1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boxing

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BOXING (M.E. box, a blow, probably from Dan. bask, a buffet), the art of attack and defence with the fists protected by padded gloves, as distinguished from pugilism, in which the bare fists, or some kind of light gloves affording little moderation of the blow, are employed. The ancient Greeks used a sort of glove in practice, but, although far less formidable than the terrible caestus worn in serious encounters, it was by no means so mild an implement as the modern boxing-glove, the invention of which is traditionally ascribed to Jack Broughton (1705–1789), “the father of British pugilism.” In any case gloves were first used in his time, though only in practice, all prize-fights being decided with bare fists. Broughton, who was for years champion of England, also drew up the rules by which prize-fights were for many years regulated, and no doubt, with the help of the newly invented gloves, imparted instruction in boxing to the young aristocrats of his day. The most popular teacher of the art was, however, John Jackson (1769–1845), called “Gentleman Jackson,” who was champion from 1795 to 1800, and who is credited with imparting to boxing its scientific principles, such as countering, accurate judging of distance in hitting, and agility on the feet. Tom Moore, the poet, in his Memoirs, asserted that Jackson “made more than a thousand a year by teaching sparring.” Among his pupils was Lord Byron, who, when chided for keeping company with a pugilist, insisted that Jackson’s manners were “infinitely superior to those of the fellows of the college whom I meet at the high table,” and referred to him in the following lines in Hints from Horace:—

And men unpractised in exchanging knocks
Must go to Jackson ere they dare to box.”

His rooms in Bond Street were crowded with men of birth and distinction, and when the allied monarchs visited London he was entrusted with the management of a boxing carnival with which they were vastly pleased. In 1814 the Pugilistic Club, the meeting-place of the aristocratic sporting element, was formed, but the high-water mark of the popularity of boxing had been reached, and it declined rapidly, although throughout the country considerable interest continued to be manifested in prize-fighting.

The sport of modern boxing, as distinguished from pugilism, may be said to date from the year 1866, when the public had become disgusted with the brutality and unfair practices of the professional “bruisers,” and the laws against prize-fighting began to be more rigidly enforced. In that year the “Amateur Athletic Club” was founded, principally through the efforts of John G. Chambers (1843–1883), who, in conjunction with the 8th marquess of Queensberry, drew up a code of laws (known as the Queensberry Rules) which govern all glove contests in Great Britain, and were also authoritative in America until the adoption of the boxing rules of the Amateur Athletic Union of America. In 1867 Lord Queensberry presented cups for the British amateur championships at the recognized weights.

For the history of pugilism in classic antiquity and an account of modern prize-fighting see Pugilism. At present two kinds of boxing contests are in vogue, that for a limited number of rounds (as in the amateur championships) and that for endurance, in which the one who cannot continue the fight loses. Endurance contests, which contain the essential element of the old prize-fights, are now indulged in only by professionals. Among amateurs boxing is far less popular than it once was, owing to the importance placed upon brute strength, and the prevailing ambition of the modern boxer to “knock out” his opponent, i.e. reduce him to a state of insensibility. Even in 3-round matches between gentlemen, in which points win, and there is therefore no need to knock an opponent senseless, it is nevertheless a common practice to strike a dazed and reeling adversary a heavy blow with a view to ending the battle at once. During the annual boxing competitions between Oxford and Cambridge more than half the bouts have been known to end in this manner. Undoubtedly the prettiest boxing is seen when two men proficient in the art indulge in a practice bout—or “sparring.”

