Iron shirt in Chinese is “Tiěbùshān” (literally, “iron cloth shirt,” 鐵布衫), and Golden Bell Cover is “Jīnzhōngzhào” (literally, “metal/gold bell cover,” 金鐘罩). The training is so named because after you have completed it, your body will be so strong that most external attacks will not be able to injure you. It is as if you were wearing an iron shirt or were covered by a metal bell. The different names represent different achievements.

There are two places which are considered the hardest spots to train. One of them is the eyes and the other is the groin. With proper training, it is possible to draw the testicles up into the abdomen to protect them. When an Iron Shirt practitioner can also lead his Qì to protect his entire head including his eyes, he is said to have achieved Golden Bell Cover. You can see that Golden Bell Cover is a more advanced level of Iron Shirt training.

The main differences between Yìjīnjīng training and Iron Shirt are:

  • Yìjīnjīng was created first. Iron Shirt was developed later by Chinese martial artists to toughen the body. It is based on the training theory and methods of the Yìjīnjīng.
  • Yìjīnjīng was originally created for health purposes, and it was used to strengthen the physical body and build up abundant Qì for the Xǐsuǐjīng training. Yìjīnjīng training is the first step to reaching enlightenment or Buddhahood. Iron Shirt training is for martial arts defensive purposes.
  • Yìjīnjīng aims to strengthen the physical body, while Iron Shirt aims to resist external blows. For this reason, the training methods are somewhat different. For example, in Iron Shirt, developing the resistance of the vital areas or cavities is considered important, while the Yìjīnjīng does not consider this seriously.

Iron Shirt Styles

Iron Shirt training is divided into two major styles: internal Iron Shirt and external Iron Shirt. The main differences are as follows:

  • Internal Iron Shirt training was developed mainly by the internal styles of Chinese martial artists, while external Iron Shirt was trained by the external styles.
  • Because of their different training goals, the training methods are also different. Internal Iron Shirt uses Nèidān Yìjīnjīng as a major part of the training, while Wàidān Yìjīnjīng is a minor part. Naturally, the external Iron Shirt training emphasizes Wàidān Yìjīnjīng training more than the Nèidān. In other words, internal Iron Shirt emphasizes more the buildup of Qì in the center, while external Iron Shirt training emphasizes the physical body and some local Qì.
  • Internal Iron Shirt training takes much longer to achieve its goals than external Iron Shirt training. It usually takes about three years for external Iron Shirt training, while it may take more than ten years for internal Iron Shirt training.
  • External Iron Shirt training, because it may over emphasize the muscular training, has the risk of “Sàngōng”  (energy dispersion, 散功), while there is no such problem in internal Iron Shirt training.
  • Internal Iron Shirt trains the body to be like a fully inflated beach ball, so that when someone punches you, he will bounce backward. External Iron Shirt emphasizes training and toughening the physical body.

Although there are differences between the two Iron Shirt trainings, it is well known in Chinese martial society that regardless of which approach a martial artist takes, by the time he has reached a high level he will have trained both. As with the Yìjīnjīng, you must train both Nèizhuàng and Wàizhuàng.

Training Theory  (Xùnliàn Yuánlǐ, 訓練原理)

You may have already concluded a few points about Yìjīnjīng training. The following three are probably the most important:

  • Yìjīnjīng teaches ways to strengthen the physical body. Yìjīnjīng is used as the first step to reach the goal of enlightenment or Buddhahood. The second step is Xǐsuǐjīng, which trains your spiritual body. The Yìjīnjīng is considered Yáng training, while the Xǐsuǐjīng is Yīn training. After you have completed the Yìjīnjīng training, then you can train the Xǐsuǐjīng.
  • Yìjīnjīng contains Wàidān training, which is classified as Yáng, as well as Nèidān training, which is Yīn. These must both be trained in coordination with each other.
  • Wàizhuàng (external strength) and Nèizhuàng (internal strength) are the goals of the training. Although the main training method for Wàizhuàng is Wàidān Yìjīnjīng, Wàidān is not the only way to achieve it. Similarly, although Nèidān Yìjīnjīng is the main training method for Nèizhuàng, it is not the only way to achieve it.

Other Concerns (QíTā gùlǜ, 其他顧慮)

Internal Organs. The internal organs have been mentioned several times with regard to Yìjīnjīng training. The condition of your internal organs is one of the main factors which decide your health. When you have strong organs you will be healthy, and naturally, if you have weak organs you will be weak and sickly. Therefore, during the course of training you must always consider the condition of your organs and learn how to strengthen them. It is not uncommon for people who are training heavily to overstress their bodies and cause failure of the internal organs. For example, if someone who has not run much decides to run twenty miles a day without building up to it, he may suffer a heart attack. It is the same with Yìjīnjīng training. You must build up and strengthen your body gradually. This will allow your internal organs to readjust and rebuild themselves to fit the new conditions.

In the course of Yìjīnjīng training you are strengthening both your physical body and your Qì body. When the Qì has become more abundant, it will flow to the internal organs. This will strengthen them and cause them to gradually adjust themselves to the increased Qì flow. In order to make the Qì circulate more abundantly in the internal organs, you must first learn how to fill up the Conception and Governing Vessels, and then increase and regulate the Qì in the twelve organ channels.

Another common way to increase the Qì flow in the organs is to massage directly over the organs. There are also many exercises or movements which have been created to help loosen the muscles which surround the internal organs. Researchers have also studied how to use diet and certain herbs to increase or improve Qì circulation. Finally, since your emotions are closely related to the Qì circulation in your organs, you must learn how to regulate your emotional mind. If you are interested in more discussions on this topic, I suggest that you read my book, The Root of Chinese Qìgōng.

The above is an excerpt from Qigong The Secret of Youth: DaMo’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Classics by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, Publication Date October 2023, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399077.