Iron Palm, Shirt and...Other Things
Martial arts novices in both West and East have a tendency to associate certain fighting and meditation styles with magical or superhuman powers, as any exasperated Taekwondo teacher can tell you after fielding the tenth request of the day to teach someone how to do a hadouken. Some of the more obscure and poorly-understood disciplines have to do with qigong, which is broadly defined as a combination of breath control and repeated fluid movement, but due to its association with Taoist and Shaolin monks (and any number of fantastical wuxia and martial arts films) the practice has taken on an element of mysticism. That’s unfortunate, because some of the exercises have been shown to have legitimate physical benefits—the Iron Palm (strengthening the fist) and Iron Shirt (strengthening the torso) disciplines use repeated strikes and conditioning to gradually toughen the body to the point that practitioners develop stronger bones, tougher skin, and tighter tendons. Maybe less immediately useful is the practice of si-sue jing qigong, known popularly as “Pubic Hang Qi Gong,” where over the course of several months students develop the ability to suspend up to 160 pounds from their gonads. Devotees claim that Pubic Hang techniques lead to an overall increase in the health of the practitioner, and a few whisper that the practice leads to greater sexual prowess, although why a Buddhist monk would need to develop better sex-fu has never been satisfactorily answered.