T Nation

Old School Boxing and Craft Lost to Time


I suppose I'd like to preface this post by apologizing for my ignorance towards golden era fighters in other posts, erroneously believing that modern fighters were more technically sound. As I've studied over the years I've come to have a greater appreciation for their craft and how much of it is missing from today's swathe of fighters. This is also inspired by instruction I've received from various coaches over the years, that in retrospect, was just plain bad.

We've had some great discussions before that have touched on this topic, but they've almost always been in the midst of some other topic.

Kicking it off, these excellent articles on Joe louis:


(also Sinister's excellent posts on sherdog, which I do not have links to but are worth tracking down on google if you have the time)

Interestingly, of the few modern fighters who do display tactics, techniques and methods that were widely present in old school fighters, commentators almost always attribute it to some supernatural ability of the fighter, never stopping to consider that something they are DOING is simply advantageous.

Two things are apparent to me now: Head positioning/weight distribution, and the loss of the jab as a weapon.

Many modern fighters lean over their front foot, sometimes even doing a little shimmy that amounts to not much at all, as if to add flair to their movement. This is particularly endemic in what Irish likes to deride as the "european" style of boxing :P. When you step back and objectively view it, the problem is almost glaringly obvious. By doing so, fighters reduce the distance between the most vulnerable part of their anatomy - the head - and the opponents weapons. Now defense has to be based on peak reflexes, which is not a good deal particularly as the fight drags on, or if the fighter isn't particularly blessed in that department.

By putting the weight over the lead foot, the fighters balance is now compromised when doing anything but standing still, making him susceptible to being knocked down in tight exchanges, regardless of his ability to take a punch. The weight distribution also means he has to shift his weight back before he can actually move, should he need to create distance rapidly. The same also applies to punching, in that the weight must be shifted back to load up on punches. As opposed to a rear hip favoring distribution, in which the fighter's power punches are effectively, always ready to fire.

And now the jab: This to me, is the most interesting aspect of Joe Louis, and indeed, many of his peers of the time. The jab is held low, but cocked almost at hip level. Relaxed, but always facing outward like a fencer's sword. The result is an always present threat. It offers no telegraph, always ready to strike. Furthermore, by holding the lead hand slightly forward, the distance the jab has to travel is reduced. Effectively the "hand speed" is doubled without any change in athleticism. I don't think the psychological impact of this position can be discounted. No matter what Joe is doing, moving forward, back, left or right, the jab is constantly threatening his opponent.

Secondly, many fighters today have fast, snappy jabs that look great, but it seems the use of the jab as a weapon in and of itself has become rare, the jab has been relegated to a tool that is used to set up other punches. Joe often seems to drive off the rear foot with the jab, almost like a fencer lunges with his sword. The result is a perceptible difference in effect. One fighter who still does this frequently today is Andre Ward, who coincidentally (or perhaps not coincidentally at all...) also shares many methods of the old school including favoring the rear hip and preferring to slip to the right in various levels as opposed to exhaustive whirling maneuvers to avoid danger. Ward is not a big puncher, but the thrusting jab he has used successfully to control fights against aggressive opponents, even men much bigger than him.

Well thats my piece. Looking forward to thoughts and analysis by other posters here!


I'm reading and thinking about this. Going to respond later. Great post.


x2, I'm coming back on this over the weekend, I just need the time to try to do a great topic justice.


The jab alignment that you speak of is in fact the most advantageous one from a leverage and offensive standpoint. Done correctly it can be a very powerful punch and can have great stopping power. This is definitely something that many modern day boxers and boxing coaches don't seem to do or teach.

Here is Rich Ryan demonstrating the power that such a punch can generate. Btw, Rich can throw a much harder jab if he winds it up, but obviously that eliminates the non telegraphic nature of the jab (which is one of it's most useful qualities).

Will respond with more when I have more time.


Thanks sento, this is something I've been looking into perusing works of your late mentor (correct me if Im wrong?) Joe Lewis. Was very impressed with his speed and ability to cover ground with a jab in his exhibition match against "superfoot" wallace. At 45 years old no less. Very impressive.

At the very least I'm also going to pick up some of Bruce Lee and Jack Dempsey's books, who I believe talk about similar concepts.

Leverage in boxing is something I've never fully understood. I believe it was George Benton who said that what advantage taller fighters gain in reach, they often lose in leverage to shorter opponents because of the way they are taught to fight.


