Scams Part 1: Fake Iron Palm

With anything, there are always some people who want to pass off their abilities as greater than they are, often without having put in much (or any) work, and in kung fu the fields of iron palm and iron body skills are no exceptions.

Chances are good that some of the demos you have seen have been less than honest. In fact, some iron palm and iron body demos are little more than sleight of hand parlor tricks designed to impress audiences and make the practitioner appear to have an air of mysticism. During demonstrations, many people will mention that they are somehow using qi to perform the break, or that they are moving their qi into their palms or something, and tell the audience that that is why they are able to perform the break. The truth is that many of these breaks are simply the result of physical conditioning, proper body mechanics, and sometimes sleight of hand and/or parlor tricks, and have nothing to with “qi” at all! The performer usually just wants people to think he has some special power, hence the whole mention of qi. Here are some tips to help separate the stage tricks from the legit demonstrations:

The trick:
Breaking bricks on the edge of a stair or step.

Why it’s less than honest:
In this parlor trick, the practitioner holds the brick on the edge of a step with one hand and slaps it with his other hand. What is actually happening is he is slightly lifting the brick a split second before his hand hits it. The brick breaks because of its impact with the edge of the step, not from a legit palm strike.

How to make it legit:
Make sure he breaks it on a flat surface.

The trick:
Breaking multiple bricks/blocks/boards/concrete slabs with spacers between them.

Why it’s less than honest:
When spacers are used, the martial artist has to break the first brick, and then the rest get some “help” breaking from the impact of the first brick pressing down on them. This isn’t a total scam, because the top brick must still be broken which does in fact require some conditioning and skill, but using spacers is substantially easier than not using spacers. The only reason people use spacers is so they can say “hey, watch me break 10 bricks!” because it sounds cool. They couldn’t break 10 bricks without spacers.

How to make it legit:
Make sure there are no spacers between the materials being broken.

The trick:
Using body weight and momentum to break the brick(s).

Why it’s less than honest:
There is nothing necessarily wrong with this type of break in and of itself. As with most breaks, this also requires some degree of physical conditioning. However, when the practitioner is trying to pass it off as “qi power” or something along those lines, let’s be real: are the bricks breaking because of your qi, or are the bricks breaking because you jumped up in the air and came down on them leaning forward with all your body weight?

How to make it legit:
Either don’t attribute the break to qi, or don’t use your body weight to perform the break. It can still be an impressive break without trying to explain it away as mystic qi power.

These are the three most common iron palm scams. Keep these in mind next time you see a demonstration before you allow yourself to be impressed.

Continue on to part 2, fake iron body.