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The secrets of the Shaolin Steel Jacket

Shaolin Steel Jacket training, as with its counter part Iron Shirt, allows its practitioners to withstand any strike, either empty handed or with a blunt weapon (such as a baseball bat or metal bar) without sustaining any injury. At advanced levels practitioners can even witstand sharp weapon attacks, such as from a knife or sword, with little or no harm to their person. Unfortunately the idea of the 'bullet proof monk' is something of an exaggeration, but through the practice of these exercises you will truly come as close to invincibility as is possible for any human being.
There are many stages to this secret art of invincibility, and it takes at least a year to gain significant results and at least 3 years to master, but when you set your sights this high you have to expect that; there are additional health benefits to practicing this and if you put in the effort you won't be dissapointed with the near miraculous results!
Phases One and Two can be practiced either consecutively or concurrently.
If you have no experience of Chi Kung, then you should also practice the the basic qi gong exercises found on the Internal Martial Arts - Nei Kung page during this period. The more you do these exercises the more powerful your chi will become. Ideally the quite physical training of a steel jacket programme should be done alongside an iron shirt qi gong programme that concentrates more fully on cultivating, directing and using chi.
Phase One: Body  Conditioning
The first stage of training is entirely physical and involves a set of training exercises known in Kung Fu as 'conditioning'.  These exercises are designed to condition the body to be able to withstand strikes. Many systems and schools of kung fu include some kind of conditioning, but this is the only structured and comprehensive training program to condition all parts of the body, and is the one practiced by the monks of the Shaolin Temple.
The body has a remarkable ability to adapt to the situation it finds itself in; in fact, adaptation is one of the key characteristics of living organisms. If you climb to the top of a mountain or some other high place where the air is thin and the pressure low you will find that physical activity becomes very difficult; you get out of breath easily and can feel faint and lack concentration and balance. After a while, however, the body begins to adapt; physiological mechanisms within your body actually transform themselves and begin to work in new ways, and after a while you find that your body can operate pretty much as well under its new conditions as it ever could. Kung fu conditioning utilises the bodies inherent capabilities of adaptation and transformation to strenghthen it in a very specific manner so as to increase your ability to withstand physical impacts without injury.
This initial phase of the Shaolin Steel Jacket training is actually made up of four distinct stages: Superficial conditioning of the skin and subdermal fat, conditioning of the muscular tissue, deep tissue and bone conditioning, and advanced conditioning. Ordinarily a Shaolin monk would have special training equipment made specifically for this purpose; unfortunately this equipment is not available to purchase anywhere that I know of, but a suitable substitute can be made at home with very little skill or effort. All you need is about 10-20 sets of chopsticks or some similarly sized wooden dowling and some string. The best kind of chopsticks would be the thinnest ones you can find, with the smallest difference in size and shape between the two ends. Simply bunch them all together and secure them at one end with the string and/or some glue - if you use chopsticks then secure them at the thick end and leave the tapered points loose. It is important that the secured handle end is not to long, allowing some movement and seperation at the other end. This tool will be used to strike your body.
For the first stage of the conditioning process you should take hold of the handle firmly and strike yourself farily lightly with the tips of the stick. This is to cleanse and strengthen the skin. You should do this every other day for about 3 months ideally, or you can do it less often over a longer period; one rest day should always be left between sessions for the best results.You should do this hard enough to give a sharp stinging sensation but not hard enough to cause serious pain. While you are doing conditioning work try to be aware of the mild pain sensations in as abstract a manner as possible; do not respond to them by scrunching up your face or saying 'ouch' if you do it a little too hard, and try to focus your attention purely on the sensations themselves and not on your emotional response to them. It is important to keep the breathing steady as you do this - do not hold your breath as you strike. Build up the power as you get used to it. You can do this all over the whole body or concentrate on a specific area, such as the arms and torso, or shins, depending on your ultimatle goals. Be careful not to poke yourself in the eyes when you do the face.
In the second stage you should strike yourself moderately hard with the middle section of the sticks in the same manner. Concentrate on striking the muscles, and make sure you keep them relaxed as you do so. Again, build up the power as you get used to it.
In the third stage you will be striking yourself as hard as possible, cleansing and strengthening the bones.
In the final stage you should swap your chopsticks for a cluster of metal rods, or a metal bar. Start at a level which is uncomfortable without causes real pain, and again build up as you get used to it. Be careful not to injure yourself! The other exercises given here can practiced alongside or after the first couple of stages of this conditioning, but you will find them neccessary to complete before you get right up to hitting yourself hard with a metal bar, or ultimately, asking other people to hit you with it.
