Les coups de poings

The following translation is taken from the French manual “Defense dans la Rue ” written by Jean Joseph- Renaud ;1912.

In this chapter entitled ” Les coups de poings” Renaud touches on the bare fist application of the classical English boxing method and its differences in relation to the American glove system.



Renaud- the ‘Defense dans la  Rue’ instructor

General defaults of punches:

The inconvenience with punching is that when delivering them you risk damage to your hands .

The hand is a precision organ used to hold and not to hit with. As a general rule the little bones are too delicate to cope with the effort that a vigorous arm extension produces .

If a fighting glove of 3 or 4 ounces protects the fist then it’s a different story, not only will you not be injured when hitting , but the ‘knock out’ becomes a lot easier to deliver. For example with the bare fists it is difficult in a fight to ‘knock out’ an opponent when striking at an angle at the neck, mouth and ear . In a real fight one can obtain this result with an easier method by delivering the blow with the heel of the hand.

Most of the so called efficient strikes that we can see executed in the ring ,and fill us with such admiration , are not practised with bare fists.

A long time ago in England, when fights were happening without gloves, they were going for a much longer time. And though the fighters employed wrestling catches and were throwing each other on the ground with great violence- up to 5 or 6 times each during a 15 minute duration and they were at least as vigorous as those of today- they should have finished very quickly . But the fights were always lasting for a long time, most often they ended because one of the opponents would be too exhausted to continue rather than being defeated or beaten. As they didn’t have gloves on there hands , they couldn’t deliver their punches with all there power. Here are some reasons.

One of their principle tactics consisted less of parry’s and evasions and more to receive the strike on the bony part of the head so the opponent would damage his hand.

Tom Cribb , one of the most celebrated fighters of the 19thcentury , had a speciality of breaking his adversaries fists with his head. He won several victories this way -particularly one against Jem Belcher.

Every time that John L. Sullivan, the great ex champion of America, met Charlie Mitchell, champion of England, with gloves, the one who was much lighter and shorter did very badly and was sent threw the ropes. On the contrary if the fight was happening without gloves it was lasting for up 2   1/2 hours.

Using bare hands compensates the light weight inferiority. The ‘big fellow’ hits harder without gloves then a middle weight but the difference would be much more considerable with the ordinary fight gloves . Even the strongest man can’t use all his power with the bare fist.

Training by hitting a sand bag will harden the bones and skin forming a natural glove . However , except for professional fighters, only a few people can do this type of training. This book is written for amateurs.

Also in the street, the body is protected by clothes , so all the strikes, while efficient in the ring, have a lot less chance to be efficient outside. Most of the time while delivering these strikes you can seriously damage your hands on the buttons or some other hard items contained in the pockets.

American or English Methods ?

Constantly the new American method is opposed to the old classical English method with such insistence that it would have us believe that it comprises both attack and defense processes that are absolutely new and special.Consider that most people who talk and write outrageously about it have never worn any gloves. The smartest of them would be in trouble and embarrassed to recognize the difference between the old style and new.

Some illustrious American pugilists over the past twenty years : Corbett., Peter Jackson , John L. Sullivan, George Dixon, Griffo and many others were only applying the English principles . Some others ,younger, in particular Tommy Burns have adopted a style a bit special.

This style suits perfectly the abilities of the ex world champions, and I believe it has become a bit of a fetishism that so many copy it.

How to define it ? Generally speaking , we can tell that it ( the American system) consists in the very smart use of ring conventions, and has moved away from real combat.

Globally , it consists of fighting closer, consequently, it uses less straights, stationary or stepping, and more a very short semi circular cross ,to provoke the opponents attacks in order to stop them and move in with a series of cross and uppercuts (you can recognize here the obligatory tactics of a short man who like Burns fights at a lighter weight ) and obtain a position that hides as much as possible the parts of the body targeted by the knock out blow.

Here are the characteristics. The legs can not move rapidly in this new method despite what has been said. Corbett had an ideally classical style, Driscoll current light weight English champion ,offering two examples , has absolutely wonderful speed and accuracy and addresses the usefulness of footwork. The older fighters were placing a lot more importance of ‘speed with their feet’. Also, one has to give credit to the Yankee system for almost suppressing the swing.

Although this kind of blow ( the swing) with a closed fist has never seriously been used in the ring by good boxers, it only has power if the gloves are heavy and presents a heavy weapon at the end of a floppy arm.

Some older and respected English methods- particularly d’O’ Donnelly- explain you have more chances hurting your wrist delivering a swing than hurting your adversary.

At a time when the fights were bare fists almost only straight punches were used . The simple reason for this is the hooks ,which are an essential part of the American style, hurt the hands if they are not protected by gloves or if the strike does not land with perfect precision. Once again the hand is made to hold not hit. The English method pays attention to this.

The Americans have often said that the English hit like they are worried about hurting their fists- this should be taken as a compliment.

Of course, with bandages around the fingers and the gloves you can hit in any way . You can also counter with blocks which, with a bare hand, would be impossible.

The ‘crouching’ is not a new innovation either. The famous Cribb, who was breaking his opponents fists with his skull had, from written descriptions, a similar guard to those of Jeffries and Burns.

But if we were to be concerned about  lutte (wrestling)  holds – especially those of the Japanese fighting- it is more dangerous.

Cribb, despite his extraordinary energy, was often thrown to the ground violently and often said himself that he was only really worried about being throw to the ground during his fights.

Once again , in the ring, the Yankee style is right—-in the ring!

But to those who are boxing to defend themselves I say:  ” Study the old methods when a fight was happening almost in the same conditions as a street fight. ”

In the next instalment of ‘coups depoings’ Renaud  covers more on the strength  and weakness of the American system  along with ‘in fighting’.