Toughening and protective skills in kung fu

Grandmaster Lam Sai Wing, a well-known master of Hung Gar kung fu in recent times, demonstrating "Separate Gold Fists" in the Iron Wire set. He looks quite fit and healthy, not at all banged up from his training. Image taken from www.shaolin.org

Grandmaster Lam Sai Wing, a well-known master of Hung Gar kung fu in recent times, demonstrating “Separate Gold Fists” in the Iron Wire set. He looks quite fit and healthy, not at all banged up from his training. Image taken from http://www.shaolin.org

In June 2013, someone on the G+ Martial Artist forum noted that he was doing “tree toughening” exercises and asked for our opinions on the exercise. Here was my response:

Are you swinging your arms, legs into the tree and striking your body against a tree? Provided you follow the correct method and gradual progression, you’ll eventually develop what kung fu people call Iron Arm, Iron Leg, Iron Vest, Iron Head, and so forth, depending on the conditioning you do.

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My grandmaster demonstrating "Smashing Waves in Whirlwind," a characteristic Choy Li Fatt pattern.

Kung Fu: Choy Li Fatt

This style of Southern Shaolin Kung Fu is derived from a master who spontaneously selected the best patterns and strategies of three kung fu styles: Choy Family Kung Fu, Li Family Kung Fu, and Monk (Fatt means “Buddha”) Kung Fu. The style is characterized by extensive external force training, diagonal stances, and long-reaching arm movements. Its forte is fighting multiple opponents, especially if they are of low level, which is a boon during times of war and rebellion. A characteristic strategy of a Choy Li Fatt exponent when faced with many foes is to dive right into the herd swinging their powerful arms about “like a wolf amongst sheep.”

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The External Training of Shaolin Kung Fu

Some of the most visually spectacular arts of kung fu involve people breaking things that seem pretty sturdy like bricks or poles. “Surely there’s some secret magical training involved!” I used to think, before I learnt better. The training principles are actually quite easy, it’s a matter of dedicating oneself to the correct training for years under a competent master (yes, I said years, and yes, I said you needed a competent master).

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