Phase Two: Awareness and Concentration Training
One of the most basic principles of chi kung states that the internal energy of the body, or Chi, follows the awareness of the mind, and becomes concentrated where the attention is concentrated. In an individual who has not trained in qi gong or meditation the attention is weak and easily distracted, and awareness often lacks clarity and vividity. We do not even maintain a full, vivid and even awareness of our own body. This section of the training aims to increase the connection between mind and body, train you to quieten the inner dialogue of your rational mind, raise chi energy levels and remove blockages. It should be practiced alongside the first phase of training. It is divided into three stages
Stage one: Relaxation and grounding: This is a breif preparatory meditation that can be practiced either seated or lying down. Begin by focussing your awareness on contact between your body and that which is supporting you - the floor beneath your feet and chair under you bottom, or the mattress supporting your back and legs. Allow it to take your weight fully, and feel your tension dissipating and your body relaxing as you do so. Try to hold your attention as singularly as possible on this sensation for 10 breaths. then, without letting go of this awareness, concentrate your attention also on the points of contact between different parts of your body - your closed mouth and eyelids, perhaps your hands resting on your thighs and so on. Your attention should not skip from one point of contact to another - try to maintain an even awareness of them all. After another 10 breaths extend your awareness in the same way to include all physical contact with your body - your clothes, the air against your skin and so on, and hold this for a final 10 breaths. Take a few moments to be aware of other aspects of your sensory environment - internal sensation within the body, sound and so on before gently bringing yourself out of the exercise.
The point here is to focus your attention entirely within the realm of the body and senses, without allowing sensory stimuli to trigger emotional or intellectual responses in your mind, and to increase your powers of concentration. Your mind should be as silent as possible in all extraneous ways during tis exercise. You will become distracted and get caught up in some random stream of thought, but the point is to recognise that you are doing this as soon as possible and point the awareness back to the task. If you are short of time to do all of your training this is a good one to do whiost lying in bed at night before you go to sleep.
Stage Two: Body Awareness (partial): It is best to practice the relaxation and grounding exercise before going into the body awareness so as to put yourself in a conducive state of mind; although if you have practices ths contact awareness for a while you can reduce it to 3 breaths for each part rather than ten when you do it now. In this section we will work with each part of the body one after another, beginning with the feet.
You should be bare-footed in order to do this meditation. Begin by simply running the palm of your hand up and down the sole of your foot, from heel to toes, concentrating your awareness on the sensation created by this and trying to empty your mind of all other thoughts. After a while take your hand away, but continue to 'brush' your awareness up and down the sole. Try to keep your awareness even across the whole foot, and avoid being drawn to particular places. Once you get used to this you should speed it up as fast as ou can without simply skipping from heel to toe without taking in everything between. Do this same thing across the top of the foot, and then with the other foot. While doing this kind of exercise many people experience energy sensations; these may include a 'pins and needles' kind of feeling, a light itching that feels like a spiders web brushing across your body, or occassionally a short sharp pain that feels like it is coming from the bone. Try not to be distracted by these sensations, it is just blockages being dissolveed and bloodflow and chi returning to deglected parts of the body. This same exercies should be done with the hands, the legs, the torso, the arms and the neck and head. Once you have done it with the feet and gotten used to what you are doing you can skip the physical contact part and go straight into the 'awareness brushing'.
Stage Three: Body Awareness (whole): Utilising the same principle as above we now move onto doing the whole body at once. You may find that it is best to do this exercise whilst standing. Imagine a bright sphere of light hovering just above your head, penetrating the skull at the crown, and another sphere with its centre on the floor between your feet. As you breath out imagine bright white light cascading out of the top sphere, down your body, and collecting in the sphere at your feet. Imagine it flowing down over the outside of your body and follow it with your 'body awareness' that you practiced in the previous stage. At the bottom of your breath hold for a short pause whilst concentrating your attention on the lower sphere. As you breath in imagine a column of this white light ascending directly up through the inside of your body along the central meridian, exiting through the crown of your head into the higher sphere, which you should hold your attention on for a breif pause before repeating the whole thing (at least 8 times, but the more the better).
Phase Three: Directing Internal Energy
The main exercise of this section is called 'one finger shooting zen'. In order to be able to perform this you must be able to stay in the horse riding stance for at least 2 minutes reasonably comfortably. If you have no previous training in kung fu you will need to practice the stance on its own for a month or to before moving on to the full exercise.
To perform the horse stance begin standing upright with the feet about 1.5 shoulder widths apart; keeping the back bend your knees and straight lower yourself down until  your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as close to this as you can manage. Without bending the back or neck forwards, or straightening the legs, and keeping the breathing steady, concentrate your awareness on the Dan Tien, the energy storehouse of the body which is located within your abdomen about 3 inches below the level of the navel. Hold this stance. If you are new to this you will probably find that about 30 seconds is all you can manage. Practice regularlt until you can hold this stance for at least 2 minutes. This is a good chi kung practice on its own, building the energy stored within the Dan Tien.
To perform the one finger shooting zen exercise begin by assuming the horseriding stance with the right hand held in front of your chest; the index finger should point up towards the sky, bu the other digits should be bent at the middle joint (top joint for thumb). Breath in gently through the nose and as you exhale make a gentle 'shsss' sound and move your hand out slowly until the arm is parallel to the floor, stopping just before the arm is locked out. Pull your arm in as you inhale. Do this 3 times. Then quickly shoot out your hand pointing the index finger forward and unleashing an explosive 'her-it' sound from the abdomen; do not raise your shoulder as you do this, and fully extend the arm this time. Now do the same with the left arm. Repeat as many times as you can stay in the horseriding stance for.
