Most people think that the Asian Martial arts are ancient and western martial arts like Boxing and Wrestling are modern. In fact, both western boxing and wrestling both go back to the ancient Greeks and were featured in the very first Olympics.
Western boxing is one of the main arts used in MMA as well as in kickboxing contests like K1, Glory, and One. Other arts like Muay Thai and Savate also use mostly boxing for hand strikes.
But, is western boxing good for self defense?
Boxing probably has the most powerful punches of any art, and because it has only four main punches, the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut, and doesn’t have any forms, it is possible to develop realistic self defense capability in as little as 3 to 6 months of serious training.
Boxing also has some of the best footwork, and incorporates defense by evasion using footwork and head and upper body movement.
Because boxing has such excellent footwork and mobility along with one punch knockout power it has many advantages in fighting against multiple attackers.
On the other hand, boxing is a limited fighting art. There are no kicks, no throws, no knees, elbows, backfists, hammer fists, joint locks, etc. Although a good boxer doesn’t need any of those to beat you up or even put you in the hospital, because the boxer does not train any of these, he is quite vulnerable to them, especially grappling and leg kicks.
There have been very few pure boxers in the UFC, and all were taken down and destroyed fairly quickly. In other contests, really good wrestlers pretty much always prevail against really good pure boxers, and Muay Thai fighters usually prevail against pure boxers with their leg kicks, and sometimes with their elbows and knees in the thai clinch.
Boxers usually do well against Karate fighters because boxers are used to defending fast attacks to the head and upper body, and can adapt to defending head kicks and body kicks, while karate fighters usually cannot handle the boxer’s punching game.
Boxing has special problems when used in the street because there are no boxing gloves or hand wraps in the street. Boxers are not used to fighting without gloves. When they do get into street fights (which they rarely start) they often end up breaking their hands early in the fight, but usually win anyways.
Also in the ring, boxing gloves can be used as a shield against head punches, but without the gloves the boxer may find it more difficult to defend.
Despite these weaknesses, because of the postives a few martial arts schools and teachers have tried to resurrect bare knuckle boxing.
Although boxing does go back to ancient Greece, after that there were no boxing bouts until the 19th century. The earliest boxing matches of that era had no gloves and very few rules. In addition to punching all types of different hand strikes were allowed, as well as kicks and throws.
Because of the risk of breaking their hands, bare knuckle boxers favored straight punches and body punches over hook punches to the head, which while extremely effective, were most likely to break their hands or injure their wrists.
In those days, because they were not able to cover their heads with their gloves, boxers used a back weighted stance to keep their heads farther away from their opponents, and also did not hold their hands close to their heads, but rather held their lead hands outstretched to intercept the incoming punches before they could build up too much momentum.
As time went on the the kicks and the throws were eliminated, and eventually gloves were used, and more rules were introduced.
Unfortunately, there were no movie cameras in those days, but we have seen some movies where it was attempted to reconstruct what bare knuckle boxing looked like in its early days.
The video above, starring Charles Bronson, is a simulation of bare knuckle boxing as it was used in unsanctioned underground fights during the depression era. This video shows how effective bare knuckle boxing could be in a no rules street fight.
The second video highlights the amazing skills of Iron Mike Tyson. It is notable how he avoids punches with very fast and agile swaying and ducking motions of his upper body, and then comes back up using power from the ground to deliver tremendous shots from unexpected angles.
Tyson was considered to be short for a heavyweight in his time, but he had very advanced and skilled footwork that, along with his incredible upper body and head mobility, allowed him to close and shut own much taller opponents with ease.
It didn’t hurt that, when he was in his prime, his opponents were all terrified of him.