Thursday, April 11, 2002

Iron Palm - A Simplified Method by Gerald Moffatt

Iron Palm - A Simplified Method by Gerald Moffatt

Date: 1997/05/18

In response to several requests I am posting a simplified method of iron palm. I will post additional installments as my time permits. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames. :-)


This is the first installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. It uses a combination of western and Chinese methods. No book or video, let alone newsgroup posting, is sufficient to properly learn the full technique - that takes expert personal instruction. Hell, would you think someone could learn to ride a bike or fly-cast from printed instructions?

I am not an expert in iron palm, but I would classify myself as a competent journeyman. I will focus on the core "big" iron palm using the full palm and fingers although I will also comment on the "small" iron palm, and other delivery variants, as well as other different striking surfaces, such as palm heel, backhand, etc. I will say only a little about breathing and dit da jow. The breathing is important - the dit da jow less so. The method I use is derived from the Pak Sing Fut Ga substyle of Choy Li Fut.

The reason I emphasize incorporating western methods is that a lot of the trappings of iron palm are traditional and it is somewhat unclear whether they are really necessary. (I am reminded of the statement ascribed to a Borneo chieftain, "It has been conclusively proved by hundreds of experiments that beating drums will restore the sun after an eclipse.")

The iron palm is ultimately a "power slap" and derives much of its power from simultaneously combining two power generation techniques from the martial arts: torquing/rotation of the hips and the body drop. These are the engines of the technique; the delivery system is the whipping motion of the arm. The objective is very high hand speed - this explains the similarity to the baseball throw.

Most martial artists are familiar with hip rotation as a method of generating power from the large muscle groups of the body - the body drop seems less well known. The body drop is used in the short punch of Chinese martial arts. An explanation of the body drop follows.

The body drop has two subtechniques: the knee buckle and the abdominal crunch. The first part, the knee buckle, is well explained in the booklet Bruce Lee's 1 and 3 Inch Power Punch, James W. DeMile, 3rd ed., Tao of Wing Chun Do Publications, 1979.

Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Step the right foot back about one foot or so (depending on your body size). Both feet point roughly straight ahead (this is for training, not fighting). The heel of the rear foot should be slightly elevated (although some people leave it flat). The knees are just barely bent. Suddenly let your knees relax and buckle, dropping your body mostly down by several inches but also a bit forward. The heel of the rear foot lifts as the body drops. You should bend the rear knee a little more than the forward knee. This will have the effect of more weight shift to the forward leg as well as some rotation of the hips. The rear knee will come partially over towards the side of the lead knee (but not exaggeratedly so).

The abdominal crunch is similar to the training exercise that is performed supine, except now we perform it standing. It is not like a sit-up. Think in terms of trying to touch your chin to your pubic symphysis, resulting in a uniform arch in your back (i.e., no reverse curve in the small of the back). The recti abdominii are strongly tensed, yet most other muscle groups stay fairly relaxed, especially the shoulders which must stay dropped. The tensing of the stomach muscles is a short explosive pulse, not a sustained contraction. The breathing is important here. During the contraction pulse, expel your breath (not all of it) leaving your chest rather concave and hollow, and your belly somewhat distended and full. As a result of this pulsed abdominal crunch your head and shoulders will come forward. Augment this forward movement with a slight additional bending from the hips and waist.

Practice integrating these two movements. As you master them, you have only to add the arm and hand techniques to be able to develop the basics of the Chinese short punch. In the next installment we will start adding additional aspects of the iron palm.

Date: 1997/05/19

This is the second installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. In this installment I will discuss hand conditioning for the iron palm. I will post additional installments as my time permits. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames :-)


The key point about hand conditioning is *go slow* and don't overdo it. If you are training by yourself without guidance by an experienced sifu *go even slower*! The line between strengthening the hands and injuring or deforming them from repeated trauma is a fine one. This is especially true for impact exercises. If you overdo it, you may impair the mobility and dexterity of your hands and set yourself up for later problems such as arthritis from joint inflammation, etc. Even for martial arts, using the hand to grasp is at least as important as using it for striking. Loss of hand sensitivity will impair both ordinary daily activities (e.g., writing, picking your nose) and your martial arts.

