Boxing skills and their use in Self-Defense

Boxing skills and their use in Self-Defense

Boxing is one of the oldest and well known of the Traditional” martial arts. Its a huge spectator sport in the modern world and was, at one time, something taught as the go-to self-defence in many countries. It was taught in school in the UK and in the United States and has a great tradition in Ireland whether in bare-knuckle boxing or gloved.

But how is boxing useful as Self-Defense in the modern world?


If you can make time to train in boxing technique, it can be very very useful when defending yourself, because,

  • You train to develop concussive punching power
  • Boxing sparring is one of the most realistic forms of sparring available
  • In boxing, the emphasis is on training to improve speed and reflexes, crucial skills when you are under a violent attack
  • The development of good footwork in boxing training helps with balance, evasion and creating counter strike angles
  • Boxing training is one of the best ways to get fit

Boxing skills in other martial arts

I trained in a Northern style Kung Fu, which is generally classed as pugilistic. We worked on skills that are very similar to those used in boxing. The jab, right cross and use of the hook punch. Kickboxing is an obvious example of a martial art that mixes boxing with the use of the legs. Thai Boxing is another that can be directly connected to standard boxing. If you train in any of these fighting arts, you will develop fast hand skills and good movement. Vital skills in any Self-Defense situation.

Specific skills learnt in boxing

There is a range of punches that you work on in boxing which are basically, the hook, the cross, the jab and the uppercut. With various deviations to suit the style or person. You also develop a strong defence whether it be a standard style, the “Philly” ( as brilliantly used by Floyd Mayweather ) or a cross arm style. Your defence is frequently tested in sparring as is your punching power.

It’s all very simple as you learn to attack and defend with a minimal amount of variations. This can be a very useful thing when under pressure in a street fight as you aren’t searching round in your mind for a million different responses. Instead, you have a small amount of very well drilled responses that you have worked on in sparring .

But does it work?

Here is an excellent clip of an older man dishing it out to a younger upstart in a sparring session. The old man has an excellent crouched defence, with only the top of his head exposed and simply let’s fly with some powerful hooks. The younger man obviously thinks he can best the oldster, but then reality literally hits home. His poor defence is exposed ruthlessly.

Here is another clip where you can see how boxing skill is very useful in dealing with trouble. The hand speed and focussed power that you can develop ( when aimed at the right area ) can resolve a difficult situation very quickly. Speed is a very important asset if you have to defend yourself and this is something worked on in boxing training from day one.

Punching power

It would seem obvious to state it, but it can’t be stressed often enough. If you develop serious punching power it can get you out any trouble very quickly if used efficiently and without mercy. Everyone has a story of a situation where the tables were turned in a fight or attack because someone was knocked out.

One of my favourites is about a brawl in a pub which involved an amateur boxer. The boxer’s friend was making hard work of dealing with an aggressor as they flailed around. From the corner of his eye, he could see the boxer standing, looking round to see what to do next as three men lay asleep on the floor around him. The so-called “brawl” didn’t even really start for the trained boxer as he had knocked out his opponents in the blink of an eye.

Here is a good quote from Kelly McCann to emphasise the point about developing good punching power,

“How important is it to develop good technique? In one study of punching power conducted in England, untrained people punching a 65-pound bag generated only 70 to 100 pounds of force. In contrast, Ricky Hatton, a professional welterweight boxer, generated 900! Spending time learning how to deliver powerful, efficient strikes is well worth your effort because it may be the sole deciding factor when you’re fighting for your life.”

McCann, Kelly. Combatives for Street Survival: Volume 1: Index Positions, the Guard and Combatives Strikes. Independent Publishers Group.

Boxing skills as part of a wider system

In this blog, the main emphasis is on discussing what works or doesn’t really work when you need it in a real self-defense situation. Boxing skills are an excellent addition to anyone’s skill set but are not the whole picture. They tend to neglect certain street fighting essentials,

  • Often situational awareness is not part of the training
  • There is no groundwork
  • There is no developed defence against leg attacks
  • Grappling is not part of the training
  • Weapon defense is neglected

Here, Geoff Thompson describes a situation that highlights the flaws in only concentrating on boxing training,

“A couple of years later the same boxer ventured into my club to box with one of my students, a capable boxer with a heavy background in traditional Karate. At the start of the fight, they fought full contact and to boxing rules. There was no doubting the ferocity and prowess of the boxer’s hands: he was brilliant. Although my student fought a hard and brave fight he was catching some heavy bombs. After a few rounds of boxing, and with the consent of both fighters, I changed the rules slightly and allowed the use of kicking. Within a minute the boxer had been on the floor more times than the cleaner’s mop and was incapable of carrying on. My student had used only one kick to reach this end – a Thai leg kick. The boxer came to see me a week later, still limping, and told me that he hadn’t been able to attend work for a week and was absolutely amazed at how effective the kicker was.”

Geoff Thompson. Three Second Fighter

To conclude:

Developing good boxing skills is an excellent addition to any self-defense training system. If you can get past the initial phase of learning the techniques involved until they become second nature it can be very useful. If learnt as part of an overall Self-Defense program, basic boxing skills are a vital part of the whole puzzle as you learn to hit hard, develop good balance and tighten up your defence.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

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