The Shaolin Temple have thirty-six internal techniques and thirty-six external techniques making a total of seventy-two different styles. When we talk about internal we don’t mean 100% internal, but a combination of internal and external with the focus more on the internal. It’s the same with
the external techniques, the focus is more on external but internal still has its part to play.
In this article I focus on Iron Leg.
This article is for information only and must not be used as a substitute for being taught by a qualified master. All of the Shaolin body conditioning techniques can damage a person’s body, they can not be learnt from a book or a DVD, and they must be approached with wisdom and caution.
The Paradoxical Qualities of Iron Leg
Iron Leg is one of the thirty-six external styles. Iron Leg needs to have flexibility, speed, power, and it also needs to be hard as well as soft. But how can a leg be soft and hard at the same time? This paradox is at the heart of every single one of the Shaolin techniques.
Bio Dynamics and Muscle Quality
I practise Iron Shirt and I recently had my muscles tested as part of an investigation by the Dana Centre in the London Science Museum. The scientists wanted to find out what was it about my muscles that made them able to withstand such heavy blows. Using a bio dynamics machine and comparing my performance with a rower, they found my muscles had more or less the same strength as the rower so it wasn’t the strength of the muscles that was helping me withstand blows.
They found my reaction time to be incredibly quick, which isn’t surprising as a martial artist’s reaction time must be far quicker than a rower.
They then used a different type of machinery that prodded into my stomach, they found when I contracted my muscles, they became not just hard but “bouncy”, deflecting the power of the machine and sending it back
This is the aim of these techniques and one of the keys as to why Shaolin masters can take such heavy blows. Our body acts as a mirror reflecting our opponent’s power back to them. Iron Shirt or Iron Leg is not just about muscle strength but the quality of the muscle and the use of Qi.
Attack and Defence
Iron Leg means when you kick, your kick is incredibly powerful, it also means that when someone kicks your leg, your leg is like a tree. Not only can you take the kick but also the kick hurts your opponent and doesn’t hurt you.
If you want to develop Iron Leg, the first thing you need to develop is excellent stamina. This means you need to run a lot and you also need to do a lot of lower stances and lower kicks to build up your legs. We call this static stamina.
You also need to make not only your leg flexible but also your entire body because when you kick although you are using your leg, you kick with your whole body.
People believe that in order to make their leg strong they always needs to kick a bag or bamboo but this is only the external part of the technique. The most important aspect to developing Iron Leg is that we make our bone strong, not just our skin, sinew, and muscle. And in order to do this we need to be flexible.
As well as going through your regular stretching exercises you need to do the five fundamental kicks and then move on to fighting kicks.( I teach these in my Shaolin Workout DVDs) Kicking at different levels high, middle, and low. Practise shadow kicks over and over again to make your body and leg work together.
If your leg is hard but inflexible this will mean that you can’t kick properly which means your leg is strong but this isn’t a good weapon because you don’t know how to use it. If your leg is very fast but it isn’t strong, this means if you kick someone and there body is stronger than your leg then you will be injured. Iron leg protects this from happening.
The Qualities Of Iron
Iron has different qualities; some iron is easier to break than others. If it’s easy to break this means it’s on only strong on the outside but its not strong on the outside.
This is why you must practise Qigong alongside body conditioning. First, you practice the Qigong prescribed to you by your master then you apply the body conditioning tincture and you rub it deep into your skin so you feel as if it is penetrating your bones. Then we use an iron brush, we also use bags with beans inside or metal ball bearings, and we do a lot of stamps. I demonstrate the simple Shaolin form Si Be Quan in Shaolin Workout One. The more power you can use with this stamp the more the power of the vibration will go inside the bone which makes the bone strong and conditions the internal organs.
When we practise body conditioning, our leg gets blue and swollen. Qi Gong is vital because this helps the internal organs work together. Afterwards, using the Shaolin Energy Massage Brush, we beat our body helping the blood to flow and the Qi to circulate.
Ten Years Time
Iron leg is very hard training; it takes a lot of will power. Some people believe that all you have to do is kick hard things for about ten years time and then they will have an iron leg. I guarantee this will not happen.
Iron Leg takes skill and a proper master to lead and teach the student. A strong training plan is needed with faith and belief that this is possible.
Only when you can kick someone with power and speed, and you can stand and take the kicks of others without using any self-defence but your own Qi have you come close to mastering this technique.