I would advise some training in jing would be acceptable in the beginning. It does help the mind know where it is trying to get to. Previews can be big helps, no matter the skill level of MA. It's true it won't be as effective, as when you're more skilled, but the body can be allowed to start to get used to what it will one day do. That's how I would teach it. The basics are necessary, but previews can help drive a student to better study when they're excited about a particular goal, as long as that is never the end goal.
I"m for the 3 main sources of material, as in any MA: Live person teacher, book and video. Hands on experience with someone you can interact with, the ideas of others, so that you don't fall into a cult view trap of the art and another source from someone else for seeing how certain things are done. Youtube is great for this and many here know this, given the number of links that link to videos.
But, there is a level of training, MA, iron palm, whatever, that is often overlooked that is the 4th source. It gets to a certain point and then, it just stops. That point is consciousness work. You will hear again and again how training to be reflexive is good with a little bit of thought here and there. You hear about people saying to the cops 'I don't know how many times I hit him, talk to the doc in the ER seeing him'. Yes, that's good and is a fine goal, but it is still not a top goal of consciousness work that should be aimed for.
What is not often told of is the merger of the conscious and subconscious minds. Some don't speak of this because their student has progressed that far, but a lot don't because they just think that reflexive thinking for fighting is a good stopping point.
I can tell you it is not. After merging the consicous with the subconscious minds to a certain degree and having that merger all the time, simple reflexive fighting is an abhorently pitiful excuse for a level to stop at and there is no way you will want to go back to simple reflexive fighting.
For the martial aspect of fighting, there is just so many benefits that I can run off a list of them right now and there would still be donzens more that are useful when you go from possible scenario to possible scenario.
The way to do it is being more aware of your unconscious processes. Yes, this is often done in pretty much all fight training (survival or sport), but what I often see is that it's mostly just superficial touching upon in lessons. The focus on it is so small, it'd be like teaching a child only part of the grammer of their native language. The part you give them is barely enough to get by in everyday life.
The important point is that you believe, right now that there is a no difference between your consicous mind and subconscious mind. That you are consciously aware of it, regardless if you are picking up on thoughts that say that it isn't possible or that it hasn't happened yet. These you must ignore until they no longer exist.
There was a website that gave lessons on kundalini yoga. There was like 24 lessons or something. From my own experience, they do know what they are talking about and the lessons are free, so it's an added bonus. I forget if they're still around, probably are though. Anyway, a lot of what they talk about is a big help on bridging the divide between the conscious and the subconscious and being aware of the singals sent to your brain from your body. And doing so is an extremely big help with iron palm and with MA in general. I had years of energy work experience before I had even started my own kundalini and had long since before it I had started already bridging the gap between my conscious and unconscious minds. I can speak from experience that kundalini does help.
The point about bridging the gap is that the subconscious does pick up on cues from the environment that the conscious mind won't pick up and being consciously aware of them infinitely increaases your proficiency in MA. If you think the conscious mind can hold tons of information in memory, the subconscious is multiple supercomputers worth and it is avavilable to you instantly. It's like your mind is hooked up to a computer. It is such a great feeling. In everyday life, your brain power increases dramatically and you don't even need to have a brain scan to know that. You can feel it. Your brain is in the fast lane pretty much all the time that every part of your mind is enhanced. Things that help stimulate thought processes make this go even further and there isn't any kind of burnout factor involved. My words aren't adequately describing the full extent this means.
You see the level of work you do when fighting reflexively and it's over in a split second. Imagine what it would be like, if you were consciously aware of eveything you were doing and could easily recall it afterwards. The stronger and larger the bridge is, the better your fighting becomes, either defense or offense. You will also be far better off than most other people that stop at thinking that reflexive fighting is the top because while they are reacting, you are reacting AND thinking far much more than others.
The subconsious mind is extremely powerful, able to control and regulate all the cells and functions of the body. Having more conscious control of the subconscious mind allows for mental control of how all the cells of your body react to conscious thought, which aids in many things, such as all facits of health, from the immune system to helping to stimulate how you react to certian stimuli, making quicker advancements in things, like stretching, being more aware of sensory inputs for balance and angles to deliver maximum effort necessary at the right angle and at the right spot and also with energy work development, which is very important in iron palm/chest/leg/spit/etc.
I have tried some physical conditioning for iron palm, but I have a preference to the energy development side of it. My personal preference is that, while many do advocate physical conditioning, you're taking a big chance because of the risk of nerve/muscle/bone damage. They say that there was bone breaking done in olden times to strengthen the hands for iron palm and the other bones for iron shirt/etc. and that's just insane to me. I'm also biased to energetic development because of how fast I developed.
What I've found is that if you're naturally strong enough energetically, physical conditioning for iron palm/shirt becomes more and more meaningless.
