Iron palm training, also sometimes called “iron hand” training, is a system of hand conditioning used by martial artists to develop toughness in their hands and the ability to deliver powerful strikes. Iron palm training takes months and years of dedicated training under the guidance of a qualified instructor, and care must be taken to ensure that the student does not try to progress too quickly as doing so could result in injury.
A skilled practitioner will be able to break bricks and concrete slabs with ease. By the same token, he will be able to do significant damage to an enemy with a strike. Some advanced practitioners have such a developed control of their power that they can break a single selected brick in a stack of bricks. This ability translates to being able to do internal damage to your opponent in a fight. Of course, this ability requires dedicated training.
That same ability allows the hands to absorb damage without injury. A kung fu student with these abilities can block powerful punches from his opponent using his hands and not suffer injury.
Most palm training regimens require the use of dit da jow, a topical liniment, or some other type of liniment to help protect and heal the hands during and after training sessions. Since training takes place every day, the hands must be fully healed before the next training session occurs. Dit da jow helps to facilitate healing.
Training begins by dropping the hand onto a bag (usually canvas) filled with mung beans, which is supported at waist height on a table or stand. Mung beans are solid but not too hard and provides a good amount of resistance for the beginner. After months/years of training, the second level is done with a bag full of gravel, which is harder and provides higher levels of conditioning. When the student has become advanced a bag full of steel shot may be used. This is optional and is not required to have a high level of skill, but steel shot is even harder than gravel.
It is important that the hand is dropped onto the bag rather than striking with muscular force. Letting gravity guide the fall will provide enough impact that conditioning can be achieved without injuring the hand. The reps should be low at the beginning and slowly increased over time. As with any conditioning method, attempting to go too quickly is worse than attempting to go too slowly.
The necessary areas of the hand are struck (depending on the person/style/goals, this could be the palm, back of the palm, knife edge, fist, hammer fist, knuckles, and sometimes fingertips).
After the appropriate amount of strikes, the student then begins the healing part of training, including massage, dit da jow application, and qigong. The amount of time spent on this portion of training should be at least as long as the time spent on the striking. It is important that the body be allowed to heal before the next training session. Work the jow into the palms, fingers, and any other area that was conditioned, and then spend at least 5-10 minutes massaging the hand (with your other hand) and then switch.
Consistency is key. Contrary to legend, if you have to miss a day it’s no big deal. The myths about students having to train at exactly the same time every day and if they miss a day they have to start over are just legends to make everything seem really serious. Missing a day is fine. Even if you have to miss a week you are probably ok, but you may want to take it a little slow your first few days back just in case.