This paper will examine the more obscure aspects of Boxing as a martial science. It will illustrate that the martial history, tradition and virtue of boxing is an undeniable fact albeit one that is rarely. If ever, seriously acknowledged and understood. It will concentrate upon the military applications rather than the normal sporting elements (although it will touch upon certain aspects of sporting competition where deemed appropriate) demonstrating how it has been an integral part of the training of a warrior since ancient times. It will explore how it was used to develop “fighting spirit” and” how it has continued in contributing to the origins and development of modern military close-combat techniques in much the same way as some oriental martial arts.
THE ANCIENT WORLD
Boxing is one of the most ancient of all the martial arts, and has quite a clear and traceable history when compared to other forms of combative systems. The term boxing derives from the box shape of the closed hand, or fist. In Latin, the fist is called pugnus (hence the alternative terms pugilism). Pugnus itself derives from the Greek pugme, meaning “fist.”
Boxing was practiced in one form or another by most of the classical civilisations of antiquity including those of Egypt, Sumer (A form of boxing can be seen in Sumerian Carvings from the 3rd millennium BC, while an Egyptian relief from about a thousand years later actually shows both participants and spectators. In each case the boxers are bare-fisted) and Crete(where it is even possible to see boxers depicted wearing a primitive type of glove). Even more ancient than this, In 1927, Archaeologist called Dr E. A. Speiser discovered a Mesopotamian stone tablet in Baghdad, Iraq that depicted two men preparing for a boxing match. This tablet is believed to be some 7000 years old!
Fighting with the fists is also described in several ancient Indian texts including the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Evidence has also been found in certain excavations carried out at the sight of two ancient cities called Mohenjadaro and Harappa in the Indus valley. However. Although fighting using the closed fists would seem to come naturally to most human beings, it was perhaps in Greece that the both the sport and science of Boxing began to gather wide-spread popularity, and was organised and developed accordingly.
It was in Greece that Boxing became an Olympic sport (688 BC), and it was in Greece that it was refined and recognised as being a valuable tool in the training of the warrior. Boxing is mentioned by Homer in the 13th book of the Illiad (Circa 675 BC) Wherein it is described as being part of the competitions the Mycenaeans used to honour their dead.
At this time, while there were some rules (such as forbidding any clinching or wrestling) there were absolutely no weight divisions, no rings, no rounds and no referee. Boxers simply pummelled each another until one was eventually knocked out or gave up. Consequently, serious injuries and even death were not that uncommon Pythagoras of Samos, who won the boxing crown at the 48th Olympiad (588 or 584 B.C.), is recognised as being the first trully “Technical Boxer”, for he was a relatively small man standing about 5ft7in and weighing in at only 160 pounds who never the less beat numerous much larger contestants.
As might be expected, it was the warlike Spartans who were to capitalise most with Boxing, recognising it as an effective means of instilling the fighting spirit in the recruit through not only building up levels of courage and tenacity, but also using it as a means of teaching the basics of fighting with the sword, spear and shield. In this manner boxing training became not only an effective unarmed fighting style in its own right, but also served in complimenting the effective use of certain weapons as part of an integrated system of combat training.
Spartan society was extremely martial, and they trained hard and long to be efficient soldiers on the battlefield. It is said that they were almost as dangerous unarmed as they were with a weapon. (Persian historical records of the battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans led by their king Leonidas, fought a desperate and suicidal rear-guard action in order to allow Greece more time to muster and organise her forces, even refers to these fierce and fanatical warriors as actually resorting to biting at their enemy!) As the popularity of boxing grew it became split and divided, with one branch being maintaining the martial aspect in order to compliment the armed prowess of the Hoplite, and the other concentrating upon sporting competitions (albeit quite brutal ones!). Thus, you had the professional soldier on the one hand and the sportsperson on the other. Even Homer tells us of the difference between combat sports and actual combat; he describes the lament of the champion boxer Epeios, who asked that his incompetence on the battlefield be excused because of his success in sport boxing, saying that it was not possible to good at all things and that the only place where he wasn’t able to fight well was the battlefield itself! (Iliad XXIII) However, he is also credited with designing and building the Trojan horse with the help of Athena, as is told in the (Odyssey IV.265ff and Odyssey VIII.492ff) so, perhaps the poor fellow had a point after all, and we should let him off!
The Etruscans were particularly fond of boxing and were actually the very first to introduce the term “Pugilism” a word that has since become synonymous with the science and which continues to be used right up to the present day. Later, Boxing became an integral part of the training regime for Roman Legionaries, with a particularly savage form being adapted for use in the so called “games” of the Arena. It eventually became popular throughout Rome, with all types of people participating including members of the aristocracy (A fight between the agile Dares and the towering Entellus is described at length in the Roman national epic Aeneid (1st century BC). In 500 A.D., boxing was banned altogether by Holy Roman Emperor Theodoric the Great as being offensive to the creator as it disfigured the face which was the image of God. However, this edict had little effect outside the major cities of the Eastern Empire, therefore, boxing continued to evolve as both a sport and a method of self defence throughout Europe but particularly in Italy and especially in the British Isles.
PRIZE FIGHTING ERA
Boxing resurfaces in strength in England during the early 18th century as “Bare-Knuckle Boxing” sometimes also referred to as” prize-fighting”. The first documented account of a bare-knuckle fight in England appeared back in 1681 in a newspaper called ” the London Protestant Mercury” with the first English champion being James Figg in 1719. As a well as being the first boxing champion of England, James Figg was also a very adept cudgel-fighter and swordsman and was to play a pivotal role in the boxing renaissance. When he opened his school in London in 1719 Figg made a reasonable living out of teaching young gentleman the art of self-defence by applying the precepts of modern fencing-footwork, speed, and the straight lunge-to fist-fighting.
This is interesting in that, as we remember, Boxing was originally used in order to augment and enhance training with weapons in ancient Greece, whereas now, Boxers learned to throw straight punches, the basis of modern boxing, from fencers. To some extent, it could even be said that boxing replaced duelling with swords and pistols, allowing men of all social classes to defend themselves and their honour without necessarily having to severely maim or kill each other. Despite this connection with fencing, boxing encounters during this early modern era were largely unstructured and highly uncivilized. Boxers fought bare-knuckle (without gloves), and wrestling, choking, throwing, gouging, and purring (stomping on one’s opponent with spiked boots) were commonplace, so that, in some respects at least, it bore much more of a resemblance to the ancient Greek Pankration or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu than to the sport we all now know and accept as being boxing.