Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BOXING: The Wisdom of Jack Dempsey.

My deepest thanks to marbleheadmaui of for posting this.

The Jimmy Wilde and Barney Ross books I summarized recently were both useful and insightful. But Jack Dempsey's "Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense" is on another level entirely. It is far longer and absolutely full of insights, thoughtful approaches, sketches and explanations. It is a boxing tour de force. I was very surprised by two things. First, I think of Dempsey as a kind of raw offensive machine. It simply ain't true. The knowledge he imparts here is comprehensive. Secondly, Dempsey and his editor Jack Cuddy make it sounds like Dempsey is actually teaching the reader. Concise declarative sentences. Written in 1950.

Dempsey spends a great deal of time on the Trigger Step (also called the Falling Step) as a source of power among other things, but I found the most interesting sections were on Defensive Technique. The thoughts below are all Dempsey's except for those in parenthesis which are kine.

Dempsey begins with his definition of defense : How to prevent a starting punch from landing on its target, and how to counter with a punch. (the bold is mine. How often do we see fighters today avoid getting hit and not doing anything else? I found it fascinating that Dempsey was utterly dismissive of jumping away or moving out of punching range as legitimate, championship level defense. Why? Because it only does half the job. Jumping away or moving out of range isn't Aggressive Defense because one cannot counterpunch while doing those things.)

Dempsey provides a cascade of defense.

Blocking-This is the least preferable. Why? A solid block can affect one's balance, because repeated shots on say the left deltoid can affect punching power as the fight goes on and because one cannot punch while blocking. Blocking can be done with the hands, shoulders, combined with a body pivot, forearms and elbows and can be used against all punches. Dempsey goes punch by punch with the best options. He emphasizes the eyes must be kept open because for each block there is a best immediate counter. This is the first kind of defense to be taught. (Fighters like Mr. Ronald Wright and Arthur Abraham never moved beyond it. Fighters like James Toney and BHOP and Floyd Mayweather rely on the shoulder portion of this technique).

Deflection-This is parrying and "brushing off." Brushing off is also called "glancing-off." This is a violent chopping movement. Deflection is superior to Blocking because one's balance remains unaffected, one is not taking punches that can wear over time and because it is done with one hand at a time so the other is free to punch. One limitation of this technique is it should be avoided against hooks. The parry is used against straight punches (think Mr. Miyagi's "side-side.") Dempsey notes that cross-Parries, i.e. blocking a left jab with one's left hand, are a bad idea as you are open to a counter right hand with nothing to stop it. Dempsey also warns against parrying "inside-out" against fast handed foes. The "Glance-off" is a more solid deflection. This move is why fighters use the backhand on the speedbag. This is training the deflection. (Think "wax-on, wax-off" and "paint the fence" taught by Mr. Miyagi. Joe Louis, Alexis Arguello and again BHOP, Toney and Floyd rely on this as does Juan Manuel Marquez).

Evasion-The King of defensive techniques. Evasion is forcing the foe to miss a punch without any physical contact, while remaining in position to land a counter. Why is it the king? No punishment taken and both hands free to counterpunch. Dempsey outlines four ways to evade; Slipping, bobbing, footwork and pulling away. A slip is simply rolling the shoulders that allows a straight punch to go over a shoulder. (Willie Pep, Joe Gans, Salvador Sanchez, Tony Canzoneri, Sweet Pea are wonderful practitioners of this.) Dempsey outlines the best counter against each punch and whether that punch has been slipped to the right or left. Bobbing is simply artful bowing from the waist and is especially effective against hooks to the head and in closing on the foe. No foot movement is used for either the slip or the bob. As a result the feet are ready to punch. Now when bobbing one must always be ready to simultaneously slip (the "bob and weave"). By slipping while bobbing one makes the head hard to hit and adds uncertainty as to where you are moving or punching next. (Think Joe Frazier, Nicolino Locche, a young Mike Tyson and of course Dempsey himself). Footwork can be the defensive sidestep, a single step and a pivot with the other foot. If stepping right the right foot steps and the left pivots. One punches as the stepping foot lands, not while it is stepping. Another useful piece of footwork is stepping inside a hook toward the foe. A variety of punches are available in each case. But in general when stepping inside one throws the opposite hand of the one being evaded. For example a left hook is best countered by stepping inside and throwing the right hand. (Joe Gans, Floyd Mayweather, Barney Ross, Willie Pep, Benny Leonard all did lots of this). The worst kind of evasion is "pulling away." This is basically swaying from the waist and shifting one's weight to the back foot with or without a step. This is a last resort against straight punches but should never be used against hooks to the head. (Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali anyone?). The problem is once someone gets used to pulling away from straight punches they often instinctively try to do so against hooks.

If you can get your hands on this book it really is a treat!



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