( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This art, of great antiquity and undoubted usefulness, whether looked upon as a most interesting and perfect branch of gymnastics or as a means of defence which supersedes the use of artificial weapons, has always been held in high regard in England ; and, notwithstanding the decay of the prize-ring as an institution, probably at no period in the history of the country was the " noble art of self-defence" in greater vogue than it is at the present time.
Boxing, in this country at all events (for in what is called " la boxe franraise " the use of the foot as a weapon is admitted and encouraged), consists essentially in striking with the closed hand or fist, covered for purposes of practice with the boxing glove of soft leather, stuffed with horse-hair, to act as a necessary buffer between the face and the attacking knuckles.
There has grown up, round what would appear to the uninstructed mind a simple matter, a very complicated and artistic system of attack and defence, subject to such rigid prescriptions, as shall insure immunity from brutality and unfairness.
An extraordinary development of glove-fighting has been seen of late years, and, instead of the old battles with bare knuckles which were so frequent in the early Victorian age, we have seen that a great deal of encouragement, pecuniary and social, has been bestowed upon glove-contests between professional exponents of the art.
Whether this has resulted, as might at first sight have been expected, in an increase of scientific development as distinguished from mere endurance and power of giving as well as receiving punishment, or whether something has not been sacrificed in the way of general efficiency to the desire to terminate a contest abruptly by a " knock out," is a question which requires some consideration.
It is certain that the majority of boxing matches in the present day are so terminated, whereas in the old days of knuckle-fighting, the days of the Fives-court, Nat Langham's, Jem Shaw's, Bill Richardson's, and other well-known resorts of the old fashioned fighting-man and his patrons, this seldom occurred ; and the fact may be attributed, we cannot but think, to their " shaping " in the manner we shall endeavour to describe when treating of position, and to the jealous care with which a straight use of the left-hand was taught and practised.
The object now seems to be in too many instances to endeavour by hook hits and round half-arm hitting to " send to sleep " an antagonist as soon as possible, risking in the process the reception of hits which, if made with the bare knuckles, could not but stop the most thorough " glutton " for punishment.
An example of the brilliant and successful use of the straight left against these attempts is to be found in the case of an accomplished coloured boxer, Peter Jackson, whose style shows more of the old form than that of most of his colleagues.
It is a notable fact, upon which we may perhaps be allowed to congratulate ourselves without being charged with too much chauvinism, that England and her colonies, notably Australia, have produced so many able exponents of the art of boxing and that the majority are of Anglo-Saxon or Hibernian blood, whether hailing from this country or the United States; and that several boxers of eminence from the last-named country have to acknowledge the United Kingdom as their native home.
The general enthusiasm for the art of self-defence has spread from the civil population to the military forces, and there is something very remarkable in the rapid strides that have been made of late years in this direction in the army, the navy also, as might be expected when anything combative is toward, being well in evidence.
The Brigade of Guards some four years ago showed the way by engaging efficient instructors, and now, thanks partly to this good example, at such great military centres as Woolwich, Chatham, Aldershot, Portsmouth and the London barracks, regimental and garrison competitions are held each winter, and an annual championship meeting takes place at Aldershot. That this manly and healthy sport possesses the sanction and good-will of the higher authorities is shown by the fact that the present commander-in-chief, Lord Wolseley, stated when presenting the prizes at Chelsea Barracks, that he hoped that boxing would very soon form part of every soldier's education.
We can only wonder that the authorities at Scotland Yard and the chiefs of police throughout the country have not insisted upon instruction in boxing forming a part of every policeman's education. The time is probably not far distant when this will be the case, no doubt to the great advantage of a fine set of men who have very arduous and dangerous duties to perform with an equipment of arms much inferior to that used by any other police force in the world. Even if they use the comparatively inefficient weapon which they carry, the truncheon, except in circumstances of the greatest pressure, they have to run the risk of severe censure.
We have said that the English race, using the term in its widest sense, appears undoubtedly to possess a marked preeminence in the theory and practice of the " noble art of self-defence; " but let us caution the aspirant, proud in the confidence of youth and strength and flushed with a sense of racial predisposition, that skill in boxing does not come by the light of nature ; and that, if he desire to use his " natural weapons " to the best advantage, he will be well advised in seeking the tuition of some accredited master. It is only by assiduous practice and imitation of well chosen examples that proficiency is to be attained in what is a highly complicated and scientific sport.
None of the arts of defence can be learned from books, though books may be useful as adjuncts to practical demonstration, in fixing principles, maintaining what is of value in tradition, and furnishing useful hints and necessary cautions.
This being premised, we will endeavour to explain as succinctly as possible those different positions, leads-off, counters, guards, stops, and means of avoiding hits by ducking, slipping, and getting away which experience has taught to be most useful.
We shall adopt the following classification :
Position - Getting About and Breaking Ground-Lead-off at Head with Left Hand-Guard for Lead-off at Head with Left Hand-Guard with Right-hand and Counter with Lefthand-Lead-off and Guard Left-hand Counter -Counter at Body with Left Hand-Counter at Body with Right Hand-Lead-off with Left Hand and Duck-Left-hand Lead at the Body -Guard for Left-hand Lead at the Body-Stop for Left-hand Lead at the Body-The Upper Cut-Double Hit at Body and Head with Left Hand-Guard for above-Right-hand Cross-Counter-Stop for Right-hand Cross-Counter-Feints-Draws--Ducking- Slipping-In-Fighting.
Position-Place the left foot in front, pointing straight towards your opponent, the left knee slightly bent and foot flat on the ground, the right foot about once its own length in rear of the left with the toes slightly turned to the right, but not nearly so much as to form a right angle with the left foot, the ball of the right foot on a line with the heel of the left, the right heel slightly off the ground, the weight being chiefly on the ball of the right foot.
The body is turned three-quarters towards your opponent, the head being slightly inclined to the right and not presented full-face, but in such a manner that you maintain your view of your opponent chiefly with the left eye. This position diminishes greatly the chance of the point of the jaw, the mark for the right hand cross-counter, being reached.
The right hand and fore-arm are to be placed across the lower part of the chest, nearly horizontally, so as to cover that part of the pit of the chest which is known as " the mark." This is a point of major importance, as a severe punch in this part is both painful and disabling, and if unchecked might bring a friendly sparring match to an abrupt end.