The Shaolin order of monks in China is noted for its rigorous training that enables them to perform quite incredible feats of strength and endurance. They are also known for being fierce kung fu warriors, strange for Buddhist monks who are supposed to be pacifist. So how did that happen? Kallie Szczepanski provides a brief summary of the turbulent 1,500 year old history of the order that mixes legend with facts.
Andrea James links to a video where a Shaolin monk breaks a pane of glass with a needle. The act is captured with high-speed cameras and replayed in slow motion.
There is, of course, nothing magical about the act. If you throw the needle fast enough and it hits the glass head on with the pointed end, the pressure exerted is sufficient to piece the glass. It is similar to the way a bullet can penetrate glass except that the needle is so much lighter. It is the sharp point of the needle that compensates for its low mass and provides the requisite pressure.
We can do a quick calculation of the pressure exerted on the glass, assuming that the time of contact is one frame of the 28,000 frames per second of the camera. Assume that the speed with which the needle is thrown is about 100 km/hour, comparable to how fast a baseball can be thrown, and that the mass of a needle is about 25 grams. If the cross-sectional diameter of the needle point is about 1.0 mm, then the pressure on the glass is about 1010 Newtons/m2, which is huge. As a comparison, atmospheric pressure is about 105 Newton/m2.
The impressive skill of the monk lies in throwing the needle with sufficient speed and in such a way that the pointed end hits the pane almost head on. That is no mean feat.