Yeah, Joe was still lightning fast even into his late sixties. He was demoing on me in a seminar just a few months post brain surgery (in early 2012) and he could still close the gap with his jab unbelievably quickly. Unfortunately Joe is no longer with us, but the current JLFS President Master Phil Maldonato can still do and teach the same thing. If you ever get a chance, definitely train with him. Unbelievable technician, lightning fast, hits like a truck, tough as nails (his nickname is "The Iron Wolverine" and it's fitting), and best of all an outstanding coach.

Regarding leverage, I'm not necessarily talking about comparing leverage between two individuals with different anthromometrics (obviously the person with shorter levers and more advantageous musculotendinous attachments is going to be able to generate more force in the same distance). What I mean is maximizing any individual's musculoskeletal alignment to provide maximal leverage at and through the point of impact when punching.

This is a complicated subject to get across in written text, but its importance and effects can be conveyed relatively quickly in person. Let's just say that many of the guards/fighting postures commonly used by modern boxers place the jab into a weak position to generate force from until the last 10-20% of extension (and possibly even less). This obviously doesn't result in a complete nullification of the jab's effectiveness as you pointed out in your first post (you can still effectively blind with it, you can obstruct with it, you can stabilize the opponent's guard with it, etc...), but it certainly makes it a heck of a lot less powerful and formidable of a weapon.

The way Louis and Ryan position their lead arm however places the jab into a powerful loaded position from which it can fire straight to the target, and will have maximal leverage throughout the entirety of it's trajectory. The results, as demonstrated by Rich in the video I posted above, speak for themselves. This also makes the jab extremely non telegraphic and hard to spot coming.


Can someone please post a few clips of boxers using this jab compared to a normal jab?

Would like to try and test it out and see how it feels.


Subbed.Gotta know how to to build that kind of power jab! It seems like he doesn't opt for the long bladed stance much seen today. But a jab with that kind of stopping power will be a awesome tool.
Imagine jamming that rod in a guys face who tries to low kick you. Or on a retreat...
If that kind of leather is swung with 6oz, guys will start falling.

Btw. Am I the only one who sees a great triple threat with the lead hook and checking jab?
Launch it a couple of times, make them timid and let the guard close, before circumventing their hands with a hook.
LEt him respect the jab by showing it, make them flinch with a light checking/flicking/pushing jab (or even a feint) because they will overreact, and follow up with some body shots and/or a right hook. Do this until he forgets how dangerous the jab could be. Feint again, let them take measures (hands drop for bodyshots/guard widens for hook) and BOOM! power jab.


One thing to consider in Rich's stance is that he is approaching things from a RMA perspective and not a sport boxing perspective. Because of this assuming a fighting posture that favors an extreme also therefore leaves a huge liability to the other extreme. Now often times this isn't necessarily a problem in sport because most of the common fighting postures seen in sport have developed within the rule sets and limitations of that sport. A long bladed stance for example does present a smaller target and make punching to the body more difficult, but it also makes getting a flank/to someone's back much easier. This isn't a problem for boxers because the rules of boxing eliminate this threat (no rabbit or kidney punches, cannot clinch and "dirty box" from side or rear clinches, no takedowns, cannot kick or knee to the legs or groin from the back, etc...), but in a real fight where there are no such limitations it's a huge liability. Even in MMA you don't generally see it and for the same (though still more limited) reasons.

The posture that Rich is demonstrating also again provides superior biomechanics in regards to leverage, movement in all directions, use of both hands and feet for offense and/or defense without having to readjust, solid defensive options, and the ability to grapple or counter grapple. It is in fact an awesome all around fighting posture and the first and primary one taught in Rich's Dynamic Combat Method and Rich and Shihan Walt Lysak Jr's Integrated Combative Arts Training (iCAT).

Your idea for a "mix up" is a good one. I actually like to just mix the speed jab with the power jab, which generally is enough of a broken rhythm (similar to a fast ball and change up in baseball), if you understand rhythm and timing, to throw off the opponent's defensive timing and cause the punch to land. You can of course throw the hook into the mix as well and throw in fakes and body shots to help close the distance against taller fighters as well if need be.


From a boxing point of view - I can see the positives, and have read how defence works. But it just seems to me to leave the head so vulnerable. In the first article Davo posted, the clip of Louis even shows him getting clipped a bit before winning by knockout.

Would a copy of Louis' style still work today? Or does it need to be tweaked for modern boxing?