Also, I had a nervo-musclular injury a few years ago and I got into reiki, so I had put in a lot of effort/energy into making my hands/wrists well. For anyone interested in iron palm/shirt, becoming attuned in reiki is a big help given how strong the energy is.
I've seen some people giving pointers on punches, where they say your arm should be relaxed, which is fine, but then, they say that when you're about to make contact, to add some more tension in your muscles, such as the fist. And they don't make the distinction that it's just for learning the movements and then, you use less and less tension, as you go on. It's good when your punching a person, but with better energy development, and with iron palm, it isn't that good.
Take a lesson from the drunk driver survivors of the world. When they are drunk enough, their muscles don't get tense when they crash their cars. Like flowing water, they will surround their steering wheel and bounce back. When they get out, they have only a minor injury a lot of the time.
The more self-control you can exert on your body, especially on the wrist/hand areas, the more you can relax the soft tissue. This will make your bones and soft tissue "wrap around itself".
For a finger strike with all four fingers together, it takes very little energy and they shouldn't be tight together...just lightly touching, but pretty much no space in-between the digits. The thumb can hang loosely by the side and out a little. For a 2 finger strike, the pads of the ring and pinkie finger don't have to touch the palm. It's enough to just have the fingers bent at the middle knuckle, so the tips of those 2 fingers are pointing back at you. Again, the fingers are only lightly touching.
For the thumb in the 4 and 2 finger strikes and the ring and pinkie in the 2 finger strike, keeping the thumb and the ring and pinkie fingers loose will let them "wrap around" anything that happens to run into it. The compression of the soft tissue of the ligaments and muscles and skin will happen and then, rebound.
For palm strikes, it's the same thing. The wrist is bent back, but there is little tension in the muscles...just enough to keep the wrist bent. Most of the muscles of the hand can be kept very loose. The fingers are slightly bent with only enough tension to bend the digits, so the fingers and the other parts of your hand can wrap around anything they run into to the limit damage.
Now, when I had my nervo-muscular injury and I used my reiki to get it back into shape and that helped advanced that are of me in particular for iron palm.
The same ability to direct energy out of yourself for energy healing can let you direct it out of someone else from a distance. I'm not talking about any empty force work. That's pushing. I'm speaking about sending someone's energy out of them to make them winded or even unconscious or dead. It can happen, but it depends on your skill level (how much you can move at one time in any given second -- similar the empty force, but the technique is different and requires less skill to perform on a regular basis). Another part of the energy development track is increasing your skill in removing the energy of solid objects, making them more brittle and easier to destroy. This will cause less damage to your material body parts and make you look like a destruction God. How far you go is limited to you. The same energy in you is what's in inorganic materials. Humans are biochemical machines, which use both organic and inorganic pieces for survival. Giving healing energy strengthens the overall energy field of the creature. The reverse is just sapping it away, though I have never heard of any dim mak lessons that even touch on this, while talking mainly about using chi on the meridians. The same chi that helps keep the atoms of your body together, helps to keep the atoms of a piece of stone together. The more you take, the more brittle it becomes, though I'd advise against drawing it into yourself. The Earth is a good place, unless it's a life or death situation and you need a "recharge". A good cleansing is recommended with that. Bathing in epsom salts, showering, etc. As a naturally empathic person, taking in someone else's vibrations isn't pleasant. It's often down right disturbing.
Just for completeness sake, if you're gonna recharge, recharge the dan tien. Don't just have it floating around your body. Visualize it going into your subnaval dan tien, like you would with energy raising exercises. There's such a huge focus on the subnaval dan tien for charging in IMA that you should just use the familiarity you've developed in your practicing. This familiarity will let you do more reflexive energy work than thinking 'all right, it's floating in my arm, now I gotta move it to my right leg to block this kick to my knee' and you can get back to working on saving your life.
If you want to ignore 'energy sapping' go with energy changing. Imagine that someone/something's energy level is not regular, but just very very weak. So weak that you can easily and effortlessly break through it. You could call this the opposite of a 'dragonball Z power flare up', if you wanted to use a visual from manga. But, bare in mind, I haven't used this technique in a fight. It's only theory at this point. I came up with the idea based on the fact that one day I was feeling sluggish when I woke up. Then, I imagined my 'aura' was super powerful and I instantly perked up and was back to my full of energy self all day long and had a very keen focus. If you were to practice this, just imagine that the energy of the aura has gone down, like when you turn down the strength of a fire and you shouldn't worry about 'well, where is the energy going'. The important thing to think about is that the energy is so very low. Think of it as a variation of using 4 ounces to move a thousand pounds.
When it comes to training without a teacher, I'd recommend Mantak Chia's Iron Shirt. Some don't like his work, but my experience says he knows what he's talking about. There are many ways to stream line the exercises in the series, but it's still excellent.
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