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16.32) Pugilism (Bare Knuckle Boxing / Classic Pugilism / Modern Boxing)


This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel faq@idempot.net with numerous contributions by others.

16.32) Pugilism (Bare Knuckle Boxing / Classic Pugilism / Modern Boxing)

(Contributors: Kirk Lawson < lawson@dayton.net> ,
Ken Pfrenger < kenpfrenger@gmail.com> ,
Tony Wolf < lone_wolf_9@hotmail.com> ,
Fraser Johnston < fraser@jcis.com.au> ,
Badger North < young_forest@hotmail.com> ,
Keith P. Myers < myers4321@aol.com> ,
Terry Brown < terrybrown@maisters.demon.co.uk> ,
Rich Lancashire < rlancashire@hotmail.com> ,
Charlie < judoman@aapt.net.au> )


Bare Knuckle Boxing / Classic Pugilism is the origin of modern
Boxing. It was a popular sport in Britain, Ireland, Scotland, New
Zealand, Australia and Early America. The defining element of the
art, as the name implies, is that this type of boxing, when applied
to the ring, is practiced without the aid of protective gloves.
The sport includes a number closed fist strikes and can include stand
up grappling such as trips and throws.

The successor, Modern Boxing consists of a stipulated rule set and
is intended to be practiced within the confines of a Boxing Ring.
Modern Boxers wear special gloves and wrist wraps, the purpose of
which is to protect the hands and wrists of the boxer. Amateur
boxers often wear padded head gear whose intention is to protect the

Modern Boxing has become the main hand-striking style for Mixed
Martial Artists, though it has had to evolve (or regress, if you
like) to account for the wider variety of threats than just punches.
A primary example of this is Rodney King's popular, non-attribute
based, 'Crazy-Monkey' methodology; a few characteristics of which are
the use of forearms as a high-guard bone-shield, and its crouching
foward-facing stance. It provides a structure that both protects
against a superior boxer, and is responsive to giving and receiving
'non-boxing attacks' (eg. kicks & takedowns). Its good for both the
mma-athlete and the non-gifted striker who wants to have a fighting
chance of succeeding with punches against the more athletic or

Origin: Britain and British holdings. Perhaps older.


Bare Knuckle Boxing dates back at least to the ancient Greeks, but
perhaps as far back as Egypt circa 4000 B.C., where it was primarily a
sport of taking punishment, the contestants trading blows, sometimes
with loaded or lead wrapped fists. It is hard to say if the sport was
brought to the Britains with the invading Romans or if it developed
from existing bare hand fighting techniques, though the latter seems
more likely.

The heyday of the sport began in the 18th Century in Britain. There
is compelling evidence suggesting that during this time period Boxing
Theory was tied closely to Fencing and general Weapons Theory and may
have been taught as "fencing with the fists" thus creating an
"integrated" system, intended for both sport and personal defense and
covering both armed and unarmed defense.

There were few, if any, rules and pugilists were free to employ a
number "dirty tricks" such as eye gouging, grabbing the hair, and
striking below the waist. In 1743, a Pugilist named Broughton
developed a set of rules after killing another man in the ring.
Broughton's rules were simple and still allowed for a lot of "dirty
tricks" which were considered to be just part of the sport. "That no
person is to hit his Adversary when he is down, or seize him by the
ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist: a man on his knees is
reckoned down." Renowned fighters from this era included "Gentleman"
John Jackson and Daniel Mendoza, who was known for being a small man
in an age devoid of weight classes and for using advanced footwork and
technique to avoid "trading blows."

In 1838 the London Prize Fighting Rules were instituted. This period
is considered the Golden Age of Bare Knuckle Boxing and included such
greats as John L. Sullivan and Paddy Ryan. Though the London Prize
Fighting Rules were more exhaustive then the previous Broughton Rules,
they still were scant compared to modern boxing rules: No Butting, No
hitting a downed man, No hitting below the belt, No gouging or biting,
No kicking or falling on an opponent knees first, No grabbing from the
waist down. The final rule set led into modern boxing, the Marquis de
Queensbury rules of 1867 which, among other things, effectively
eliminated throws and trips from the sport.

There are two modern interests in Bare Knuckle Boxing. First is
Classic Pugilism. This is a reconstruction of classic Boxing from
bygone years using period manuals, rules, and training techniques.
Second is Bare Fist Fights. Though still boxing bare fisted, the
focus is more directly on modern bare fist competition and self
defense with little regard for historic technique, historic rules,
or re-creation of classic skills.

Although this practice has been ongoing for many years public interest
and acceptance has recently been reinvigorated as illustrated by
popular movies such as _Fight Club_ and by the growing popularity of
modern bare fisted boxing styles such as Rodney King's Crazy-Monkey
system. Obviously there can be significant cross over in interest
between the two and practitioners of one often have a strong interest
in the other. It should be noted that bare knuckle boxing
competitions are often illegal or strictly regulated.

Modern Boxing rules can seem somewhat complex in comparison with its
earlier iteration. However these rules are generally either to
protect the boxers, ensure a "fair" match, or to otherwise adhere to
the ideals of boxing as a sport in which blows with the fist are
traded. For a good look at typical Modern Boxing rules, see:

Olympic Boxing Rules:

Amateur Boxing Rules:

Professional Boxing Rules:


Depending upon which rule set is being used, the sport can have
differing descriptions. Classic Pugilistic punching is typically
vertical fist, however the hand position and stance alters depending
upon the rule set. Also, depending upon the rule set Judo-like throws
and trips were included. Rounds were concluded when a man went down
on the ground from punches or a trip or throw, or when he was down to
his knees. Matches could last more than an hour and have upwards of
100 rounds. One famous match between Mendoza and Humphreys had 22
rounds in the first 40 minutes.

Modern Boxing matches are tightly controlled. Round length is
specified, weight classes are applied, the weight of the gloves is
spelled out, and strict rules governing legal strikes are enforced.


Classic Pugilism training is typically restricted to clubs or
societies dedicated to recreating the sport and the art, often
containing only a few members and frequently advertised solely by word
of mouth. Usually working from numerous texts and training manuals
written by Pugilists of old, these groups combine training methods
from these multiple sources and network with other Pugilists from
around the world using the Internet and re-creationist seminars to
hone their art.

Some classic texts include recommendations to use "mufflers" or gloves
during training and sparring in order to protect the sparring
partners. To include the throws and trips, a soft surface to fall on
is recommended.

Bare Fist Boxing styles such as Crazy-Monkey are frequently taught in
Modern Boxing schools, MMA schools, and integrated self defense
schools. The training closely follows that of Modern Boxing. For
information on the 'Crazy Monkey' method:

Training for Modern Boxing generally takes place in boxing,
kickboxing, or mma gyms. Most of the training is cardio, bagwork,
focus mitts, and eventually sparring, which most boxers would argue
is the most important way to develop realistic application of
fighting skills. There are graduated levels of sparring, which
should start out very 'safe, light and easy' and become progressively
more intense as one's skill develops.

However some people are concerned about health risks associated with
sparring and others maybe intimidated. Thus, they choose to avoid
sparring. This is common and accepted, since boxing is still an
excellent way to build great fitness. Just hitting a heavy bag, and
especially doing good focus-mit work, will still bring some good
martial outcomes, such as hitting correctly, hitting hard, and the
ability to target strikes, while blocking and slipping incoming

For more information see:


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