“I don’t need that karate crap! I’ve got Glock Fu!”
We’ve all heard the bluster of the fat slob at the range, as he locks into his piss-poor imitation of a svelte, circa 1979 Jeff Cooper shooting stance, with his custom 1911A1, and proceeds to practice his “defensive shooting” with slow, aimed fire at 21 feet. 50 rounds later, he has displayed an exemplary lack of understanding of what the Colonel was actually teaching, as well as what actual interpersonal violence looks like…but hey, at least he has a decent group (hopefully), since “speed is fine, but accuracy is final!”
You would think, with the prevalence of high-quality, relatively inexpensive training available in this country, from instructors, trainers, and teachers who have “been there, done that,” that we’d be past the nonsense by now. Outside of the cognitive bias of Dunning-Kruger, there is no reason that anyone with the foresight to carry a defensive firearm in America today, cannot get solid, legitimate training in the application of that weapon in the anti-personnel role. Whether you’re a cop, a prepper, or just a concerned citizen, THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT TRAINING EFFECTIVELY.
No sane person wants to rely on physical, unarmed combatives for self-protection. That’s why we own—and carry—firearms. Fist fighting is to the everyday carry (EDC) pistol, what the EDC pistol is to the carbine in your truck, and what the carbine in your truck is to close-air support from an A-10: less than desirable, but a tool that will keep you alive, and in the fight, until you can create the spatial and temporal gaps needed to get to the better weapon.
Any long-time reader will know I am an advocate of grappling-centric combatives systems like judo, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) and the Special Operations Combatives Program (SOCP). Despite the whining pleas of those who lack the drive, discipline, or even just the opportunity, to train in those very physical systems, they offer one significant advantage over striking-centric systems—they are inherently, utterly empirical. You can either choke someone out, or you cannot. There is no in-between. There is no subjective gray area.
At the same time however, there’s a great deal to be said for the value of knowing how to throw bombs with your striking. From left jabs that crack jaws and knock out teeth, to straight rights that crush orbital lobes and leave gray stuff leaking out of ears, being able to legitimately punch hard—with “heavy hands” as one of my old coaches used to say—will go a long way towards solving problems before you ever even need to go to guns.
If we accept the truth of the idea that “bad guys look for easy marks,” then being able to initiate a conversation by making it so that he needs to eat through a straw for the next six to eight weeks solves a lot of potential issues, doesn’t it? A solid foundation in basic boxing skills will go a long way towards achieving that.
Competitive boxers, of course, spend years in training before they become successful, and even at the most basic level, competent coaches will have their protégées, spend a few months shadowboxing, working the heavy bag, and on the focus mitts, before they ever step into the sparring ring. For us mortals, lacking the intrinsic physical attributes of swarthy youth in their teens and twenties, plus family obligations, work commitments, and even competing training requirements, five or six hours a week—or more—in a boxing gym just isn’t a realistic option.
Fortunately, we’re probably not going to facing competitive boxers, so our training requirements are somewhat less intense. We do still need to spend some time working on those basic skills, because there are bad guys out there that work them, even if not at the level of a Cesar Chavez or Mike Tyson.
Boxing In the Real World
The fact is, whether you manage to knock a guy out with your “ol’ one-two,” or not, in situations that do require the use of a weapon, the application of basic boxing blows, delivered with speed, precision, and power, can create the spatial and temporal opportunities you need to get your weapon into the fight. When an incident “begins” at conversational distance, your 1.5-2.0 second draw from concealment is not going to be fast enough, unless you have some plan in place to preclude the enemy from impeding your efforts. It’s been my experience—as well as that of a lot of far more capable people—that punching a guy in the mouth can go a long way towards achieving that.
Combined with the use of well-developed, basic footwork and movement techniques, solid punching skills will provide you the space and time to win the drag race to the gun. NOTHING SAYS “INTERRUPT YOUR OODA LOOP” QUITE LIKE CHOKING ON YOUR OWN TEETH!
Training Tactics and Strategies
Outside of hours each week spent in a dedicated boxing club, getting beat up by those swarthy youngsters, what tools and methods are available to us that we can use to develop some rudimentary striking skills from the sweet science? The most important is the heavy bag.
I can’t recall where it was, but just the other day, I was reading something about a lot of old time boxers like Jack Dempsey, who forswore the use of training aids like focus mitts in favor of sticking with the heavy bag. I don’t know the accuracy of that (I don’t even know when focus mitts were developed, although I do notice a lack of mention of them in many old time boxing manuals), but I do know that, despite the fact that I own several pairs of focus mitts, and some muay Thai kicking pads, my heavy bag gets a significantly greater portion of my training time than those do. The heavy bag gets a lot more training time than all the other accouterments combined. It’s just so much more multi-functional. I can work the speed and precision that I work with focus mitts on the heavy bag, but I can work power on the heavy bag that just doesn’t work with the mitts. I can even incorporate footwork and very basic defensive countermeasures on the heavy bag.
