Scams Part 2: Fake Iron Body

Iron body is another area where people seems to enjoy chalking their abilities up to mystic power rather than what they usually are: physical conditioning, body mechanics, and physics.

Just for clarification, it is possible to develop the body to take blows without receiving as much damage as an unconditioned body would take. Problems arise when people try to blame this conditioning on qi to make it look like they have mystical powers.

Here are some commonly seen iron body demonstrations, and what you should look out for:

The trick:
Breaking long rods on the forearms, abs, back, or legs.

Why it’s less than honest:
A common setup is the guy assumes a stance, sticks his arm out, and another guy breaks a long rod over his outstretched arm. While some conditioning is involved, this is primarily a physics trick. If you notice, the rod is always broken well before the middle, close to the hands of the guy swinging it. This means that the part of the rod that hits the guy’s arm is not swinging very fast compared to the tip of the rod, and the momentum of the tip of the rod causes it to break on impact. The longer the rod, the easier this break.

How to make it legit:
Stop using physics. Then again, if you were to hit it closer to the end of the rod it would probably break the guy’s arm because the closer you get toward the end, the faster the rod is moving, so don’t try that. Just be aware that it’s not some super mystical power that is causing the rod to break, but is instead a bit of physical conditioning combined with physics.

The trick:
Taking strong blows to the abdomen and saying that qi is protecting you.

Why it’s less than honest:
In most of these demonstrations, the iron body guy is flexing the abs (and often every other muscle in the body, too) at the moment of impact. Ironically, that is the correct way to take a blow and absorb impact; it just has nothing to do with qi. There are some pretty impressive demos of this out there. Sometimes iron body practitioners will call people up from the audience and let them hit them in the abdomen as hard as they can. Other people will even take a sledgehammer blow to the body. This is a trick of physical conditioning, but it has nothing to do with qigong, qi, chi, or any other mystical energy. Don’t misunderstand; the conditioning is impressive. Can you take a sledgehammer blow to the abs? I didn’t think so. The problem with this demonstration, however, is that they usually attribute it to qi, or some other mystic energy. The guy gets up there, does his qigong warmup exercises, “directs his qi to his dan tien,” and then takes the blow. What is actually happening is he is just absorbing the blow by tensing his abdominal muscles. There’s nothing mystical about it. For whatever reason, they want you to think they’re using mystical power that the mere mortals in the audience do not possess. Houdini could do this same feat, taking full power shots from anyone who challenged him; there was no qigong involved at all!

How to make it legit:
Have them stop the blow with their qi and without flexing their abs. Actually, don’t do that, because that would mean a trip to the ER. So just for clarification, the physical conditioning on this one is real, and often impressive, but there’s nothing mystical about it. I have no idea why they have to try and bring qi into the explanation rather than explain it for what it is: impressive physical conditioning.

Besides, what good is being able to stop attacks with your qi if it takes you 60 seconds to warm up first and direct the qi into that area. Are you going tell the attacker “hold on, don’t punch me in the gut yet!”?

It is possible to physically condition the body to a high level such that powerful strikes can be absorbed without much damage or injury, and this may even be useful in a combat situation. And there’s no problem with giving demonstrations of this ability, either. The problem is taking something that is entirely a function of physical conditioning and physics and trying to blame it on qi.

Continue reading part 3, fake qigong, or part 1, fake iron palm.