Boxing is the art of hitting without getting hit. The boxers face each other just out of reach and balanced equally on both feet, the left from 10 to 20 in. in advance of the right. The left foot is planted flat on the floor, while the right heel is raised slightly from it. The left side of the body is turned a little towards the opponent and the right shoulder slightly depressed. When the hands are clenched inside the gloves the thumb is doubled over the second and third fingers to avoid a sprain when hitting. The general position of the guard is a matter of individual taste. In the “crouch,” affected by many American professionals, the right hip is thrust forward and the body bent over towards the right, while the left arm is kept well stretched out to keep the opponent at a distance. No good master, however, teaches a beginner any other than the upright position. Some boxers stand with the right foot forward, a practice common in the 18th century, which gives freer play with the right hand but is rather unstable. A boxer should stand lightly on his feet, ready to advance or retreat on the instant, using short steps, advancing with the left foot first and retreating with the right. Attacks are either simple or secondary. Simple attacks consist in straight leads, i.e. blows aimed with or without preliminary feints, at some part of the opponent’s body or head. All other attacks are either “counters” or returns after a guard or “block.” A counter is a lead carried out just as one is attacked, the object being to block (parry) the blow and land on the opponent at the same time. Counters are often carried out in connexion with a side-step, a slip or a crouch. In hitting, a boxer seeks to exert the greatest force at the instant of impact. Blows may be either straight, with or without the weight of the body behind them (“straight from the shouder” hits); jabs, short blows (usually with the left hand when at close quarters); hooks, or side-blows with bent arm; upper cuts (short swinging blows from beneath to the adversary’s chin); chops (short blows from above); punches (usually at close quarters, with the right hand); or swings (round-arm blows, usually delivered with a partial twist of the body to augment the force of the blow). Of the dangerous blows, which often result in a knockout, or in seriously weakening an adversary, the following may be mentioned:—on the pit of the stomach, called the solar plexus, from the sensitive network of nerves situated there; a blow on the point of the chin, having a tendency slightly to paralyse the brain; a blow under the ear, painful and often resulting in partial helplessness; and one directly over the heart, kidney or liver. As a boxer is allowed ten seconds after being knocked down in which to rise, an experienced ring-fighter will drop on one knee when partially stunned, remaining in that position in order to recover until the referee has counted nine.

Guarding is done with the arm or hand, either open or shut. If a blow is caught or stopped short it is called blocking, but a blow may also be shoved aside, or avoided altogether by slipping, i.e. moving the head quickly to one side, or by ducking and allowing the adversary’s swing to pass harmlessly over the head. Still another method of avoiding a blow without guarding is to bend back the head or body so as narrowly to escape the opponent’s glove.

The rules of the Amateur Boxing Association (founded 1884) contain the following provisions. “An amateur is one who has never competed for a money prize or staked bet with or against a professional for any prize, except with the express sanction of the A.B.A., and who has never taught, pursued or assisted in the practice of athletic exercises as a means of obtaining a livelihood.” The ring shall be roped and between 12 and 24 ft. square. No spikes shall be worn on shoes. Boxers are divided into the following classes by weight:—Bantam, not exceeding 8 st. 4 ℔ (116 ℔); Feather, not exceeding 9 st. (126 ℔); Light, not exceeding 10 st. (140 ℔); Middle, not exceeding 11 st. 4 ℔ (158 ℔); and Heavy, any weight above. There shall be two judges, a referee and a timekeeper. The votes of the judges decide the winner of a bout, unless they disagree, in which case the referee has the deciding vote. In case of doubt he may order an extra round of two minutes’ duration. Each match is for three rounds, the first two lasting three minutes and the third four, with one minute rest between the rounds. A competitor failing to come up at the call of time loses the match. When a competitor draws a bye he must box for a specified time with an opponent chosen by the judges. A competitor is allowed one assistant (second) only, and no advice or coaching during the progress of a round is permitted. Unless one competitor is unable to respond to the call of time, or is obliged to stop before the match is over, the judges decide the winner by points, which are for attack, comprising successful hits cleanly delivered, and defence, comprising guarding, slipping, ducking, counter-hitting and getting away in time to avoid a return. When the points are equal the decision is given in favour of the boxer who has done the most leading, i.e. has been the more aggressive. Fouls are hitting below the belt, kicking, hitting with the open hand, the side of the hand, the wrist, elbow or shoulder, wrestling or “roughing” on the ropes, i.e. unnecessary shouldering and jostling.