My heavy bag is a 100-pound model. I don’t think anything heavier is really necessary, and I’m firmly convinced that nothing lighter offers the fundamental advantages for the requisite power development. Admittedly though, this could be a cognitive bias on my part, since I’ve been hitting 100# bags since before I weighed a hundred pounds. I modify my heavy bags by placing wraps of tape around two spots on the bag. The first is on the same level as my jaw, and the second is at the level of my solar plexus. By focusing the aim of my blows on those two target levels, I can work on developing precision in punching, to accompany the power.
To increase punching speed, I set my shot timer (although, the timer function on a cell phone works really well too) for a given span: thirty seconds, one minute, etc. Then, I just stand still, and for the duration, I throw as many FULL-POWER, AIMED punches as I can, before the time runs out. It doesn’t matter if you throw ten, or one hundred punches in that span, as long as they are aimed, and are delivered with all the power you can muster. Beyond that, what matters is that you managed to get more punches in today, than you did yesterday, and that you manage more tomorrow than you can today.
Adding Boxing to Your PT Program
Perhaps the simplest way to incorporate some solid boxing training into your current program is to simply tack it on to the end of your daily PT program—because, you ARE doing PT daily, right? This is actually one of the great advantages of the incorporation of boxing training into your combatives training—you can get a lot of advantage out of the training even if you’re all by yourself.
Besides the obvious cardio, strength, and stamina advantages, you can actually develop legitimate functional skill from solo training. While there is certainly value in solo training, the body movement mechanics of ground fighting inherently require a training partner to get the most value. With your boxing skills however,—while you WILL ultimately need some partners for sparring with—you can’t go and drop bombs every time you spar, or you’ll run out of sparring partners in a hurry. That’s what the heavy bag is for. It doesn’t mind getting the crap beat out of it daily. The best boxing coaches I’ve known would put you on a shadowboxing and bag work regimen for 3-6 months before you ever stepped foot into the sparring ring anyway. As my buddy, boxing coach and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Cecil Burch says, “shadowboxing is dry-fire for boxing.” The same can be said of heavy bag work. It’s the boxing alternative to the square range drills that build the foundational knowledge and skill needed to make force-on-force and field work successful.
Here’s the program I use and recommend:
Add your bag work on to the end of your normal PT session. Whether you’ve just finished a powerlifting training session, or a Crossfit-type conditioning WOD, it will only add 15-20 minutes to your total training time. My powerlifting sessions generally run 45-90 minutes, while my WOD generally run 20-60 minutes. If you just cannot afford the additional 15-20 minutes, you COULD possibly replace one conditioning WOD per week with the boxing workout. While this is definitely sub-optimal, if done properly, it can work. Working the heavy bag is a smoker.
Start out with 5-6 rounds of one minute each, with a one-minute rest interval. If you’re new to bag work, that’s probably all you’re going to be able to manage while still achieving speed, precision, and power in your punches. For the first 2-3 weeks, focus on one punch per round (there are literally, THOUSANDS of quality tutorials on how to execute the punches correctly on Youtube. There’s probably tens of thousands of bad ones, but finding a quality tutorial shouldn’t be particularly difficult). For the first round, throw the left jab (for right-handers. For southpaws, it will be a right jab, etc). Just throw the punch, recover, and repeat, for the duration of your round. For the second round, throw the straight right, over and over and over. Follow with the left hook and the left and right uppercut.
While you can incorporate the right hook—I do—a very convincing argument can be made that the right hook has no place in boxing. There’s little, in traditional Queensbury Rules boxing, that it offers that the straight right doesn’t do better. I like it and practice it because it allows me to throw heavy with my right, while staying deep inside of clinch range.
After a few weeks of this; once you’re throwing the punches correctly, driving from the ground, through your hips, using good biomechanics, so that you’re achieving speed, precision, and power, start working combinations. I use a half-dozen very basic combinations, and I cycle through them, over and over and over. It’s much like combat shooting. Advanced skill is nothing more than a sublime mastery of the fundamentals. I’ve done these basic combinations so often that I can probably execute them properly in my sleep (my wife likes to claim that I DO throw them in my sleep…).
The most basic of course, is the “ol’ one-two.” Every boxing session should start with this combination, over and over, for the duration of at least one round. It’s the foundation combination for all good boxing. As my good buddy Paul Sharp says, “the truth is you will do a lot of damage to the majority of the population simply by having the ability to throw a hard jab-cross combo.” Like the man said, mastering the one-two will solve most problems that can be solved by punching.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dive in deeper. “Most problems” isn’t “all problems.” I follow the one-two round with a second round, running the left jab-straight right-left hook combination. Boxers refer to this as the 1-2-3. It’s both a very basic boxing combination, and relatively complicated to pull off, since the shifts in balance that are required can be tough if you’re not coordinated, but they have to happen, and fast, to make the combination work. For the duration of the round, every time I throw this combination, I’ll alternate between throwing the hook to the jaw/ear, or the ribs (or more accurately, because of the level of my aiming strip, to the armpit. That punch, delivered there, will screw your whole week up, and give you nightmares for a month afterwards).
