Comparison Of Bare Knuckle Boxing/Pugilism & Traditional Martial Arts

I was a little intrigued recently when I came across the picture below on Facebook depicting a bare knuckle prize fight that took place in 1877.  What intrigued me was that the punch being delivered looks a lot more like a punch that we’d find in Karate/Taekwondo/some styles of Kung Fu, than it does a modern boxing punch!  The back is straight, head up, legs are practically identical to our forward stance, hips turned square on and shoulder not turned in as much as a modern boxers.  Even the non-punching hand is back on the hip (hikite) like a Karate/TKD punch.

Here is the description that came with it!

“Here’s a historical peek into just how vicious even a “cordial” scuffle could be. The following is from an account of a bit of Pugilism staged in Dodge City in 1877.
The bout featured Nelson Whitman and Red Hanley, who was billed in the newspaper as the “Red Bird from the South.”

In the 42nd round, Hanley implored the referee to call Whitman off so he could, and I quote “put his right eye back where it belonged, set his jawbone and have the ragged edges trimmed off his ears where they had been chewed.”
The referee declined, telling him to “Stick it out as long as he could and to squeal when he’d had enough.”
That was round 42 if you’ll recall. The gritty Red Bird from the South, gritted his broken jaw and waded back in.
He lasted for 23 more rounds finally squealing in the 65th round.
Again, this was a sanctioned, civilized match at the time. What was going on out of the mainstream is far far wilder“.

A tad more brutal than today’s boxing I’d say!  But although a “civilised match” (sport), on many levels it would be close to real world street fighting.

At around the same as this fight took place and across “the pond” (the Atlantic Ocean in case you’re not familiar with that nickname) we Brits being even more civilised introduced the Queensbury Rules.

I’d like to quote here from the boxing website, The Art Of Manliness, on the impact of these new rules:

“Perhaps the most important of these new rules required pugilists to don gloves. The wearing of gloves drastically changed the nature of the sport. The bare knuckled fisticuffer stood upright, leaned back slightly, and held his arms with forearms facing outward. The gloved boxer leans forward and protects his face with his gloves. While gloves made the sport less brutal in some ways, they made boxing more dangerous and deadly by allowing fighters to punch with far greater strength (the bare knuckled boxer had to mitigate the impact of his blows for fear of winding up with a broken hand). The bones of one’s head are harder than those in the hand; thus, gloves helped the hitter and hurt the hittee”.

So the bare knuckle fighter (which more closely resembles a real fight) would be more upright with arms facing outward, which is more like traditional Karate, Taekwondo and Kung Fu!  I have written about the differences in sport/self protection guards before, but it is interesting to explore this subject in a bit more depth!


Let’s take a look at another bare knuckle picture –

Interestingly, whereas in the first picture shows the attacker using almost a text book martial arts forward stance, in this picture (and the one immediately above) where both of them are squaring off to each other, they are both in almost text book back stance.  Check it out, heels almost in line, feet almost like a capital letter “L”, back leg more deeply bent than the front leg and as discussed above the arms are more forward than the modern boxers.

Furthermore, the hands are held one in front of the other, rather than on either side as modern boxers do.  If they opened their hands, it would look a lot like the Wing Chun guard where the hands are kept on the centre line.  With the fist closed though, it also looks a little like Karate’s Wedge Block (Kakiwake Uke) as in Heian/Pinan Yondan!

Another picture I found interesting is this one –

The position of the attacker is practically identical to near the end of Heian/Pinan Yondon, just before the knee kick and Kiai (shout).  If you’re not familiar with that Kata, here it is in slow motion.  The move in question is at 1 minute 27 seconds in –

This is usually explained as grabbing the opponents head and pulling down onto the rising knee.  However, I have had some doubts about this application as it can take a lot strength to pull down the head of a resisting opponent.  I don’t think it would be easy either for the average person to lift another of the ground as shown in the picture above.