I believe that ordinary western methods of strengthening the hands without impact exercises will go a long way towards developing an iron palm. These include the various hand grippers and squeezing exercises. I also recommend strengthening the forearms and wrists with wrist rollers, etc. Finger pushups are OK if approached slowly and progressively. The key point about hand conditioning for iron palm is that strengthening involves more than an increase in muscle strength. Sinews, tendons, ligaments, and fascia must be strengthened and this is a slower process than building muscle. Bone density will also increase from a regimen of exercise continued over a long period. The process of strengthening consists of the stimulus of training followed by time for recovery and response - be sure to leave sufficient time between training sessions or you will tear down rather than build up.

The impact methods include thrusting and striking. Thrusting consists of plunging the extended hand into a bucket of granular material. The bucket is supported on a sturdy low table or bench (a bit more than knee height). The granular material can include a progression through a mixture of black and green peas, BBs, gravel, marbles, iron filings, and ball bearings. I personally think the peas are good enough - they also seem to be easier on the skin leaving a "soapy-feeling" residue. (Avoid iron filings. Despite iron's association with the technique's name, filings really tear the skin up and slivers stick in, etc. Some fanatics even heat the iron. That isn't training - it's masochism!) The thrust is performed downwards with the wrist straight, the fingers together, and the thumb tucked alongside (somewhat like a karate nukite strike). After the strike the fingers are curled closed as a resistance exercise. At first the thrusts need not be full speed or powerful - slowly build up to it. Traditionally the technique is performed in a horse stance. (Just a tip. Sweep up afterwards. If the little peas, ball bearings, etc. get scattered about, they hurt like hell when stepped upon in bare feet.)

If you have access to dit da jow, use it according to instructions. The hype is that dit da jow, will soothe the skin, prevent or relieve bruises, relieve congestion, prevent blood clots, and even toughen and harden the skin, sinews, and bone. Maybe. To quote my sifu (who was also a herbalist), "Or you could use Absorbine Jr." One funky old book on iron palm I have recommends "sipping hog's blood on alternate days" during training and abstaining from all sex. Hmm....

I will defer discussion of the striking methods until later since they must be performed in conjunction with other aspects of the iron palm technique.

In the next installment I will discuss wrist snap.

Date: 1997/05/22

This is the third installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. In this installment I have added some additional material regarding hand conditioning and some thoughts on chi. I then discuss wrist snap for the iron palm. I will post additional installments as my time permits. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames :-)


I should add one item to the previous installment regarding hand conditioning. As thrusting training continues, separate the fingers a bit rather than keeping them in the nukite position. In fact, sometimes hyperextend the fingers when thrusting. This helps to strengthen the finger extensors, an often underdeveloped small muscle group. When doing this, some people find it helpful to think in terms of chi flowing from their fingertips. Finger extension or flowing chi - pick whatever explanation suits you. Try to think of chi only as an explanatory mechanism - not something esoteric and mystical. (As an aside, western physics required the "kinda mystical" ether as a propagation medium for electromagnetic waves before Einstein developed the distortion of space-time as an alternative explanation. The four differential equations of Maxwell for "electromagnetic propagation through the ether" still are very mainstream physics even today, as anyone who has designed a wave guide will tell you. Nowadays, such concepts of physics as "string theory" are far removed from everyday experience and are certainly not directly demonstrable. Accordingly, do not lightly discard concepts such as chi - evaluate such concepts instead by their ability to unify, explain, predict, and control a range of phenomena in a given domain. I recommend taking such an "operationalist" view of chi rather than characterizing it as true or untrue.)