Well, nothing in fighting is static, and keeping the lead arm in such a position is definitely more conducive to a longer range fighting style. As the range shortens the guard should adjust in accordance with the increased timing demands, so the lead hand would come closer to the head and more closely resemble a "Peek A Boo" or "Earmuffs" guard to allow for increased defense. The idea behind Louis's style of fighting was to be able to control range so you didn't have to go into "defense mode" and instead could use precision head and body evasive movement skills (like slips, rolls, weaves, etc...) that would leave both hands free for attack and countering skills. Obviously if you are fighting top level opponents you are going to misjudge or get caught occasionally, but that's kind of the nature of the beast.


the vulnerability is something of an illusion - it looks open but the right side of the chin is barricaded behind the shoulder. That however is not the intent of positioning the head off center and to the rear - the intent is to increase the distance, therefore having greater time to spot a punch coming. It might even only be a few inches difference, but the nature of striking is that of gun-slinging, every microsecond counts.

Consider mayweather:

By modern standards, holding the lead hand low is a cardinal sin, yet Mayweather is rarely hit clean, least of all by right straights which convention would dictate he is most vulnerable too.

This plays into the "does this work for modern boxing too" - Many call the shell the "mayweather defense" but its about as old school as boxing gets - floyd just happens to be an exceptional example, as he is exceptional in every aspect of boxing. The mayweather clan has their own particular spin on it, but the defensive maneuvers go back many generations.

Here is George Benton's (the real brains behind champions like Pernell Whitaker) excellent defensive skills back in the early 60s:

Notice the similarities to Mayweather but also the differences - Benton positions himself off center and folds over the rear hip more, whereas Mayweather tends to be more upright and lean back (which has, on occasions, severely compromised his balance but hes such a gifted athlete it doesn't end up mattering too much). Whereas Mayweather likes to control range as much as use his stellar defense to avoid blows, Benton stays in the pocket much of his fights, thus necessitating a natural crouch to avoid clubbing blows.

As for Louis, Louis is an aggressive fighter who is looking to knock the other guy out with precise power, as sento said, the nature of the beast is that by pursuing offense naturally you are going to get hit or grazed more than if you were being purely defensive. The question then is if Louis's positioning helped him avoid taking punishment while pursuing aggressive offense - I'd argue absolutely it did.

For a guy who was only knocked out twice by two very good fighters, and only knocked down less than a handful of times in a 70 fight career and despite being an aggressive fighter, I'd say there's definitely something that can be studied here.

P.S now that I think of it, if anyone remembers the "charley burley: analyzing genius" video, the same guy who made that video is apparently producing some very good amateur prospects in Iceland using methods based on guys like Louis and Burley. I'll have to see if I can find his fighter's videos, very frustrating as he doesn't seem to maintain one account.


found one of them:

Dadi's fighter is in the red. Put a beating on a taller guy with quite good hand speed and managed to avoid getting hit clean most of the fight just by having good positioning.


cool thread i spent a good portion of the day reading here and watching video's/articles posted. i need to get back into training.


Man he gave him a hiding.I like that style cos I think it would suit me.

I feel like I see punches pretty late so adopting a style, or elements of a style that automatically negate my average reflexes should help me a bit.

How come boxing has moved away from these styles?


I'm curious to see others answer to that question, but IMO I think its just a matter of lineage.

I used the example of the shell defence earlier. Boxing didn't move away from it as much as the guys with that knowledge passed away and those carrying their legacy opted not to train other fighters for whether by inability to teach or just not choosing to. And now with mayweather being so prominent in the collective consciousness of boxing, you're starting to see a lot of fighters try to imitate that in their game, some better than others.

I'm starting to realize how much everything goes in cycles. I think MMA is a perfect burgeoning example of this. If you remember during the early years of the UFC and whatnot, you had a bunch of fighters who were more or less carbon copies of each other, they had "ground game" and "striking game" which consisted of very basic kickboxing and wrestling/BJJ some differences but they all virtually looked and fought the same way, and now you've seen this resurgence in people looking at traditional martial arts and taking stuff from that

I have to admit fault in this matter, I was one of those dickheads who was saying dumb shit like "karate doesn't work" and then you had guys like Machida who popped onto the scene with shotokan stylized footwork, attacks and foot sweeps. You've got guys now who are studying all sorts of stuff that was more or less "dead knowledge" for lack of the better term and reviving it.

You still see nuggets of old school in boxing today. People have talked about Gennady Golovkin's "shifting" footwork, which I believe is a concept Jack Dempsey talked about at some length in his works, for example.

