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Shadowboxing for Bare Knuckle
A Man Question from Brooklyn Shane
“I want to get better with my hands for self-defense and survival. For me boxing is just a way to get to jiu-jitsu or a weapon. You have stressed how important shadow boxing is. How can I get the most out of it for what I want? Should I do it like you see the black pros on TV, with the thumbs hanging loose? That doesn’t seem functional.”
Okay Shane, let me break it down.
Relaxation and visualization are the obvious aspects of shadow boxing, with relaxing being the big dog where combat stress is involved. I would say visualization is probably more important where your shadow-wrestling is involved. Toward these ends you should clock at least 20 minutes shadow boxing a day. Perhaps the most underrated value of shadow boxing is that it teaches you how to miss and helps you control that reaching impulse that so tears up the shoulders of trained fighters who go into the ring without enough shadowboxing work or sparring experience. Missing can really wipe you out.
The hanging thumbs you see with the pros comes from the type of pre-curved thumb attached gloves they use. Within that glove the hand is typically carried relaxed and then clenched at the point of impact to maximize speed and delivery. What you refer to is a warm-up exercise used to show off. At most do only one round of shadowboxing with the thumbs loose. The only purpose of this is to achieve relaxation, mostly around the shoulders.
Since you are a stocky grappler shoulder and arm tightness fighting your own punch is probably an issue. When coaching grapplers and lifters all I care about right off is getting them loose. Too much muscle will absolutely ruin a punch, as will any pre-tensed muscle. Even so, the thumb is so important you want to encode muscle memory that keeps it safe, so 9 of 10 of your shadowboxing rounds should not be with a loose thumb.
I will only cover aspects of shadowboxing that pertain to survival and bare knuckle fighting below.
1. Cup or curve your fingers together, but not tightly.
2. Treat the thumb as a finger not as an opposable digit. See my article on handball training on the ancient combat page.
3. When boxing bar knuckle you only punch to the body, neck and chin, and perhaps the nose if you trust the quality of the blood that is about to spray all over the place.
4. The most effective, easily reached target is the eyes with the three middle fingers. The pinkie and the thumb are strictly supporting digits. Keep a slight bend in the fingers.
5. The head and shoulder are best struck with a slapping palm, not palm thrust. Do not use the karate palm thrust in any situation where you do not want to become immobile, because you will go to a static posture when you score or miss and could be easily stabbed or taken down. The boxer uses his palm more like a stick fighter uses the checking hand or how a gung fu fighter uses the trap, but with less commitment and more mobility.
6. Key to being able to use these three weapons is seamlessly sliding the thumb along the cupped forefinger to open and close your weapon, which might be a spear hand or a, fist or a checking hand.
For more open hand training tips see my article on handball training on the ancient combat page.
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