Wrist snap movements form another component of the iron palm (and of other techniques from Chinese martial arts). These techniques may be unfamiliar to some martial artists, particularly those from schools that keep the wrist rigid and straight for most blows. There are three primary sets of complementary pairs of wrist snap techniques:

  1. flexion and extension
  2. ulnar and radial deviation
  3. overturning and its reverse

To perform flexion and extension of the wrist, first place your arm in front of you with the palm facing the floor and the wrist straight. Extend the wrist by bending the hand upwards; flex the wrist by bending the hand downwards. Now perform the exercise slightly differently. Extend your arm with the hand flat as before, but this time leave the fingertips and elbow relatively fixed in space and achieve the wrist bends of flexion and extension by alternatively moving the wrist up or down. Next perform the same wrist movements with a *snap* from fully flexed to fully extended and vice versa. The extension snap, in particular, is used for some types of iron palm. Both of these wrist snap movements are the basis of some blocks in various styles of kung fu including the "fish hand" alternate blocks in which the flexion/extension wrist snaps are performed side-to-side rather than up-and-down.

To perform radial and ulnar deviation of the wrist, first place your arm in front of you with the wrist straight and the hand flat in a vertical plane. Your thumb, if extended, would point straight up . Radial deviation of the wrist is performed by pointing the fingers somewhat upwards up with the hand still in a vertical plane, ulnar deviation by pointing the fingers somewhat downwards. Now perform this exercise again slightly differently. Extend your arm with the hand flat as before, but this time leave the fingertips and elbow relatively fixed in space and achieve the wrist bends of ulnar and radial deviation by alternatively moving the wrist up or down. Next perform the same wrist movements with a snap. Most people find getting good "deviation snaps" more difficult than for flexion and extension - it takes considerable practice. The radial deviation snap, in particular, is used for some types of iron palm as well as for the short punch . Both of these wrist snap movements are also the basis of some fairly uncommon blocks in various styles of kung fu, although the static, non-snapped wrist positions are widely used in Chinese blocks.

It is possible to combine these two types of wrist snap. The combination of wrist extension and radial deviation, especially, is the basis of some powerful strikes and blocks, including some iron palm strikes.

Now for wrist overturning. This is the "pie-in-the-face" technique. Stand in front of a fairly high bench or counter (roughly level with your navel). Place the back of your hand flat on the counter. Your elbow is comfortably bent. Turn your hand over in one smooth movement so that the palm is flat on the counter. Palm overturning is the key movement for several varieties of iron palm, including "big" iron palm. Now reverse the movement so that you return the back of your hand to the counter. This movement is the basis of the "backhand" iron palm. Practice the forward movement with some snap, but don't hit the counter too hard. When you snap your palm over, don't just turn it - imagine that you have a runny pie on top of your hand and you must flip it over without spilling it until it lands upside down. The reverse movement should not be performed with snap unless some type of padding is used. That will be discussed in the next installment on impact training methods.

Date: 1997/05/24

This is the fourth installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. In this installment I discuss the baseball throw and horizontal slapping. In the next installment I will discuss vertical slapping. I will post additional installments as my time permits. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames :-)


In this installment I will talk a little about the baseball throw movement and also discuss impact training by slapping horizontal bags.

Most people are familiar with the overhand throw of a fastball. I just want to make a few remarks on the mechanics of the movement. A fastball has great speed; a good pitcher can achieve hand speeds and therefore ball speeds of 40 metres per second (about 90 mph). The great speed of the ball and the hand comes from many sources:

  1. Weight shift to the rear leg and back to the front leg
  2. Torquing of the hips
  3. Stretching and subsequent contraction of the major and minor muscle groups involved in the throw
  4. Accelerating the hand over a long distance
  5. Whipping the arm
  6. Some degree of abdominal-crunch type snap (some pitchers do - some don't)
  7. Follow-through

The value of item 3 above is that the muscles are first dynamically stretched which results in their subsequent contraction being considerably stronger - the physiology and kinesiology of this phenomenon is well-established. It also ensures that the muscles contract through their full range, contributing their force for a longer distance.

