(This article was originally posted on my blog. I wanted to post it here to get some feedback)
Iron Hand and Iron Body The Metaphysical Boxing Approach (basic level).
By Josh Skinner
Iron hand and iron body skills have always intrigued me and Im not alone. You can find quite a few articles on the subject and there are more than a few people selling books, videos, and courses on the subject. The idea of developing bone crushing power and the ability to take the most power strikes your opponent can muster is always going to be compelling for the martial artist. However, Ive found that until now there all that has been available are routines either too conservative in their approach, too extreme, or simply provide an incomplete picture of iron skills training. In terms of this training Ive had hands on instruction, bought books, bought videos, and even attended seminars. Ive practiced what I learned for nearly ten years now. Over the years Ive mixed routines, added drills and exercises, and dropped things out completely. What I now practice and teach is, I feel, the most effective and efficient method of iron skill development you will come across. The method presented in the following piece is the basic level of iron skill development. Higher level development includes more advance internal power development exercises. However, what you will find in this piece is much more advanced than most other information on the iron skills you can obtain for free or purchase.
I feel that a complete course in the development of the Iron Skills should involve considerable conditioning of the following aspects of the marital artist:
1. The Mind and Internal Energy this can be accomplished through the use of Qigong, internal power exercises (nei jing gong), and the proper use of focus (intent and will).
2. The Musculature this can be accomplished through the use of specific physical exercises.
3. The Underlying bone structure and skin This can be accomplished through specific types of impact training.
My method of Iron Skills development includes all three of these aspects. In the following piece I will describe in detail the Metaphysical Boxing approach to Iron Skills Development, I include all the basic drills and exercises for the development of basic level iron hand and iron body as well as a discussion on how to set up a routine to get the most out of your training.
Exercises and Drills
1. Open and Close the Gate Qigong Begin standing up, spine neutral, and with your feet should width apart. Your arms should be held out in front of you at chest level. Your palms should face each other and be about a foot apart. Place your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You will be breathing in and out of your nose in the Buddhist manner* for both of these Qigong.
First, place your attention on the back of each hand. You should be able to feel the back of your hands with your mind. Inhale and begin to open your arms as though you are about to give someone a huge hug. You will open your arms fully until you are in a cruciform position. At this point you will begin to exhale, reverse the movement, and switch you attention to your palm as you begin to close your arms. Once your hands are about 6-1 apart you will to inhale and, once again, place your attention onto the backs of your hands. This time, however, instead of opening your arms you will turn your palms so that they face away from you and you will be drawing your hands in towards your chest. Make sure to keep your elbows down as you do this. When your hands reach about 6 away from your chest you will reverse this movement. Remember to coordinate this final movement with you exhalation and to place you attention on your palms. When you have returned to the starting position you will have completed one repetition of this qigong. You will need to complete a total of nine (9) before moving on.
Remember to always coordinate your physical movements with your breathing and stay relaxed. You will place you attention on the backs of your hands as you open your arms and as you draw your hands to your chest. You will place your attention on your palms as you close your arms and as you push out with your hands. Doing this will lead your qi (internal energy) to those areas which is a vital ability for later exercises.
2. Gathering Clouds Qigong Begin standing up, spine neutral, and with your feet shoulder width apart. Your arms will hang loosely at your sides. Place your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Your breathing will be the same as in the first qigong.
Start by inhaling and raising your arms up towards the sky in an arching motion with your palms facing up. Continue this movement until your arms are overhead and your palms are facing each other they should be about 6 apart. As you begin to exhale turn your palms downward to face the ground and move your palms along a downward path towards your groin area. You will keep your hands close to each other and close to your body as you do this. Once your hands reach your groin area you have completed one repetition of this qigong. You will need to complete a total of nine (9) repetitions before moving on to other exercises.
Static Core Work: The following drills, of holding static postures for periods of time, will greatly strengthen your body especially your core. While you hold these postures remember to breathe through your nose with your tongue held to the roof of your mouth and utilize the Buddhist Breathing method.
1. Floor Plank Begin lying on the floor on your stomach. Your forearms will be under you and you will press up as though doing a push up except all of your weight is on your forearms not your hands. You will maintain this static position for as long as possible, but your goal should be one minute. You can work up to more than one minute but anything more and a minute and a half wont be necessary. Ill explain further in the building a routine section.