However, imagine if the attacker in the picture above (guy on left) were to follow up from this position with a knee attack whilst bringing arms down, (as in the kata), thus dropping his opponent’s groin onto his own rising knee!  Using this movement as a strike or a grab (whether it lifts the opponent of the ground or not) is likely to cause a flinch reaction where they would lean back away from the attack.  This leaning back leaves them vulnerable to a rising knee in the next movement of the kata which should make it relatively easy to deliver to the groin.  I would respectfully suggest that this is far easier than trying to pull down the head of a resisting opponent which is the usual explanation.


Although pugilism/bare knuckle fighting was technically a sport, it was back in it’s day very close to real street fighting with even less rules than today’s MMA.  As mentioned above, the introduction of Queensbury rules and gloves made a big difference to the way they punched, their guard, the way they stood and the distribution of their body weight.  I think it’s fair to say that the early American and European pugilism/bare knuckle fighting –

  • was a very effective form of self defence as very few rules separated it from the real thing.
  • has more in common with the traditional Eastern martial arts then it does with modern Western boxing.

Kiai/Kihap/Chi Shout – Is It Really Necessary?

Many martial arts, especially the Oriental ones include the practice of shouting at certain points in training.  Japanese styles call it Kiai, Korean styles call it Kihap.  I don’t know what the Chinese word for it is, but I have trained with some who simply called it Chi Shout.  For simplicity, I’m just going to stick the Japanese notation of Kiai (as I’m primarily a Japanese stylist and it’s the version I’m most familiar with)!

First of all, what is it?  Very simplistically, it’s a shout that comes from contraction of the diaphragm and feels like it’s coming all the way from belly.  A shout that comes just from the voice-box, sounds more like scream.  I have a simple way of teaching this, especially to kids.  Though it’s not the nicest of explanations, it does make it Continue reading “Kiai/Kihap/Chi Shout – Is It Really Necessary?”

Criticisms Of Karate

Having recently posted about why Korean martial arts are held in low regard, it seemed only fair to look at the criticisms levelled at my own primary art of Karate, and Shotokan Karate in particular.

Me, at 17 when I first started. Try not to laugh!

Back when I started in the late 70’s, there was nowhere near as many styles, associations or clubs as there are today and there seemed to be even more rivalry as people stuck more rigidly to their own style with less cross training then there is today.  It was a bit more like little empires!

Anyway, Karate was one of the most popular martial arts of the day and of all the different styles, Shotokan was the Continue reading “Criticisms Of Karate”

The Art Of Not Giving A S***! (Or . . . Accept As Is)

Many Oriental philosophies talk about mind, body and spirit; as they recognise that the 3 are all intrinsically connected.  For the sake of this post, I’ll be mainly focussing on the mind and body.

If one tenses, the other tenses.  You tighten your mind, your body will start to tense; you tighten your body, your mind will start to tense.  Conversely, you relax one, the other will relax.

So when you make a mistake, or don’t perform a technique/kata/pattern the way you want to, or you get corrected by your instructor; don’t get upset about it.  If you do get upset (even if its just with yourself), your mind will tense, then your body will tighten and the whole thing gets progressively more and more difficult.  I have one student in particular who gets exasperated with himself every time I correct him.  It’s not that he resents the correction in any way, he very desperately wants to get it right and his frustration is aimed at himself (rather than me)!  Then it becomes even more difficult.

You have to try to the best of your ability to do it right, but when you don’t, you have to learn how not a give a sh . . . . damn!

Now this may seem contradictory at first glance, but let me elaborate.
You should care about getting it right and doing it as well as you can, but don’t care about the fact that you’ve made a mistake.  Just use the mistake as a learning experience to help you get it better next time.  By not caring that you’ve made a mistake, you don’t tense the mind, hence you don’t tense the body!

Not caring that you’ve made a mistake, is not the same as not wanting to get it right.  It’s not the same as just giving in and stop trying.  It’s not same as not giving your best effort to get right.  It’s just a state of acceptance that you’ve made a mistake.  And acceptance is a very important life skill!

Me emotionally resisting being hit by my mate Keith!

