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Advanced Technique, Tactics and Strategies from the Sweet Science
By Mark Hatmaker, Doug Werner
Tracks PublishingCopyright © 2004 Doug Werner
All rights reserved.
The training continuum
There is a ton of information in these pages. If you are an experienced fighter, feel free to jump in anywhere. I recommend the novice start at the beginning and work through the end of the book. No matter your skill level, I recommend you take each technique or tactic and work it through the following training continuum to ensure that the information is deeply seated into your nervous system.
I know it is tempting to take a new idea and run immediately to the heavy bag or get in front of an opponent, but the most important piece of equipment you can own is a full-length mirror. The mirror is absolutely the best tool for self-correction. By working before a mirror, you provide your own feedback about your movement, technique and guard. Is as tight, fluid and powerful as need be? Work everything in front of the mirror — footwork, offense, defense and upper body movement. Keep this fact in mind: If it ain't right in front of the mirror, it ain't gonna be right anywhere else.
After you've honed your tools in front of the mirror, it is time to apply them to solid targets. Take the selected technique or tactic and apply it to the training apparatus that will best accomplish the desired result. In other words, select the device that will provide the most realistic feedback for that particular tool. In broad strokes, (there are exceptions) use the heavy bag for working power, the double-end bag for timing and accuracy, the maize bag for defense, slip-sticks for upper-body mobility and so on. With this information in mind, choose wisely.
This vital step in the continuum allows you to stand before a live opponent who is either gloved up himself or outfitted with focus mitts. At this point in the game you are not sparring yet, but working the designated tool or tactic in isolation, preferably in real time.
This is a complex aspect of the continuum that requires much forethought. It is an absolutely vital step in moving the fighter from being only a puncher into a boxer.
Situation and isolation sparring
Here you finally work with an opponent, but you are not slinging leather with abandon. You and your partner agree on ground rules that limit the usual boxing game in order to emphasize the tool or tactic to be drilled. For example, to improve your clinching skills, you may have your partner spar an inside fight while you attempt to muffle his attack and clinch as he attempts to stave off your clinch. Once the fight moves to the outside, you agree to bring the fight back to the inside range.
Now all bets are off. You and your opponent are each trying to hone individual games while trying to best each other. It's the ultimate goal of the boxing game, but I cannot stress enough the necessity of moving through the previous five steps before considering the sixth step.
Stances and guards
It's not readily apparent, but there are varieties of stances in boxing. Each stance is or was designed to emphasize a particular offensive or defensive point or to make the most of a particular fighter's build. In this section, we will introduce six guards. Ideally, you will select the stance that feels best for you and work from there. I recommend a nodding familiarity with variations of your primary guard so that you can be effective if you find yourself faked into an awkward position or you choose to use an unorthodox guard to bait or confuse an opponent. My preference, the classic guard, will be used as the demonstration stance throughout this book, although the material will work with any of the guards presented.
Picture yourself standing on a clock face. Left lead fighters stand with their left foot at 11 o'clock and their right foot at 4 o'clock. Right lead fighters stand with their right foot at 2 o'clock and their left foot at 8 o'clock.
Your feet are approximately shoulder width art with weight carried equally between the two feet.
Your toes face forward with only the slightest inside turn of the toes of the lead foot.
You feel your weight through the balls of your feet without actually being on your toes.
Your knees are slightly bent for fluid movement.
Hands are up.
The rear fist touches the rear side of the jaw.
The lead fist is held at the level of the lead shoulder, extended approximately one foot in front of that shoulder.
Keep your elbows parallel and not flared into an inverted letter V.
Keep your chin down toward the sternum.
Keep your shoulders up for jaw protection.
Noted proponents of the classic guard style were Gene Tunney and Sugar Ray Robinson.
This is a variation of the classic guard made famous by trainer Cus d'Amato and Floyd Patterson. Only the differences from the previous guard are addressed.
The crouch is a bit deeper to shield more of the body.
The parallel forearms are raised higher to better protect the head.
The fists are left unclenched except when punching.
Defense from the peekaboo guard is primarily shelling up and picking off incoming punches with slight inward and outward parries.
This is a peekaboo guard variant favored by aggressive body punchers.
It is ideal for upstairs/downstairs punching.
This is a strong stance for hooks and uppercuts but calls for lots of head movement and bobbing and weaving because the deeper stance makes swift footwork more difficult.