Also contributing to the distance to accelerate the ball is item 4, because the hand is accelerated over virtually the entire perimeter of a large 360-degree circle.

Arm whip, item 5, causes the elbow to lead the throw, with the hand left behind and the wrist extended. Then the wrist and hand catch up and the wrist flexes.

How does follow-through, item 7, help speed? After all, the ball can't accelerate after it leaves the hand. Follow-through works by ensuring that no braking starts prematurely before the ball has left the hand. (In terms of baseball, we want to avoid actions like the batter's check-swing.)

Now let's move on to horizontal bag slapping. This is the main traditional Chinese exercise for developing the iron palm. For equipment, you will first need a very sturdy low table to support the slapping bag. The slapping bag should be made of canvas or other strong material (I like ballistic or cordura nylon because they are less abrasive to the skin). The bag should be at least 12 by 16 inches, in a pillow shape - a bit larger is better (up to, say, 16 by 24), but the problem is that it is amazing how much material it takes to fill a large bag to the required uniform thickness of about 3 inches. The bag can be filled with peas, BBs or other granular material. Peas are a good start; BBs are too hard for beginners and for any but experts when performing the backhand slap. Avoid any filling that will pack and become rigid - the bag should always have some "give." For the same reason don't overfill the bag. (By the way, some materials like peas break up and will eventually have to be replaced.) The top of the bag should be about level with your navel when you stand in a not-too-deep square horse. Also, make sure the table is supported on a solid floor - otherwise, for instance, the thumping of the bag will drive your neighbours crazy in the apartment below.

To perform the training, stand in front of the slapping bag in a shallow square horse. (You can also train in a one-foot-forward stance, switching leads for each hand. This involves slightly different body mechanics. The square horse is traditional. Start with it first, and try the other stance later if you wish.) Raise your hand in front of you with the hand and fingers hanging down relaxed (almost, but not quite, limp) and the wrist flexed. The back of your wrist is about level with your forehead, your elbow is bent a little, and your thumbnail is about 12 inches or so in front of your nose.

Slap down onto the bag. The shoulder drops a little, the elbow starts down, and the hand is left behind with the wrist going into extension (passively from the acceleration, not from deliberate muscle contraction.) At the end of the movement, the entire palm and fingers land flat on the bag, with the wrist in extension. As you do it, the legs dip a little and there is the explosive abdominal contraction just as the hand is landing. The feeling is very much of "throwing" your hand onto the bag, as if someone asked you to throw a rock as deeply as possible into the mud at your feet. It should not have a tense, muscular feel like pounding your fist on a table. Do not "muscle" the slap - think in terms of a baseball whip, not a shot-put thrust. Also, let the bag stop your hand - do not decelerate in a misguided attempt at "focus."

When you start, perform the movements at slower speed and increase speed in steps once you have gotten the feel of the movement (To continue the baseball analogy, do a lazy warmup throw, not your best fastball.) The other reason for building up slowly is that your hand will sting a lot after a fast slap.

As you progress, experiment with slightly different methods of landing the palm. Besides the all-at-once flat palm, you can slightly "roll" the palm on as it lands from wrist to fingertips or vice-versa. The difference is subtle, not exaggerated. You can also experiment with slight "cupping" of the palm, fingers together or slightly spread, etc. Don't be afraid to make adjustments in order to personalize and tailor the technique so it works best for you.

There are other methods of striking with the palm which may also be trained on the slapping bag, including the full palm-heel, the part of the palm heel in line with the little finger, and a shuto-style chop (except with wrist snap, not a rigid wrist). The main points about each of these methods compared to the slap method described above, is the alignment of the hand on impact (various degrees of extension and radial deviation) and the fact that the wrist snap is now deliberately performed rather than just a passive result of acceleration. Although there is an explosive muscular toggling of the wrist from flexion to extension, the rest of the movement still includes the whip of the arm and the throwing of the hand. Don't perform the techniques like a focussed karate shuto (which is a perfectly good technique, but isn't iron palm).

