with mung beans, while the second and third phases call for gravel and iron balls, respectively. The students subject their hands to daily sessions of impact using four different strikes: open palm face down, open palm face up, open palm side position and claw hand. Each phase lasts three to six months, during which time the palm, the back of the hand, the side of the hand and the fingertips all undergo a hardening transformation. Arthritis is avoided by daily application of an herbal medication called Dit Da Jow.
The head is hardened over time through static contact with other objects. Areas of focus on are the forehead, the top of the head and the back of the head. The student begins by leaning the head either perpendicularly or vertically onto sandbags for several months, two times daily. When the head begins to become more resilient, the student moves to trees and finally to rock. Beginning training sessions last for just a few minutes on the sandbags and at the advanced stage can go for at least 20 minutes up against a stone slab.
Iron Body training is a dangerous practice. It should only be attempted by sincere students of martial arts under the strict supervision of a qualified teacher. Haphazard participation can lead to short-term injury and long-term debilitation.