In a small settlement of Juntun Village on the outskirts of Luoyang, one of the four ancient capitals of China, Wang Liutai — a kung-fu master — is standing with his knees bent as a steel-plate capped log, 6.5 feet in length and weighing 88 pounds, swings toward his balls. But don’t be (too) alarmed: The 65-year-old is practicing an ancient strand of martial arts known as “Iron Crotch Kung Fu.”
By now, you’ve likely come across one of Wang’s videos. Earlier this month, Reuters published a story highlighting Wang’s off-Broadway brand of martial arts, which quickly went viral, even getting a spot in Stephen Colbert’s monologue where the late-night host giggles and refers to the practice as “Crotch Fu.”
But according to the Reuters report itself, the Iron Crotch technique, which is gained by taking hits to the “body’s weakest points while using qigong breathing techniques to inure oneself, is just one element of the branch of Tongbeiquan kung fu that’s been practiced in Wang’s village for the past 300 years.” In other words, this isn’t some hoaky, new age, Jackass-adjacent pseudo-subculture of martial arts: It’s fully legit.
“Iron Crotch Kung Fu,” as Stephen Jackson reported for MEL in 2017, is a “form of Qi Gong, a Chinese system of breathing, exercise and movement designed to improve energy flow in one’s body.” It just so happens that this thread of qi gong is in service of “energy flow” to one’s crotch. “When you practice Iron Crotch Kung Fu, as long as you push yourself, you will feel great,” Wang told Reuters.
Historically, the style of kung fu practiced by Wang was a fiercely guarded secret, but as concern grew over its survival, word got out. Iron Crotch Kung Fu actually made its way to the U.S. as early as 2004 with the arrival of Grandmaster Tu Jin-Sheng. “My dad was invited to perform his technique by Kungfu Magazine,” Julie Tu, the grandmaster’s daughter, tells me.
The grandmaster, according to Tu, is quite famous in Taiwan. “This practice was only meant for emperors in the dynasty era,” she says, adding that one of the main benefits of Iron Crotch Kung Fu is to help remedy erectile dysfunction (ED) and prostate issues. “Emperors in the past had so many wives, and it was people of high backgrounds that were only allowed to learn this practice,” Tu explains.
According to Grandmaster Tu’s website, the practice of Iron Crotch Kung Fu is “a penile panacea.” “It can prevent old age and diseases, increase energy and vitality, make muscles and bones stronger, reduce arterial blockage, cholesterol levels, diabetes, allergies and ear problems,” the site reports. “Additionally, of course, it can greatly enhance sexual performance.” The method, Tu insists, “will increase the sperm count and boost male hormone levels in a way that is much more natural and better than taking drugs like Viagra or steroids.” And to be clear, this practice is mainly for men. “Women can do it too,” says Tu. “But it doesn’t have the same benefits.”
As Jackson noted in his piece, from a Western perspective — and according to sexologist Paul Nelson of Franktalk.org, an online forum for men suffering from ED — “weight hanging is ‘rampant’ in the penis-enlargement world,” and it does provide “modest stretching and massaging of the penis.” This, he says, can improve blood flow and potentially help with issues of ED. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that hanging or pulling weight — or, indeed, smashing logs into your nether-regions — can help increase sperm count.
Nonetheless, Tu wants to make one thing clear, which is that the practice of appearing to (but not actually) mutilating your private parts via hanging weights from your penis or by jamming a wooden log into your dick isn’t the core purpose of this practice. “It’s meditation and breathing techniques,” she tells me. “The thing with social media is that people only see the hanging things.”
Even amongst qi-gong adherents, there’s some disagreement over who is practicing the technique the correct way. Tu tells me that Wang’s practice of “smashing things into your penis” is merely a performative version of this age-old practice. “It’s about hanging things, not smashing things,” she says. “What they’re [Wang] doing is performing stunts.”
Either way, it’s clear that this practice, in either capacity, is more than a punchline. Grandmasters like Tu and Wang are neither thrill seekers nor masochists. “My dad wanted to show how strong that area is,” Grandmaster Tu’s daughter tells me. “It’s about taking a weakness and turning it into a strength.”