Iron palm training is one of the great skills of Chinese kung fu. It involves conditioning the hand so that one can deliver strong blows without pain or damage. Someone who is skilled in iron palm can strike something forcefully with their palm (for example, a stack of concrete blocks, or an opponent’s head) and the strike will not only do much more damage than a strike of an untrained individual, but it also won’t hurt the practitioner’s hand.
Training usually consists of slapping a canvas bag filled with different materials for a certain number of repetitions every day for the duration of training (months, years, the rest of one’s life). Over time, the material inside the bag is changed as the practitioner becomes more conditioned. It usually begins with mung beans, then after a few months progresses to small rocks, and then if one wishes to go to the most advanced stage, small steel shot is used.
But one who wishes to learn this skill cannot simply just start hitting a bag every day and hope to safely develop iron palm. Indeed, here are three warnings that may save you from injury:
Drop your hand onto the bag; do not hit it with force – A mistake that some people make after seeing iron palm training but not actually receiving instruction is to start hitting the bag. In correct practice, the hand is dropped from about shoulder height onto the bag, which is usually at waist height. The hand is dropped and allowed to fall with gravity; one shouldn’t use additional force. This helps the practitioner relax as well as helps prevent injury during training.
Do not attempt to progress too quickly – Slower is better. Less is more. Some people begin with too much volume, often hitting the iron palm bag for up to 30 minutes a day, which is far too much for a beginner. Depending on the program, it is usually sufficient to begin with around 30 strikes per hand per day (which will take far less than 30 minutes). Sometimes people attempt to progress in their training too quickly, too, such as adding more repetitions too quickly, or moving from the beginning bag (mung beans) to the intermediate bag (steel shot) too quickly. As a general rule of thumb, if you bruise, or if you feel pain after your training, you are going too quickly. And if either of those happen, you need to cut back on the training until you heal, which slows your overall progress. Additionally, trying to test your skills by breaking bricks too quickly can also lead to injury.
Do not neglect the healing aspects – Correct iron palm training involves the use of liniment or ointment to help the hands heal after each training session. There are some training programs that involve running the hands under hot water for a while after training to help circulation and healing. There is also a component of self-massage, which also helps promote blood flow and the breaking up of any bruises that may be forming. This part of training is very important, yet some people don’t do it because they either aren’t aware of it, or because it’s not as exciting as actually striking the bag. Over months of training, neglecting this healing component of training may cause you to not only progress slower in your conditioning, but may also result in injury.
Iron palm can be a great tool to add to your martial arts arsenal, but you must practice it safely in order to derive the best benefits. As always, practice under the guidance of an experienced instructor who can show you the proper technique and correct your mistakes early.