Sophia Birk provides ten Boxing Principles that will make you a better fighter.
Boxing is an ancient disciple; the earliest evidence of pugilism as a legitimate and honoured sport dates back to the 3rd Millennium BC in the form of a relief carved by a people often considered to be the first human civilisation: the Sumer of Mesopotamia.
When it comes to ancient civilisations, most people think of Rome, Egypt, and Greece. In terms of boxing – and sports in general, those societies held their own. After all, the Olympics originated in Ancient Greece.
And some of the finest early examples of art depicting boxers come from Egypt and Greece, too. Pots, murals, and amphora all show fighters in perfect form delivering blows; in some cases, spectators can be seen in the background, cheering them on.
The UK enjoys a thriving and progressive relationship with boxing. Records show that bare-knuckle boxing bouts took place in the late 17th Century, but there is evidence that such contests were fought in the early 16th Century.
It is from these early bouts that the word ‘boxing’ became associated with the sport. Before then, it was known as prizefighting.
Today, people from all walks of life want to learn how to box – for fitness, for fun, for stress relief or because they hope to become serious contenders. Whatever their reasons, besides learning how to work the bag and throw a jab, fighters need to adopt these principles.
Live Like a Boxer
In the news recently: obesity is a global epidemic. It is not that nobody wants to lose weight; they set themselves up for failure by dieting to lose weight. Once the weight is gone, many go back to their previous eating habits, setting themselves up on a vicious dietary cycle.
Many people fail to realise that changing one aspect of their life is not enough. To make real changes, they have to change their lifestyle. The same applies to boxing trainees.
Training as a boxer means re-evaluating everything about your life, from food to attitude. Reporting to the club for a few sparring sessions and then going to the pub for a few pints or gorging on empty-calorie foods is a sure-fire way to ensure that your progress as a boxer will be slow – or worse, that you will stop training altogether, preferring the instant gratification afforded by modern living to the long, hard road of becoming a boxer.
Love the Fight
Like many sports, boxing is demanding, but there is an edge to it that many other competitive sports do not have. For one, fighters must commit to getting hit and getting hurt. Good fighters work hard on their strategy to avoid blows but, before a fighter can get good, s/he will have to stand getting beat.
Another point that makes boxing a sport different than the rest: there is quite a bit of mental activity involved. Unlike other sports that demand many physically but relatively few mental processes, boxers are constantly assessing their opponent and making split-second decisions to gain and keep their edge.
The very act of boxing is contrary to human nature, whose prime directive is to avoid danger. When boxers face-off, it is with the knowledge that they will suffer blows; possibly even serious injury.
Boxers do not take these kinds of changes for the fun of it. You have to love what you do to get your mind right and do it well.
Learn from Your Heroes
Manny Pacquiao took the boxing world by storm; indeed, he is considered to be one of the greatest boxers of all time. He held several titles and was the first fighter to win lineal championships in five separate weight classes. He is the only eight-division champion in the world – and the only one in the history of boxing.
There is no doubt he is one of the most talented boxers ever but, as he stated in his autobiography, it was watching Mike Tyson fight Buster Douglas that changed his life. It is hard to say what Manny learned from that fight or Mike Tyson himself, but the point is that, at the least, boxing greats served as his inspiration.
It is not uncommon for a boxing coach to go over fights with their trainees to point out good (and bad) moves or, in the run-up to a fight, to analyse an opponent’s fighting style and strategy. In that same vein, you can watch your boxing heroes pick up on moves and techniques that you can incorporate into their style.
If you come up empty when asked who your boxing heroes are, you might search out a few names to study.
Technique over Strength
A street brawler needs every bit of strength s/he can muster to win a fight but, for a boxer, technique matters more. It does not matter how hard a fighter can punch; what counts is how s/he punches and where the blow lands.
Boxing is not a test of strength but skill. Facing off without reflexively dropping into a proper stance, not protecting yourself, and not drilling jabs with clinical precision is a sure way to rack up a loss. In that same vein, excelling at landing blows while being sloppy on footwork may bring a win against an inferior opponent but, in the long run, will cost you contests you might have won had you been a more technical fighter.
You only need to think of a speed bag to drive the ‘technique over strength’ point home. Punching a speed bag as hard as you can, will send it flailing; impossible to hit again. Working the bag methodically, keeping rhythm, and stepping right will ensure a steady stream of hits.