The backhand slap is performed by throwing the back of the hand onto the bag. It is usually trained as a followup after a palm slap. The hand is lifted up from the bag (just a few inches in the beginning, eventually building up to head height), the hand is turned over and the back of the hand is "flopped" onto the bag. (It's a whipping "power" flop, though.) The movement is done with a relaxed wrist, although there is a little tensing on impact. The problem is that the back of the hand is less padded than the palm and the metacarpal bones and other structures can be easily injured if training is too aggressive. Take a long time (if ever) to build up to full reverse slaps that rise to head height before heading back down. Be sure to perform any reverse slap by moving the hand in an elliptical loop (it isn't really a circle), rather than up and down in a linear fashion.

Last, and IMHO, definitely least, are the "dotting" methods of iron palm. I almost never do these, so I will only discuss them in passing for the sake of completeness. In the dotting method the blow lands on the bag with the fingertips strongly curled, and with the wrist fully extended. The position is essentially that of the tiger claw of many kung fu styles. I think this is a wonderful way to break fingers unless the blow is focussed rather than thrown onto the bag. I also find that strong forearm contractions inhibit developing the relaxed whipping motion of true iron palm. It is claimed that those who train this method can deliver it as a tiger claw, a nukite (spear-hand thrust), or a "kinda, sorta" power biljee. I can't.

Date: 1997/05/28

This is the fifth installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. In this installment I discuss training on the heavy bag as well as some variants on delivery methods for the iron palm. In the next installment I will discuss some fighting applications of iron palm. I will post additional installments as my time permits. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames :-)


In this installment I will talk about training the iron palm on the heavy bag. The heavy bag permits delivering several types of iron palm on a vertical surface. This facilitates incorporating the full baseball whip of the arm. It also allows more realistic simulation of delivering the blow against an opponent. Lastly, it permits practicing the iron palm in combination with other blows, such as standard punches. Traditional Chinese methods of training iron palm usually under-emphasize striking vertical bags, although they are not entirely neglected..

We'll begin with the slap version of the "big" full-circle iron palm. Adopt a one-foot-forward stance in front of the bag. The exact foot position will vary depending on your style of martial arts and personal preference. Deliver a slap against the bag using a full 360-degree baseball type whipping motion. The hand strikes the bag with the wrist fully flexed and the fingers pointing roughly upwards. The hand lands a bit higher than your shoulder (although it can be varied from head to solar plexus height). The elbow is slightly bent. Keep the elbow and shoulder down. This movement uses arm whip and hip rotation.

Next add some body drop movement just as the blow lands. You will find that this causes your hand to drop several inches on impact. The effect is like throwing a pie in someone's face and then "smearing" it in by moving your hand downwards. These actions cause just the right amount of tensing so that the palm lands with something between "focus" and pure momentum. With sufficient practice, the amount of tensing can be used to "tune" the "penetrating power" of the blow. The closest western physical explanation I can find is "impedance matching."

When you combine these mechanisms together properly, the palm will land with an explosive bang on the bag (and not just from trapped air causing a sharp slapping sound). When you don't, it will be a much more mushy hit. The iron palm is a culmination technique and incorporates many other subsidiary techniques. Getting them integrated, timed, and sequenced just right takes practice. When you don't get it right, it's like firing the third stage of a rocket before the second stage.

You will find that even more power can be generated by moving your forward foot (say, the left) a bit forward diagonally to the eleven o'clock position as your hand starts to move forward.

Now although big-circle iron palm is extremely powerful, a horrible truth may be beginning to dawn on you. You are never going to be able to land this blow frontally on any opponent whose reflexes are even marginally faster than those of a three-toed sloth. It is the ultimate telegraphed technique (here's the's the pitch). The opponent can roll a "J," write his mother, and still have time to stop-hit you. You should mostly use the big-circle version only in training to develop maximum power.

