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The kanji for 鉄拳 seems to suggest that the word means "iron fist". However, various dictionaries suggests that the meaning is simply "fist".

For example, Edict shows that the meaning for 鉄拳 is "fist", and the meaning for 鉄拳制裁 is "punishment by striking with fist".

Kotobank, Excite.co.jp, and Goo also show that the meaning is "a (clenched) fist".

Does 鉄拳 mean "fist" or "iron fist"?

How does it's meaning and usage compare with (こぶし)?

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As a side remark, in Chinese Mandarine, it is written as 鐵拳. This indeed means Iron(鐵) Fist(拳). @ snailplane: to whom delete the post, you mentioned "I'm afraid this doesn't answer the question about what the word means in Japanese."; perhaps (one may be afraid that) to properly understand some Kanji one should better appreciate the meaning of Chinese characters. (to make analogy, just like to properly understand Italian or even English, one may sometimes like to trace back to Latin.) –  Idear Jan 12 at 20:08
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up vote 10 down vote accepted

An excerpt from 広辞苑's definition for 鉄拳:

堅く握りかためたこぶし。にぎりこぶし。げんこつ。

In short, こぶし means fist, while 鉄拳 means more specifically a tightly clenched fist. This should come as no surprise to you, as you've already looked it up in dictionaries which say so.

It's true that it literally means "iron fist", but it isn't generally used for its literal meaning. Instead, it's figurative: when you tightly clench your fist, it's strong and unyielding like a fist of iron.

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Of course, "iron fist" in English is also metaphorical... –  Zhen Lin Jan 12 at 15:57
    
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