Burning palm

Burning palm, part of the Tibetan White Crane   

A tradition of training the hand giving the practitioner a weapon that was capable of causing intense deep pain to any part of the opponent slapped.  This would be in line with other practices such as “iron palm”  developed and used in the same manor.

Grandmaster Ku Yu Cheung, Iron palm master

As the story goes, a Russian circus strongman had a wild Siberian horse (probably a “prezywlaski” breed) that was trained to fight, and the man was challenging all comers to accept the match between anyone who could “tame”, or beat the horse. There was a reward, of course, but that was not Master Ku’s motivation, however. The reason he accepted the challenge was because other masters and their students were being beat up by the horse quite badly, acquiring some serious injuries. Ku wanted to end the shame of his colleagues, so he accepted the challenge himself.

When Ku got into the ring with the horse, he got kicked several times, but he received no injuries at all, due to his internal iron body skill (gold bell, i.e. iron shirt). Ku then managed to slap the horse with one palm slap. The horse gave out a loud whinny and dropped dead with blood coming out of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and died instantly. An autopsy was performed and they found out that the horse had died of internal massive bleeding, due to ruptured blood vessels and organs, yet there was no sign or external mark of any injury on the outside of the horse’s body.”

People often ask about such training as to whether they were just stories or events that actually happened.

In the Lama Hop gar system as Mike taught it the burning palm was not something that  all students would be able to learn until a solid foundation was established.  All students would feel the effects as part of a general conditioning process that would include cutting arm and 3 star practice, testing of punches and kicks directly on the students as they did their 20 min horse stance training after a 1 mile run and some light stretching.

This testing was thought to toughen the students indirectly building what was called “iron body” and allowing them to feel increasing  levels of impact under some what controlled conditions.

All of which was designed to toughen and condition the body to be impervious to pain and allow those training it to understand the development level of their training.

The testing while done in a light hearted way,  was very serious and used just enough force to test with out damaging the students.

This being a fighting gym,   pain  was addressed  accepted and expected. To be able to give pain one must first understand and endure it.


Burning palm was tested in a couple of different ways.

Statically and dynamically.

US Phone book

The static test was done using a US phone book  was placed against the chest of a student and slapped.  The pain felt had 2 stages, one from the initial impact which would provide an initial shock followed by a secondary feeling which produced a numbing pain that seemed to grow and travel from the original impact site to spread through out the body.

When the phone book was removed a red palm print could be seen apparently from  broken blood vessels,  this would take a couple of days to fade away.  It was thought by placing the phone between ones body and the one testing the palm any inner damages caused by this would be mitigated.

Dynamically,  Mike expressed it best.

“The force of qi, an integral feature of the burning hand, is one of those things you need to experience in order to really get the idea. You can watch a gongfu master send a student sailing through the air, but there is a part of you that figures it’s either a trick, or there is an explanation that isn’t going to boil down some mysterious, unexplained force. And yet…
My first White Crane teacher was a character of sorts. He was short and stocky, always wore a silk Chinese vest, and spoke with a kind of Pidgin English I too would adopt for some odd reason. He fancied himself a race-car driver, though no one really knew what that was about, and, so he said, an expert cha-cha dancer (it was a Hong Kong thing).

He would make appearances during our workouts, gathering the students around him to demonstrate various techniques.

One of us…mostly me…would serve as the attacker and he would demonstrate how to do this or that.

As we practice it, White Crane was a predominantly “long arm” style of gongfu that called for a healthy program of forearm training. We all worked diligently a hitting, smacking, and generally abusing our forearms so that they could take the abuse of sparring.

Indeed, I was one of the more fanatical forearm trainers, able to bring tears to the eyes of those working the “three-point-hit” exercises where babies would cry, women would scream, and forearms would turn to mush.
And so it was that during one of Mr. Long’s demonstrations, I lined myself up in a typical attack position, then came barreling in with a punch aimed at Mr. Long’s nose.

At the time, Mr. Long was mostly talking as I was coming in with my punch. He wasn’t paying much attention to me, and as a result, he deflected my punch by “slapping” my forearm away a bit too hard.

The “Burning Hand,” was Mr. Long’s signature technique, and he was quite open about teaching it those who wanted to learn it. It was an “internal” specialty, different from “external” pushing power. More a slap than a hit, Mr. Long would sometimes place a phone book on your shoulder and give it one of those “slaps.”

You could feel two things coming through the phone book. The first was a push (the external component) that would set you back a foot or two. That was to be expected, but it wasn’t anything to worry about. It was the second thing that was nasty… a sharp, stinging sensation that penetrated your shoulder.

This second force seemed to follow the more external, first force. It seemed to lag behind. But the external force was then gone in an instant, while the stinging second force stayed — and grew. “

Mike Staples

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