Monday, June 18, 2012

Introduction to London Prize Ring Boxing

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, on account of my being in a Third World country and all of that jazz. I’ve been slowly but surely getting back on the horse of training, though I’ve primarily focused on my unarmed skills; London Prize Ring era boxing specifically. This afternoon I was looking for a solid introduction on the topic of London Prize Ring (LPR) era boxing, so that I may pass it along to a friend, but I wasn’t able to find anything that laid things out to my satisfaction. With that in mind, I decided to write something of my own. This is by no means a fully comprehensive or final syllabus on LPR boxing but I think it can help clear things up at least a bit.  


                The footwork of LPR boxing is generally the same as in modern boxing, thus I shall only mention the more uncommon movements. One such movement is “shift-punching”, which is a series of passing steps in conjunction with blows. For example one could throw a straight left while stepping forward with the lead leg and then make a passing step with the rear leg while throwing a right cross, and this could be followed up with a passing step with the left leg in tandem with a left uppercut. This is not unlike the so-called boxing burst seen in modern MMA. Slipping, common in modern boxing, was present in LPR boxing as well but was sometimes done with a passing step. As you can perhaps already gather, the passing step was used to a greater degree than in modern boxing. Likewise, another forgotten movement is the ability to spin or about-face. This rotating motion is required if you want to throw a spinning back-fist (which I’ll bring up again) or if you grab your opponents head and wheel around to his side (so that you then face in the same direction as him) allowing you to better punch his face at your leisure.
                Potentially the most uncommon movement in LPR boxing is that of the lunging or dropping step. This is something you’ll be hard pressed to see performed in the average boxing gym, as it is no longer very required in today’s boxing ring. The lunging step allows a boxer to rapidly shift his body-weight into a strong left straight, while taking him into and then back out of striking range. We must remember that bare-knuckle boxing was generally all out-fighting, with boxers keeping each other away with extended guards and a larger approaching distance. If the two boxers were to get within in-fighting distance, as in with their bodies close enough to touch, then they would generally commence to grapple instead of stand in front of each other trading bent-arm blows. In a boxing match that prohibits grappling, there is less need for a boxer to quickly lunge in and out of striking distance, hence the disappearance of the lunging step and the so-called “power jab” with it.


                Hence follows a short listing of the strikes one would likely see in a LPR boxing match. Bear in mind this is simply a list of possible blows; it is neither a how-to guide nor is it a final list of all possible punches.
                Punches can be categorized, for the sake of ease, into three types: straight blows, bent-arm blows, and unconventional blows. Straight blows tend to be straight-travelling, vertical-fisted blows to the face or to the “mark” (solar plexus). The straight right can be delivered palm upwards with a slight upward angle, which according to Edwin Shaw (a boxing instructor of Harvard), is quite the knock out blow.
                Bent-arm blows tend to be tighter than a “haymaker” (a wide swing) and they usually hit upon the neck, the temple, the ribs, the kidneys, or the chin. These blows, as the name suggests, are done with a bent arm and generally either travel vertically (like an uppercut) or horizontally (like a right-cross counter),so really you can hit any target applicable to those planes of travel as long as you preserve your hands in the process.
                The unconventional blows include the following: the pivot blow, the corkscrew, the chop, and the chopper. The pivot blow is essentially a spinning back-fist with the palm facing downwards and it is the blow that defeated Dempsey. The corkscrew is a blow that, at the last moment, is flicked or turned downwards. The chop blow is a hammer fist; a handy alternative to a back-fist if one so desires such an alternative. Lastly there is the chopper, a blow made famous by Mendoza.  One generally executes this by placing the hand upon the nape of the neck or by putting it near its opposing shoulder, and then firing the back-fist upon the face of the opponent in a piston-like manner. The placement of the fist depends upon the guard used to “arm” it, which I’ll bring up soon enough.


