My client decided to focus on western boxing skills today. He takes a buffet-style approach to cross-training with me, having a strong background in various different fighting styles and having achieved a high degree of competency in at least two full-contact sports. He also has a background in academic teaching. The buffet approach isn’t my preferred way to conduct regular lessons, but it does have its advantages with some clients. My sessions with this client always produce interesting discussions and food for thought. Today was no exception.
Boxing training focused primarily on countering and closing the distance. Previous experience with this client has led me to work on ways to encourage a fight tactics that work at short-range yet are defensive in nature. Drawing, angling off and rolling are excellent methods to deliver this type of strategy. We divided the lesson up into four technical sections in order to achieve this behaviour.
Stage 1 – Footwork
We began with a simple cross pattern of footwork – forwards, backwards, sideways left and sideways right. Then I introduced angled footwork, changing stance and moving to an offline position. This last movement would form the basis for the work in the lesson. It can be performed forwards and backwards. I first learnt it in Muay Thai, but later learnt it in TVP western boxing. It helps a fighter move around an attack and also cut off the ring. All punches can be thrown from this position, but I have seen and experience particular success with uppercut/hooks, overhand punches and shovel hooks (spleen/liver punches). It is easy to forget there was once a time when footwork was frowned upon. Daniel Mendoza revolutionised the sport of boxing back during its bareknuckle pugilistic days by having a distinctive style that involved lateral and generally evasive footwork. Yet it won him many bouts against heavier opponents and was immortalised both in reports of his bouts and in his own treatise on the sport. Now it has become not only a key part of the sport, but also one of its finest exports. MMA and Muay Thai have both profited from adapting western boxing’s advanced development of footwork.
Can O’ Worms
I have often been tempted to use “Eppur si muove” – those immortal words attributed to Gallileo Galilei – as a motto. The words, meaning “And yet it moves”, were supposedly uttered under his breath when he was forced to recant his theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. It is often said when someone speaks an unconvenient yet undeniable truth against what is being preached by those who wish to believe otherwise.
I have often said that if I was forced into stylizing what I teach it would revolve around the 45 principle. So many techniques and tactics work when a fighter gets into a 45 position whether one is discussing self-protection (pre-fight), weapons, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling or submission fighting. Even on a macrocosmic scale we find the legendary pincer movement working on the battlefield by use of 45 degree flanking attacks – Hannibal’s success at Knie, Shaka Zulu’s “Bull Horns” and so on. With this in mind, I come onto my open mind principle in training. I teach cross-training. I preach a very liberal approach to martial arts, encouraging individuals to find their own way. However, this always measured against critical thinking and the realities of combat. The critical thinker fights against certainty, but there are definitely constants that have done more than enough to shift their burden of proof. One of these is the fact that movement and travelling in a fight are virtually unavoidable. A fighter needs to know how to move as early on as possible and accept that there will be movement when he fights. He and his opponent/enemy will move.
Now, this assertion does not exclude the importance of rooting at different stages in a fight. A fighter might need to root himself in defence or when delivering a hard strike. It is good to have a degree of rooting. Indeed, when learning to hit hard a good guide for a fighter is to feel the strike from their feet upwards and this can be compared to the way certain power lifts are trained. Likewise, holding a strong and balanced posture with rooted feet is an essential part of grappling. Nevertheless, heavy strikes can be thrown without rooting – some are even thrown in the air, just as some power lifts rely on the lifter leaving the ground – and one often defends effectively whilst keeping light on the feet. Rooting movements often only appear for a short moment in a fight before there is movement and travelling will occur. Evidence of this can easily be seen by watching virtually any type of fight. Even if you don’t move when executing a technique, your opponent will!
Stage 2 – Bobbing and Weaving
Bobbing and weaving was once peculiar to western boxing. Some other fighting arts no doubt have variants, but the gloved era of boxing necessitated it as fighters could now throw a greater volume of head shots. Other sports incorporated it to some degree, although Muay Thai’s version is more subtle and reserved. Elements of bobbing and weaving can be found in grappling, but it isn’t a mainstay of self-protection training. Many of history’s greatest defensive boxers were experts at bobbing and weaving. From an attribute training perspective, it trains great reactions and upper body flexibility when fighting.
Stage 3 – Peek-a-Boo
Popularised through Cus D’Amato’s protégés, Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson, the peek-a-boo guard is boxing’s version of the cover. It allows for shorter fighters and those who prefer to in-fight a strong protection. I believe it works well for to improve novice fighter’s confidence.
Stage 4 – Putting it all Together
We next combined the above three elements on the focus mitts and transferred them onto the heavy bag. The fighter could draw and counter-punch an opponent or cut them off and attack off a strong angle. These were all trained in isolation and then brought into a round of freestyle combinations, integrating the tactic.
The lesson as then finished with technical tabata on the heavy bag.
Photograph of the peek-a-boo guard by Charlotte Von Bulow-Quirk Photography featuring Tony Hughes.