To assume the stance, maintain the peekaboo hand position and widen the clock face, which lowers your body's center of gravity.
This stance was used to great effect by Jack Dempsey, Tommy Burns and Mike Tyson (early career).
This crouch uses the widened clock face principle, but the hands are carried more forward than in the classic guard hand position.
It is a good guard for short straight body punching and hooks to the body. Its limitations are reduced foot mobility and lack of head coverage.
This stance is named for its major proponent, Jim Jeffries.
This interesting guard variation calls for carrying the lead arm in a shoulder roll position. It is excellent for body protection and for delivering hooks. It is a somewhat poor guard from which to throw jabs.
To assume the stance, turn your lead shoulder to face the opponent — toward noon on the clock face. Your rear hand moves to cover your lead jaw by placing the back of your rear hand against the lead jaw line. The lead arm is carried low with the glove covering the liver/solar plexus. The lead shoulder is carried high as additional jaw protection.
This guard has been utilized to great effect by many great boxers from Philadelphia, notably Joe Frazier.
This is essentially a hybrid between a crouch guard and a Philly shell.
Assume the widened clock face position. Move the rear hand across your face as you do in the Philly shell. Then cross your lead glove to protect the rear jaw line. This hand position can be reversed with your rear forearm resting on the outside.
Be aware that although this variation is an effective defensive guard for shelling up, the crossed arm position traps an arm rendering you unable to respond or initiate with optimum speed.
This unusual guard was used to great effect by Freddie Mills and Len Harvey.
This is a key skill often overlooked by many novices eager to get to the punching. Without solid footwork you will never reach your opponent with a firm base underneath your punches. Even more detrimental, you will be caught flat when receiving punches, and this is the surest way to lose a fight. I strongly advise you to pay attention to the footwork concepts provided and hone them with the accompanying drills.
Maintain a shoulder-width stance even when moving. This is the only way to remain in balance.
Resist the urge to bounce, hop or Ali shuffle with your steps. These excess movements waste energy that will be at a premium in later rounds. Flashy footwork also makes you light on the canvas removing solid support for your punches.
Strive to keep your feet in contact with the floor at all times, even while stepping. Think step and drag at all times.
Aligning with an opponent
It is also important to consider where your feet are placed in relation to your opponent's. Ideally, your lead foot is aimed between his legs. Many fighters move with their feet in line to their opponent's — a line can be drawn from the lead foot to the opponent's rear foot, and another line from the rear foot to the opponent's lead foot. They are positioned as if standing on the rails of a train track facing each other. This alignment gives each fighter similar offensive and defensive opportunities.
Your goal is to take superior position by offsetting this alignment and placing your lead foot to the inside position. This removes your opponent's rear hand's offensive and defensive opportunities. Keep this in mind while drilling your footwork.
Step and drag
The step and drag is a specialized movement pattern vital to boxing success. It requires that you step in the direction you want to move with the foot that leads in that direction and then drag the trail foot to reestablish your ideal stance and guard.
Work the following drills for at least one round each.
Step and drag forward
Step and drag retreat
Step outside and drag — Stepping outside means stepping later ally toward your lead side. Left leads will step to their left, southpaws to their right.
Step inside and drag — To step inside, left leads will step their right foot to the right and drag while southpaws will step the left foot to the left and drag.
Step back 45 degrees left
Step back 45 degrees right
Speed retreat — This is essentially a step and drag retreat performed at top speed evading a pressing attack.
A pivot is a footwork maneuver that requires you to pivot on the ball of the lead foot to either direction and sweep/drag the rear foot around in the appropriate direction. Pivots can and should be combined with the above drills to create a fluid and preferably unpredictable movement style.
An important concept in ring generalship is to control the center of the ring. Your job is to keep your back off the ropes and turnbuckles and to maneuver your opponent so that his back is always relatively close to the ropes and turnbuckles. You do this by consciously being aware of getting yourself back to the center of the ring and pressuring him out of the center.
These centering drills will help seat this concept.
Retreat and circle outside to return to the center.
Retreat and circle inside to return to the center.
Retreat/feint/circle outside back to center. To feint is to fake a punch. See Chapter 15.
Retreat/feint/circle inside back to center.
Retreat/feint/circle inside and then wheel outside. To wheel is to speedily change directions.
