Monday, August 8, 2011

Godhand and Hickey: Making the Body Into a Weapon

Cow Murder Advocate Oyama
Oyama preparing to abuse a random animal
Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Oyama dojo is definitely a man who could could be considered a superhuman. Throughout the 1950's he demonstrated his power and ability by fighting bulls to the death barehanded. Prior to killing the bulls, he would often break their horns from their heads with a strike of his hand. Although I certainly don't approve of his treatment of animals, it's still an amazing feat. He was nicknamed Godhand, because he could kill a bull, and more to the point, a man with a single punch.
I don't believe in violence myself; however, I do understand that a person incapable of violence will always live at the mercy of those who are capable. I feel it much more responsible to develops ones abilities and choose not to harm, then to live in impotence and beg those more powerful to be fair. The ability to smash through wood, concrete, and even bone without having to worry about having hamburger instead of hand would certainly make one far more likely to win any altercation that occurs without weapons, and thus bone hardening is certainly an augmentation worth exploring. 

A Smashing Good Time
The United States and WorldBreaking Association is an organization dedicated essentially to getting a bunch of guys together to break various objects in weird ways. No, I'm not joking. The world records listed include feats such as the most rebar bent in 30 seconds with a man's throat. Another record is the number of baseball bats broken with an elbow in 10 seconds. While I'm certainly not downplaying the difficulty of such activities, I'm primarily going to focus on a record held by Paul Hickey from Fairfield, Conneticut. Mr. Hickey broke six 1'' pine boards in a single ridgehand strike. Only 6 boards you say? Although this may not be the most visually stunning accomplishment when compared to the myriad of videos showing people breaking 4 foot high stacks of cinder blocks, when the physics and anatomy involved are explained, I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's pretty amazing.
So, the first twist in this tale is simply that wood is considerably more difficult than concrete to break. Tensile testing is a method to determine exactly how much force is necessary to cause a material to fail. The unit of measure I'm going to be using is Ultimate Tensile Strength (TS) in pounds of force per square inch. Take Pine wood for example. The Ultimate Tensile Strength is around 40 lbs of force per square inch. So if you simply place a 40 pound barbell on one of those neat little breaking boards found is the local Tae Kwon Do studio, the weight alone should be enough to break it. Bone is actually much stronger. It's TS is closer to 130 for the bones of the upper limbs. And those concrete blocks that look so impressive? A mere TS of 3. That's right... 3. The average cap blocks used are 2 inches thick so this should equate to a piddly 6 lbs or so. There are a few additives mixed in so these cap blocks are not concrete alone. With the additive, the TS still ends up being somewhere between 20 and 25. So a single 2 inch thick concrete block is harder then a 1 inch pine board to break, but not by all that much. Now, don't think that you can just add these values together when you stack more then one piece of wood or concrete together. There are still some compression effects and such, so the difficulty really is greater than the sum of it's parts for the huge impressive breaks. If you take a moment to compare these two videos, I think it will be pretty evident how much more impressive breaking wood is compared to concrete.

Another amazing aspect of Bill Hickey's break is the striking surface he uses. From the TS values above, we know that bone is considerably harder then wood. But the man is channeling all that force into one metacarpal, and to a lesser degree one carpal.
The diameter of these bones depends greatly upon the stature of the individual, but it would be one huge sonofabitch that had 1.5 inch diameter metacarpal bones. Just for discussion sake, let's use this ridiculously large metacarpal for our calculations. We'll also ignore the large medullary cavity at the center of the bone and simply pretend that the metacarpal is a nice solid 1.5 inch inch rod of pure unadulterated smashing potential. This bone should be able to withstand around 195 lbs of pressure before failing. Now consider for a moment that Mr. Hickey broke 6 1'' pine boards. Even if we leave out compression and just add up the TS of each board, it must have taken a minimum of 240 lbs of force to break. This is a glaring inconsistency.

