Sweet Science – lessons from boxing defense for all martial arts

We’ve been working on distance and timing recently and this post will attempt to define and illustrate some of that work with video of exceptional boxing defense. I learnt very little about this subject before training at Primal where it was given great importance. It seems that this area of training is often neglected in many forms of martial arts, although it should not be. I am not the only person with this opinion, in the video on the Burmese Boxing post the instructor states the very same.

In one lesson last week we worked on understanding the distance between you and the opponent, what Steve Morris refers to as the ‘Red Zone’. This is the zone, or range, from where the other bloke can hit you, either with hands, legs or both. So long as you are outside of this zone you are safe, if your opponent moves toward you, you end up inside the zone, their range. To stay safe the easiest thing to do is to move out of range again. Going straight back is one option, moving off on an angle is better as the other person has to adjust before moving toward you again.

Boxing Defense

Alternatively, if in the zone you have to do something to prevent taking damage; slipping, covering, striking, clinching are some options from boxing defense. The following video provides clips of excellent boxers using their understanding of this concept to avoid and then strike their opponent.

There’s some classic early Tyson clips where he uses defensive boxing movements when in range, in the ‘Red Zone’, to avoid being hit and to make up ground before striking himself. Then there’s Naseem Hamed messing around on the periphery of the striking range, controlling the distance so he can move in and out to strike from odd positions.

There’s some classy defence from Mayweather and Pernell Whitaker, showing continuous movement when in the zone, using all manner of body movement to avoid taking damage – this is probably what tai sabaki in Karate was supposed to be about! Then there is Pep just staying out of range frustrating his opponent but ensuring he uses sufficient motion when in range to avoid damage. Also there is some great stuff from Locche who manipulates the range by offering his head as a target, just in range, but being able to move it out again to stay safe. There are lessons in all of these great fighters, each showing an understanding of how to use the range to differing effect, for ‘slippery’ defensive I think Pernell Whitaker has it but Mayweather is close.

Anderson Silva

Of course, boxing only involves punching and so it could be argued that when kicks are involved a lot of these boxing lessons are useless, although Anderson Silva may disagree! Watch out for the clips of him against Franklin, there’s one when he dodges kicks as well as punches by exerting control of the distance. Obviously he is of a very high ability and uses this to bamboozle his opponent.

Controlling the distance, the ‘Red Zone’ or whatever you want to call it, prevents or at least makes it very difficult for the other bloke to hit you and presents gaps for you to exploit as he tries. ‘Early years’ Tyson did this on the way in to avoid jabs and land hooks and uppercuts, while Fedor does it with big looping overhand shots to get close enough to hit again or take his opponent down. In essence, this is the same approach, the boxing defense lessons from the sweet science video can be applied to all martial arts, not just boxing and not just other combat sports.

Originally posted 2011-01-09 19:08:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

11 thoughts on “Sweet Science – lessons from boxing defense for all martial arts

  1. Pingback: Jon Law
  2. In aikido this is sometimes called maai. I have heard it described as the distance where you can’t stand still. :)
    Techniques that are practised in kinonagare, at higher speed, should always start at a distance where the partner needs to take at least one step before he can hit or grapple you.
    I unfortunately believe that not all aikidokas understand that our stationary forms are just for practise and that you should have started moving before you got to that point.

  3. Hi Skadlig

    Thanks for dropping by and good comment. I’ve heard the terms ma, maai used in karate at times too but hardly ever. In my experience this concept is not taught in karate, generally but that is not exclusive, I have come across Karate people who understand this.

    Techniques that are practised in kinonagare, at higher speed, should always start at a distance where the partner needs to take at least one step before he can hit or grapple you.
    I unfortunately believe that not all aikidokas understand that our stationary forms are just for practise and that you should have started moving before you got to that point.

    It has just occurred to me that Ippon Kumite may very well have been intended to practice this appreciation of distance, as you say where the other guy needs to take a step to get to you. It may not have course, but if so it is now grossly misused.

  4. Interesting post here. Critical distance, footwork, bobbing weaving and slipping work. We teach all of that because it’s crucial to know it. The only thing I don’t agree with is keeping your hands at your sides while doing it. There is always someone faster that will surprise you. Think boxing is awesome for self defence skills. Ali was the master of not getting hit.

  5. Hi Matt

    All of that is critical as you say and really it should be part of all martial arts training. As you are probably aware Hamed came unstuck when he reached the very top level of boxing where he was unable to use his rather condescending style effectively. Anyone who can move that well and be so far ahead of their opponent ability wise should not do so at ALL times if you do so when in range you are likely to get hit by someone who is not banboozled.

    However, I don’t think this movement is completely without merit, as Hamed was able to throw punches from non-standard angles because his hands were low, not for everyone though.

  6. Real quick note of appreciation for the thoughts and examples you present on what we in our once-classical ninja taijutsu call ma-ai (as do aikido practitioners).

    I shared your blog with our students with an update to my post at http://www.skhquest.com/blog/2011/01/19/smarter-than-struggle/

    Few of our self-defense students choose to engage in competition outside our school, and your research will be valuable reassurance to them.

    Well-put thoughts; thank you, Jon.

    - Stephen K. Hayes
    Stephen K. Hayes recently posted..One Woman’s Progress on the Path

  7. You are right about those boxers. Other martial artists can say what they want, but boxers have alot to teach us. I know everyone has already said so, but in Judo I was taught that the first person to step up into that zone is normally the the guy who gets thrown. But even when an instructor tells you things like this, I’ve often found that its been ignored one way or another. Good post.

  8. Thanks Scott, appreciate the comment. Anyone who says otherwise is ignoring some amazing skill which we could all benefit from, so why not learn the lesson?

  9. I really don’t care for boxing much but Naseem Hamed looked pretty entertaining. I’ll probably need to look up some highlight videos of him.

    … It’s a shame how Silva lost the last fight. Guess he deserved it with the way he was acting.
    tim odoms recently posted..Interview with Chloe Bruce

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