Not to be confused with Ben Wa balls.
Baoding balls (Chinese: 保定健身球; pinyin: Bǎodìng Jiànshēn Qiú, literally "Baoding physical exercise balls") are also known as Chinese exercise balls, Chinese meditation balls, Chinese medicine balls, and healthy balls. They are a traditional product of Baoding, China, thought to have been created during the Ming dynasty. Two or more Baoding balls are rotated repetitively in the hand to improve manual dexterity and strength, and they are also said to assist in injury recovery.
Baoding balls are believed to have originated in Baoding, a town in the Hebei province of China, during the Ming Dynasty. They were once called "iron balls", since they were originally made of iron. As of 2011, there are still artisans in Baoding who produce the meditation balls.
Materials and composition
As Baoding balls became more popular and metalworking skills improved, construction methods varied. Most Baoding balls made and used today are constructed as a pair of hollow spheres, one inside the other, with a chime between which rings as the inner ball strikes it. Many modern examples are decorated with cloisonné and brass wire; however, these are not as suitable for actual use because they can easily chip when dropped or when they come into contact with each other. For injury recovery, hollow balls are generally more suitable due to their lighter weight. For exercise purposes balls made of solid iron, steel or tungsten carbide provide added weight, requiring more effort to rotate.
The basic exercise consists of rotating a pair of Baoding balls in the palm of the hand, ensuring even and constant contact is made between the balls. Once this has been learned, the rotation speed can be gradually increased until the balls separate in the hand. Eventually one can learn to rotate them completely without the balls making contact with each other. Exercises have been developed involving two, three, four or more balls.
The average person should be able to start with a 45-millimeter (1.8 in) diameter ball, moving up to the 60-millimeter (2.4 in) size as their muscles get accustomed to the exercise. Larger Baoding balls (70–100 millimeters (2.8–3.9 in)) can be used, although eventually it is impossible to rotate them without touching. The area of the hand exercised can be varied at advanced levels of practice, altering the portion of the hand they rotate over, or changing the orbit of the balls in the hand so that more force is exerted on a particular finger or particular finger joints. Well-known strongmen such as John Brookfield use large shot-put balls as Baoding balls, rotating them to develop forearm muscles and improve grip.
In popular culture
In Kamen Rider Fourze, the character Kou Tatsuragi (also known as the Leo Horoscopes) uses a pair of walnuts as Baoding balls. Due to the wrinkled shape of a walnut shell, this creates a distinctive grinding rattle sound.
Baoding balls are used by the character CLU 2 in Tron: Legacy; this occurs in the arena scene as Sam Flynn battles Rinzler/TRON. Kevin Flynn himself is seen to have a similar pair of objects as decor in his home, but which are actually Yoshimoto Cubes that are spiked instead of rounded and resemble the Bit of the original Tron.
Cptn Philip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) uses them in The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Fearless (2006 film) features a scene where Master Chin (Chen Zhi Hui) is seen to be using Baoding balls .
Boyz n the Hood (1991) features a scene where Laurence Fishburne is seen using Baoding balls.
Open Season 3 (2010) Scruffy is seen using Baoding balls several times throughout the movie.
Children's television series Strange Days at Blake Holsey High featured a Baoding ball originally owned by the protagonist, Josie Trent. She loses one during a trip to the past, where it winds up gaining unusual properties and becomes a key plot devices in the series.
Arnold Rimmer, a character from television show Red Dwarf uses Baoding balls in episode Rimmerworld. They are prescribed to him as treatment of his stress-related condition. In the episode, Rimmer is imprisoned for 557 years, during which he manages to wear out the balls into the size of peas.