“General Ironfist” is a gripping tale by Robert E. Howard featuring his recurring character, Sailor Steve Costigan. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of China’s political upheaval, Costigan finds himself unwittingly involved in a plot of deceit and martial prowess. Searching for his friend Soapy Jackson, Costigan accepts a fight in Hong Kong only to be drugged and transported to a rebel camp in the hills. Here, he is coerced by General Yun Chei, a cunning Chinese warlord, into fighting General Feng—also known as Joel Ballerin or “General Ironfist”—to settle personal scores between the two generals.

The story was originally published in the June 1934 issue of Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine. Howard earned $35 for the sale of this story which is now in the public domain. 

See also “General Ironfist (synopsis)“.


The story unfolds with Costigan’s reluctant acceptance of his role in this deadly game, driven by the promise of financial reward and a swift return to Hong Kong. His battles are not only physical but also internal, grappling with the moral complexities of his situation. The fight between Costigan and Ballerin is a brutal showcase of their formidable skills, described with Howard’s characteristic vividness. As the fight reaches its climax, an unexpected twist involving an airstrike by a rival general, Whang Shan, throws the camp into chaos, providing Costigan and Jackson an opportunity to escape amidst the confusion.

Throughout the narrative, Howard expertly weaves themes of loyalty, betrayal, and survival, all while maintaining a fast-paced, action-packed plot that keeps the reader engaged until the very end. The story concludes with a humorous twist, typical of Howard’s style, leaving Costigan and Jackson no better off than they were, despite their efforts and adventures.


  • Steve Costigan: The main protagonist, a tough sailor and skilled fighter.
  • Soapy Jackson: Costigan’s friend, a former bartender turned soldier of fortune.
  • General Yun Chei: A Chinese warlord who manipulates Costigan into fighting for him.
  • Joel Ballerin (General Feng/Ironfist): A formidable fighter and Costigan’s opponent, known for his ruthless strength.
  • General Whang Shan: Another warlord, responsible for the airstrike that disrupts the camp.
  • Sea Girl: The ship Steve Costigan often sails on, mentioned as being away from Hong Kong during the story.

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