(NOTE: This post is about one of the 72 special skills of martial artists. The iron crotch exercise is one of the 36 hard qigong [硬氣功, yìng qigōng] external strengthening exercises [外壮功, wài zhuàng gōng])
In a previous post on ballbusts and what you can do to protect yourself, we discussed why apart from attacks to the head, the men’s genitals are another easy and effective target. In that post, we mentioned that one of the things that you can do to protect your testicles apart from familiarizing yourself with the risk factors for groin attacks, is to do the iron crotch exercises, which will be discussed in more detail here.
What is iron crotch?
The iron crotch exercise is an exercise (or rather a series of exercises) aimed to make the crotch as strong as iron, i.e. to make this vulnerable area in a man’s anatomy resistant to impact from kicks and knee butts. This is done primarily by stimulating tissue blood flow, flexibility, as well as resilience in the area by gradually increasing levels of stimulation. A side effect of this resilience training for the testicles, is that it increases the testicles’ twofold physiological function, namely (1) spermatogenesis (improving sperm count) and (2) testosterone production. It also helps to ensure good blood flow not only to the testicles, but also to the penis, which is why sometimes this type of training is promoted as a means to make it easier getting and keeping erections.
Another name for this skill is the “metal/golden cicada exercise” （金蝉功, jīnchán gōng), which is probably named as such because the exercises makes those vulnerable things the size of cicada’s as strong as metal, or maybe because it is an exercise for some things the size of cicadas, and which are as precious as gold to their owner.
Likewise, the name “iron eggs” (铁蛋功, tiě dān gōng) is sometimes used, without a doubt because the shape of eggs and testicles are similar. (We also see this link between eggs and testicles in other languages, such as in German. In the German language there is an expression “Voll in die Eier” which literally means “Full force in the eggs” and which refers to being struck straight in the testicles.)
Another funky Chinese name for the iron crotch skill can be translated as “door to the crotch exercise” (门档功, mén dāng gōng) and is named as such for who knows what reason. Probably because the legs when spread look or serve like a door that make the male crotch an easy target.
How to train iron crotch
So how do you make those avocados more resilient? Generally there are three types of exercises: preparatory exercises, then there are exercises involving actual stimulation of the crotch, and finally there are some concluding exercises.
STEP 1: PREPARATORY EXERCISES
Combined with guided perception of bodily sensations, the preparatory exercises, indirectly affect testicular function by increasing bloodflow to the pelvic region.
Start with focusing on bodily sensations and mentally guiding these sensations along your front midline (the Conception Vessel meridian), particularly from the solar plexus (the Zhongting acupuncture point) to the belly button (the Shenque acupuncture point) for 10 minutes until you feel sensations in your testicles (in Chinese this is referred to as ‘qi arriving’ in the pelvis and testicles).
Apply this attentional focus to body sensations along the midline during the following preparatory massage techniques. :
(a) kneading the abdomen with the force of both hands from the foramen in a straight line downward to the pubic bone,
(丹田静气贯长虹：”The dantian calm with the qi stringing together in a long rainbow”)
(b) kneading with two hands apart on the bottom of the ribs moving down and outward to the inguinal folds.
(源阴阳八卦畅通：”the source of yin and yang and the eight trigrams flows freely”)
(c) kneading the stomach around the navel in a circular fashion, first clockwise, then counterclockwise. (The abdominal rotation, but without hands is also part of the exercise to withdraw the testes voluntarily, making use of the internal oblique muscles’ connection to the cremaster muscle.)
(左右逢源运太极：”to benefit from both sides by applying taiji”)
STEP 2: ACTUAL STIMULATION OF THE TESTICLES
(1) gently rolling the spermatic cord of the left and right testicle back and forth between index finger and thumb of left and right hand respectively, similar to the Western massage concept of friction. (The spermatic cords can be found at the part of the balsac closest to the body, directly above the balls.)
(巨树参天根茁壮: tremendous cultivation technique reaching high to the root for health and strength)
(2) Make a circle with index finger and thumb (like the hand gesture for “OK” if you’re from an anglo-saxon culture, the gesture for zero if you are from France, and the gesture for three if you are Chinese) to grab your junk. Use the palm of the other hand against the side of the testicle and move the palm in small circles. Switch hands to do the same to the other testicle. This probably classifies as a form of petrissage in Western massage.
(孤掌运银丹：a single palm moves the silver pellets, i.e. family jewels)
(3) Use one hand on each testicle and use your fingers to move around the balls in their sac. Push them outward, then press them up, bring them together, guide them down while releasing them, and repeat this cycle of movement.
(静炼丹三指出毒：calmly concoct pills of immortality [using] three fingers to let the poison go out)
Initially, do the above exercises 300 to 500 times per day prior to proceeding with the following more advanced techniques.
The more advanced techniques are as follows:
(4) Wrap a soft but strong textile (e.g., silk) around your testes, and if it is not long enough to almost reach the floor, hang another strong (not necessarily soft) textile, rope, or metal hook from it which almost reaches the floor. At the end near the floor, attach a very light weight. Once attached, start out with your knees bent so the weight is on the floor. Then slowly straighten the knees a bit more so the weight gets of the floor, and start swinging by moving your hips back and forth from a neutral position for upright standing to a position with the pelvis tilted forward. Both the weight, as well as the temporary restriction of blood flow increase the blood flow to the balls after this exercise.
For those interested to be able to stand shots to the groin rather than merely improving testicular function, use a regimen similar to weight training, by gradually increasing reps and sets before increasing weights. At higher levels of skill, the weight can be higher, and the testes can be used to tow a stone roller, lift another person, or even tow a truck.
