Boxing - is it just a sport or an effective method of personal defence?

In this article we are going to look at boxing as a method of personal defence and self protection. When people talk or consider boxing, often what is paramount in their mind is the image of professional boxers, prize fighting in a ring, complete with padded gloves and a referee. However, how actually how practical is this sport as a method of self protection? Taking away the sporting objectives, the prizes and the bright lights we are left with a system of fighting which uses one part of the body to the exclusion of all else...so just how effective a system is it?

Let’s start with the positive. The main benefit of boxing is it’s accessibility. Most (if not all) physical altercations will begin standing. Whilst it is absolutely the case that the majority will enter into different ranges (clinching and ground fighting), the initial stages will play out with both parties standing. Understanding how to generate power in movement and having a good sense of timing and accuracy in striking is then key to success here. Boxing training does just this. Secondly, although just a fundamental are the developments boxing training provides in respect of fluidity of movement and retention of balance. All of these aspects are key if the boxer is to strike with any sort of power and efficiency.

Then we can consider the advantages provided through understanding defensive boxing strategies. Whether this is a basic as a comprehensive understanding of a guard position, or more complex abilities with head and body movement (slips and rolls) and defensive footwork, these strategies can provide a potential “get out of jail free card” and allow the defensive party to escape without harm. In addition, through rehearsal of these strategies and the associated counter punching opportunities which are created, the defensive party is given opportunity to draw an opponent to commit in a direction which favours a more positive outcome from the defenders personal perspective.

The necessary technique rehearsal and physical conditioning work that is employed in respect of boxing is a further benefit. The obvious benefits of maintaining cardiovascular fitness aside, the psychological benefits of improved health and wellbeing (in regards to increased self efficacy, self confidence and motivation) cannot be overlooked. Couple these with the strength of character, self control and sense of will that comes through sparring and boxing can be considered to provide a great foundation for the development of cognitive strategies which will assist in coping and managing the stress of a physical assault.

There are then some significant benefits provided by boxing in regards to personal defence. On the flip side of the coin however there are some telling limitations. The primary, elephant in the room, limitation is that boxing excludes all other form of technical application. By the very nature of being a controlled sport, boxing has “sanitised” itself of techniques which would allow striking with other tools (head, elbows, knees and feet predominantly), throws and takedowns, or indeed any form of ground based combat. The reality of a physical assault is that it is immediate, violent, stressful and in the majority of cases will enter into a variety of different ranges (typically ending up on the floor.) Whilst there are clearly “in-fighting” and clinch techniques within boxing, these are somewhat limited and don’t necessarily provide answers for any ranges where striking with the hands is no longer effective.

A second rather unfortunate limiting aspect of boxing is the design of the striking tool used. The hands are things of beauty, made up of some 19 distinct bones and 14 joints. Designed for fine motor manipulation, hands were not designed to hit hard surfaces with any sort of power. It is the case that the hand can be conditioned certainly and bone calluses can be formed to provide a more purposeful striking tool (such is the way in many