Defence versus Offence
Only mythical boxers like Maggie in the film Million Dollar Baby consistently knock their opponents out in the first round. In real life, that happens far less often, meaning that fighters need as strong a defence as their offence is.
Going on the offensive means giving the other fighter lots of chances to attack. Skilled fighters look for such openings and, when they manifest, run their opponents to the ropes, raining body blows all the while.
As the old sports adage says: the best offence is a good defence. Training to defend yourself effectively will make it harder for your opponents to land a blow, keep you from serious injury and maybe even increase your endurance – why not let the other fighters wear themselves out trying to score a point?
Distance and Timing
Technique and defence are vitally important to fighters but so are timing and distance. Being too close to an opponent can make a good hit weak or, even worse, cause you to miss your target completely. Likewise, choosing the wrong moment to windmill punches – say, when your opponent is on the offensive, is not just poor technique, it is bad timing.
During your training, you will come to know which hits are most effective at what points in the bout to deliver them. Throwing a body blow when a jab would have been more effective is a growing pain; something every trainee does. Consistently doing should be a red flag for your boxing coach that you are not taking the fight seriously enough.
What is Your Game Plan?
It is all well and good for fighters to step into the ring with some foreknowledge of their opponent and a basic strategy for the fight but at no time should any boxer formulate a fight strategy and stick with it no matter what happens during the fight. S/he might routinely use a jab to distract and then clock one out with a powerful left but, if the opponent is onto that tactic, s/he will easily counter the predicted move by maybe going in for a clinch or stepping out of range.
Fighters commonly have signature moves, often easily recognisable by a change in their stance or a particular overture. Such tactics may not work every time, though, so it is always best to have a backup plan that you can put into action as the fight progresses.
The same goes for training: you might need extra work hitting the focus mitts one session while the next, you would work the bags and finish with a few sparring bouts. Establishing a plan for each training session is just as important as planning each fight.
Know Your Opponent
Muhammad Ali deliberately cultivated a frail demeanour to appear weak when he stepped into the ring. This strategy paid off for him; he knew that his opponent was studying him before the match, thinking that his perceived weakness was a road to an easy knockout. Ali was a master of this type of psychological warfare. He fed fighters exactly what they wanted to eat and, while they feasted, he drove to the win.
Boxing coaches usually ‘psych’ their fighters by telling them about their opponents’ weaknesses and strengths and makes recommendations for how to take advantage and counter them before a match and, between rounds, make further observations on the rival fighter. Knowing everything you can about a fighter will help you predict their next moves and even their overall strategy.
What Your Body Says
Rocky Balboa and other fictional fighters are famous for insisting they are good to fight another round despite being blood-soaked wrecks. In truth, good boxing coaches discourage their fighters from pushing too far beyond their boundaries, in training and the ring.
In sports and society, admitting weakness in any form is often seen as a flaw when it should be encouraged as a strength. Knowing your boundaries and being unwilling to push past them with no regard for the consequences is unfortunately seen as being weak.
When your muscles ache, that is their way of saying they have had enough. When hunger pangs manifest, that is your body’s way of demanding fuel, and if any joints or bones hurt, it is time to stop working out and let them heal. No coach would tell you “quit whining and practice your sparring!” when you have a sprained wrist, nor should a fighter present false bravado when it is obvious they are not up to par.
If you glorify a bloody, slit-eyed Rocky begging to continue the fight, disabuse yourself of that notion as quickly and brutally as possible. Nobody wins from pushing beyond their limits: not you nor the club you represent, not the opponent who is looking for an equal match, and indeed not the sport.
Reaping What You Sow
Every trainer lives this truth: each fighter is only as good as the training s/he takes in. Fighters who are diligent, who have changed their life to conform to boxing’s demanding standards, who report to every training session, who listen to instructions and implement them… those are the fighters who will eventually make a name for themselves.
Those who report for training only a couple of times a week, who think it is cool to box but give no thought to honour and tradition, who believe that boxing essentially boils down to two people getting paid to beat on each other. That it is a contest of strength rather than a test of skill are unlikely to see any Olympic glory or professional ring time.
In boxing as in life, you reap what you sow. When you put in the time, the work, and the dedication, you will have earned the right to call yourself a boxer.
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About the Author
Sophia Birk is a lifelong athlete who has dabbled in many sports, from ballet dancing and the martial arts to cycling. An avid rider, she has cycled in Asia, Europe, and all over North America. When not riding, Sophia writes articles for an international company focused on education.