Nerd Labs: Issue #5 - Iron Fist IRL

Hey everyone!

So Iron Fist has recently been pushed into the limelight (though admittedly not the most rose-colored of lights) with his Netflix original show. The character has been around for decades, and yet never truly got the recognition that a lot of people feel he deserved. With his own show and the upcoming Defenders series, plenty of people are starting to research, and get into the character like never before, myself included. This prompted the Nerd Labs team (Renegade and I) to do some research into just what exactly Danny Rand could do in the real world. So without further ado, lets get into it!

Lets start with some info about Rand. He is 5'11" in height, and 175lbs. He trained in martial arts under the monks of K'un-Lun beginning when he was 10, and earned the power of the iron fist after defeating Shou-Lou the Undying, a dragon who is actually a man who pissed off the wrong monk (long story). "He is able to concentrate his own chi and the superhuman energy from Shou-Lao's heart into his hand, with it manifesting as a supernatural glow around his hand and fist. So concentrated, this "iron fist" can strike with superhuman hardness and impact, while his hand becomes impervious to pain and injury. However, summoning the power required by this feat leaves Rand physically and mentally drained, unable to repeat the act for a time, as long as an entire day in certain instances, though after years of using the ability, it has become less draining." (Wikipedia) He is a master of nearly all martial arts, and has several impressive feats including dodging a bullet shot from behind him as well as punching through the hull of a ship.

Here's a few facts about the human body that we should know first going in. Be aware, there will be quite about of facts and numbers thrown at you at first. They are important and will come back, I promise. A fair amount of research for this comes from a study that was done in the organization of TaeKwon-Do that I am a part of, involving people that I know, so I can attest to it being valid and true.

Before we get too much further, we are going to discuss durability. Iron Fist does incredible feats, and rarely injures himself, which is where the real impressive stuff comes from. As a baseline, lets looks at regular humans. The hand is made up of 27 bones, all fairly small. When applied in the right way, it takes a measly 25lbs to break something in your hand (thats about the weight of your average two-year-old). However, under the right circumstances, forces of up to 19,000lbs have been recorded to be withstood by the human hand before breaking. Now, Iron Fist is a martial artist, and martial artists are generally known to be more durable and able to generate more force from strikes than regular people, so it is only fair to compare him to those of higher skill in the same areas. 

In the aforementioned study conducted by Blair Healey (a fellow fourth degree black belt in TaeKwon-Do) at the University of Saskatoon was focused on discovering the mechanics of breaking bricks with the human body, and how this practice affected the body over time. Here's the quick, details of the study: There were 9 particpants, all men, with a mean age of 32 and within 5% deviation in size to one another. They broke stacks of 8 concrete patio bricks with dimensions of 2"x8"x16", the standard broken in competition and on exams in our organization. This study found that it takes 450lbs of force to break a brick, and that applies for each brick on the stack that is broken (it doesn't get easier or harder further down the stack; each one takes an additional 450lbs to break). To put a small amount of context to this, I am 5'11" and about 230lbs, and have broken 6 bricks with a single strike. The most I have seen with one strike is 10 bricks. 

The study found that bone strength did not adapt to high impact forces (described as anything exceeding 4x the individual's body weight), however it is possible that adaptation could occur after a longer period of high impact force. Essentially, this means that Healey felt that if the participants had been breaking bricks for a longer period of their lives, it was likely they would see greater results. Brick breakers had their bone density tested in both their breaking (dominant) arms as well as their non-breaking (non-dominant) arms. The study found an average difference of 7.7% difference between the two, as opposed to the 5.3% most people have (the highest recorded in the breakers was a staggering 15.4%). They also found that breakers had a difference of 6.9% muscle strength between arms, where as the average person has 3.7%.

To make this easier, and sound like common sense, high impact training will result in denser bones in the limb you use most often, as well as increased muscle growth. I know this sounds like something you would suspect, but we need to show that we have evidence to back this up. Dammit, reader, I'm a comic scientist, not a politician! 

Okay, so we know what people can do after years of training in the real world. Now lets look at Iron Fist's feat of punching square through the hull of a ship. Ship hulls are made of what is called "shipbuilding steel" which is AH36 steel, at a thickness of 1/4", typically. AH36 steel has a yield strength of 250MPa, an ultimate tensile strength of 550MPa, and a density of 7.8g/cm^3. We learned in our issue about Spider-Man's webs that tensile strength is the force required to break something. 550MPa is equivelent to 79770.8psi (550000304.03N/m). Above, we said that "high impact" is anything exceeding 4x the individual's body weight. This kind of force is equal to 7million times Rand's body weight! A human hand at absolute max couldn't handle a quarter of that. Good thing Rand feels no pain, because his hand is essentially jello at this point. 

Now to address the reaction time issue. In the comic, Iron Man is shot at by a baddie from behind, and is able to react to the click of the gun and dodge the bullet before it reaches him. After careful examination of the panel, and discussions with our gun expert (Renegade's brother-in-law), we decided that the gun is likely a 9mm. This also lines up with the fact that the 9mm is the most popular handgun in the world at the moment. The bad guy shoots the gun from a distance of approximately 2meters away (around 6.5'). A 9mm shoots at a speed of is 380m/s (1,250feet/s), and right there is where we find our problem. See, the speed of sound is 340.29m/s (1125.33feet/s). This means that the bullet would reach him in less time than the sound waves would take! The bullet would hit Rand in the back in 5.2x10^-3 seconds. Even if somehow he heard the click of the gun (which breaks all laws of physics), he couldn't react in time. It takes the average person 0.17seconds to react to auditory stimulus. Even if we gave Rand reaction speed twice as fast as a regular person's, the bad guy could shoot him 16 times before he reacted to the click of the first shot. 

So basically, Iron Fist may be super strong, and super tough, but in this story, he is still going to be super dead.

And there you have it! Our results on the not-so-immortal Iron Fist! What did you think? Let us know! We will be back in a week with another post, one that is significantly more low-brow than this one, but until then, keep your claws sharp, bub!