Don’t relax the area too much during exercise as you may overstretch tissues. That is, unless you want to end up with a pair of testicles hanging as loose as those of Bruce Nauman in his ironic art film “bouncing balls“.
(铁裆拒敌金沙垂阳：the iron crotch withstands golden sand [bag] hanging down from the ‘yang’)
(5) Next is what in western massage is called tapotement, and more specifically pummeling, whereby the hands are loosely clenched into fists, or sometimes just open, and the left and right hand alternately pummel the left and right testicle.
(双击鼓声振云天：two sided striking drum sound resonating in the cloudy sky. Note: in chinese “clouds and rain” = ejaculation)
(A) Over time, the intensity of the tapotement of the testicles can be increased in a similar fashion to how weights are increased over time in fitness regimens. Increasing the intensity of contact is especially done for being able to withstand strikes to the groin. At higher levels of intensity the daily pummeling can be replaced by hits with a bundle of bamboo or metal wires (referred to as a “slasher”, or a “bundle hitter”), a brick, or daily kicks delivered by an assistant. In the autobiographical book American Shaolin, Matthew Polly describes an account where he observed a master do this iron crotch exercise:
“Monk Dong, naked from the waist down, had placed his testicles on a wooden desk. At regular intervals, he brought down the palm of his right hand hard on his sack. He smacked and grunted.”
Another monk described what he saw monk Dong perform as follows:
“Every morning he gets up and puts his thing and its two friends on the desk and then—WHAP! WHAP!—he smacks it with his hand. Thirty minutes every day. Think about waking up every morning to that.”
(B) Due to the testicles’ connection with nerve centers in the stomach area, especially the solar plexus, it is important to apply tapotement to your solar plexus as well. This prevents the urge for curling up into a ball and the nauseating sense that you have to vomit if you get a hard kick to the groin. In general, many plexuses are located along the midline of your body and they are connected to the testicles directly or indirectly. Therefore it serves you well to apply tapotement with increasing intensity over time along the entire midline of the front part of the body, as well as the kidney area in the back, with special focus on sensitive areas. That there are so many nerve centers along the midline of the body is probably also the reason why there is such strong emphasis on promoting qi flow along the conception vessel (midline of the front part of the body), reducing obstructions of energy flow, and guiding qi along it, with special focus on opening the Zhongting acupoint (solar plexus) in iron crotch training.
Other massage techniques directly increasing bloodflow to the testicles are
(6) shaking and
Shaking and pulling are less commonly applied in iron groin practice, probably because pulling is already part of the practice listed here as fifth (hanging a weight from the scrotum), and the shaking is replaced in that same practice by the slow controlled swinging of the weight.
One technique which may have more benefit in withstanding shots to the groin than in increasing testicular function, is
(8) using the fingers to prop the testicles into the pelvis, temporarily imitating cryptorchidism (undescended testicles). Upon release, testicles will spontaneously descend again within a relatively short period of time.
(铜弹升降乾坤朝阳：copper ‘plucking’ to rise and lower heaven and earth towards the ‘yang’ )
(For martial artists who like to impress their friends with their knowledge: in Chinese martial arts, the skill of voluntarily withdrawing the testes in the abdomen is considered a separate skill from iron groin. Although they may and are often used complementary, this is not necessary as soft tissue mechanotransduction in iron crotch training allows the testicles to become strong enough to withstand impact without being withdrawn into the pelvis.)
STEP 3: CONCLUDING EXERCISES
(I) pounding the kidney areas, alternating left and right kidney, or both simultaneously using the backside of a relaxed fist, and kneading downward in a straight line on the left and right side of the lower back, over the kidneys. The left testicle is ‘connected’ to the left kidney via the left testicular vein which connects with the left renal vein. This link between kidneys and testicles is likely the primary reason why Chinese medicine encourages strengthening and massaging the kidneys when issues related to the groin are to be treated.
(双鸣金雄狮待。。。：two sided beating a lion gong…)
(II) pounding the lateral parts of the ribcage on front and back,
(双扣门古利诵往：two sided knocking the ancient temple door )
(III) turning the knees,
(鸟龙搅柱通天地：bird dragon stirs the pillar going through heaven and earth)
(IV) rolling a stick under your feet massaging the bottom of the feet. Sometimes, instead the knife edge of the hand is pressed diagonally across the bottom of the foot from the inside near the heel toward the outside near the small toe. (From the perspective of Western medicine it is unclear what this does. Potentially it relates to relaxation and thus lowering of cortisol, but this is merely speculative.)
(哪吒火轮左右蹈：Treading on Nezha’s fire wheel left and right)
Below a video demonstrating the exercises:
(WARNING: contains nudity!)
Additional references on iron crotch training:
- Iron Crotch 99-Power Practice, by Tu Jinsheng
- Healing Impotence the traditional Chinese way (2009), by Guo Baowei & Tom Winiata, publisher: Foreign Languages Press, ISBN: 987-7-119-06011-8.
- American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China (2007), by Matthew Polly, publisher: Gotham Books, ISBN: 1-4295-0882-5. (Pages 217-232)
- Shaolin Kung-fu (2007) written by 冯永臣 and 王跃进, published by China Travel & Tourism Press, ISBN: 7-5032-2966-7. (Page 127)
- Authentic Shaolin Heritage: Training methods of 72 arts of Shaolin (2007) written by Jin Jing Zhong, published by Lulu. (Page 146)
- 少林精功七十二艺 (2010) written by 乔蓓艺, published by ???, ISBN: 978-7-5337-4657-5. (Page 76)
- Chinese-English and English-Chinese Wushu Dictionary (2007) written by 段平 and 郑守志, published by China People’s Sports Publishing House, ISBN: 978-7-5009-3001-3. (Page 187)