Shift Punching

By Craig Gemeiner © 2011

Shift punching or striking was a staple technique of the older systems of English boxing and French Savate. Based on rapid marching and striding actions, shift punching, when applied at the appropriate time and distance, will permit you to generate maximum power while chasing down a retreating opponent. Particular types of shift sequences were sometimes named after the fighter who popularized them i.e. ‘Fitzsimmons shift”, the number of steps it comprised i.e. Jack Dempsey’s “Double shift” or its intended goal i.e. “Killing shift”.

Shifting can be divided into two methods based on footwork and positioning of the arms.

The first method

Square gating:

“Square gating” involves shifting the rear foot forward while simultaneously delivering a straight or angled rear punch on the matching side as the advancing leg. This shifting attack is extremely powerful when conveying punches, as force is generated by the body’s mass stepping forward with the corresponding angle of the strike.

One example of the “square gating” shift is the Dempsey “Double shift”. An extremely powerful linear shift which utilizes the straight lead and falling step as an opening strike stratagem prior to the more deep shifting step and straight rear punch.

Dempsey describes the “Double Shift” – “ It is called the “double shift’ . It’s for use against a retreating opponent. You do the double shift like this: Telegraph that you are about to shoot a straight left at your opponent’s head. Shoot the left, which he’ll evade by stepping back. Then, immediately stride forward with your foot and (as you stride) shoot a straight right. If he’s fast he’ll avoid that one too, but narrowly. Then, immediately stride forward with your left foot and (as you stride) shoot a straight left at his head”.

The following pictures , taken from Jack Dempsey’s book  “Championship Fighting” 1951,  display the “double shift”-



Another example of a square gating shift is the “ Fitzsimmons shift”.  Bob Fitzsimmons used this particular shift to knock out James Corbett in 1897 to win the heavyweight boxing title.

This manoeuvre begins with a linear straight blow from the lead hand, which is the hardest strike to visually track, and them follows with a rear foot shift and over hand or hook to the side of the jaw. The choice of using an angular blow as a follow-up serves two purposes, 1- to strike around any obstructions such as the arms thrown up in a desperate attempt to block /defend, 2- to facilitate cross rotational acceleration when impacting with the side of the jaw. Fitzsimmons would continue the sequence with  a half pivot blow and finish with body or head punch with the opposite hand.

Combat instructor Colonel A.J. Drexel Biddle was so impressed with the “Fitzsimmons shift” that he included it in his now classic manual “Do or Die , and actually terms it the “Killing Shift”.

Biddle’s student , John Styers, took  the” Killing Shift”  even further by including either a finger stab to the throat, tiger claw to the face and joints of the fingers doubled up and rammed into the throat as opening gambit to the combination. Styers followed this with elbows or hammer fists strikes while shifting forward with the rear leg.

View here Carl Cestari demonstrating the Fitzsimmons Killing Shift

The second method


This type of shifting attack is the most natural and involves similar actions to that of marching, walking or running. In this case the straight or angled punch is extended out at the same time the opposite foot steps forward. While this particular shift is very rapid in regards to covering ground it is weaker than the square gating method when relaying punches. This is due to the punching shoulder and upper body twisting against the opposing hip

For individuals focusing on a purely self-defense approach to training  one can replace bare fist punching with open hand strikes with little adjustment to the shifting sequences.

Take it a step further and incorporate the three basic street Savate kicks in conjunction with your shifts.

The following sequence showcases the “Marching” shift


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