A) Ball Plank: You can make this exercise more difficult by using one of those huge abdominal balls. Simply place you feet on the ball or place your forearms on the ball. To make it really difficult you can attempt to suspend yourself between a chair and a ball (feet on chair, forearms on ball) or between two balls.
B) Side Plank: Another variation I like to throw into my routine is the side plank. In this variation you will begin by lying on your side with your feet on top of each other. You will use one forearm to support yourself. Dont let you hips sag down. This will really strengthen you oblique muscles. Thirty seconds to one minute on each side is a good goal time.
2. Iron Bridge You will need two chairs for this exercise. You will suspend yourself between the two chairs. Place your feet on one chair and place your upper back and head on the other. Use only the muscles necessary to keep yourself straight no sagging! As you get stronger move the chairs further and further apart until you are suspended between the two with only your feet and head. You can further increase the difficulty by resting small weight plates on your lower abdomen. Start slow and dont increase the weight too soon! Your goal is one minute.
3. San Shou Bridge This form of the Bridge is similar to a Wrestlers Bridge. You begin by lying on your back with you knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and your hands near your ears. You may need a towel or small pillow for your head. From this position lift yourself up so that your weight is supported between your feet and your head/hands. You body will form an arch. While holding this position you can do some rocking and attempt to touch your nose to the floor. As your strength and flexibility increase you will be able to do it. Again strive to reach the one minute mark.
4. Front Bridge Matt Furey, the author of Combat Conditioning, recommends that those who work the Bridge on a consistent basis should spend some time in the Front Bridge as well. I couldn't agree more - its all about balance. Start by lying on your stomach with your feet spread apart and your hands near your head. Lift your body off the floor so that you are supported by only your feet and head/hands. Make sure you touch your chin to your chest. Hold this position for one minute.
You can perform this series of exercises in circuit fashion. You should strive to hold the positions for 1 minute to one and half minutes. You can rest anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute between positions. When you become more advanced you can move through each position with no rest between them. You only need to complete one circuit of these exercises.
1. Abdominal Wheel You will need to pick up an ab wheel from your local fitness retailer. To use it start by kneeling on the floor (you may need a pillow for your knees) and holding the ab wheel by the handles. The wheel should be on the floor and near your legs. Keep you core tight and push forward on the wheel to roll out. Your goal is to reach out as far as you can so that your body is just hovering over the floor. Then reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Inhale as you roll out; exhale as you return to the starting position. Work up to being able to complete multiple sets of 10-20 repetitions.
2. Twisting Stand holding a weight (I prefer a medicine ball, but a dumbbell or some other weight will work as well) straight out in front of you and keep you feet should width apart. Begin twisting your upper body to the left and right at a fairly quick pace. You can also vary the angle of your twists for a more complete development.
3. Side Bends Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms above your head and simply bend side to side. You can make this exercise more difficult by holding a weight in your hands. At first a weight as little as 2lbs will be sufficient. Start small and work your way up slowly.
4. Fingertip and Knuckle pushups You will need to do pushups on both your knuckles and your finger tips to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your forearms and hands. When doing knuckle pushups you will place you weight on the last three knuckles. When doing fingertip pushups you need to make sure you keep your fingers bent in a claw shape. Attempting to keep them too straight will result in poor conditioning. Also do not allow your fingers to bend backwards as this will result in unsatisfactory conditioning. It may be very difficult to complete a proper fingertip pushups at first. You can progress from static holds in the kneeling pushup position, to kneeling fingertip pushups, and finally progress to full fingertip pushups.
5. Pushing and Pulling Iron Block Begin by standing with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and knees bent. You will start with your hands near your armpits and palms facing outward. Inhale and tense all of the muscles in your body. As you exhale press your hands forward as though you are pushing a huge iron weight. Once you fully press out your arms (but, not to lockout), grab with your hands and pull backward as you inhale. When your hands reach the starting position you can relax and take a single full breath before moving on to the next repetition.
6. Fist Clenching This is a simple exercise to complete. Start with your hands fully open. Now begin to fully close and open your hands. You will want to do this as quickly as possible. You should be able to at least complete 100 reps as quickly as possible.
