Although small, our ligaments and tendons play an essential role in keeping our body connected and strong. While people often refer to the muscles as our source of strength, the connective tissues in the body are equally important. Indeed, no feat of power or athleticism is possible without them. In ancient China, martial artists understood this and sought to strengthen not just their muscles, but also their ligaments and tendons. Their practices were known as Iron Shirt Qi Gong and were originally designed for the battlefield. However, in addition to helping defeat military opponents, these practices were also used to nurture health and vitality. This blog post will discuss how Iron Shirt Qi Gong can be used to strengthen your connective tissues to cultivate strength and good health.

The Importance of Ligaments and Tendons 

When athletes suffer debilitating injuries, it is often the result of a torn ligament or tendon. Anyone who’s suffered such an incident knows that it’s extremely painful and leaves a part of your body nearly immobile until it’s healed. Physicians will explain that tendons are the tissues that connect muscles to bone, and ligaments are those that connect various bones with one another. Sometimes, these tissues also connect other important parts of the body such as eyes or organs.  

Wherever you have a joint in your body, you also have tendons and ligaments to connect the surrounding muscles and bones. When it comes time to engage your joints for movement, these tissues are what allow an activity to occur. For example, when you flex your arm muscles to pick up a heavy bag, your ligaments and tendons work behind the scenes to allow your muscles to pull on your bones so movement can occur. Therefore, even though someone may look at you and say “WOW, look at those muscles” what they also mean is “WOW, look at those tendons and ligaments!” 

The importance of tendons and ligaments is more obvious in feats of fine motor skills or balance. A clear example is rock climbing. When a climber grabs a small piece of rock with their fingertips, it is their tendons and ligaments that are doing most of the work. Similarly, when you stand on one foot, it is your tendons and ligaments that are helping you to stay balanced. In everyday life, these connective tissues are constantly at work to help all parts of your body to work smoothly and coherently.

While the mechanical importance of ligaments and tendons is clear, they also have essential energetic qualities. When it comes to Qi, ligaments and tendons are like superconductors that allow energy to flow throughout the body. Additionally, the impressive strength of their tiny fibers also reflects the immense power that they contain. Each tendon and ligament has the potential to hold and transmit an abundance and vital Qi throughout the body. Therefore, as Qi Gong practitioners, we see a lot of potential in working with these parts of ourselves.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong

In Qi Gong, cultivating any part of ourselves leads to the cultivation of our entire being. Although Taoist Sages identified three different kinds of Qi Gong — martial, medical, and spiritual — they also recognized how each of these can be used to benefit the other two. While Iron Shirt Qi Gong is a martial practice, its positive qualities are as far-reaching as they are powerful. 

Part of Iron Shirt Qi Gong focuses on building strength throughout the tendons and ligaments. By bringing our attention to these parts of ourselves we can both learn how to cultivate vitality as well as bring better circulation throughout the body. Some of these practices work with activation techniques to awaken the Qi, and others use flowing movements to direct the energy through the meridians. Another central part of Iron Shirt is postures.

Not only does working with the connective tissues increase the health of your joints, but it also allows you to experience greater energy. When your tendons and ligaments are vital and healthy, it’s easier to feel fully awake and energized in your mind and emotions. These qualities make Iron Shirt an excellent practice for anyone dealing with fatigue or tiredness. 

An increase in the circulation of Qi has a multitude of benefits for your entire being. Many ailments and illnesses develop when stagnations occur in various parts of the body. Joints are one place where stagnation can happen, so working with the connective tissues is an excellent way to help ensure that your meridian pathways stay open and flowing. 

At Holden QiGong, we’ve put together a special, prerecorded workshop series called Iron Shirt Qi Gong.

Iron Shirt Qi Gong has three parts, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the ancient practice. Part II covers many of the exercises discussed in this blog post.

Click on the banner below to learn more or sign up today.