How To Begin Hardening Your Bones, Tendons, And Flesh To Endure Monstrous Punishment

If you pay attention to pop culture at all, you are likely familiar with the image of an expert martial artist breaking bricks and boards with a blow from their hand. Delve a little bit deeper into the rabbit hole of inanity and you’ll find dubious claims of self-proclaimed masters claiming to be able to break a specific brick in a stack or claim to be able to smash bricks without any physical contact at all.

I am here to tell you that while concepts such as the No-Touch KO are nonsense, standard breaking is quite accessible, even to those who are not taking formal martial arts lessons. But breaking is just one facet of the overall discipline that is known as body hardening.

What is Body Hardening?

Body hardening is defined as a form of conditioning and strength training specific to combat sports. Unlike what the average person would think of “strength training,” body hardening does not entail strengthening the muscles to lift heavier and heavier weights, but rather it trains the bones, tendons, and flesh to withstand tremendous external forces. This prepares the trainee to both deliver harder blows with the limbs, and withstand the same from a combative opponent.

As with most things in martial arts, there are many ways to go about doing it, and some of them are rather dubious. Obviously, things such as the infamous “Dim Mak” linked above and other such frauds will not be discussed here. However, more than perhaps any other martial arts topic, I am more amenable to the traditional, more “esoteric” styles of martial arts when applied to body hardening then I am with other aspects of these arts (such as the forms/kata, which I and many people find largely ineffectual).

As usual, I do not profess to be an expert in the field, but I have had experience with the various types of body hardening enumerated below, been taught these techniques by experts, and have found them to be effective.

1. Sandblasting

If you will recall, in one of my grip training articles, I discussed how you can do a variation on this kung fu training technique to develop a mighty grip. When done in its traditional way, it also develops the strength of the fingers, hands, and wrists, although not in the sense of being able to generate a lot of force through crushing, punching, or pulling.

No, this technique is specifically for developing the strength of the hands so that they can withstand the  tremendous force that will be transmitted through them when the fingers are used in attacks (as is typical of some schools of martial art such as both types of Praying Mantis), typically in attacking the soft tissue of the face or neck and various pressure points.

Before you begin sandblasting, you should develop some modicum of finger strength—I recommend fingertip pushups to do this, and you can read about that here.

Once you’ve at least become capable of doing two handed finger-tip pushups, you can start sandblasting. Ironically, this first step will not involve sand at all, but rather dried beans. Martial arts suppliers will sell mung beans specifically for this purpose, but you can use any sort of dried kidney bean in bulk for this.

Fill up a decent-sized bucket with said beans, stretch out the fingers, keep them taut but NOT hyperextended, and jab them into your big bucket of beans. The aim of this exercise is to reach your fingers to the bottom of the bucket.

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These fingers have been hyperextended, and jabbing with these fingers can cause injury

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These fingers are taut and extended, but the knuckles are not hyperextended. This is the proper finger posture.

Once you have accomplished that, fill the bucket with sand, and repeat. You will notice that the exercises will get easier and easier regardless of what’s in the bucket, due to the bones and tendons of your fingers hardening and becoming accustomed to the force. Once you’ve reached the bottom with sand, fill the bucket up with pebbles. And once you’ve done that, use steel shot.

sandblast

2. Bottle Rolling

Bottle rolling is one of the first techniques that I have informally grouped into the “Iron Body” category—while this is likely not the proper term, all of these techniques entail applying force to your own body in with the aim of deliberately conditioning and hardening them for future use. There are many ways to go about doing this in many different styles of martial arts, but bottle rolling is the easiest and least painful one, and is thus the most appropriate one for the beginner.

bottle-rolling

It can be done on the feet, but is most often done on the shin

Taking your standard glass beer or soda bottle, press it hard against the shin, and roll it up and down. Repeat for both shins. This will dull the nerves and allow you perform shin kicks harder than an unconditioned shin. Bear in mind that once you have developed some tolerance for pain in the shins, you should begin other forms of body conditioning such as actually practicing shin kicks on a bag. Bottle rolling subdues nerve endings to a much greater extent than it actually conditions the bone, which can lead to injuries down the road.

And those techniques will be for another day.

Read More: Why Stretching Is Essential For The Body (With 6 Beginner Stretches To Get You Started)

57 thoughts on “How To Begin Hardening Your Bones, Tendons, And Flesh To Endure Monstrous Punishment”

  1. If I recall correctly, this is why instructors carry bamboo swords in traditional martial arts. Not only does it allow for the instructor to discipline bad form (improving training time), but each blow serves to toughen the student’s body. As students get stronger, the blows get harder, but the perceivable impact remains about the same.
    There are also videos of monks tanking blows to various parts of the body for this purpose. It’s too hardcore for beginners (and likely even many who’ve been training for some time), but it demonstrates the principle.

    1. I took a class in white tiger Kung Fu, where the instructor insisted you had a black belt in any other discipline (mine was ninjutsu). For the first three months, he’d spend the entire class wacking my shins and fists with bamboo sticks to the point I considered wearing padding to stop the pain. He threatened to kick me out of I did that.