The more you emotionally resist any situation in your life (be it martial arts training, your job, relationship, where you live, how much you earn, whatever) the more you drain your mental capacity to do something about it!

Read that last sentence again; the more you emotionally resist any situation in your life, the more you drain your mental capacity to do something about it!

Emotional resistance (non acceptance) to any life situation is stress – one of the worst diseases of the modern world.  Simply “accepting what is”, is a very simple concept but can be very hard to apply.

Now just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that you simply accept a given situation, (or failure to perform a technique correctly) for the rest of life; I’m saying that you accept that this is the situation NOW, at this present moment in time.  Simply accepting current circumstances (your situation/your life/your job/your relationship/the mistake you’ve made in training) suddenly removes all the stress from your life.  With all the stress removed, you now have much more mental capacity to deal with the situation and put it right.

Simple isn’t it?  Well, it’s a simple concept, but can be hard to apply!  Like anything else, it can take practice, but it can be very rewarding when you do.

Now I want to look at 3 different paradigms for getting what you want: (don’t worry all will become clear):

Neuro Linguistic Programming:   Developed as an approach to communication, personal development and psychotherapy in the 1970s.  One of it’s key principles is focusing all your minds attention on what you really want.  For example, you want to give up smoking?  If you focus on giving up smoking, you are always thinking about smoking!  Giving up smoking is not what you ultimately want; you ultimately want to be healthier.  Giving up smoking is the means to that end, so focus your mind on being healthier.

Religion:   Most religions tell you to pray for what you want.  Basically, you ask God to give it to you!  The Bible actually says (and I paraphrase), pray for what you want, then feel gratitude for it as if you already have it.

New Age/Spiritual/Zen:   New age/spiritual people often talk about sending their energy to a given subject/situation.  They also often talk about The Law Of Attraction, which means that you attract more into your life of what you habitually think about!  Or as some would say, whatever the state of your energy/vibration, you attract circumstances into your life of a similar energy/vibration.

Moksu (Meditation)

Now I’m not going to argue that any paradigm is better or more valid then any other (and I’ll ask that you don’t either please as I don’t want distracting arguments).  But when it comes down to it, they are basically saying the same thing.  Being in the “vibration” of what you want to attract is the same as being “grateful” as if you already have what you have prayed for.  It’s also the same as focusing your mind on what you really do want rather than what you don’t want.

So back to the accepting what is (your current situation).  None of the above paradigms tell you to feel bad about what you don’t have or can’t do!  It’s all about feeling good!  It’s all about being in a state of gratitude, or the vibration of what you want to achieve/have or purposefully focusing your mind on what we want rather than don’t want.

So every major philosophy for self development/betterment is basically saying the same thing, though using a different paradigm to explain it.

So going back to the original topic of not giving a damn when you make a mistake in training; if you do get frustrated you take yourself out of that state of gratitude and you focus you mind on what you do NOT want.  To put it right stay in the vibration of grateful as if you can already do it!

A famous experiment was conducted years ago.  Three groups of people tried shooting balls through a basket ball hoop and the scores recorded.  One group did nothing more, one group practiced and the third group did not practice but simply visualised shooting the baskets.  Then try were retested.  Now I can’t remember the exact figures but it was something like this.  The group that didn’t practice made no improvement.  The group that practiced improved about 25%.  The group that didn’t practice at all but visualised, improved by about 24%.

That is amazing when you think about it.  The most important factor towards the improvement was simply the focusing of the mind on the desired outcome.  Remember, mind, body and spirit are linked!

Now the group that visualised, did not visualise missing.  As they visualised scoring, they would feel the joy (vibration/gratitude) of succeeding.  And putting themselves in that positive mental state gave the results.  That’s why I say, “accept what is”, and release the emotional resistance/stress; and like the visualising group, your mind is freer to find a solution.

This is why when I teach Midsomer Norton Karate classes, I never tell students of for making a mistake.  Maybe for lack of effort, but never for making a mistake.  I will give constructive feedback and encouragement, but never a telling off!

