Having Kung-Fu is not dependent upon what techniques of striking, kicking or throwing one may know. While these things are useful, they are not Kung-Fu. Kung-Fu is found in specialized training that changes the very nature of the body, mind and even neural processing of the practitioner. There are many kinds of Kung-Fu. Each develops a special ability that normal people simply do not possess. The styles of Kung-Fu are the techniques that the students are taught that exploit this new ability to its most effective level. There are many types of special abilities developed in Kung-Fu. One shared my many is the Iron Palm.
Iron Palm or Tit Da Zhang is the practice of hardening the bones and strengthening the tendons of the hands so that they can deliver extremely powerful blows. It is a slow process, taking up to four years to be realized. Other styles of martial arts also condition their hands for striking and do so at a much faster pace. The price to be paid is that these fast methods inevitably damage the hands of the practitioner. In Kung-Fu, though the time invested is far longer and development is slower, the hands are not damaged.
In our method the hands are conditioned initially using containers of loose Mung Beans. Eventually though, bags of sand, then gravel and finally bags of metal shot are struck with the hand configured in different striking formations. The hands are struck against these surfaces carefully, with restraint, never bruising or injuring the hand. When one is finished, there is herbal medicine that is rubbed into the hands; ensuring that the hands recover. The medicine we use at my school is one passed on from my teacher’s teacher, the renown “Mantis King of Hong Kong”, Wong Honfan.
Traditionally, a practitioner conditions only one hand. The reason for this is that it makes one have to consciously choose to strike an opponent with the conditioned hand and cause the resultant harm. Also, there are those who believe that even with all the care taken, there can be damage to the acupuncture points in the hand. This damage can result in the very health of the practitioner being affected. However, history also records those who did not follow this guidance.
The most well-known practitioner in our lineage who ignored this advice was Wong Honfan’s teacher Luo Guangyu. Master Luo came to Mantis later in life but was a devoted and talented practitioner. One day, a request came to Luo’s teacher, Fan Xudong for help. A martial arts organization in Shanghai, the Qing Wu, (Pure Chinese Martial Arts), was under assault. In fact, the leader of the organization, Master Huo Yinjia, had been poisoned and killed. (The movie “Fearless” starring Jet Lee is about this event). Master Fan chose two of his students, Yang Weixin and Luo Guangyu to go and help.
Yang Weixin was a powerful practitioner with an explosive temper. In fact, it is said that he killed two other Kung-Fu practitioners in a fight and that Master Fan had to bribe people to get him out of jail. Of the two being sent, Master Luo was the junior.
Upon arriving in Shanghai, Master Yang and Master Luo took on students and began training them. However, Master Yang decided he did not like Shanghai or his duties there. He left Shanghai and proceeded to Qingdao where he taught for the rest of his life. To verify what I could of the stories, I traveled to Shanghai and Qingdao to investigate. In those cities I had the privilege of training with Master Yang’s martial descendants who preserve his teachings to this day.
Master Luo was alone. He no longer had his older Kung-Fu brother to look to or depend upon. In response, he trained every day; to ensure that he was at his best when the inevitable challenges came. In his routine was Iron Palm training. Knowing that he had to be at his most effective, he set aside conventional wisdom and trained both his hands. Reportedly he could smash bricks with either hand as he wished.
It is said Master Luo was victorious against all challenges. Today, his martial descendants have spread Mantis Kung-Fu around the world. Along with the art we share as part of his legacy, we also share the Iron Palm.