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Boxing for Rugby Brawls?
A Man Question from a Son’s Father

Hello Mr Lafond,

I’ve been reading your blog for some years and own a few of your books. I have commented under a couple of names, both anonymously. I also follow you on Twitter but that’s anon too.

I have a question re self-defense in sports. We live in France and my son (13) plays rugby. He’s a strong kid and calm rather than hot headed. He doesn’t go looking for trouble but he plays well enough that some other kid is going to get pissed at him and start throwing punches at some point. He’s young enough to take some time to learn a few self-defense things. He’s done a few years of judo so he’s strong and has good balance but he has done no boxing.

Some sample rugby brawl from older teenagers, non-French:




I found a couple of French ones that might be entertaining for you, maybe there’s a style difference:




You get the idea. It’s pretty random, maybe a bit like ancient combat where you must expect attack from any direction. What I am wondering is where is his effort best spent? As a parent I want him unhurt, but he’s also got to represent his team and be able to defend himself if he’s stuck in the middle of one of those brawls. Given the way he plays he will be in the middle of everything. My gut feel is he could do some boxing on the side.

What sort of things should be focus on? I think I can find a club close enough to drive to (we’re in the deep country) but is there something we could do at home? What should I be looking for? Would a personal coach be better? We’re poor, but lessons from some old dude who used to box should be cheap. I am happy to buy some more of your books if they have any relevant content.



Sir, the books that matter most are:

The Punishing Art

Being a Bad Man in a Worse World

Thriving in Bad Places

Ultimately, your son needs to develop the awareness of body position to never stand in front of some Brock Lesner wannabe in a yellow shirt. The skinny kid that got concussed in the first video, should have stepped and pivoted right as soon as the big goon approached with his shoulders rolled forward. In most situations, 19 out of 20 to be exact, you really just have to worry about the right hand. In a confrontation with a bigger antagonist or any dangerous person, make sure they’re left foot is between your center line [balls, wind, throat, nose] and their right foot. If they step around with their right foot after you do this, then it’s on, they are going to hit you and want to hit you with authority.

Until you can access a coach use the Lancaster Agonistics YouTube channel for the boxing demonstrations of bag work and fist use.

If your boy is a judo player than I’m more concerned with him defending against punches than throwing them. This rugby stuff is insane looking to me. He needs to learn to:

-tuck his chin under his shoulder when clinching. If you never take one to the chin it will take a pro welterweight and up to KO you if you are as fit as these kids.

-slip straight punches and achieve a body lock and throw

-duck hook punches and seize the waist and throw that asshole down

-learn to get punched in the nose without panicking

-punch the body with short pronated punches. In a game brawl hitting to the body will lessen your chance of getting disqualified for face to fist contact and hopefully break some ribs and sideline a player. Even a lot of boxing judges do not see body punches land on the inside.


For slipping stand in front of him and extend your arm, making a fist. Now direct him to get you in hip control while you try and keep your fist in front of his face and move around.

Now begin occasionally cuffing his head on the side above the ear. He must duck and instead of popping back up, move into a hip hold. Have him practice hoisting you.

Now mix and freestyle the above two drills into one.

Whenever he extends a hand have him develop the habit of tucking the chin behind that shoulder.

Take an old couch cushion and duct tape it tight and belt it to your chest as a Muay Thai belly pad.

Advance the above drills by having him punch with the right hand into your center while moving to the outside of your right hand, by moving to his left. He then punches you straight center with the left while moving to his right to the outside of your left hand. Just move around with him, slowly extending your fist towards his face and have him slip and punch.

The slip proper is a head motion from the neck that lets the fist barely miss while you complete the slip by moving further to the side to get your angle and hit him. Have him practice this against you trying to grab his shirt collar or the top of his head.

You want your boy to develop the instinct to either slap the chest or punch just below it as he moves his head to the outside of the target’s shoulder, leaving his shoulder on the target’s center line. This does not have to be a punch, when position is achieved. This can be a chest press with one hand and a leg pick with the other, or a waist collar with the inside hand and a shoulder check with the outside to wrap up the man from behind.

