Chinese martial artists often demonstrate their ability by bending an iron bar pressed into their throats. They do this by concentrating Qi at the spot the bar is pressing. This is a spectacular way of demonstrating the results of a martial Qigong training system called Iron Shirt (Tie Bu Shan, ife^ ?}) or Golden Bell Cover (Jin Zhong Zhao, £ it ). The reason for these names is that the training will enable a person to resist a blow or punch without injury or pain, as though he or she were wearing an iron shirt or were protected by a golden bell.
This training may have started in the sixth century when Da Mo's Yi Jin Jing (^ i? & ) began to be used. One of the purposes of Yi Jin Jing training is to concentrate the Qi in a specific area, which will not only increase the muscle power, which is supported by Qi, but will also increase the ability to resist blows, reducing injury to a minimum. This kind of training has continued to be researched and practiced to the present. Because the training of the body's resistance comes from repeated beating, it is also called Beating Endurance (Ai Da, -flUr) training. Another name for this training is Bunch Beating (Pai Da, # -fr) because the first few stages of training use bunches of bamboo, wood, and iron wire to hit the body.
The training principle is very simple. You may have noticed that tightening the appropriate muscles in an area where you are about to get hit reduces the pain and injury of the blow. This is the beginning of Iron Shirt training. The reason for this phenomenon is that when muscles are tight, the Qi flow is slow, so the nerve sensation is slow and dull. This stops the pain message from passing to the brain. Additionally, when the muscles are tensed, most of the power of a blow or punch will be stopped by the tensed muscle, so the main Qi channels under the muscles won't be disturbed. Consequently, the injury will be confined to the muscle itself, not to the organs related to the Qi channel.
In order to prevent injury in Iron Shirt training, the practitioner must be conditioned gradually, first the skin and then the muscles. Then, in advanced Iron Shirt, the Qi must be trained to concentrate in the area being struck to repulse the impact. With the Qi supporting the muscle, the Qi channel won't be injured, and so the body can eventually resist even a cavity press.
In order to complete the advanced training, the Wai Dan Qigong training from chapter 2 is extremely important. Also, in order to keep the Qi circulation smooth and complete, Nei Dan should be practiced. Without Wai Dan and Nei Dan training the Iron Shirt will only be on the surface of the body. The body can still be injured when attacked by penetrating power.
There is a martial proverb: "Train the muscles and skin externally, and train Qi internally."1 This implies that Qigong is the foundation of the training. Qi training can make the internal organs strong and healthy. When Qi is concentrated by the mind, it can be expanded to the entire body (see chapter 3) or focused in a small area to rebound a blow.
In Iron Shirt training, the first step is to beat the skin with minor power with bamboo or rattan strips about one and a half feet long, bound at one end. This striking will stimulate the skin and surface muscles. Because no deep injury can occur, the entire body can be trained in this way. However, for the very beginner, only areas that have a thick layer of muscle to support the blows—the shoulders, stomach, chest, back, thighs, arms, and calves—should be struck. With each strike, the muscle being struck should be tightened and the mind should be concentrated at that spot. This will train Qi concentration and the natural resistant reaction. Only after the above areas can take a strike without feeling pain can other areas such as the shins, knees, head, elbows, etc., be trained. This training should continue until you do not feel pain.
This skin and shallow muscle stimulation will let the nerve system get acclimated to being struck. If a ticklish person were tickled constantly, eventually his nerve system would no longer feel ticklish. This training works the same way.
The next step is to use striking power which can penetrate deeper into the body. For this training, a bunch of iron wire bound at one end is used. Follow the same routine with Qi concentration and muscle tension until the deep muscles can resist the external blows. For this step, since the blow will be stronger and more penetrating, you must have strong Qi to avoid disturbing the Qi flow. Also, herbs should be used to cure the bruises, so that Qi will not become stagnant anywhere.
It is important to note here that all these training methods should be done only with a qualified master who knows how to control the penetration power of the blows, and who also knows how to treat injuries.
Only after the less dangerous areas have been trained, and you have gained enough skill with Qi transport, can other vital areas such as the head, throat, kidneys and liver be trained. Also at this point, the master will stimulate the vital cavities such as the temples, throat, armpits, solar plexus, etc. to train you to protect these areas. Later, these vital cavities will be struck at their most vulnerable times of day. When you can resist a cavity press to a vital area without pain and injury, then you have completed the training.
There are two vital places—the eyes and the groin—where Qi cannot be directed. Therefore, they remain vulnerable even for one who has completed the above training. However, there are some practitioners who are able to pull their testicles up into the abdomen, leaving only their eyes vulnerable.
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