Grand Master Tu Jin-Sheng on Iron Crotch, Qigong and the Arts
by Gene Ching and Gigi Oh
When a man can tow a truck with his genitals, that’s all anyone ever really remembers about him. It?s a hard act to follow. What could possibly be more extreme? Iron crotch is the rarest of disciplines and anyone who masters it is an exceptional practitioner. Grandmaster Tu Jin-Sheng is undeniably exceptional, but he?s exceptional even if you overlook his truck towing skills. Tu has a lot of irons in the fire, many more than the curious voyeurs see (and any firsthand witness of Tu’s towing prowess knows he leaves nothing unexposed.) He’s a consummate artist, a shining wise warrior and a master of his own universe. To the martial world, he is a past fighting champion and preeminent qigong master who excels at many methods beyond iron crotch. In Taiwan, he is a prolific author (with many of his books lavishly self illustrated) and has produced several well-received qigong instructional videos. To non-martial artists, he is also an accomplished painter and musician. He frequently combines his talents for these arts in sharp contrast to his amazing demonstrations of breaking, towing and hard qigong. Tu is also an inventor. He created a unique line of Taiwanese health products that fuse traditional tools with modern manufacturing. Tu even designs his own clothes, not just his eye-catching demonstration dress, but also his dashing casual wear, both always richly adorned with the Taoist motifs of a modern day shaman. Indeed, while most people only remember him for his endowment, there’s far more to this remarkable master than what first meets the eye.
Just a tiny peek into Grandmaster Tu’s universe is overwhelming. Every aspect of his work reveals the intricate web of Taoism and martial teachings. For example, take his creation, the Long Life Health Bar. It?s a James Bond-like contraption consisting of a collection of components that can be assembled into a wide variety of Kungfu and Qigong tools. One assemblage is the “Kungfu club,” a tonfa-like weapon (or more accurately what the Chinese call a guai (crutch)) for which Tu teaches a special short fighting form just for this weapon. Reassemble the parts and it becomes an assortment of massage tools, each with a different handle to reach those hard to get areas. These come complete with a crystal bead point or a moxibustion chamber to burn the aromatic herb moxa (Artemisia Vulgaris) ? a traditional Chinese medicine known for its therapeutic effects. Of course, this comes complete with instructions too. Reassemble it again and you have a spring-resistance muscle developer, complete with an exercise curriculum designed by Tu. Another reassembly forms a Tai Chi exercise rod, again complete with a program of exercises. One more switch and it?s a “tapping club,” a metal flail used in many esoteric schools of qigong. Tu notes that qigong flails parallel the self flagellation asceticism of ancient Christian and Buddhist monks. They used it to dispel sins. In qigong, it is used to stimulate qi flow. And there are more functions ? this is just a tiny glimpse. When we first saw the Long Life Health Bar here at the office, we didn’t know what to make of it. It was like the ultimate Kungfu Qigong Transformer toy ? an all-in-one device that Sharper Image should carry, if they knew Chinese. But soon after, we were all hitting ourselves with that flail, addicted to its invigorating effects. Now from time to time, we even fight over whose body needs some more smacks from Tu’s “special stick.”
The Long Life Health Bar is also an important device for training Grandmaster Tu’s art of jiu jiu shen gong or 99 Power Practice. This is the ancient qigong practice involves progressive weight training with your private parts. In tandem with a strict curriculum of qigong exercises, 99 Power Practice is rooted in Taoism and Shaolin Muscle-Tendon Change. In fact, the common name “Iron Crotch” doesn?t really get at what this unusual practice is all about. Actually, it is more of a vitality practice than a martial one ? Tu’s ability to withstand blows to the crotch is just an additional benefit. Beyond vitality, of course, there?s the sex. Tu acknowledges “This is really great for sex.” According to Tu “When you are young, size does matter. Every body is NOT born with the same size and this area is NOT the same size for everybody. If you are big there, it means you are in good health. If you are heavy in that area, you have an extraordinary body. You are in excellent health. At middle age, length matters. If you are long, it means your blood circulation is good. Your heart works well and you look healthy. When you are old, it’s softness and hardness that matters. Hard means your blood circulation is good. And the saying goes, ‘if you are long, hard, and big when you are young, it is the best thing ever. If you can keep it hard when you are old, that means your body is in excellent shape.’” He cites three main benefits of his extraordinary practice. First is that it strengthens your immune system. Second it increases your energy. And third is threefold ? it makes you bigger, longer and harder. Look out Viagra. Here comes some internal Taoist alchemy to put your external pills to shame.