Retreat/feint/circle outside/wheel inside.
This drill will help build footwork reflexes. You will learn to switch directions at someone else's dictates rather than your own. I suggest working each step of it for several rounds until it is second nature.
To prepare for this drill, you must hang a small bean bag or any other light target (even a sheet of paper will do) in the center of the ring/training area. The target should be at chin height. You will stand approximately eight to ten feet away from the target.
Phase I — Begin circling clockwise. Your trainer will clap at random intervals. When you hear the clap, circle in the opposite direction.
Phase II — Each time the trainer claps twice, step forward and throw a jab at the target and then shuffle out to change directions.
Phase III — When the trainer claps three times, shuffle in and throw a jab/cross combination and then shuffle out to change directions.
Phase IV — When the trainer claps four times, step in and fire a jab/cross/lead hook and then shuffle out to change directions.
Upper body mobility
Footwork alone is not enough to make you a difficult target and to disguise your offensive intentions. You should strive to make the entire body slippery or hard to hit. To make this concept a reality, you must learn to marry crafty upper body movements with footwork drills. There are essentially two approaches to upper body mobility — long rhythm and short rhythm. You will likely find one more suitable to your style and body composition than the other, but it is integral that you work both since each serves a vital purpose in different fight contexts. Before tackling the two styles, keep the following rules in mind.
The upper body is always in motion to reduce target acquisition and to make your offensive probes hard to read.
The movements, whether long or short rhythm, are only one head width. Any movement more than that is wasted motion that can pull you out of good guard position.
Take your hands with you as you move. It is a common error to move the head but leave the hands stationary making the head an easy target.
This is a back-and-forth rocking of the upper body normally executed at the outside range. Think Muhammad Ali.
This is a quick side to side movement performed as you move to the inside. For an excellent demonstration of short rhythm observe Joe Frazier.
Bobbing and weaving
Many people can envision a slick boxer executing a crafty bob and weave to escape and frustrate an opponent, and it is indeed a thing of beauty to witness when performed well. Despite the visceral attraction to this flashy mode of defense, I want to dissuade you from using this method. Bobbing and weaving wastes precious time and energy and may leave you open for uppercuts, hooks and overhands. In its stead, I recommend developing slipping, feinting and side-stepping footwork to the best of your ability. But if I can't persuade you to abandon this mode of upper body work, at least work it with a minimum of effort and movement. The following drill will help establish efficient bob and weave work.
Bob and weave drill
Standing in your guard, have your trainer place his lead hand on top of your lead shoulder. With his hand on top of your shoulder, begin several rounds of bobbing and weaving, moving only enough to clear his forearm with each pass.
Once you feel comfortable with this drill, have your partner fire slow motion punches at your head. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to continue bobbing and weaving with scrupulous economy of movement.
Yeah, I know. Been there, done that. Well, in order to be absolutely complete, let's be sure we really know what we're doing. There are 26 bones in the human hand, and boxers injure any number of these with enough frequency to have an ailment, "the boxer's fracture," named after them.
Here's how the old-timers of the bare-knuckle era made a fist when they were punching hard through up to 70 rounds.
Roll your fist by closing from the outside in — little finger followed by the ring finger, middle finger and then the index finger.
Fold your thumb over the middle joints of your index and middle fingers.
You have rolled into a solid block.
The striking surface is the outside three knuckles (the middle, ring and little fingers), not the first two. Moreover, you shouldn't strike only with the top knuckles but with the entire three-finger surface area. By striking with the outside three fingers you are in proper skeletal alignment. All strikes will line up with the forearm's radius and ulna bones in a natural line that will prevent you from rolling and spraining your wrist.
It is advisable to learn to strike with the proper surface area in all drills, whether the target be training equipment, focus mitts or opponent. By proper fist rolling, focusing on the correct striking surface and proper hand protection, you will have done all you can to prevent hand injury.
There are two basic concepts that you should observe when throwing any punch. They are the hinge principle and the physics of power. Here, we will deal only with the former. For details on physics of power see No Holds Barred Fighting: Savage Strikes pages 15-19. The hinge principle is basically a physical analogy that teaches how to whip and snap every punch thus increasing range, speed, and above all, power.
Excerpted from Boxing Mastery by Mark Hatmaker, Doug Werner. Copyright © 2004 Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission of Tracks Publishing.
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