We will examine using the iron palm in actual fighting in the next installment. For now, let's look at less extreme versions of the technique. These mainly use the approach of making the circle smaller or using only a portion of the circle. There are, however, some subtle changes in the technique because of this.

Practice the medium-circle as if you had to throw a baseball without your hand ever travelling below your waist. Next add the additional restriction of moving the circle forward, as if there were a rule that your hand couldn't go behind your shoulder during the movement. With practice the medium-circle iron palm will still generate considerable power. Learning how to develop power over less than a 360-degree arc is best learnt with small-circle iron palm and then retroactively applied to medium-circle iron palm. However, you can try it now by starting the palm from a position near your right ear. Just be sure to keep the "feel" of an arc and the whip; don't let it become a palm-thrust type of move.

The small-circle iron palm uses a lot of "pie-throw" movement - hand overturning. Put your hand in front of you palm up, fingers almost touching the bag. Your elbow is down and fairly strongly bent, about 90 degrees. Now "throw the pie" onto the bag and smear it down using body drop. You will probably find that you use more body drop and not as much hip torquing. At close range you will also find that your body drop puts you a bit beside the bag rather than purely in front of it and your palm is hitting off-centre (compared to you, not the bag). This is correct. The other thing that will happen is that you may find a lot of shoulder roll or snap coming into the movement. That, too, is OK. In the ultimate small circle, the hand never loses contact with the bag during the palm overturning.

With all sizes of the circle you may find that the windup portion becomes less apparent with practice, and becomes only a vestigial remnant or disappears altogether when you use the technique in actual combat. Different people use different proportions of whip, body drop, hip torque, etc. depending not only on the size of the technique but also body type and personal preference. For instance, heavy powerful men often use a lot of body drop; lighter men a lot of arm whip. I should also point out that most martial artists only practice iron palm on one side of their body. There are many hokey explanations for this (e.g., fear of "accidentally" killing someone) but I think the main reason is lack of sufficient coordination on the non-dominant side. How well can you throw a baseball left-handed?

I will have a little to say later about the wrist-snap rather than slap types of iron palm. For now, I want to mention the other delivery techniques of sidearm and underarm iron palm, as well as backhand slapping.
The side-arm variant is performed with the type of arm whip you would use to skip a stone over the water. The slap is delivered to one side of you with the fingers roughly horizontal. It can be performed with the arm nearly fully extended or more strongly bent. This method favours using a lot of hip torquing and little or no body drop.

The underarm palm is delivered using an arm motion similar to the softball throw. The striking surface is usually the palm to the groin or lower belly, but the back of the hand can be used instead. Lots of hip torque, no body drop.

The backhand iron palm can be delivered with a motion similar to most backfist strikes. Instead of focussing, keep it loose and whippy. There is a rotary vertical backfist that is a specialty of Choy Li Fut, which is often combined with trapping, etc. This version works extremely well in combination with the iron palm backhand.

Date: 1997/05/31

This is the sixth and last installment of a series presenting a simplified guide to the iron palm. In this installment I discuss using iron palm is sparring and combat and speculate on how it works. I would be interested in comments, critiques, even flames.

Good luck with your training

Gerald Moffatt.


In this last installment I will talk about using the iron palm in sparring and combat. I will concentrate on the "slap" versions or iron palm because they are the purest forms and also because they are somewhat more difficult to apply. I also want to briefly discuss the "snap" versions, including their use as blocks as well as blows.

First, I will say a little about targets and speculate on why iron palm works. The primary targets for slapping iron palm are discontinuities in tissue density within the opponent's body. These discontinuities are most pronounced for hollow body organs. The best targets are the lungs (especially the upper lobes, but I'm not sure why), but also the kidneys, heart, and bladder. For some reason, the stomach does not seem especially susceptible. These targets have been empirically confirmed as best, albeit incidentally, from practitioners' experience using slapping iron palm.