Grandmaster Tu joined us over several crisp, clear days at the beginning of November last year. We were working together on how best to bring his research to the West. His discussions took us on a journey into extreme Taoism where the cold framework of science was often fogged over by the creeping misty mountain ways of ancient China. His philosophy was more poetic analogy than anatomical analysis, but no less resonating. Ultimately, all that remained was Tao.
Tu is graceful man who moves like a swimming dragon, with sudden bursts of thunderous gestures, natural displays of raw power. He is a very calm speaker with a deep bass voice, softened with kindness. His hands move like brushstrokes while his thick body is solid and upright as an immovable stone statue. Tu was very open and frank about the “inner secrets” of his practice, exposing himself to scrutiny just as openly as when exposes his privates in his public towing demonstrations.
The Tu Jin-Sheng Interview:
The purpose of Qigong and standing on eggshells
“The purpose of qigong is to achieve a state of calmness in a very short period of time. Then you can reach a state of meditation ? a stillness stage. I used to do this exhibition where I would hammer nails through wood with the back of my fist, and then immediately give a gu zhen recital (gu zhen is a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, akin to a Japanese koto, sort of an elongated, non-electric a pedal steel guitar.) In another show, I would chop a steel pipe with my bare hand. Then right after, I would paint a traditional watercolor while standing on top of eggs (and not breaking them.) I did it this way because it’s like the biathlon. There, you have to ski a long track then right after, you have to steady yourself for sharp shooting. That is a form of control. When you do the first event, your pulse will top 200. Then you must calm yourself completely in a very short period of time. Only when you are calm is your hand steady enough to shoot. Likewise, you must be calm to stand on top of eggs. This requires still qigong and light qigong skills. Once I am calm, I can start painting.
The ultimate goal of any qigong master or method is to control your heart and mind. It?s not that I do anything different. Perhaps my level is a little higher, but actually any kind of qigong method should be able to control your mental state and your pulse. Just before you die, your heart beat becomes uneven. If you don?t stabilize it, you die. That?s what I try to demonstrate with the arrangement of my exhibitions. Control your mental state and you will be happy.
Most of the people who practice qigong, martial arts or even athletics know that your energy originates from your dantien (your center in your abdomen.) So their practice only focuses upon the dantien. But many athletes and other practitioners forget to attend to their heart. So sometimes, after excess exercise, they get a swollen heart. They make the heart irregular because they don’t attend to the most important parts: heart and mind.
Sometimes this harms your mental state. In the martial arts we say zhou huo lu muo (more is evil and gets into your mind.) If you’re not paying enough attention to the two places that are most important when you meditate, you can go crazy. The message gets mixed up. Your thoughts lose their focus. You see this in a lot of athletes. They start by being egocentric. They?re not calm, easy to upset. Egotism is the early warning sign. After that, you go crazy or lose your focus completely.”
Playing Music and Painting Flowers for Calmness
“The potential of losing your mind is why, at the highest level of qigong, you have to combine qigong with mudras and chanting. Playing music harmonizes you down. Colors also affect you. So practicing calligraphy and painting are also very important. These arts center you to the right place. Chinese music uses a pentatonic scale. That’s a five-note scale instead of the seven-note scale (in Western music.) These five notes match with your five elements and five colors. Music can adjust and regulate your mental state. The lower notes have more power. When you reach a high level, you must combine these into your practice. This isn’t just for me. At a certain stage of qigong practice, everyone must add this in. Chinese speak of wu yin liao fa (the way of healing with the five notes and elements.) Even outside of China, researchers are beginning to accept this idea and dedicating more research to it.
Color depends on the individual. If you are generally cold, you need to surround yourself with warm colors. If you are warm, surely you need cooling colors. Within calligraphy, if you are painting straight lines, dotted lines, solid lines, bold lines or changing the angle of your strokes, it all makes a difference. Even the subject of your painting is important too. For example, in traditional flower painting, if you paint an orchid, that is good for your kidneys. A lotus is for you heart. A plum flower is for your lungs. A chrysanthemum is for your spleen and bamboo is for your liver.
I started to paint from childhood. My painting teacher was 107 years old. Painting is a two-dimensional art. The martial arts is a three-dimensional art. All is art, just different forms. When your paint, not only do you show what you are thinking, the most beautiful part of your imagination is represented through your art. You expel your bad qi when you do an art such as painting. That?s why when your look at someone?s painting you can see their qi state. How much qi they have will be reflected in their work. From their painting alone, you can tell if they?re a good person or a bad person, or if they have any illnesses. This is not my discovery. It’s actually an old idea in Chinese thought. If you look at a piece of calligraphy, you may observe something like one side of the strokes being thicker and the other being thinner. This means the body is not quite balanced. If somebody really studies this, they can tell a tremendous amount about someone from their work. I?m no expert on this but I see someone’s physical state just from looking at their painting.
