Iron shirt qi gong takes our regular breathing exercises and turns them to 11. Whereas our regular qi gong emphasises a relaxed breath in and out, iron shirt qi gong combines holding the breath with forced exhalations. Not to be confused with the often gimmickry of braking innocent planks of wood and stone, this practice is designed to strengthen the body internally by working the diaphragm and muscle groups around the trunk and pelvis that are engaged during proper breathing. The entire body follows a cycle of complete tension and relaxation throughout the routines to work the muscles, tendons and ligaments through isometric exercise. The routines rapidly raise energy levels to the point that lightning bolts may surge from the finger tips as the practitioner experiences the full power of the dark side of the force.
Hard conditioning is an essential element of Southern Chinese white crane and is focused primarily on the forearms, palms, knuckles and fingers. There is no shortcut or secret remedy for improvement as many people wish for. As with most things kung fu it requires a great deal of repetition, persistence and pain. However all of these things are fun when approached in the right way. Other important areas that we condition are the ribs, thighs and shins. There are many studies published on the British Medical Journal highlighting the positive impact of conditioning on ailments such as osteoporosis. It may be daunting to bash your shins against another persons however the long term benefits permeate both the physical and mental domains.
Our workshop was split into two halves, the first covering qi gong and the second covering conditioning. It is important to firstly warm up correctly and our qi gong routines gently work the body and prepare it for hard qi gong. Practicing hard qi gong can be a bit like plugging oneself into the national grid... it's a buzz to say the least. An invigorating blast of a workout that heats you up, makes things tingle and gives the 'I'm now on another planet' experience. It's brilliant.
The two person conditioning routines are always met with both excitement and trepidation. It's excellent fun and one of the best ways to release frustration, however yes it does hurt. But it gets easier with time. Conditioning mainly focused on striking the arms and legs but we also worked the abdomen, floating ribs and chest. The exercises are in fact very relaxing to practice. They also provide a superb opportunity to understand the different sensations of striking various parts of the body. Striking pads is good for technique and power however they do not feel anything like a human body. Everyone came away feeling exuberant from the experience and we are looking forward to more conditioning in class.