Secret Fighting Exercises of Shaolin Kung Fu: Soft-Bones Arts

The 72 Secret and Consummate Arts of the Shaolin Temple i.e. its Secret Fighting Exercises or ‘Kungs’ fall into two main categories: ‘Hard’ Yang/Gang External Power Training or ‘Soft’ Yin/Rou Internal Energy Training. Soft Bone Arts aka ‘Rou Gu Gong’ falls into the latter category.

Technical Analysis

Rou Gu Gong develops the flexibility, suppleness and pliability of the body’s bones and joints. Increased resistance to sickness and disease is also noted in those mastering this Kung. Soft Bones Art involves stretching and contracting the muscles to an extraordinary degree. Comprising 5 Key Stages this Kung is an exercise specifically training the waist and legs.


Stage 1: Slipping the Leg

During this stage Students repeatedly kick directly upwards whilst standing upright without moving other parts of the body. With the supporting leg held erect, the kicking leg (kept as straight as possible) kicks upwards repeatedly, as high as possible, 100-200 times. Each leg is trained alternatively and the exercise repeated twice daily mornings and evenings for approximately 6 months or until students can kick at head height with ease.

Stage 2: Facing-Sky Kicking

Again, Students stand erect on their supporting leg, raise the other leg upwards and hold it there for as long as possible. Using the hands to grasp the thigh the shank (shin) is clasped to the chest and the sole of the foot points skywards. This position is then held until the student tires when the other leg is then exercised similarly.

Stage 3: One-Line-Legs

This stage incorporates the two essential dimensions of ‘splitting’. Horizontal One-Line Legs involves sitting with your legs stretched to your left and right respectively, ideally in a straight line, with both hands gripping the waist. In Vertical One-Line-Legs the limbs are stretched to front and rear similarly before the exercise is the repeated the other way round.

Stage 4: Training the Waist

With fingers interlaced, palms facing upwards and feet together stretch your arms high above your head. Bend your upper body forwards until you can place your hands firmly flat upon the ground with your head and shoulders both at the same level. Hold this position for as long as possible (10-15 minutes is ideal).

Next, with outstretched arms the exercise is repeated backwards, in reverse until both hands touch the ground. In this way the student achieves an arched bridging position. After maintaining this for a while the student attempts to return to the original upright position without any loss of balance.

Stage 5: Moving Bridge

When the above can be easily performed students practice folding their bodies to the left and right (greatly improving the flexibility of the waist). Finally, using hands and feet alone (the only body parts allowed to touch the floor) the body is circled clockwise and anticlockwise to right and left to further enhance waist-performance.


The waist itself is a key bridge linking together Upper and Lower parts of the body it also acts as a pivot when thrusting the fists and feet enabling more force to be transmitted to the extremities. Steam baths have been noted as helping to make the waist more supple for Rou Gu Gong.