I began to study dong xiao (a traditional Chinese fife) at around 20 years old since it was related to my qigong. Dong xiao helped develop my dantien qi while gu zhen cultivated moving qi from my meridians and vessels. Dong xiao moves my qi from the fingertips to the center. Gu zhen moves my qi from my dantien to my fingertips. Other instruments have their own individual character, but they all show the range of human happiness, sadness, anger and moods. That is your spirit, your mind. It?s just like in the martial arts. Either you show the spirit of animals like dragons and tigers, or the spirit of nature like clouds, rain, thunder and lightning.
Most of today’s modern music has a fast beat but no real energy so it’s not good for your mental state. It isn’t balancing. You may be very excited at the concert or whatever, but when you go back home, you have nothing left. You’re so tired, totally exhausted and empty in your mind.”
The Origin of It All
“No matter what you do, martial arts, soft arts like painting or music, whatever, what you are really trying to achieve is your quest for your origin. If you are going to prolong your life, you have to find the “spring” of your life or your “life well.” This is longevity qigong, finding your origin. That?s the most important place for you.
In the martial arts, we always talk about jing (essence,) qi, shen (spirit.) That’s the core of it all. For human beings, the most reproductive system is the most important source. That’s where your energies originate. Within the human brain, your hormone producing glands are active until you reach puberty. After puberty, that decreases and a most of your hormones are produced by your reproductive organs. You reach a sexual peak in your thirties, after which your reproductive organs start to shrink and you get weaker. This is why once you reach puberty, it is more difficult to correct bad habits and learn things like a new language. If you have an accent at this age, you will probably never lose it. This is due to the decrease in your brain?s hormonal production causing a decline in your mental capacity to process new information.
After 40 years of age, your reproductive organs really start to shrink. Your general health declines and you get slower. Chinese qigong masters realized this. What they sought to achieve was a method of prolonging the peak of your reproductive period. At the same time, they wanted to keep your mind sharp so you could continue to learn new things and cultivate wisdom. So you can increase your jing shen (reproductive power) and your shen together. If you have a healthy body, it will help your to have a healthy mind. They are like left and right, always together. The ultimate goal is to prevent aging and the fastest way to do so is through 99 Power Practice. When you’re younger, you can achieve noticeable results in as few as one or two months. They are not really shrinking yet, so you can exercise to make it harder. For older people, provided you are in good health, you can achieve an effect in six months or so.
In ancient times, our Chinese qigong ancestors wanted to increase longevity through making special medicine (the “immortality pill” known to Taoists as the external dan.) Eventually, they found out that it wasn?t necessary to take pills. The answer lies within. This qigong of 99 Power Practice originated from Bodhidharma and Shaolin Muscle Tendon Change Classic Qigong (yijinjing.) When most people do exercise, they are just expending their energy. They waste it. They let it go. But in the qigong of 99 Power Practice, you create energy and cultivate it. If you have a tree, your dantien is like the ground (author’s note: this notion gets at the literal definition of dantien ? dan as in immortality pill mentioned earlier, tien means field, like field of crops, thus “ground.”) However your root to suck in the energy is your reproductive organs. If you just do dantien exercises, you won’t get energy from there. You get it from your root.
In Qigong, there are three important power fields known as san cai. The first is the universe ? sun, air and light. The second is earth ? animals, nature and minerals. The third is within your body. You must combine these three to truly cultivate your energy. So when you practice qigong, you must have the right time and the right place. Go to a good place, a natural place or a spiritual place. I practice in the mountains or by the ocean every day. Also practice at the right time when you have good yin and yang energy. For the third one, your body, you must use the right method and posture. In 99 Power Practice, our posture looks like a tree that is sucking water up. By combining the right place, the right time and the right practice, you will get the most effect in the shortest period of time.
Although it started in China, during the Cultural Revolution, qigong masters couldn’t practice openly, so they went underground and resurfaced in Taiwan. When a master reaches the highest level, he can pull it up. That’s how my son can kick me in the crotch at an exhibition, because it?s not there.”
And for the Ladies?
“There is a different method for women. Women can also hang a hundred pounds from their private parts. An egg-shaped piece of jade with a dangling cord is inserted inside them. Not many practice this. I only teach it to couples, not to single women. Actually, there was a lot of opposition in Taiwan for me to teach these skills at all. It was viewed as a skill for prostitutes. Now, thanks to the more open minds of modern science and medicine, people don?t look at me like a criminal for teaching these skills. They know now that the very origin of life is from there.”