The Iron Wire

At the apex of the southern Chinese Hung Ga system of kung fu is the Iron Wire form, sometimes referred to as the Iron Thread. It was created by Tit Kiu Sam, one of the legendary Ten Tigers of Canton, and its main purpose is to cultivate internal power.

The Iron Wire is practiced under controlled tension; it derives its name from the feeling one has during many sections of the form that one is stretching an imaginary cord between the hands. Each movement is carefully synchronized with the breath, and at many points in the form there are particular sounds that the practitioner must utter. These sounds are intended to direct the breath (or “chi”) to various organs and muscles. If performed incorrectly or without understanding, this combination of moving tension and controlled breathing can, in fact, cause serious harm, and as a result the form is taught only to advanced students.

Unlike most of the other forms in the system, which are essentially dictionaries of fighting skills and techniques, the Iron Wire doesn’t move around the floor very much. Instead, the set emphasizes opening and closing, rising and sinking, and transitions between “hard” and “soft”. Above all, one learns to cultivate, even during the most demanding moments of the form, an open “core”, a clear and relaxed center for the free motion of the breath, which is absolutely essential for the development and control of internal power. Perhaps even more beneficial is the way the form forces the practitioner to turn the attention inward, to become aware of the state of one’s own body, and the interplay of its parts. The student simply cannot practice this form effectively without being fully “in the moment”, and is lifted, however briefly, from the waking sleep in which most of us pass our days.

The Iron Wire, though exceptionally demanding, is also peculiarly energizing. After practicing it, as I have made a habit lately of doing first thing in the morning, one feels sharply invigorated, as though each of one’s cells had been briskly massaged.

The great Hung Ga grandmaster Lam Sai Wing published a book describing this form; if you are interested you can find it online here. I’ll say it again, though – you have to work your way up to this one, and it’s not the sort of thing you can learn from a book. You can really hurt yourself doing this the wrong way.

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