A boxer who wants to get close is looking for the same position as a judo man, to get both of his legs working against one of his opponent’s hips and both of his arms against one of his. The boxer is just doing something different with the position.

I suggest you view Manny Pacquiao in his more successful efforts, against Rios, for instance.

With Pac Man being a lefty, take note of how important it is to lead with the opposite hand and foot when the other guy knows what he is doing with his motion as well. Examine this with your son after you have done the basic drills. Now have him lead with the opposite hand and get his foot to the outside of your lead foot and he will be in excellent position to punch or throw depending on how close he is. Ideally he is stepping slightly behind your led foot with his and touching your chest or punching that belly pad with his rear hand, his head safely to the outside of your lead shoulder.

This is a lot of specific training for five seconds in a brawl, but that’s what training is, a lot of work to prepare for a brief encounter.

The Punishing Art

Add Comment
ShepMay 1, 2018 1:45 AM UTC

Keep us posted on his progress if you can. Rugby is a cool sport, and I know that both judo and rugby are played at a very high level in France.

As a bonus, your son will be a legend among his peers after he dumps a couple guys using Dr. Kano's tricks. He will reunite with old teammates 30 years later, and they will still talk about his "Nip hip flips"!
GrasspunkApril 30, 2018 3:09 AM UTC

Shep, thanks for the extra comments. As a judoka he was a fine rugby player, winning with brute strength and aggression rather than good technique, but we will practice those throws. I'll get one of his sisters to volunteer with the training, they've got better technique.

The sucker punch is the big risk. You do get kids running in from the sidelines to join in, which would be a huge ban in the professional level but seems to be tolerated with the kids. I've been coaching him to move rather than stand still if something goes down but who knows what he will do in a game situation. There's an all-day tournament tomorrow so maybe the situation will arise.
ShepApril 28, 2018 5:06 PM UTC

Longtime judoka here. I have actually deployed "the gentle art" a few times in exactly these types of situations. If your son has had good judo training, he's 90% of the way to succeeding in sports brawls. Just blend in the drills that James presented in order to safely close the gap into a collar-and-elbow clinch. From there, I would suggest osoto-gari or koshi-garuma, depending on the opponent's momentum, since those throws don't depend on a gi lapel grip, and each one will flow naturally into a kesa-gatame pin. As a bonus, your son will not look like the aggressor, so the referee may not eject him!

One thing I'd like to add to the "boxing" part of this is to beware of the blind-side sucker punch. Once a brawl is imminent, your son should unobtrusively get his hands up around his temples and his elbows pointing forward, as if he's wiping off sweat. He should also begin looking around for the "wrong-colored" jerseys, so as to mark the positions of possible sucker-punchers. Tell him not to get fixated on staring at the action right in front of him.

Finally, I would say that a very likely opening gambit in a rugby brawl would be a tackle around the waist or legs, since all the players are hard-wired to make this movement against an opponent. I would get your son to practice "stuffing" or "sprawling" against a low tackle, since I believe that the current rules of judo forbid single-and double-leg takedowns, and he may have no prior experience against this type of technique. There are lots of wrestling videos available on YouTube which demonstrate this skill.
GrasspunkApril 27, 2018 7:48 AM UTC

OK did the first drill session and it was interesting. I ask him to remember the judo and he immediately grabs my waist and goes for the takedown. I think he surprised himself how easily he switched on.
responds:April 27, 2018 2:16 PM UTC

I am glad this was some help.

I really appreciate this kind of input from a creative standpoint.

Good luck to your son—an ingredient that does not entirely make itself. Training stacks lucky strokes for us in many ways.
GrasspunkApril 27, 2018 5:40 AM UTC

Thanks, those are some interesting drills. I like the focus on defense and slipping punches and converting things to takedowns.

There's a lot of posturing in these flareups similar to the US sports. Players want to bully and intimidate. Some can actually fight, but at the professional level that comes with suspensions so they don't let loose too often.

At the amateur level there's a lot of loss of temper plus the referees suck so it can easily become out of control. I don't know what happens with the older kids but we'll find out soon enough.