Hate mail from other Tai Chi teachers.

A little while ago I was cleaning out some of the old spam comments on our Tai Chi site and stumbled across this nice piece of criticism we received from an Internet Tai Chi Guru back in 2009.

This was right after we started talking very publicly about the Iron Body training in Tai Chi.

This letter is a great example of the more common myths and misconceptions about Iron Body training.

Sifu Clear,
Grandmaster Chen Xiaowang, whose family created tai chi, was asked one day if the Chen family practiced Iron Shirt. I was there. He replied, “Iron Shirt good for demonstration, not for fighting.”

If you read the book, American Shaolin, about the young American who studied for 2 years at the Shaolin Temple, you’ll find that the monks who do the miraculous feats of chi like breaking ice blocks with their heads or concrete with their hands are all crippled by the time they reach middle age. The guys who use their heads to break things have huge knots on their heads and talk in stutters.

You are leading students down the wrong path. Tai Chi depends on good body mechanics, not fantasy. You can’t fool physics, and the human body will be hurt by force. A silly slap on the chest with a forearm is far different from a blow from a motivated attacker.

If you or any of your students have attained real powers doing this, I encourage you to stand in front of an MMA fighter and let him hit you anywhere he wants — maybe the nose. Then let’s see how your chi dispersal myth protects you.

[Name removed to protect the misguided]

The most common misconception about Iron Body training is that there’s only one type.

The term Iron Shirt is most commonly associated with the external Iron Body methods used by Shaolin performers for demonstration. If that’s the type of Iron Body that Master Chen was referring to in his quote I absolutely agree with him.

..but the teacher who wrote this email seems to have missed that distinction. He goes on to describe examples of external iron body taken to horrible extremes.

I’ve met highly skilled Iron Body specialists who say that this is a mischaracterization and is not representative of external Iron Body done properly (much less internal Iron Body.)

After all, Tai Chi is an internal system and so by definition any Tai Chi Iron Body methods would have to be internal and not external.

Now this teacher goes on to say, “Tai Chi depends on good body mechanics, not fantasy.”

Well, one of the core body mechanics of Tai Chi that is emphasized quite heavily in Chen Style is Silk Reeling.

Silk Reeling is essentially a method for running spirals through the body. It’s no coincidence that this same spiralling as at the heart of many muscle tendon changing methods.

Many external/internal kung fu systems exploit this principle for its iron body effects by pushing it to extremes. It’s also a key component in the Kuntao Silat Iron Body method that we talked about a few days ago.

Tai Chi uses this principle in much more balanced ways. In Chen style it’s the most obvious. Yang and Wu style use it constantly, but it’s done very softly and subtly so that it’s typically invisible to the average person.

…but that’s just one principle and only one type of Iron.

As we discussed a few days ago, The Golden Bell method taught in the Tai Chi Iron Body DVDs is different altogether.

A massive part of Tai Chi education is understanding force and how to control it inside the body.

How to deliver a lot of power of course,

…but also how to take a serious hit and neutralize it, dissipate it or send it back to the person hitting you without taking any damage yourself.

I wouldn’t expect your run of the mill Tai Chi teacher to know this, but any of the prominent teachers out there should be able to rattle off a bunch of ways Tai Chi produces Internal Iron (and most can.)

In his last two paragraphs this guy falls victim to two very common misconception that are usually only present in folks who have not trained with many internal martial artists before.

That external stylists hit harder
That we don’t hit each other in training

We work with a lot of folks with many different backgrounds, internal and external.

There are plenty of external folks who hit hard, but the internal folks I’ve met are consistently more powerful. Their strikes penetrate much deeper and suck much more to receive.

How do I know this?

Because we do a whole lot of drills where you stand in front of someone and let them hit you wherever they want while you practice neutralizing, redirecting or dissipating the force of their strikes.

I understand why someone who’s only been to a couple bad Tai Chi schools — and looked no further — would have these misconceptions. But in today’s world a quick internet search will find a bunch of internal guys who train with contact and power.

…and of course anyone who’s taken the time to become a prominent teacher in the field will have met a bunch of folks who train this way over the years (and probably should have done a bunch of this themselves.)

Anyway, help us dispel these myths by practicing your Tai Chi Iron Body. Become an example of the results Tai Chi can deliver.


  1. I don’t know iron body from iron ore or ironing, but I think you made a good post, Ben. While the teacher who wrote Richard is correct to say that tai chi depends on good body mechanics, it is odd that he stops there and seems to think that anything else is fantasy. In regard to his quoting Chen Xiaowang, the Chen family is very big on the concept of qi, so why the teacher’s email would stop at body mechanics is odd.

    Still, his last point would appear to have some validity. Richard is very public about his demonstrations, with lots of fajin and even showing no-touch internal dim mak effects in one, but after watching many scores of Richard’s videos on Youtube, I have not seen one where he demonstrates iron body in a way that would be similar to his other demonstrations in intensity. Some teachers refuse to do demonstrations, even though they are of high ability, while some are okay with doing demonstrations.

    The greatest internal artist I have ever met said his teacher (who had been involved in challenge matches) taught him a few different iron body methods. When he asked his teacher why he learned more than one (didn’t they work?), his teacher said, “I didn’t try to get hit!”

    The teacher’s email to Richard does not seem like hate mail to my eye. He has a different opinion than Richard, perhaps due to lack of knowledge, and Richard could simply explain to him why he is incorrect (as he can to me). I am not familiar with Richard’s specific claims for his iron body program, though he does seem to suggest it to be quite effective. Others I have met or read who do some form of iron body consider it an aid, not a suit of armor. It would be interesting to know how Richard views his iron body program in this regard. I have great respect for Richard, and think he is one of the top publicly teaching taichi people on the planet, but we always need to welcome our critics, as annoying as they can be — and as I can be : )

    • Yep, not only does Tai Chi depend on good body mechanics, but the Iron Body that comes from Tai Chi practice requires good body mechanics as well.

      Internal Iron Body has a number of benefits. The ability to take hits is what most folks are interested in but it’s definitely not the primary purpose of training.

      First and foremost this training provides a lot of health, longevity and internal Power benefits.

      Second, The Internal Iron Body Training also comes directly from core Tai Chi principles. It is critical in helping someone fully understand these principles and build a foundation for intermediate and advanced skills.

      Third, being able to take a hit is very nice and it’s a great way to check and see if these principles are being trained properly. If someone’s Internal Iron is severely lacking or has major holes then that points to major flaws in the foundation of their Tai chi.

  2. Neill Payne says

    It just goes to show what happens when someone ass-u-mes. 😉

    Just keep up the good work and thank you for all the time and effort you expend on the videos.

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