 Stone Men and Cowboys
The reason that Mr. Hickey didn't break his hand comes down to training. A 1980 study revealed that boxers have an increase in mineral saturation in their hand bones (Kornev, 1980). This is significant, because this would result in a higher TS level. Another study performed in 1982 demonstrated that practitioners of Karate have much smaller medullary cavities, thickened metacarpal bones, and the addition of what are referred to as sesamoid bones (Antonov, & Shustov, 1982). Sesamoid bones are bones that are surrounded by tendon. Some Sesamoid bones are found in everyone. The Patella or knee cap is a good example. There are also a few sesamoids that are found in most people in the hands, but the sesamoid bones this study found were thick and found between the phalanges, in a perfect position to reinforce the hand for striking. There are two conclusions one can draw from this. Either people with extra hand bones have a natural propensity to practice Karate, or people who practice Karate can actually grow new bones in their hand. Is it really possible to grow new bones you ask? The answer is yes.
Cowboys in the 19th century would often form heterotrophic bones along the inside of their thighs (Martini, Timmons, & Tallitsch, 2003) . The label, Heterotrophic makes little sense to me. For a biological organism to be heterotrophic means that they eat other biological matter. For a bone to be heterotrophic though, means that it's a bone that grew outside of the normal skeletal system. So what was happening was that Cowboys would ride all day long and subject the tendons in their legs to constant stress. Over time, some of the bone making cells would migrate away from the covering of the bone to the closely associated tendon. It would set up shop and start ossification, resulting in a weird but useful extra set of wide flat bones along the inside of each thigh. This is the same type of process that occurs in the hands of a Karateka. By constantly subjecting the tendons between the phalanges to stress and impact, sesamoid bones form. Now although we are discussing this in a positive light, this process is really looked upon more as a disease process than a boon in the medical field.
Two diseases that results in new bones forming in the body are Tendinitis Ossificans where bone forms from tendon, and Myositis Ossificans where bone forms from muscle. Most of the time people inherit this disease, but some develop it after injury occurs. Spinal Trauma patients are particularly prone to having excess and incorrectly positioned bone growth secondary to either the initial injury or even surgery. A much more severe disease process is Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, the so-called Stone Man Syndrome. 
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva
Those unfortunate enough to inherit Stone Man Syndrome have a gene for ossification which never get's shut off after birth. The persons entire body over time is turned to bone, save the diaphragm, tongue, extra-ocular muscles, cardiac and smooth muscle. This is a very rare syndrome without a treatment. The biggest bit of advice given to children with this disorder is simply don't fall down. Any stress or injury to their bones result in increased osteoblast activity which spreads throughout the body turning it to stone. In a normal healthy adult, stress and injury also increases osteoblast activity, but this is actually beneficial because it results in increased bone density and strength. In fact in woman with osteoporosis, the stress on the bones from activities such as weight lifting have been shown to improve posture and decrease the rate or even stop bones from getting weaker. Very seldom have I ever met someone I respected who believed "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but for bones it really is the case.


The objectives of training your bones for combat are:
  • develop smaller medullary cavities of the selected bones
  • Thicken the selected bones
  • Increase the mineral density of the selected bones
  • Subject tendons to stress in order to foster the growth of sesamoid bones

All of these can be accomplished through a cautious regimen of impact training for the chosen bone, topical treatments to increase healing of the area, and a closely controlled diet to enhance your bodies ability to form bone.

Impact training is highly dependent on what bone your attempting to develop. Many choose to condition their shins and the bone of their feet for kicking. Those who box or favor punching styles may work primarily on their knuckles. The areas I believe most useful and will discuss include the carpals of the palms of the hands, and the distal Radius and Ulna. Practitioners of Iron Palm spend years developing their hands by striking a sequentially harder surfaces.
The first advisable surface is a canvas bag filled with sand. After 3 months, the sand can be exchanged with gravel, and after six month one can use ball bearings. After a year, a person should have significantly stronger bones and hand structure, and be ready to practice striking blocks of wood and stone. To begin, the strikes should be relatively soft. If you bruise your hand or damage the skin, your trying to hard. Remember that one hefty training session of beating your hands into swollen lumps will not provide you with the results you want any more than running one marathon a year will keep a person thin. The path lies in consistency.
Each person should assess themselves and the results of training to design their own regimen. One example of a regimen to reference would be as follows:

Massage the hands with appropriate topic liniment and then:
  • 60 open handed palm strikes
  • 60 closed handed strikes with the dorsal surface of the hand
  • 60 strikes with the distal ulna
  • 60 strikes with the distal radius
Massage the hands with ointment again and repeat all strikes. Finish by immersing the hands in an ice bath. The ice bath prevents inflammation of the non-bone components of the hand.