7. Forearm Roller You can either make a roller or buy one where they sell fitness supplies. To make on simply drill a hole in a thick wooden dowel (I'd use a dowel that is about 2.5' long) and tie a rope in the hole. Tie the rope to some weight. This setup is simple to use. Simple grip the roller and begin twisting it. This will cause the rope to wrap around the dowel. Continue doing this until the weights reach the dowel. When the weights get heavy and you need more of a challenge. Stand on two chairs that are wider than shoulders distance apart and get into a half squatting position (Horse Stance).
Place the roller on your thighs so the rope hangs between your legs and the chairs. Now begin rolling up the rope and weights.
8. Gripper Work I also suggest you make regular use of hand grippers. The best can be found at http://www.ironmind.com
. I'd start with the Trainer and the #1 Gripper. If you can close a #3 gripper you have a world class grip.
I like to set up my Dynamic Strengthening workouts in the following manner:
2. Pushing and Pulling the Iron Block 10 reps x 3 sets (30 seconds of rest between sets)
3. Alternate Fingertip and Knuckle pushups Complete a set of knuckle pushups (rest 30 seconds) then complete a set of fingertip pushups. Repeat for 3-5 sets.
4. Dynamic Core Circuit:
Abdominal Wheel 10-20 reps
Twisting 10-20 reps
Side Bends 10-20 reps
No rest between exercises, 30 seconds rest between circuits. Complete 3-5 circuits
5. Grippers 3 sets of 5-10 reps with a heavy gripper
6. Forearm roller 5-10 sets of rolling the weight all the way up.
7. 150 Fast Fist Clenches.
1. Self Slapping - To begin your iron body training you will start with regular palm slapping. This is a very simple. Start with a slap that is mildly uncomfortable. Over time you can work up to a harder and harder slap. Begin by slapping the entire surface of your torso (that you can reach). 5-10 rounds around your body should be enough. I also suggest slapping your forearms, thighs, and shins to condition them as well. You can also enlist the aid of a training partner. When using a partner stand in your typical fighting stance and have your partner slap predetermined areas of your body (front of the torso, thighs, back, ect...). When being struck make sure to focus your mind on the spot being struck. You should also tense the area as it is being struck. You should be proficient in this method before moving on.
2. Self Punching - The self punching method is identical to the slapping method except the fist are employed for striking as opposed to the palms. Remember to start with light strikes and over time begin hitting harder and harder. I recommend the use of a partner for this method as it is much more effective. You will have to know when to stop, so don't over do it.
3. Medicine ball hits - You will need a partner for this method. You will also need to wear an athletic cup. Simply stand in a high Horse stance (knees bent but not extremely so) with your guard up high to protect your face. Have your partner throw the medicine ball at your torso from all angles. Start light and over time work your way up to harder and harder throws. Bring your mind to the area being struck and tense to help you protect that area. You can also try lying on your back and have your partner drop the medicine ball on you. Start low and work your way up. When you get really advanced your partner can a bit of force to the drop.
1. Phone Book Iron Hand You will need to obtain an old, thick telephone book and some sort of stand to put the telephone book. The stand should be tall enough for the telephone book to be at your navel level. Make sure it is nice and sturdy. You will be striking the telephone book with the following hand surfaces:
b. back of the hands
d. knife hand
Some feel it is best to simple drop the hand onto the striking surface while others feel it is best to add some power to the strike. I feel the most effective way to develop the iron hand is to actually strike the target (as opposed to simply dropping your hand on the striking surface). As long as you take it easy in the beginning and slowly work your way up to striking the telephone book harder and harder you should never encounter any health problems or real injuries. Now you have to keep in mind that you will never be striking the telephone book as hard as you can. Even the Japanese Karate-ka, who are famous for their amazingly conditioned hands, never hit their makiwara as hard as they can. You should never need to hit the striking surface with more than 60% of you power (unless, of course, you are working a heavy bag).
For each surface of the hand you will need to complete 25-50 strikes or 100-200 strikes total.
I like to start with by conditioning my palms and the backs of my hands. I start with my right hand and strike with the heart of my palm, then immediately strike with the back of my right hand. I repeat this with the left hand and keep it up with a nice rhythm until I complete 25-50 reps. Then I shake out and stretch my hands before moving on to the next hand surface. Make sure to shake and stretch out your hands after each set of hand surface conditioning.
