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Leading with the Power Hand
How Prominent Was the Right Hand Lead in the Old London Prize Ring?

James, I want to hear your thoughts on leading with the power hand or the weak hand in old London prize ring fighters I've read conflicting accounts on this I would think early on especially with the fencing and wrestling influence power hand forward would be common.

Take care.

Big Ron

In 1747, Captain John Godfrey, a man who knew James Figg and Jack Broughton, the first and second champions of the London Prize Ring, penned his book: A Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defense. The chief object of this treatise was The Theory of the Sword, taking up the first 40 pages, with the best swordsman regarded as the best boxer of the day and the boxing instruction taking up a mere 9 pages.

In this guide to the most masculine art of the day he had this to say about the bareknuckle guard:

“…after having stopped the Blow with his left Arm, which is a kind of Buckler to him, he may have more Readiness and greater Power of stepping in with his right Hand’s returning Blow.”

Ron, as with early ancient forms of boxing, the instinct is to lead with the left arm as a shield, bend the lead knee and brace and push off with the rear foot, fighting in line with a narrow posture and stepping forward like a primitive karate reverse punch. You see, the type of fencing that lead to English boxing was with the backsword, a heavy infantry saber also called a broad sword and [previously used along with a buckler] and the legs were regarded as off limits. This type of fencing was practiced with sticks and wale ribs.

The idea of jabbing with the lead came from fencing with the small sword, which was a more delicate form of combat which did not lead to boxing but rather influenced its development as gentleman patrons of their cruder fencing cousins, who also boxed, were trained under the practiced eye of a small sword fencer. Time and measure was the key attribute in all three arts as well as the stick. Eventually, Mendoza, the Spanish Jew, an accomplished stick-fighter, schooled in small-sword fencing, was credited with imparting more science into the fistic art.

Just as boxing was born from a heavier form of sword fencing with a reference to the use of small shields in the previous era which had just passed, and from where we get the term Swashbuckler, it later began to take on more of the characteristics of fencing with the lighter small sword, which was used exclusively for stabbing, whereas the sword that inspired the birth of the art and shared the same champion in Figg, was used primarily for slashing and involved changing of the lead leg in steps.

This dynamic, the shifting foot work of the slashing sword can be seen in the influence of the Japanese katana on early karate, in which one blocked with the lead hand [which would represent the hanging high guard of the blade] and then stepped forward with the lead leg behind the countering diagonal cut. Figg was renowned for always getting at his man with a counter cut after a parry and this was the early foundation of boxing, quite crude.

What the earliest boxing in England looked like would have been a mix of primitive karate without kicks and standing arm locks and hip throws. It was crude, but fighting like this against someone swinging haymakers would be very effective.

From the time of Mendoza, circa 1800, through Jack Johnson, circa 1900, “milling” was a common hybrid of the idea of leading with a jab and also using the forearm as a shield. The rolling of the fists before the fighter was a way of setting up feints, synchronizing counters with a shift step, but most of all bringing together the idea of shielding with a forearm and leading with a jab. It survives in the flamboyant “shoeshine” warmups of some modern gloved fighters who have no idea where it came from.

Gods of Boxing

The First Boxers

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