Lesson of the Iron Cross
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It was late
one Saturday night in Pioneer Square. In the day time,
this is the artsy part of old Seattle, where members of
the yuppie business wave conglomerate on their luncheon
After sundown, the place
unzips and morphs into the swinging singles scene. Blues
pouring from one doorway, hard rock from the next. The
mass of humanity thoroughly represented by singles
looking for partners, street people, late night
revelers, dope pushers, prostitutes and even beggars, at
least those not lucky enough to find bedding space in
one of the public shelters.
I had gone to have a few
drinks. In fact I was trying to wash away a recently
ended relationship, when one of the revelers accused me
of staring at his date.
I hadn't been.
Pretty quickly, I saw where the situation
was headed. When I denied the charge, he accused me of
lying, then accused me of saying his girl was a hooker.
Before I go on, I should say that for several months
prior to this incident, I had been working extensively
to develop my hands. I had been punching into rice, into
pellets, into striking boards, and I even sank some
money into Chinese ointment to accelerate the process.
In time, I was able to break several bricks stacked
cleanly on top of each other, and just several days
before, I had punched through three pine boards in a
So ... you can imagine
my surprise when this fellow attacked me at close
quarters and I drilled him with a right hand cross punch
to the sternum, and nothing happened.
Well, actually something
happened. On impact. My wrist buckled! You have to
picture this like a tire blowing but, because that's how
it felt. There I was, firmly planted, perfectly
balanced, pulling up all this energy from the earth,
circuiting it through my body, and focusing it onto the
target in front of me. When my wrist gave, I literally
felt the energy pour out the side of my arm and
dissipate purposelessly away.
Before I had time to
reset, I was hit, but before any further damage could be
done, several members of the crowd pulled us apart and
the commotion was over.
Fortunately, I spent the
following Saturday with Master Isidro Archibeque, who
has already been introduced to readers in my previous
articles. "Archie," as he likes to be called, is known
throughout the Northwest for his "iron hand" breaking
When I told him what
happened, he admonished me for getting into the fight,
but as I knew he would, he began processing the
information, looking to find a solution. "The problem in
developing real striking power, ... I mean power like in
the one-inch punch, lies more in appropriate delivery,
than it does in hardening your hands. Some of the
hardest hitters I have ever trained have been ladies.
You can imagine how delicate their hands were. In
recounting your fight, you've already identified your
problem for me . Undeveloped wrists."
In defense of my
training, I protested, "But what about all those pushups
on my knuckles, hitting the striking board, the
specialized training with the iron pellets? If my
reverse punch can shatter three pine boards without
collapsing at the wrist, why can't I do it in a fighting
"Because the real
situation demands a different discipline than breaking
boards. The board or brick does not move. Therefore,
once your fist, your wrist, and your elbow are aligned,
everything is set, and everything is reduced to
maintaining good impact. With a moving target, and no
predictable pattern, the alignment of the wrist, the
fist and the elbow becomes problematic. In other words,
when hitting a stationary target, alignment is
essentially removed as a concern. It’s simply there..
However, when hitting a moving target, alignment remains
as the dominant factor. The problem, as you found out,
is that your practice regimen does not teach you how to
preserve that alignment in a fluid situation. Your wrist
It made sense to me.
"OK, I believe! How do I correct it?”
"Come back next week, and
we'll solve it for you."
When I returned the
following week. Archie presented me with two “T-shaped"
pieces of welded steel as he announced "Here's your
appeared to be made of bolts welded together at cross
angles, them smoothed over with a file.
"How do I use them?"
“Watch me,” he said, and
the next thing, he had clasped his hands firmly around
both "T's" and was supporting himself off of the ground
in what would normally be described as a pushup
position. He proceeded to do 15 pushups, sprung up, put
the devices into my hands, then commanded "Your turn!"
It looked so easy when he
The hand is closed
tightly around the head of the "T". Carefully support
your weight on both "T's" as you enter a pushup
position. Begin when ready...and be prepared for
I couldn't even get into
position to execute one pushup. "What the heck’s the
gimmick?” I hollered out, to which I received the
response I had already become accustomed to from my past
experiences with Archie. "It's all mind over matter."
Before going further, I want
all of you readers to understand I was so embarrassed by
this incident, I took the “T's" with me, and over the
course of the next two weeks let any number of prominent
Northwest martial artists (including several nationally
ranked competitors) try the exercise. Like me, none
succeeded in attaining the basic pushup position.
For some, a good
introduction to the Iron Cross concept is to try and
execute a pushup with a three inch bolt with a wide
The next time I met
Archie, he explained further, "It truly is mind over
matter. When you do this exercise, your attitude must be
'My life depends on this...I can not fail!' You "will"
your wrists to be locked into position, as your hands
wrap "solid" around the "T’s" in a locked-fist position.
Then you do the exercise. This is how the fist and the
wrist must feel when you execute a one-inch punch. This
exercise teaches you that "feeling." It also helps you
develop the skill. It may help for you to think of your
hands as conduits, like firehoses transporting water.
You draw energy in from your surroundings, move it
through your body, and focus it outward through your
hands. Just as when the firehose becomes rigid when it
fills with water, you move this energy through your
arms, and point it downward, and your wrist becomes
aligned and firm. There is no other secret than that,
besides much practice."
Practice I did and after
a month, I could do my first pushup using the devices.
Two weeks later, I added a second, and shortly
thereafter, a third. Today I can do ten pushups on what
I have come to call the "Iron Crosses."
Then, Archie began coming
up with variations.
variation on the "Iron Cross" pushup is the sideways
grip. This not only develops the wrists, but
also the power of the three major fingers
(thumb, forefinger and middle finger).
It took a while, but
after mastering this drill, one of my favorite pastimes
was to display them when visiting different schools, and
challenging entire classes (in fun, of course) to
"experience the iron cross." One day, I again met the
guy from the bar. Turns but, he was a first degree black
belt (I'll leave his style out of this), and maybe that
accounted for his ability to take my punch. He was eager
to try the drill. He remembered me, and we joked about
our "fight." Like everyone else, when he tried a pushup,
his wrists collapsed and down to the ground he went. He
tried again, and again, to no avail. He got up shaking
his head, "Knowing you can do this, I'm amazed you
didn't punch a hole in me that night."
I told him the story
about how the events of that evening had prompted me to
do something about my wrists. Eyeballing his sternum, I
thought, ... perhaps even out loud, "Today, ... I
Glancing at me nervously
he said, "Hey it’s been great meeting you again, and
talking to you, but I have to take a shower and pick up
my girl." He was gone. It didn't matter. What mattered
was something important had been missing from my
training. Fate-was kind to me, letting me learn about it
from a harmless encounter. Knowing something was missing
from my training, I consulted with a teacher, and
adjusted. My wrists won't give out again.
Now that I’ve shared this
lesson with you, will yours?
Once you've mastered
the "Iron Cross", try some of these variations using
knives. Please note, this is not trick