Boxing is one of the oldest sports and martial arts ever. It has been in evolution since ancient Egypt but it’s modern form started around 1867 when the introduction of gloves and the removal of wrestling from the sport happened. The picture on the left is a Greek fresco painting depicting two youths boxing with gloves – the earliest documented source of ‘gloved’ boxing. Since then boxing has kept evolving and each generation improves on something from the last.
Yet some things are still lost in the process.
Modern boxing, like modern fencing, and many other martial arts seem to only want the most athletic and naturally talented, and those qualities are the most prized now. There has been a diminishing in the amount of science put into the “sweet science” of boxing. Most people agree that a fighter reaches his/her prime between 25-28 years of age. These same people agree that most fighters should consider “putting up the gloves” around 34 or 35 years of age.
Fortunately there are still people like Bernard Hopkins (age: 50), Floyd Mayweather Jr.(age: 38), and Juan Manuel Marquez (age: 42) who seem to carry on some of the old traditions, and incidentally they seem to be the longest lasting champions around.
So maybe there is some merit in learning some old school boxing.
It may not always put on the “blood bath” that so many casual fans want to see, but it is better boxing.
First let’s hear from one the most popular boxers that ever lived; Jack Dempsey. The Manassa Mauler was the hero of the twenties – known for an aggressive, smothering and powerful style of boxing. As if he had dynamite in both hands, he fought heavyweights much bigger than him, and chopped them down with his skills.
“Tall men come down to my height when I hit’s in the body.”
We can learn from him many principles of developing power and proper punching technique (book link). As someone who started as what one might call “The bouncer of the wild west,” he has a technique to fight with or without gloves and importantly, how to keep ones’ hands safe.
From his book Championship Fighting he tells us about the power line of the arm. What is the power line?
“The power line runs from either shoulder straight down the length of the arm to the fist knuckle of the little finger, when the fist is doubled. You might call that pinky knuckle the exit of your power line.”
This may seem strange as we seem to be told to use the first two knuckles to punch with, but (bear with me) there is good reason in Jack Dempsey’s technique. He goes on to say:
“Unfortunately, however, the hand-bone behind the little knuckle is the most fragile of the five. It can be broken the most easily. You must not attempt to land first with the little knuckle. Instead you must try to land with the ring finger knuckle first.”
I have tried this myself in my boxing training, and it works well. When the front two knuckles are used even when the hand is fully rotated it bends the wrist, so it puts stress on it in addition to allowing power to leak out (via the bending of the wrist). Strikes leading with the ring finger knuckle allows a straight shot down the arm through the hand and into the target. Also it protects the thumb from getting jammed as easily.
Let’s move on to what we can learn from possibly the greatest trainer in history; Jack Blackburn. He trained the two greatest fighters of all-time; Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. Both of the these dominate champions learned the sweet science from Blackburn who was quite the boxer himself in his younger years. He retired from boxing with a record of 99 wins, 26 losses, and 19 draws with notable fights with Joe Gans, Sam Langford and Harry Greb. The classic stance (the Blackburn crouch) is used by both these champions and offers great defense.
The Blackburn Crouch
The head is tucked and tilted off the centerline so it automatically harder to hit and the tucking of the chin helps absorb the blows that do get through. The right hand is up in front of your jaw and mouth and is used to catch, and sometimes reach slightly to parry incoming shots while countering with the jab. You are controlling the opponent with both hands. The crouch promotes ease of head movement as well. Blackburn also emphasized footwork. And yes, it is possible to have good footwork that doesn’t look like Muhammad Ali. There are many types of footwork and the one that Blackburn taught Joe Louis helped his style of fighting. He turned Louis into a boxer-puncher using small sliding and shuffling steps that allowed Louis to plant his feet quickly to deliver his stunning power shots. He used short steps to move around his opponents so even though his feet may not have been as fast he used them efficiently to make angles quickly.
A great modern example of these principals in work is Bernard Hopkins. He has a very similar stance, and way of fighting as Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. He has beaten more athletic and talented fighters consistently through his use the “Sweet Science.”
Great boxing still exists. And if you look hard enough you can see the nuts and bolts, the years of toil, blood, sweat and tears. If you are keen enough on the combative sciences, you may even see the interweaving of boxing’s past in the present.
Boxing Student & Contributing Author
Please let us know what you think with comments and suggestions. We’re always looking to hear your thoughts!