When doing the fast movement try to feel the energy flowing up from the Dan Tien, through the arm, and to the point of the index finger. At the end of th movement, when your arm is still outstretched, your awareness should be focused singularly on the point of your index finger. After practicing this for a while you will start to get a feeling of the energy flowing through your body to the finger; and you can tell when this is working because your finger will tingle and you may get a 'pins and needles' like feeling. If you are having trouble mastering this stage you should concetrate on doing some of the basic chi kung exercises in the Internal Martial Arts - Nei Kung section for a while, and then come back to it. When you feel that you are being successful in this practice you can move on to the next stage, which is basically an amalgamation of the body awareness exercise and the one finger shooting Zen.
You can do this sitting, standing, or in the horseriding stance; try them all and see what feels best for you. As you inhale imagine you lungs filling with chi energy - you can visualise this as white light if it helps. Force the air through your teeth on the exhale, making a 'sh' sound as you do so; imagine the chi being pushed outwards from your lungs and spreading out around the body and being pushed out to the surface, where it collects at the skin. Tense the muscless of the lower abdomen as you exhale, and try to fell the chi being pushed out of your Dan Tien towards the surface of your body. Hold an awareness of the external surface of your body throughout the exercise; imagine the chi becoming more and more denseley packed with each breath, and try to make your awareness more full, even and vivid as this happens. Imagine the chi forming a solid barrier, and try to feel yourself as if you were incased in a steel shell. You should do this immediately before doing conditioning work, and when you have some experience of this try directing the chi towards a specific area of the body, and then try doing it with just one breath - holding the same feeling you would get from a long period of this meditation in your memory and trying to force it to establish immediately through the power of your will. This will enable you to use the power of this meditation in a 'live' situation. For further training exercises see Directing Internal Energy
Phase Four: Combat Applications
The main principle of applying Steel Jacket in a combat situation is simply this - you must have no fear. There are 2 main reasons for this; the first is that what you beleive and expect to happen, or what your imagine most strongly envisages could happen, becomes, by virtue of this, more likely to actually happen than would otherwise be the case. Remember that the chi follows the awareness and is concentrated where the awareness is concentrated. Fear has a tendency to bring negative possibilities more strongly into the awareness, and thereby make them more likely. This is tru in all aspects of life, but even more so in relation to the functioning of your own body, so if you are expecting to be able to withstand the impact of a strike without being hurt you are more likely to do so than if your mind is filled with the fear of being hurt. You can think of it like this: every situation has elements of certainty and uncertainty, imagine the certain elements as dots on a page, like in the 'join the dots' drawings in childrens activity books. The uncertainty is expressed by the fact that these same dots can be joined together in a number of different ways to make different pictures. The mind is composed of a 'thinker' and a 'prover'; what the thinker thinks the prover tries to prove. This is neccessary because we have a limited capacity for awareness, and the mind tries to direct itself onto the most relevant information by selecting that which most closely conforms to what we think is the reality of the situation.  But by concentrating on and reacting to a certain eventuality the 'prover' actually serves to close down the possibilites of the situation to confrom to its expectation.  By concentrating on a particular overall picture you actually start joining up the dots that lead from the facts of the situation to that possible outcome over all others.
The second reason that you must be fearless is that in order to most effectively use your steel jacket training you should, at times, actually step into an attack knowing that it will hit you. Here are two examples of this. Firstly consider that the knuckles are intricate joints connecting some of the smaller, and therefore weaker bones of the body, whose purpose is to perform intricate tasks; the forehead, on the other hand, is comprised of a large sheet of bone whose primary function is to protect one of the body's most vital organs. It stands to reason therefore, that if you can remain in a solid stance, pushing the head into a strike rather than allowing it to be knocked back or to the side, thereby shaking the brain and possibly being knocked out (which would be the case if you are yourself moving the head away from a strike when it lands), then in an impact between a fist and a forhead the fist will always come of worse. It is also true that a person striking is generally not it the most solid, rooted and balanced stance. One of the best defenses against someone trying to punch you in the head, therefore, is to bend the knees (lowering the centre of gravity), root yourself in a solid stance, and headbutt the fist.  Remember also that you cannot get punched on the nose, or lips or somewhere nasty like that, as long as you are being punched on the forhead. You can even deflect the punch to the side with a twisting motion of the neck.
Another example is the roundhouse kick. The simple physics of levers tells us that such a kick has the greatest force at the end of the limb - the foot. If you have the confidence of not getting hurt that comes from steel jacket training then rather than blocking such a kick with the arm, or trying to avoid it, the best defense against such a strike is to step forwards into it, with the intention of connecting closer to the thigh, were the force is smallest, rather than the shin or foot, were it is greatest.
I wish you good luck with your training.

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