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Shaolin Kung Fu Iron Head (Tie Tou Gong)

Shaolin Kung Fu Iron Head (Tie Tou Gong)

Introduction The Shaolin Temple’s 72 Consummate and Secret Arts fall into two categories: Yin/Rou Soft Internal Energy Training and Yang/Gang Hard External Power Training, respectively (1). Iron Head Exercise (Tie Tou Gong) although formally placed in the second (Hard) category, is one of a select group embodying features of both Hard and Soft Shaolin Training.

Technical Analysis

The repetitive, progressive nature of the head- striking against a wall encourages systematic adaptation to increasingly demanding extremes of Hard External Training. The need to control breathing, tense and align various body-parts to support this shows how Soft Internal Energy Training contributes to successful acquisition of this Secret Fighting Exercise or ‘Kung’.


Shaolin Students first swathe their heads by wrapping them in 10 layers of protective silk. On top of this is placed a sheet of metal contoured to fit the top of the head-two final wrap-rounds with silk (some authorities recommend towelling) secures this metal ‘cap’ in position.

Stage 1

The front of the head is struck repeatedly against any convenient brick or stone wall. The head and neck are held in alignment, the neck muscles bunched and the breath held at the moment of impact.

Next, with back, neck and head in alignment, the rear of the student’s head is repeatedly struck against the wall similarly. The Student then bends double and charges forwards at the wall, striking it with the top of his head. Finally, standing close to the wall the student strikes it repeatedly with the left and right sides of his head respectively.

During this stage of training relatively little force is used when striking the head against the wall at first. This intensity is increased gradually as the weeks pass and the number of strikes is gradually increased at practice sessions.

Stage 2

After a number of months training two of the protective layers of silk are removed (not those holding the metal in place) and students repeat their earlier endeavours. Every 2-3 months a further two layers of protective wrapping is removed until all of them have been removed and the student’s head is bare.

Now the student’s head is unprotected when it strikes the wall. At first this may cause some pain and discomfort. Students, however, should persevere as this will eventually disappear and the ‘Kung’ will then have finally been mastered.


By now the student’s head is as strong as or stronger than the wall itself and Iron Head Exercise (Tie Tou Gong) may even be used to break down or destroy this–Kung Fu History recognizes a number of Masters using the Kung for this purpose. Many (including myself) have watched Shaolin Monks head-butting through large stone tablets using this technique.