Lesson of the Iron Cross

The 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 forays.

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.

Everyone hustling something.

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 demonstration.

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 demonstrations.

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 situation?"

"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 failed you!"

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 solution."

Essentially, they 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 did it!

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 the worse!

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 head.

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.

A challenging 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 wonder...”

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 photography! 

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