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Page 3 - The Mysterious Iron Balls of Baoding
Xiao Xin: Be Careful
The chrome-plated steel balls are easy to care for, especially if you are an active practitioner. If you are going to leave the balls inactive for a time, just use a light oil or automotive wax on their surface to prevent rust from forming. They usually come in a strong, specially formed case that holds them and displays them for curious visitors. What other exercise equipment can you display with dignity in your living room?
But please take care of where you hold the balls as you practice. Things I learned from experience ... don't hold the balls high over your head, knees or toes. As a beginner, you will undoubtedly drop a ball, and 10 ounces of falling steel can be quite painful.
As one store owner told me, don't hold the balls over expensive handicrafts or it could turn out to be a very expensive exercise session. A falling ball can easily shatter a glass display case.
When I was younger, I heard that the balls were used as a weapon in China, but my recent research failed to find any reference or reason for throwing expensive exercise balls as a weapon when a rock would be just as effective. I guess if someone attacked you while you were practicing you could use them as a weapon. If you were a true martial artist, you could easily defeat the enemy and then leave a set of balls for them as a friendly gesture to help speed their recovery.
How To Start
Begin your practice with two balls. Rotate them clockwise and counter-clockwise within your palm. This first step is easy and you will soon begin to experiment, finding that if you hold your hand at a certain angle, gravity will help you rotate the balls.
After you feel comfortable at this level, which should take only a couple of hours of practice, you can proceed to deeper learning. Try rotating the balls smoothly, without them coming apart and clashing together again. As an alternative, you might try rotating them without them touching ... this will work your fingers a little more, and is difficult if the balls are a little large for your hand size.
Another alternative is to turn your palm downwards and rotate the balls. This will build some finger strength and dexterity, much like rotating the balls without touching. Be inventive and try cascading them one over the other, etc.
If you practice for more than fifteen minutes with one hand, you will soon notice that your forearm, shoulder, and hands are receiving a substantial workout. Don't overdo it... relax and rest a bit if your body needs it.
The External Method
The logical and obvious way of moving the balls is to push them around with your fingers. When one ball pushes against the other, it replaces it and the other ball must move. If your palm is curved, the second ball moves into the position that the first ball occupied and the rotation is begun. Repeating this one simple movement will be enough to begin your adventure with the balls. There are many variations of this theme, and you can use three balls to increase the difficulty. With enough practice, you can even work them around your fingers like a magician.
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