You may be wondering why a slap that makes contact over a large area on the opponent's body does not spread and dissipate its force and have little effect. The following explanation is suggestive and metaphorical, not definitive, but I think the reasoning is not entirely specious. The slap seems to propagate a hydrodynamic wave within the opponent's body with energy dissipated at points of reflection of the energy. (Yes, I know that the hand velocities are far below the threshold to initiate true shock waves; even most handgun bullets are too slow.) What I think probably happens is that a displacement wave travels through the opponent's body and internal tissues are overextended and ruptured near the internal density discontinuity where propagation velocity changes and tissues are less supported on one side. By way of analogy, compare this to a chunk of glass spalling off a window on the **opposite** side of a hit from a BB rifle. The tissue damage would happen over an internal area comparable to the "palm imprint." The ability to "couple" the energy of the palm strike to the opponent's body is dependent on the force-displacement curves for both the deceleration of the blow and the corresponding "sponginess" of the opponent's tissues. Producing this match over a hollow organ would require a fairly large area of contact. This is derived from the concept of impedance matching. The snap versions of iron palm have a much more focussed (high force - short distance) deceleration pattern and are better used against strong but rigid body parts, such as collar bones. In this case, impedance matching requires that snap versions of iron palm use a much smaller contact area, such as the base of the palm on the little finger side. This also produces a stress concentration effect. For these reasons snapping iron palm has less "penetrating power" than slapping iron palm.

Turning to applications of iron palm, I have already said that landing the large-circle slap version frontally is very difficult. I suppose it could be used a finishing blow against a dazed opponent. The main way of using the big-circle slap is "pull and step in." If both you and your opponent are standing in a left-foot-forward stance, you would first grab the opponent's left wrist with your left hand. You could initiate this or it might, for instance, occur in response to an opponent's jab. The Chinese name for the grab is "lop sau." You pull the opponent's arm forward, down and diagonally across his body (using "jing"), while using the pull to assist making a full step in with your right leg to the outside of the opponent. You generally must twist into a square horse (i.e. if you were originally facing "north" you are now facing "west" in a square horse).. The opponent is usually somewhat bent over from the pull. Deliver the slapping iron palm to a preferred target on the opponent's back (generally lungs or kidneys). This is a finishing blow. Nothing will happen for a few seconds and then the opponent will drop like a stone. If the lungs were targeted, he may cough up some blood. (If you aren't sure you nailed him, you can follow up with uppercuts, etc. or go to his back, throw him down, choke him out, etc.). BTW, there are escapes from this (indeed, from any) attack.

Instead of attempting an exhaustive list of sequences for the small-circle and medium-circle iron palm, I will instead give a key rule and a few examples. The key rule (it's more than just a rule of thumb) in applying medium and small circle slapping iron palm is that contact must be made with the opponent prior to launching the blow. (Once you get good enough you can violate this principle on occasion. As Bertrand Russell observed, "All generalizations are false, including this one.")

At the lower level, this is similar to the boxing adage of never leading with your right. The iron palm can be used after an introductory blow such as a left jab, or a block with the off hand (your block and blow are usually simultaneous, not sequential, in accordance with Chinese boxing precepts).

The higher level (with probably wider applicability) is to launch the iron palm after a block or blow with the same hand. This is analogous to hooking off the jab, and there are a large number of iron palm combinations built on this. For example, you land a right vertical fist to your opponent's chest or floating ribs. Withdraw your hand and relaunch it using a medium or small circle to deliver a slapping iron palm over the upper lobe of the opponent's left lung. This move (and variations) is one of my favorite close-in techniques. I will list a few variations and comments:

