The Baoding ball originated in Baoding, China, a small city in Heibei province. They were also called “Iron Balls” because they were originally made from solid iron.

The heavy solid ball has been replaced with a hollow, chrome-plated steel version… usually with an sounding plate inside that makes a that chimes when turned. Several of these modern companies also manufacture aerospace products. However, many sold today are Cloisonné models with Chinese symbols designed on the surface and more recently Western logos have appeared. The hollow chrome balls are by far the most popular and are manufactured by several large factories in China.

Mass production of the Baoding Iron Ball dates back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and Baoding craftsmen still meticulously produce them in Baoding, China.

What’s the Theory?
The balls work on the meridians much like acupuncture or shiatsu massage. According to Chinese traditional medical theory, these meridians (Jingluo) are channels or pathways through which vital energy (Qi) circulates within the body. Acupuncture points are also distributed along these Jingluo meridians. By means of the Jingluo, the ten fingers are connected with the cranial nerve and vital organs of the human body including heart, liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, gallbladder, stomach and intestines. By stimulating these points with the Baoding balls, each meridian is stimulated which in turn can create better circulation of vital energy and blood within the body.

Here is a quote from a Chinese advertisement for the baoding exercise balls: (“It can cause the jingluo unblocked and thorough, the vital energy and blood to function in harmony. the muscles nimble, the bones strong, the mind sober, can invigorate the circulation of blood, and can prevent and cure hypertension and various chronic diseases. If you keep on taking exercise every day for months and years, you can get the fine results of keeping your brain in good health with high intelligence and good memory, relieving your fatigue, drowning your worries, and moreover, prolonging your life.”

One Size Fits All?
Baoding balls do come in many sizes. It is recommended that a person start with a size that can be handled easily, then perhaps work up to the larger sizes. The most common sizes range from a diameter of 35mm to 55mm. The 35mm is small and is usually used by children or an adult less than 5’2″. The 55mm is best reserved for either the experienced user or someone who is over 6’2″.

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, treat then like you would the chrome on your car..just use a light oil or automotive wax on their surface to prevent rust from forming. They usually come in a case.

Getting Started
Begin your practice with two balls. Rotate them clockwise and counter-clockwise within your palm –two balls one palm. This first step is easy.

After you feel comfortable at this level, you can proceed to more difficult exercise. 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.

The Physical or Mechanical Aproach
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 is enough to begin your practices 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.

The Mental or Martial Arts Approach
The next step is like learning an internal martial art. You must begin to concentrate on what makes the balls move around in your palm. When you see someone who is good with the balls, they seem to rotate like magic, with almost no external effort. The obvious way is not always the most efficient way of doing things.

I found that the “other” way of moving the balls is by making space for them to roll into. You can practice this by rotating one ball in your palm. By manipulating each muscle of the palm, and by putting your palm very flat so gravity does not affect the movement, you can make the ball more about. Once you can make one ball move, you can usually get two balls to rotate slowly. Keep in mind that you are not pushing the balls, but giving them a space in which to roll. With practice, you will be able to rotate the balls smoothly and seemingly effortlessly within your palm.

This method requires small, minute adjustments of the muscles which takes quite a bit of concentration and relentless practice.

Relax, concentrate on the body, movement within stillness, stillness within movement… sounds like a meditation, taijiquan, calligraphy, massage, qigong, or yoga class. Once you realize that the concept is the same, you can practice any of these disciplines while you are working with the balls.

Going Further
To help you master the martial arts approach , you can test your abilities by using three balls. Once you can rotate three balls smoothly (without them separating), you can put a fourth ball on the top and watch it spin in the reverse direction…a trick showed me by the young master.

Another technique is to rotate two balls smoothly without them touching each other, using almost no hand motion. Advanced martial arts enthusiast could do the same with three balls.


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