The boxing rules of the American Amateur Athletic Association differ slightly from the British. The ring is roped but must be from 16 to 24 ft. square. Gloves must not be worn more than 8 oz. in weight. The recognized classes by weight are: Bantam, 105 ℔ and under; Feather, 115 ℔ and under; Light, 135 ℔ and under; Welter, 145 ℔ and under; Middle, 158 ℔ and under; and Heavy, over 158 ℔ The rules for officials and rounds are identical with the British, except that only in final bouts does the last round last four minutes. Two “seconds” are allowed. The rules for points and fouls coincide with the British. The amateur rules are very strict, and any one who competes in a boxing contest of more than four rounds is suspended from membership in the Athletic Association.

Glossary of terms not mentioned above:—Break away, to get away from the adversary, usually a command from the referee when the men clinch. Break ground, retire diagonally to right or left. Catch-weight, any weight. Corners, the opposite angles of the square “ring,” in which the boxers rest between the rounds. Cross-counter, a blow in which the right or left arm crosses that of the adversary as he leads off; the arm is slightly curved to get round that of the opponent but is straightened at the moment of impact. Clinching, grappling after an exchange of blows; when breaking from a clinch one tries to pin the adversary’s hands in order to prevent his hitting at close quarters. Drawing an opponent, enticing him by leaving an apparent opening into making an attack for which a counter is prepared. Fiddling, forward and back movements of the arms at the beginning of a round, a part of sparring for an opening. Footwork, the manner in which a boxer uses his feet. In-fighting, boxing at very close quarters. Mark, the pit of the stomach. Side-step, springing quickly to one side to avoid a blow, the movement being usually followed up by a counter attack. Timing, a blow delivered on the enemy’s preparation of an attack of his own, but more quickly.

See Boxing, by R. Allanson Winn (Isthmian Library, London, 1897); Boxing, by Wm. Elder (Spalding’s Athletic Library, New York, 1902) (these two books are excellent for the technicalities of boxing). The article “Boxing,” by B. Jno. Angle and G. W. Barroll, in the Encyclopaedia of Sport; Boxing, by J. C. Trotter (Oval Series, London, 1896); Fencing, Boxing and Wrestling, in the Badminton Library (London, 1892).

French Boxing (la boxe française) dates from about 1830. It is more like the ancient Greek pankration (see Pugilism) than is British boxing, as not only striking with the fists, but also kicking with the feet, butting with the head and wrestling are allowed. It is a development of the old sport of savate, in which the feet, and not the hands, were used in attack. Lessons in savate, which was practised especially by roughs, were usually given in some low resort, and there were no respectable teachers. While Paris was restricted to savate, another sport, called chausson or jeu marseillais, was practised in the south of France, especially among the soldiers, in which blows of the fist as well as kicks were exchanged, and the kicks were given higher than in savate, in the stomach or even the face. It was an excellent exercise, but could hardly be reckoned a serious means of defence, for the high kicks usually fell short, and the upward blows of the fist could not be compared with the terrible sledge-hammer blows of the English boxers. Alexandre Dumas père says that Charles Lecour first conceived the idea of combining English boxing with savate. For this purpose he went to England, and took lessons of Adams and Smith, the London boxers. He then returned to Paris, about 1852, and opened a school to teach the sport since called la boxe française. Around him, and two provincial instructors who came to Paris about this time with similar ideas, there grew up a large number of sportsmen, who between 1845 and 1855 brought French boxing to its highest development. Among others who gave public exhibitions was Lecour’s brother Hubert, who although rather undersized, was quick as lightning, and had an English blow and a French kick that were truly terrible. Charles Ducros was another whose style of boxing, more in the English fashion, but with low kicks about his opponent’s shins, made a name for himself. Later came Vigneron, a “strong man,” whose style, though slow, was severe in its punishment. About 1856 the police interfered in these fights, and Lecour and Vigneron had to cease giving public exhibitions and devote themselves to teaching. Towards 1862 a new boxer, J. Charlemont, was not only very clever with his fists and feet, but an excellent teacher, and the author of a treatise on the art. Lecour, Vigneron and Charlemont may be said to have created la boxe française, which, for defence at equal weights, the French claim to be better than the English.

See L’Art de la boxe française et de la canne, by J. Charlemont (Paris, 1899); The French Method of the Noble Art of Self Defence, by Georges d’Amoric (London, 1898).