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Iron Shirt Qi Gong:  fortify your body and mind

by Andy Khong

Iron Shirt Qi Gong is a practice rooted in Chinese Daoist tradition that focuses on cultivating and strengthening the body’s internal energy, or Qi (also spelled Chi). It is a form of Qi Gong (Chi Kung), which translates “energy cultivation,” and is a holistic system of exercises aimed at promoting physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Wikipedia provides, “Iron Shirt is said to be a series of exercises using many post stances [Zhang Zhuang], herbsQi Gong, and body movements to cause the body’s natural energy (qi) to reinforce its structural strength. Practitioners believe that directing energy to parts of the body can reinforce these parts of the body to take blows against them.”

The practice of Iron Shirt Qi Gong primarily emphasizes the development of a strong and resilient physical structure. The term “Iron Shirt” metaphorically refers to the ability to develop an energetically impenetrable armor or protective shield around the body, similar to iron, that can withstand external and internal forces. This practice is based on the belief that by cultivating this internal strength and energetic protection, practitioners can enhance their overall health, vitality, and self-defense abilities.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong

Monks demonstrating Iron Shirt Qi Gong at a temple.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong involves a combination of static postures, dynamic movements, breathing techniques, meditation, and visualization exercises. The practice typically includes specific body alignments, breathing methods, and mental focus to build internal strength, rootedness, and stability. The exercises aim to strengthen the muscles, bones, tendons, and connective tissues, while also promoting proper alignment and posture.

By engaging in Iron Shirt Qi Gong, practitioners aim to develop a greater awareness and control over their body’s internal energy flow, as well as improve their physical health, balance, and overall energy levels. The practice is also known for its potential benefits in developing resilience, endurance, flexibility, and martial arts applications.

These benefits may contribute to better physical performance and potentially help in minimizing the impact of certain strikes or blows. It is important to note that Iron Shirt Qi Gong is not designed to withstand all types of physical force or to make a practitioner impervious to injury. Its aim is to cultivate internal energy and promote overall health and well-being.

To learn Iron Shirt Qi Gong, it is advisable to seek instruction from a qualified and experienced teacher or master who has in-depth knowledge of the practice. Traditional Daoist Qi Gong schools or Martial Art schools with a focus on Internal Arts* are often good places to start your search [*Example of Internal Arts: Taiji (Tai Chi – Supreme Ultimate), Xingyi (Hsing-I – Form & Intention Method), and Bagua (Pa Kua – Eight Trigrams)]. A qualified teacher can provide personalized instruction, correct alignment and technique, and guide you through the progressive stages of the practice to ensure safe and effective practice. They can also address any questions or concerns you may have during your training journey.

All Qi Gong systems have their own different approach to Iron Shirt training. One well-known system of Qi Gong teaches Inner Fire Breathwork, and then Wild Animal Play prior to the Iron Shirt training. Inner Fire Breathwork activates the energy from within and also to develop skill in the breathing muscles which play an important role in developing the internal strength. The Wild Animal Play practices start developing the external strength and internal circulation of energy within the body as a preparation for the more vigorous and challenging parts of the Iron Shirt Qi Gong practices. Wild Animal play involve stepping and walking, moving around while embodying the characteristics of the Tiger, Snake, Crane, Leopard, and Dragon to represent the 5 Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) of Wood, Water, Metal, Earth, and Fire respectively.

The Iron Shirt Qi Gong training then progress through a pattern analogous to that of forming a sword from metal. It starts off with (1) Filling and Charging our bodies with energy; (2) Packing and Condensing the energy; (3) Activating and Refining (Smelting) the energy so that it flows to evenly fill the shape of our body; (4) Forging by striking to work out any remaining weaknesses within structure of the body, and develop strength and hardness from within; and (5) Tempering (Smoothing) by taking the edge off that hardness with gentle flowing movements which soften the body and energy so that it becomes flexible and resilient as well as strong, and heightens our awareness of the flow of energy through our body.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong

Body impervious to the spear from Iron Shirt Qi Gong.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong

Shaolin Monk demonstrating Iron Neck.

You can watch the Shaolin Monks perform feats achievable from Iron Shirt Qi Gong at the Beijing Red Theatre in Beijing, or at the Shaolin Monastery in Zhengzhou, Henan.

Other systems of Qi Gong that might interest you:
a. Zhineng Qi Gong (Medicineless Hospital) 
b. Guo Lin Qi Gong (Anti-Cancer Walk) 

Some interesting provinces in China are: 
1. Yunnan 
2. Xinjiang  
3. Guangxi 

Did you know that Shangri-La is located in China:  

China could be a Christian country today if God’s 2nd son had succeeded:  

A woman’s Martial Art was founded by a Nun from Shaolin Temple:  

Astonishing Explorer from China:  

Stay tuned for YPT tours to China:  YPT China Tours 

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