Interview With Mark Winkler, Systema Teacher & Self Protection Expert

I first got to know Mark Winkler back in 2010 when I was organising a charity martial arts festival.  I had 12 styles have about 15 minutes each to demonstrate their style and we raised about £2000 for charity.  Along with the usual well known martial arts, Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo etc; I wanted some arts that were less well known and not necessarily from Eastern Asia!  My search lead me to Mark Winkler and the Russian martial art of Systema, which up to that point I’d never heard of before.

Mark Winkler, System Teacher

I found Mark to be a very knowledgeable martial artist.  Before turning to Systema, he was a 6th Dan Karate.  Very few people get to that high level, then change styles.  Take up a second style maybe, but seldom do they change altogether.  So I was intrigued about this Systema and what a man such as Mark had seen in it; especially as he has over 40 years training and has worked in the security field so has real life experience.  In short, he knows Continue reading “Interview With Mark Winkler, Systema Teacher & Self Protection Expert”

Techniques Will Occur When A Void Is Found: Gichin Funakoshi

There are many quotes attributed to Gichin Funakoshi, but I come across this one the other day in his book, Karate Do Kyohan: The Master Text.  Near the back on page 248 (if you already have it), he says;

“Techniques will occur when a void is found”.

This is not often quoted, yet has very deep philosophical undertones.  A void is defined as, “completely empty” or “a completely empty space”.

Master Gichin Funakoshi

Master Funakoshi was an educated man and clever with his choice of words.  He was the one who initiated the change Continue reading “Techniques Will Occur When A Void Is Found: Gichin Funakoshi”

Question: Why Are Korean Martial Arts Held In Low Regard?

Before anybody jumps on me, this is NOT my statement, this is a question I received on the Bunkai Jutsu Facebook page, from Seth Boggs:

“I’ve practiced Tang Soo So and TKD in the past and am confused and dismayed by the lack of respect given to Korean martial arts especially when you consider that TKD was developed for the military besides Olympic TKD why are they held in such low regard”?

I can’t do the question justice with a short answer so I thought I’d do a full post and share my thoughts with you all.

Before going any further, this is going to be an emotive subject Continue reading “Question: Why Are Korean Martial Arts Held In Low Regard?”

Russell Stutely Pressure Point Defensive Tactics Seminar

Russell Stutely and I

A month ago (10/11th June) I had the pleasure (and pain 🙂 ) of attending a Russell Stutely Pressure Point Defensive Tactics Seminar, which I can thoroughly recommend.

First of all though, there has long since been a debate about whether or not pressure points work or not in real life, with arguments being made that:

  • They are ineffective if the opponent is pain resistant due to drink, drugs or being highly adrenalised.
  • They require a lot of accuracy which is not always feasible in the all out melee of a real fight.

This is something that I have Continue reading “Russell Stutely Pressure Point Defensive Tactics Seminar”

Coming Up: Goju Ryu And Shotokan Kata Bunkai, Plus The 5th Bunkai Bash!

Two great event coming up this month.  Sadly I can’t attend either as I have a very busy month ahead  🙁

Firstly, John Johnston, 7th Dan Shotokan and Max Beddow, 5th Dan Goju Ryu get together for a joint seminar on Saturday 8th July.  All the details are on the poster below so I won’t repeat them here, other than to say that I always like to see different styles train and share together.

What I think is going to be interesting is that these are probably Continue reading “Coming Up: Goju Ryu And Shotokan Kata Bunkai, Plus The 5th Bunkai Bash!”

If You Happen To Be Caught Up In A Terrorist Attack

As most people will know, there have been several terrorist attacks here in the UK over recent months, two of them involving vehicles running people over and following up with knife attacks.  Now the chances of actually being caught up in such an incident, I would say are very unlikely.  However, you never know!

On Facebook, several people have shared some well thought out advice from London based martial artist, Gavin Mulholland, for anybody who is unfortunate enough to be involved in such an incident.  I thought it was very good advice and worth sharing here too, so here are Gavin’s words re-produced below:-
Continue reading “If You Happen To Be Caught Up In A Terrorist Attack”