                A few of the parries for the aforementioned blows follows here. One may blow all straight and bent arm blows to the face by deflection with the forearm. This is not a static blow but a dynamic deflection that forces the offending blow away from its intended target. This is best done with an open knife-hand, so that one can have more grappling options if he so chooses that course of action and to reduce undue fatigue by making a prolonged fist. This method preserves your muscles, as it is not a dead block, and allows you to more easily capitalize on your opponent’s blow as you have now opened up that side of him for trapping or striking.
                 One can also block straight and bent-arm blows to the face with the upper-arm, by pointing the elbow up with the hand touching the nape of the neck. Likewise, one can do a so-called “vampire guard” by blocking straight blows to the face with the elbow in front of the face and the hand towards the opposing shoulder. These bent-elbow blocks are not only painful to the knuckles of the puncher, but also allow the person blocker to give a counter-blow with the chopper or even a palm-down chop.
                Blows to the body with a straight arm or a bent-arm can be blocked with the forearm deflection, but one can also block these by simply placing a braced forearm in front of the intended target. While these more static blocks are inferior to the more active deflection, they are useful in a pinch and are often faster when the opponent is “rallying” (throwing blows consecutively with each side) while closing upon you. The unconventional blows can be defended against by either deflecting with the forearm or by simply getting out of reach. One notable method of blocking the chopper is to take the blow on the thickest part of your skull, thus wrecking the bare-knuckled fist of the would-be chopper.

Milling and Grappling

                No introduction to the boxing of the LPR era could be complete without a brief mentioning of fistic milling and stand-up grappling. As such I will now discuss them here, beginning with the former. Milling is the action of moving the fists to and fro, while on guard. Indeed this is the quintessential movement in the popular mind when it thinks of bare-knuckle boxing! This fistic motion is performed for two main reasons. Firstly it prevents undue fatigue in the arms, which can present itself when one merely keeps the arms static. Secondly the circular motion of the arms throws off your opponent’s ability to gage when you intend to throw a blow at him; it prevents telegraphing your punches. While the value of milling is debatable in modern boxing, I don’t think it to be a wasted movement. If it were, I suspect the boxers in the days of yore wouldn’t have taught it in the first place.

                When a person hears the words “grappling” and “boxing” in the same sentence, it certainly produces great hubbub. But as we can see below, the rules of the London Prize Ring (as copied from Scientific Boxing Together with Hints on Training and the Official Rules by James Corbett) make no mention of prohibiting wrestling:

                14. – That butting with the head shall be deemed foul, and the party resorting to this practice shall be deemed to have lost the battle.
                15. – That a blow stuck when a man is thrown or down shall be deemed foul. That a man with one knee and one hand on the ground, or with both knees on the ground, shall be considered foul, providing always that, when in such a position, the man so down shall not himself strike or attempt to strike.
                16. – That a blow struck below the waistband shall be deemed foul, and that, in a close, seizing an antagonist below the waist, by the thigh or otherwise shall be deemed foul.
                17. – That all attempts to inflict injury by gouging, or tearing the flesh with the fingers or nails, and biting, shall be deemed foul.
                18. – That kicking, or deliberately falling on an antagonist with the knees or otherwise when down shall be deemed foul.

                 In fact, quite a bit of leeway is given to the boxer of this era. While I won’t list all the wrestling techniques here, I will list a few of the common ones. I recommend that if the reader wants a thorough examination of these wrestling techniques, one should purchase Banned from Boxing by Kirk Lawson, which does all that and more. One often reads about tripping, hip-throws, shoulder-throws, and back-heel throws. Just as common was “one handed hitting”, where a person’s head or arm is pinioned or otherwise locked to allow for more convenient blows. Even the guillotine-choke, a form of “chancery”, was utilized. These throws, locks, and chokes were all useful since they allowed the boxer to slowly wear down the opponent in a boxing match without time-dictated rounds. Indeed, the rounds of a LPR battle were dictated by falls, so that a round could only end when a boxer hit the canvas. 

               As I’ve stated previously, this is by no means a final word on everything practiced by the old time boxers of yore. Indeed this writing barely covers the basics. I hope, however, that it is of some use to people trying to get a rough idea of what boxing was like when it was considered the Science of Self Defense.