  • note the similarity to the Wing Chun running punch or the Choy Li Fut rolling backfist
  • the same-hand strikes can be sustained (in principle, indefinitely) by continuing after the first slap as a sequence of backhand slapping (perhaps to the right side of the opponent's neck) followed by the palm to his upper left lung.
  • the sequence can be embedded in a larger combination. For instance it could have started with your left jab. Then the right punch and right slap. There might be an right elbow strike after the slap. The elbow strike could be followed with right backhand iron palm, etc. Long single-arm sequences can be developed, although, of course, only subsections would be used in a real fight. For recovery after an elbow strike, the backhand slap (delivered like a near-vertical backfist) is a very handy alternative to using a blow with the opposite arm to recentre yourself.
  • Instead of starting with a vertical punch, you might have used a same-hand palm-up block (taun-sao), then the slap. This version gets a lot of "pie-in-the-face" overturning into the slap.
  • a popular followup to the slap is a push with the same hand. This can get you back to longer range or it can become a tai-chi type of uprooting.
  • The punch, slap, push from the same hand can be a progressive entry or closing-the-distance maneuver. One use of this particular progressive entry sequence is to make a full right step across your opponent's body, ending with osoto-gari or the roughly equivalent shuai-chiao move.
  • it is clearly possible to insert checking and trapping into the sequences.
  • the initial contact with the opponent can be very brief. The hand can be used during the fight (amongst other purposes) like a probing feeler or antenna. If it touches the opponent it instantly recoils (as if it touched a hot iron) and then strikes (this is best performed as small-circle slap).

It is possible to substitute the snapping versions of the iron palm into the combinations. The snapping versions tend to be a bit more linear and less flowing, but, say, a snapping palm heel to the neck or collar-bone is a good alternative to the slap over the heart/lung.

There are also sequences that can be developed off the sidearm or underarm slap. The side-arm slap lends itself well to tai-chi uprooting or to transitioning to waist-encircling movements (clinches) that lead to grappling continuations. The snap version of the bent-elbow sidearm delivered just over the xiphisternum or solar plexus is very powerful also. (The best short-snap version conforms to the "contact before strike" rule - the fingertips touch the opponent and linger there from milliseconds to several seconds. Then the wrist suddenly toggles and snaps. The blow can even be repeatedly pumped. This is a wonderfully low-profile low-visibility blow for dropping aggressive drunks. Beware - they may "power puke.")

Two examples of followups after the underhand iron palm to the groin:

  • rotate off the elbow to iron palm to the chest. This is big-circle iron palm. It also regains fighting position.
  • go for a single-leg wrestling pickup.

Lastly, I want to talk about snapping iron palm as an adjunct to some blocks. Try the following drill to develop them. Put both hands loosely-open in front of your chest. Your elbow is bent a bit more than 90 degrees. For now, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees straight.

Perform a snapping iron palm with your right hand ending diagonally just in front of your left hip. Your hand is roughly horizontal, palm down, with your fingers pointing to the side (and a bit up), not forward. The striking surface is the palm heel on the pinky side (or the full palm heel).

If you next perform the technique adding body drop (especially the knee-dip, but little or no ab crunch) and a bit of twisting of the torso, you will find that the end point is at a level just below your crotch. By slightly exaggerating the move, the base of your thumb could touch your knee on the opposite side. This block can be lightning fast yet very punishing against low-line strikes to your torso (including kicks) without overcommiting yourself. Recover your hand to fighting position instantly after landing the block. When you stand in a one-foot-forward stance, perform this block mainly with the rear hand. This avoids exposing your upper line by moving your forward hand to block (although it can punch simultaneously with the rear hand block, if required).


  • Posted to Usenet's newsgroup rec.martial-arts. Archived with kind permission.
  • Posted 10/16/13 as of  4/11/02 mirroring
  • There were 7,620 pageviews of this entry on my old archives site

Please check out 2 other articles by Gerald Moffatt:

  1. Headbutts or How to be a Nutter by Gerald Moffatt
  2. Mobility and the Snap Front Kick by Gerald Moffatt



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Stickgrappler's Sojourn of Septillion Steps