2. Heavy bag and focus mitt conditioning When I work the heavy bag or focus mitts I wear a pair of MMA gloves. When Im done with my session I like to take the gloves off and work my strikes. I train the jab, the cross, rear hand palm strike, rear hand knife-hand strike, lead backhand strike. I focus on single, hard strikes. I will usually do about 10-25 repetitions in this manner and my hand (especially my knuckles) are usually really red after this. I would recommend taking up this practice if you are serious about developing an iron hand.
After your training session you should do a full body stretch routine. I would also recommend obtaining a foam roller and use it to give yourself a self-massage (do an Internet search for: myofascial release self-massage). Pay special attention to any sore spots you find.
After your workouts you should shower if possible. Get the water as hot as is tolerable and let it wash all over your body (though, I'd avoid the face and genitals). Pay special attention to those areas you have conditioned that day and do not forget to run hot water over your hands. Before you get out lower the water temperature and let cold water wash all over your body. Again pay special attention to all striking surfaces including your hands. You can also opt to apply a good Dit Da Jow liniment, especially on areas were there may be some bruising. If you are unable to find a good Jow, you can also use witch-hazel. A witch-hazel rub can be found at any drug store. I find witch-hazel easier to come by and use it most often.
Setting up a Routine:
At first you should train your iron skills daily. Muscle conditioning exercises and Impact Conditioning will change from day to day. You should split your routine into A days and B days. On A days you will do your Qigong, Static Core Work, and Impact Conditioning (hand conditioning). On B days you will do you Qigong, Dynamic Strengthening exercise, and Impact Conditioning (body conditioning). Notice that Impact hand conditioning is done on A days when only static core work is done as opposed to B days where dynamic strengthening is done. All of the knuckle and fingertip pushups, and grip work on the dynamic strengthening day will weaken the musculature of the hand. You dont want to engage in impact hand conditioning when the musculature of your hands is weak. Damage to the tendons, ligaments, and bone structure would be much more likely. So, impact hand conditioning should be done with the static core strengthening exercises because those exercises stress the musculature of the hand to a lesser degree. Impact conditioning for the body is less strenuous on the tendons, ligaments, and bones so you dont have to worry about the dynamic strengthening exercises being detrimental to your impact training.
So in the beginning your week would look like this:
Monday: Iron Skills A Day
Static Core Work
Impact Conditioning for the Hands
Tuesday: Iron Skills B Day
Dynamic Strengthening Exercises
Impact Conditioning for the Body
Wednesday: Same as Monday
Thursday: Same as Tuesday
Friday: Same as Monday
Saturday: Same as Tuesday
As you progress into more advanced stages you can incorporate your Qigong and muscle strengthening exercises into a more traditional routine (I like to use the Static Core strengthening circuit as a finisher to some of my workouts). When you have developed your iron hand and iron body you will not have to condition them on a daily basis. If you do regular sparring and heavy bag work you should only have to do additional iron training once or twice a week.
Hopefully this piece on the Metaphysical Boxing Method of Basic Iron Skills Development will help many of you who have been seeking a practical and effective training method for the above mentioned skills. Remember to begin slowly and know your limitations. Do not let an inflated ego get the best of you. Know when to stop and you will save yourself a considerable amount of time recovering from injuries that are a direct result of over training. Take your practice seriously, devote yourself to it, and dont get caught up in all the flashy stuff. Occasionally, we Metaphysical Boxers do practice breaking skills (like breaking boards and patio blocks). However, this is only to teach focus and have a little fun. We use this method very sparingly as it does not provide any real benefit that could not be develop with other methods more effectively. So, keep that in mind when training. You are not developing this skill to impress others with how many patio blocks you can break or to see if a friend can break a wooden pole across you back. You should focus on how well you can break a nose or a few ribs if you need to. Because that is what this training is really about developing your ability to take and deliver powerful strikes. With this development comes a confidence in your ability to use your marital skills training in a real combat situation. When seen in this light all the theatrics associated with the Iron Skills seem juvenile and pointless.
*Buddhist breathing is done by inhaling and exhaling through your nose. As you inhale you will extend your lower abdoment (dantien). When you inhale you will draw in your lower abdomen (dantien). Make sure to place the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.