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  2. To add to this since were roughly speaking about TMA (traditional martial arts) techniques, in Thailand banana trees are used for strengthening the shins. Muay Thai practitioners kick the banana trees until the fall over. The added benefit is the deadening of nerves within the shin. Meaning, you can kick, check(block) kicks, without feeling any pain.
    For strengthening your knuckles all you need is to hit a heavy bag. You should never hit a heavy bag without gloves. If your a newb, you’ll have a high chance of breaking your wrist. For anyone, you don’t need to damage your knuckles with cuts. Using 16oz gloves will also increase your endurance more than any other form of cardio.
    And you’ll be a bad motherfucker.

    1. At minimum, you should use handwraps. The reinforcement of the wrist helps prevent injury and keeps your form sharper while the muscles and reflexive positioning develop.
      I have a standup bag I work, with and without wraps and gloves (at varying intensity). I’ve been doing various martial arts for some time, though, so I’m better prepared to handle the impacts and have better form than most beginners.
      I slap the bag with open palms, backhand it, and strike it with my forearms to build resistance to impact. I then wrap up and throw some punches and leg strikes, again for resistance. Finally, I gear up with the gloves and work the bag for strength and power (though, being a fairly light bag, I cannot go all-out without a proper hanging bag).
      At present I’m injury free, because I build intensity and check myself every minute or so while unprotected. It would be entirely unsafe if I didn’t start very light and keep such careful track of myself.

      1. Handwraps and gloves create a false sense of security. This will hurt you in combat when you are not wearing wraps, gloves, gumshield and other protection.

        1. This is true, which is why I try to mix and match. However, for the purposes of strengthening your body it is better to be protected where possible. I would not encourage a newbie to wail on a wall or even a heavy bag unprotected, but as strength and skill increase it is good to practice in similar to real conditions.

        2. What you are doing is great. We are now training with unwrapped punches to the torso and neck. When you first feel a naked fist impacting your ribs, even lightly, it is quite a shock. You become fully aware of the bone-breaking and organ damaging impact that a naked fist can have, if well trained. One correctly delivered punch to the torso will end a fight.

        3. Slow and steady wins the race.
          There’s a time for training in minimal gear and a time when you want all the assistance you can get.
          Also, who said caulis aren’t manly?

  3. I tried to use the telephone directory knuckle hardening technique back in the days when there were telephone directories, the idea being that you remove one page a day until your comfortable hitting the wall without any barrier. Could never work out how to fix it to the wall

  4. Being a mixed martial artist myself, I can say DO NOT use bottle rolling. It only deadens the nerves, making it less painful to kick and check (block) kicks with the shin. This is actually quite dangerous, as your nerves in the leg cannot gauge force-you may kick and snap your shin. If you want to make the bones stronger, kick the bottom end of a punching bag-they are plenty hard for beginner and intermediate guys. The bottom part has sand packed much more tightly due to gravity and time. This will actually create microfractures through the entire leg and heal, strengthening the shin.
    If you want to strengthen your body, have a partner used medium to light strength punches in your abdominal area. You can also use those sand filled medicine balls and slam them into your abs as you lie down, then push em up, and slam down again, repeat.
    To take punches to the head better, you can use a variety of neck exercises, as well as chew tough gum (I use mastic gum- no additives, just pure tree gum), although actual sparring and being able to see punches coming helps much more.

    1. I actually say that in the article:
      “…Bear in mind that once you have developed some tolerance for pain in the shins, you should begin other forms of body conditioning such as actually practicing shin kicks on a bag. Bottle rolling subdues nerve endings to a much greater extent than it actually conditions the bone, which can lead to injuries down the road.”

    2. Quite right about the microfractures although the older you get the longer it takes to have an effect. About seven years for an adult I believe.
      Actually walking as a child creates microfractures. So make sure those kids get off of those fucking scooters and other stupid devices and actually use their fucking legs for something other than things to put pockets on.

  5. stay away from this shit. there are better/smarter conditioning methods. like kicking the heavy bag regularly and allow the shin to toughen up NATURALLY.

  6. I think that we need to get rid of this phrase “combat sport”. There is no such thing. It is either combat (a fight to the death) or sport (non-lethal fighting). “Combat sport” is a phrase sportsmen use to impress the uninitiated. MMA, Muay Thai etc. are sports in which your survival is virtually guaranteed. In combat, not so.
    In my opinion, the best way to harden your body is to take shots and dole them out. In this way, you will grow accustomed to the blows and your bones (most important here) will become larger and more dense, allowing you to dole out more damage. This process should begin at the age of five. If you are in your 20s trying to do this, it is too late. Buy a gun instead.

    1. “”It is either combat (a fight to the death) or sport (non-lethal fighting).””
      This is why I dont take self defense articles from ROK seriously.

      1. My main reason is that no one ever learned how to fight from reading. The only reason to read this is for laughs, or to get motivation to join a class. Or to write in the comment section, like me.

