Conditioning is one of those weird subjects in martial arts training. A lot of people aren’t conditioned enough to actually use their arts, and a few have taken their martial conditioning perhaps several steps too far. Today’s post is a little more light-hearted in nature, and will touch on the more extreme side of martial conditioning.
Personally, I think some conditioning is probably good. If you want to be able to punch someone, you should take some time to make sure your hands and wrists are strong enough hold the hand bones in alignment. It’s probably also a good idea to spend a little time hitting things to make sure your knuckles are sturdy enough to survive the impact force of landing a punch. Does that mean I would punch a metal plate a thousand times a day a la Pan QingFu? No, I don’t depend on my fists that much. Unlike Master Pan QingFu, I’m not nearly badass (or crazy) enough to apprehend triad criminals with just my fists. I’ll also freely admit that I prefer unscarred hands that don’t attract attention in polite society.
Hypertrophy occurs when the body adapts to increased physical demands. Sprinters get big legs, mechanics get that vice-like grip, body builders get freakishly big pecs, etc. What about martial artists? Well, most of the ones I know look normal, but there are a few that overdevelop physical attributes. For example, this iron palm guy can easily smash 4 bricks with his hand. It’s a cool skill… in competition. Outside of that, his oversized right hand just puts him in the ranks of the Matthas Schlittes of the world. Having one massive arm and one normal arm just makes you look like a freak in day-to-day life.
There are some parts of the body which I question the wisdom of conditioning. The first being the head. Sure, it’s impressive to watch a Shaolin monk break iron bars with his head, but hardening the head for breaking objects perhaps is not the brightest idea. Brain tissue doesn’t like being battered into the skull and sloshing around in the noggin. Yet, that’s what will happen when you bang your head against objects (or bang objects on your head) to thicken the skull. Personally, I much prefer moving my head to dodge rather than accelerating it to strike.
The other body part where I question the usefulness of conditioning would be… well… the family jewels. Yes, believe it or not, there are people nuts enough (sorry, pun intended) to condition below the belt. Master Tu Jin-Sheng is a famous example of this crazy skill. Sure, he can pull a truck using steel cable and his junk and take kicks to the crotch with no ill effect. That’s admittedly pretty impressive. I would never try it, and I feel no shame in admitting that I don’t have the cajones to train the iron crotch skill.
That’s only a few examples of weird martial arts conditioning that I could think of. As expansive as the martial arts are, I’m sure there are plenty more examples.