For the rest of my training session, I alternate between left jab-left hook, and left jab-left hook-straight right. I also spend a lot of time working combinations in the clinch distance. To train these, I stand close enough that I can press my forehead into the bag. If the bag moves, I move with it, keeping that forehead pressure on, as I work my combinations, except when I need to make space for a specific blow. For example: right uppercut to the body-left uppercut to the body-left hook to the head. In order to get my body behind that left hook, I need to snap my head up and back as I throw the punch. As soon as it lands though, I’m driving my head back into contact with the bag in my clinch position.
After performing the one minute rounds for a few weeks, we step up to 3×2 minute rounds, still with one minute rest intervals. Then, after a couple more weeks, we step up to 2×3 minute rounds, again with the one minute rest intervals. Then, each week, I’ll add one minute on to the end of the workout, until I’m doing 5-6×3 minute rounds, always with the same one-minute rest intervals.
As an alternative, occasionally, I’ll break the last round up, back to one minute rounds, and really push my speed, trying to get as many fast, accurate, powerful punches as I can, within that one minute. After a week or two of this, I’ll go back to the 5-6×3 minute rounds, and quantify that the improvements have carried over to the longer time frame.
Working Footwork on the Heavy Bag
It has been said that footwork is the foundation of fighting. It’s true. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we refer to that position of balance between mobility and stability as “base.” The concept applies just as much to boxing as it does to ground fighting. If you lack mobility, you’re going to get your head knocked off. If you lack stability though, you’re never going to be able to deliver solid punches that land with power. Without that requisite stability to develop power, you’ll just be playing patty-cake. While I don’t mind playing patty-cake with my kids, I’m not interested in playing it with a grown man.
Developing and practicing your footwork on the heavy bag is essential. Moving, and staying with the bag while you’re punching, but moving away when you’re not, is the foundation. It’s the age-old concept of “stick-and-move.” It’s guerrilla warfare 101, isn’t it?
Here’s how we teach it:
From a position facing the bag, get your hands up to protect your head, and start a nice, relaxed bob-and-weave movement. Throw your combination off the bob-and-weave. As you finish your combination, pivot off the line towards your left, and immediately hit your bob-and-weave, and throw the combination again. This time, as you come off the combination, pivot off the line to your right. You can also choose to always pivot left for one round, and always pivot right for the next round. The key is that you’re trying to make the stick-and-move intuitive, without giving up the initiative and forward drive of the fight by moving straight backwards. You will never be able to move backwards as fast as the enemy can move forward. Remember, “mobility kills.” The guy with better mobility kills the opponent. The dude with less mobility gets killed. It doesn’t matter the scale of the fight, or the weapons involved.
At some point, of course, you’re going to have to spar. You simply cannot internalize and master the defensive and counteroffensive aspects of boxing without getting out there and banging. Hitting a heavy bag develops crucial attributes, but you have to fine-tune them on an opponent. It’s the boxing equivalent of square range work, versus getting out in the woods, or into the shoot house, and putting those skills to practical work.
Most importantly however, from the boxing-specific standpoint, until you’ve eaten a punch—or a hundred—you don’t know how to fight. It doesn’t matter if you “plan” on always sucker-punching your opponent from an ambush. At some point, you’re going to try that on a guy who isn’t a wuss. He’s going to take your best shot…and giggle about it. At that moment, you’d better have eaten a few punches, so you know that you can. Further, it might not be you who does the sucker-punching. When Sam the Street Skell bounces a straight right off your jaw, you need to have experienced catching a punch with your chin a few times in order to shake it off and get back into the fight, before he finishes you.
A basic level of combatives ability is essential if you intend to be able to fight, to protect kith and kin. A sub-second draw is great, and running a carbine at an expert level is great. When the situation doesn’t allow for either of these two choices to solve your problem though, being able to knock a guy out, with a well-placed series of punches that carry the weight of thousands of repetitions on the heavy bag, might be the answer that you do need. Remember, $150 for a 100# heavy bag at the local sporting goods store (and they’re WAY cheaper on Craigslist! I think I paid $50 for mine), is significantly cheaper than reconstructive surgery—or a funeral.
Make no mistake, punches can kill. I know more than one guy who spent a significant amount of time in prison because he punched a dude, the dude went down, bumped his head, and didn’t get up again. It’s far better if you’re the guy throwing that shot than if you’re the guy catching that shot.