Dit Da Jow in the making
Another aspect of this training to consider is administration of topical liniment. The traditional liniment used in Iron Palm training is called Dit Da Jow. A study on the effects of Dit Da Jow with acupressure in comparison to acupressure alone revealed that the liniment results in a reduction of pain, and an increase in range of motion for both extensor and flexor muscles (Balutis) . 
Unfortunately, this study described the recipe for Dit Da Jow as being from a "2000 year old Chinese recipe." It provides no details whatsoever. So after digging around a bit, I found a few recipes and the knowledge that if you buy it pre-made your getting ripped off. One online pre-made Dit Da Jow for Iron Palm Training for example was available in a 4oz bottle for fourteen dollars. For the around the same price, one can make their own half gallon portion by following the directions provided by Dr. John Crescione, available through this link.
Prior to beginning a bone development regimen, it's also very important to consider diet and supplementation. First of all, one shouldn't perform impact exercises while on a restricted calorie diet, or while fasting. The body needs adequate energy to heal. In addition, I advise the following supplements to complement the diet for rapid bone, ligament, and tendon repair for a 200 lb male. If your not a 200 lb male then I apologize, but ten minutes on google will provide you with the information you need. Your total intake for each substance should be above the daily recommended, but below the levels that cause toxicity.

Vitamin D 4000 IU
Calcium 1000mg/Day in two 500mg doses
Boron 3mg
Chelated Magnesium 500mg
Zinc 50mg
Strontium 680mg Do not take strontium at the same time as calcium, as they compete for uptake.
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane ) 1000mg
Chondroitin 1200mg
Glucosamine 1500mg

One should also pay attention to the "don't takes" during bone development. If your on any medication or supplement that isn't listed, it would be prudent to find out if it has any effect on the skeletal system. Also, nicotine and caffeine are both substances known to have a detrimental effect on bone. So no smoking, and keep your caffeine below 400mg a day.
The Surgical Solution: A Bone to Pick
One final possible method of bone augmentation should be discussed, although I have serious doubts as to finding a physician who would participate. The firm, Stryker Biotech, produces a product called Calstrux. Calstrux is a osteoconductive reabsorbable putty. It's used when a person sustains an injury or receives an operation which results in voids or gaps in the bone. This putty is placed in the gap, and osteons soon migrate and begin ossifying the area. As the putty is absorbed by the body, the space continues to be filled until only bone is left. This is great as long as the putty remains where is should. In November of 2009 however, the company was indited for not informing surgeons of the possible side effects. Clients in whom pieces of the putty broke off and migrated away from the bone, were found to have new bones in unusual and possibly dangerous places. You see, it doesn't matter where you place the Calstrux. Calstrux will become bone. This is an augmentation certainly outside the grasp of any mundane citizen such as myself. In theory though, it could provide the means of making oneself armored against attack, such as with an improved reinforced ribcage, or perhaps even as a weapon itself with something akin to knives or reinforced club like hands. I'm not terribly interested in turning myself into a bludgeon, but hey, different strokes for different folks.
Having "Iron Palms" alone certainly wouldn't be enough to make one a superman who defeats all his enemies with ease. Learning hand to hand combat takes time, discipline, and effort. In many altercations, training and conditioning still isn't enough, and it really comes down to the biggest guy wins. This is not always the case though. Godhand Oyama, was only 5'8'' tall and was capable of beating nearly any man of his time. For this reason, I feel this augmentation is worthy of consideration.

Antonov, SG, & Shustov, VN. (1982). X-ray study of the loaded portions of the skeleton of the upper extremities in athletes engaged in karate. Arkh Anat Gistol Embriol., 82(5), 71-7.

Kornev, MA. (1980). Effect of participation in certain types of sports on the hand bones of adolescents and youth. Arkh Anat Gistol Embriol, 78(2), 5-9.

Diane, Balutis. Acupressure vs acupressure with dit da jow for the relief of acute distal extremity pain due to delayed-onset muscle soreness. Fayetteville, Pa 17222,

Martini, , Timmons, , & Tallitsch, . (2003). Human anatomy. United States: Prentice-Hall.

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