I suppose fighting is a lot like an oral language in that regard - because its rarely documented to any great extent, the tendency is to live and die with its students. The other side of that coin i suppose is, in the few examples where boxing is documented and codified extensively, you end up with school systems like that of Cuba and the Soviets, which can produce loads of competent fighters, but becomes quite rigid in its methods and not open to advancement. I suppose this might be one reason why Cuba produces a lot of stellar amateurs but most go on to have trouble in the pro ranks. They've become excessively codified for winning amateur boxing.


I have had a look a couple of Louis' fights and some other footage (literally only two or three so I am not trying to pretend to be an expert, I want to watch more).

One thing i have noticed though is there isn't as much head movement. But he lands his jab so often, and it looks like it hurts. It snaps his opponents head back.

I'm really interested in at least incorporating parts of this into my style, especially the jab (or the lead hand rather) sitting half cocked.

One other thing I noticed Louis doing is often using his rear hand to smother his opponents lead hand as he comes in with the jab.

Are there other fighters you can point me towards? I'm pretty keen to watch some more, as well as watching a lot more of Louis.


Ezzard Charles would be a great fighter to study, and there is a reasonable amount of footage available, as well as the excellent analysis video done by that Dadi guy.

As far as why techniques have changed, and why few fighters adopt the old styles, I would personally attribute this almost exclusively to the modern gloves, that allow fighters to get away with boxing off the front foot, and allow them to be defensively less skilled. Back in the day, when they were basically fighting with bag gloves, the idea of taking a straight right on the gloves from your opponent would have been extremely undesirable. All those tiny bones being hit hard by another hard object is a recipe for damage. Because of this, they had to be more integrated defensively, minimising the amount of what you might call 'direct contact defense'.

If you think about the old school posture (which modern fighters such as Bhop use very effectively), the weight is very much over the back foot, with a pronounced bend in the back leg. This has a couple of effects, most noticably that it pulls the lead shoulder around, and hides the vulnerable parts of the jaw behind the lead shoulder. It also has a similar effect to suspension in a car, in that it is like being on a slightly softer spring, allowing you to move more in the direction of the punch on contact - essentially, there is more give. Because this is a fundamentally more defensive posture, and because blocking defense is less desirable with small gloves, it becomes prudent to carry the lead hand lower, in a more fencing style stance. This allows greater visibility, is more comfortable for shoulder rolling (and stops limbs getting tangled), and as has already been covered, greater opportunity to use the jab as an untelegraphed, concussive punch.

Another feature of the old time fighters that they do far more effectively than modern fighters is economy of movement through footwork. If you watch some of the old school guys, they move around far less than most modern fighters, and make extremely effective use of range. This is an effect of being in the old school stance - it doesn't make for such a mobile fighter. That stance is brilliant for slipping, ducking, rolling, changing angles, and playing with distance, but it is not an effective stance for running away, or spending 12 rounds prancing around the outside of the ring.

It also allows for your feet to be in range, whilst your target area is out of range, as you can push forward off the back foot to give a lead hand that was out of range the extra few inches it needs to find the target, whilst immediately allowing you to push back of the lead foot to take your target area back out of your opponent's range.


Great posts by Aussie and London ^^^.

The rule changes in boxing which have lately neutered the clinch fighting aspects also likely have played a role in the migration away from using Louis's positioning.

In other words because fighters know that they will be broken up rather quickly should the fight go into clinch range, they aren't all that worried about having an effective weapon to prevent such encroachment. Therefore they can afford to keep their lead arm down, across their body (like a Philly Shell), or otherwise not in an advantageous position to generate any kind of "stopping power".

Back in Louis's time though clinch fighting was a more substantial part of boxing, so keeping the jab in a position where it could stop an incoming boxer at any point along it's trajectory was a much more real concern and useful strategy.

I also think that imitation may have played a role in the change. Each generation of fighters grows up watching and (at least as children) idolizing the current top dogs in the sport. The great ones then go on to modify, refine, and create their own "style" (which is then copied and again personalized by the next generation of great boxers and so on). So, today's boxers likely were not all that influenced by Louis's generation, but several generations after him. So again, not much imitation in today's crop of top boxers.


Could it be that the styles were figured out, as most sporting tactics are eventually, and have evolved for that reason?

London mentioned that Bhop is a modern fighter that incorporates the old style. Can someone point me in the direction of some other modern fighters that have taken old school boxing and made it work recently?

Also, if Freddy Roach calls Joe Louis 'textbook boxing', it seems crazy that it just isn't really used anymore. From what little I've seen, I absolutely love his jab, and the impact it has in actually hurting and damaging his opponent.