  7. These are similar to what the Israeli’s use to train Mossad operatives, only they take it a step further and do a mock kidnapping and interrogation/torture.
    Shit. Did I just compliment the Jews on RoK? Fuck it, I’ll just say it: American Jews piss me off: they vote predominately Democrat, and are liberal. They are pussies who flail around gaily at the demise of America.
    Unlike actual Israeli Jews, who are taught from a young age to be tough, so much that service in the IDF is mandatory. They literally torture their soldiers as part of their training.
    I have nothing but respect for Israeli Jews like Benjamin Netanyahu, former IDF Special Forces Captain who saw some serious shit for his tribe. Israeli Jews are nothing like American Jews: they are tough, support their tribe, because danger is literally at their doorstep.
    It is probably too nuanced and thoughtful to like Israeli Jews but question American Jews.

    1. Israeli Jews are nothing like American Jews: they are tough, support
      their tribe, because danger is literally at their doorstep.

      I’m not so sure about that as there’s a sizeable anti-“Bibi” minority, there’s no push to expel the muslims from Israel and some Israeli companies (eg:SodaStream) are using the “palestinians” like US companies use illegals.

      1. Just apartheid laws in Israel ie race based Joo Only marriage, roads, schools, license plates and housing as well as bussing.
        Next

    2. When your back is againt the sea and all the neighboring coutries tell you they want to murder you and yours, it tends to toughen you up.

    3. Occupiers subsidized by US tax payers who would’ve been refugees had it not been for us intervention.
      They damn near lost it all in 73 Yom Kippur. But Nixon and Joos around him intervened with billions of arms.
      Oil was $2 a barrel. It Went to $33 almost overnight ( opec) due to open for this Monica Lewinsky type relationship we have with that shithole country that produced nothing but hatred and ethnic cleansing.
      Back to oil: At 25 million barrels per day usage here.
      Can you say massive inflation boys and girls?
      I won’t even mention we have the entire fifth fleet guarding that craphole and the billions we pay Israel in aid and more billions we pay others to be nice To Israel

  8. I wonder what the long-term negative effects of this sort of training are. The folks who made this sort of training famous weren’t too concerned with middle age AFAIK.
    I read an account of an asian martial artist who took this training to an extreme, even banging his head against metal objects, as he was trying to overcome the asian bone structure that he described as “bird like”. I wonder if I still have it lying around.

    1. Basically roll the bottle against the shins. I believe this was originally done with bamboo sticks. Think of a rolling pin used for dough and use that same motion for your shins with an appropriate amount of pressure.

  9. What is required, according to masters of traditional jujitsu are repeated strikes against a firm target. Don’t strike hard but lightly and repeatedly, against something like a block of wood. I use the wide gauge metal poles used to build modern playground equipment, and execute a variety of edge of the Palm strikes (superior to the fist) and parrying with the fore and upper arms on the flesh, not the bone.

  10. The punching bag you buy at the sports department center. Inside the punching bag, they are filled with useless, but rather thick vinyl like layers and other carpet-like stuff that got in there.
    Take all those out and fill it with sand and gravel. Use boxing gloves at first to get your hand used to the impact and same with your shin (use shin guards). And then few weeks later, take off your boxing gloves and shin guards. The pain you feel at first will be nothing later on.
    Then take the sand and gravel out and replace them with dry cement powder mix.
    Of course put them in black contractor bag in 25 lbs so ideally you can fill five or six of them in a normal regular punching bag and you will have good 125 lbs to 150 lbs of punching bag hanging off your ceiling or something. You can also use them for sandbag squats, lift and carry, hoist them on your shoulder do split squats.

    1. Hitting a heavy bag filled with rags simulates hitting a person much more than filling it with sand. You might as well be hittting a telephone pole. Don’t ruin a haeavy bag by doing that to it

      1. The point is to hurt the other person when you punch them. So when you are used to hitting compacted sand, it wouldn’t be any issue when you punch someone in the organ like heart, stomach, or kidney area.
        I used to hit the bags filled with rags and they felt too weak. I’m used to hitting the compacted sand. I played “dead arm” with a buddy of mine and the first time I punched him on the arm, he threw the towel and he got bruised up badly.

  11. As far as i know the one safe and proven method to strengthen your bones is just that; lift weights, especially in your older age. Progressive overload works and studies indicate that no other form of exercise makes up for weight training when it comes to preventing osteoporosis with age. Slamming your limbs against hard targets can cause long term damage but not much else to show for it. I don’t believe it to be ideal for most people and not even martial art types.

    1. The lifting sure gets it done.
      In some places variants of some of the modalities described are used to numb the pain.
      As you said, they are not ideal long-term wise but in the places they are a common practice there tends to be a lack of concern for such nuances.

  12. I don’t always agree with the political sentiments on this website but articles like this and the articles on actualizing masculinity are A++. I’m currently working on strengthening my shins for Muay Thai. My instructor has me kicking the heavy bag for 3 minute rounds with each leg. I’ve heard negative things about the bottles rolling method.

  13. Total TMA bullshit. You want harder shins – kick a heavy bag. Rolling a bottle on your shin will just fuck it up.

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