In one of the episodes of Stan Lee's Superhumans (the excerpt in question can be viewed here) a Shaolin monk named Hu Qiong claims that by training his body and "transfering Chi to the right part of the body" he can make his body so tough that it is like "wearing steel armour". He then demonstrates a few feats including one where he pushes an electric drill against his stomach, throat and skull.

The feat has been witnessed by a "bio-mechanical engineer", Dan Voss, who says he has performed a test that confirmed that the monk has indeed been pushing the drill against his skull.

Is the monk using "chi energy", as he claims, to make himself "unbreakable" and withstand an electric drill?

What kind of answers I expect

These are, in my opinion, the possible answers that can be given:

  1. The "bio-mechanical engineer" has used an invalid method to "confirm" that the monk had indeed been pushing the drill against his body. (Why?)
  2. The method used by the engineer was correct, but the monk has fooled him into thinking that he was pushing the drill. (How?)
  3. The monk was indeed pushing the drill against his body but has used a method that wasn't based on "chi energy" to withstand the drills power. (What method?)
  4. The monk has indeed used an interpretation of the "chi energy" concept in order to protect himself from the drill. (How does this work?)
  5. We were fooled to believe that the drill would cause severe harm to the monk in the first place. (Why?)
  • 11
    What chi energy is, is irrelevant. Either this guy can perform the feat or not.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 13:26
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    Anecdote: I was coincidentally using a cordless drill yesterday, and felt stupid enough to give a careful test. Wood drill bit (the sharpest kind?), fairly large diameter, pushed lightly against my thumb (firmly enough to dent in the skin), at a low speed (probably a small fraction of full speed but still fast enough to look good), both directions (I felt more comfortable when it was in reverse): zero damage to skin, but got hot rather rapidly. I was more worried about burns if I continued the experiment than cuts. Note: I am a professional moderator. Don't try this at home just because I did.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 0:18
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    @MMM He's saying that he's using "Chi Energy" but let's be pragmatic, the question is more if he can do the feat or not. Whether or not "chi energy" is involved or not is secondary since if he's performing the feat through other means (i.e. slight of hand) then the explanation is moot. If he is performing the feat then that doesn't mean that his explanation or understanding of how he is doing it is valid.
    – rjzii
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 2:44
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    A possible answer: From the little bit I watched, they put the pressure transducer on the handle of the drill. This would report pressure if he was drilling into himself, but it would also report pressure if he just squeezed the handle itself very hard. In fact, if you look at the type of drill they're using, it's the type with a second handle for bracing. So he could just be bracing against the drill itself and basically apply as much force as his body will allow, but push the bit a little bit into his skin. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 21:13
  • 7
    What should a drill do to human skin?
    – user5582
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


Note: the supporting material in this answer contains references to suicide.

If you feel suicidal, please consider getting help

The literature call severe injuries related to drill bits 'extremely rare', most of the reported are connected with a fatality, which, reading the articles, is not due to the special lethality of drill bits, but rather that fatalities get reported on more. Actually, many of the cases involve non-lethal injuries by bit, even when the bit penetrated the brain. If death then followed, it was often due to drill-unrelated injuries.

Less severe drill bit injuries seem run-of-the-mill, as evidence by them appearing in an overview of pandemic-hobby injuries, but not as reports separate from such a meta-theme.

From top: Spade, brad point, masonry, and twist drills bits.

Even the masonry drill bit, which is not sharp in the classical sense, can be lethal if enough force is applied. A twist drill bit can create deep cuts when a glancing blow is dealt. In penetrating wounds, the entry wound, due to the cutting action and the elastic nature of skin, is smaller7 or as big than the later canal through bone, or as big as the drill bit - interestingly, the wound pattern of twist- and wood-drill (brad point) bit are very similar.

If the rotating chuck of the machine hits the skin, abrasion and burns follow (yet with the higher velocity of the larger chuck, this can not necessarily be used as a comparison for an ultra-dull drill bit). While most of the cited injuries where caused by force consistent with human effort, an accidental injury (fatal) could have involved larger forces, due to the fall from a step ladder.

Drill bits can also penetrate the skin above soft tissue of, e.g., the hand or the throat without bone directly underlying the site, as is the case in cranial injuries.

None of the sources mention chi-use, either on the side of the one wielding the drill, nor on the receiving side (which in many but not all cases is the same). The issue of mental concentration is not raised, nor implicitly covered (like 'patient, 43, non-monk, presented to the emergency room,...).

The 'monk vs drill' videos consistently show the use of a two-hand-grip drill, where the forehand could work against the backhand to produce a very low, measured, amount of thrust onto the body monk using two hands to mock-press a drill onto their head

In the History channel docu-flick they also show that there is indeed damage to the skin (if only abrasive). skin abrasion visible on monk's belly

In none of the videos is the drill bit shown to be effective against anything, it is thus left open whether the bit is actually sharp, or even non-dull; In real injuries with a drill bit, where the drill bit entered until the chuck hit the skin, the chuck did not penetrate, but abrade and burn the skin, showing that a completely dull, rotating surface does not penetrate (with the forces involved in these incidents). The drill bit of the monks does not penetrate, but abrade. As shown in the forensic experiments, the action of normal twist drill bits against skin is a cutting one, while performative Shaolin monks are never shown to be impervious to other cutting action, always blunt force.

Non-monks can do something very similar one-handed, even. (Note the direction the drill seems to be going vs where he says it goes)

  • 1
    While this is an interesting answer it doesn't really answer the question and only suggests how it could have been done.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 16:57
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    Well, the question is 'did they do <clearly fake thing> using <magic>?' I went with <look how thing goes in real life> , and <note no one in science is talking about <magic>>. Homeopathy et al make health claims and as such there is a host of scientific publications to debunk them, but that does not hold for stage magic. Geller never got a paper, though his disciples did (nature.com/articles/257008a0) - but no true scotsman, right? The only valid experiment would have a monk drill themselves in the head, and there is no ethics comitee in existence that would allow for that.
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 21:51
  • You don’t need to experiment to have data that shows how something was faked. Your answer is making guesses about what happened.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 21:53
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    Your answer makes a claim that they could have used one hand to offset the force of the other hand however there appears to be no evidence provided to show/suggest that is what happened. Answers shouldn't be used to speculate on how something was done.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 23:10
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    @JoeW So... how would i go about disproving the claim? Would i need to disprove that Hu, on that specific occasion, did not use Chi to prevent the drill from entering his head? All we see in the video is him holding a drill to his skin, scream, and come away with a little mark. I'll link a video of someone doing that without Chi.
    – bukwyrm
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 12:52

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