Dissecting The Learning Process For Boxing
by Neil Perkins
Dissecting the learning process and differing from the status quo to learn can be the best way to master something. There seems to be set formulas for learning, these have been passed from generation to generation and are deemed the correct way to learn.
In relation to boxing, you look at the end goal. I very often see people using boxing as a vehicle for fitness, weight loss and improved well-being (mental and physical) What people fail to realise when learning the sweet science is that they are already one step nearer getting in a ring and practising these skills in a contest than the average man (or woman). There usually is a sub-conscious reason why they are learning the sweet science of pugilism.
The status quo of most good coaches is to start from footwork, although many ‘fitness coaches’ neglect theses sound fundamentals in favour of punching first. If punching isn’t first, then it certainly is second on most people’s list. Vey often coaches will teach every variation of punch in their offensive list before looking at stepping off after combinations to avoid counters and then maybe looking at blocking returning punches. The problem is that the ethos of many coaches is teach of multiple ways to hit and then teach how not to get hit in return as an afterthought.
Boxing and chess share many similarities and most exceptional boxers enjoy playing chess. Child chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa was taught to play chess from a coach who used very interesting technique. To start he would play with a King & Pawn Vs Pawn, this was so that he could learn to manipulate positions to draw traps and push someone where he wanted them. This was to stop him been seduced with the lure to ‘steal pieces’ on a standard full game before then looking at tactically positioning as the board became more-sparse – stealing key pieces is traditionally the primary goal and then when you have the upper hand you look to tactically take someone’s king. By dissecting the learning and looking at positioning as a primary thought Praggnanandhaa has become one of the most successful players in the world.
Listening to the accounts of boxers who’ve faced pugilist specialist Floyd Mayweather gives and interesting insight. Andre Berto talked about Mayweather’s ability to think defence first and ‘slide around in the pocket’ making boxers miss before punishing their mistakes and then then having the discipline to glide out of range before been drawn into a fight. He described Mayweather as popping up all around him continually making him miss with shot after shot and then punishing him with a short combination before moving away.
With respect to coaching boxing at all levels, the initial lure of boxing is controlled violence and release? Hitting things feels good, but this is the easiest part of the sport. Once you’ve started learning this sport you are already part way to competing and competing isn’t just about hitting things. Where to position your feet, how to adjust angles and how to counter are the keys to success in this sport and the best of the best are always exceptional at not getting hit. A young Mike Tyson best known for his destructive power had such subtle movements and adjustments meaning he rarely got caught with shots. Equally there are in essence three way to defend any punch with trunk defence, hand (or shield) defence and foot defence for nearly every shot, with three types of defence to every punch surely it would make more sense to spend only1/4 of your training time learning how to deliver punches and ¾ of your time learning to deflect, block, slide and move away from shots?
The best fighters in the world in Andre Warde and Floyd Mayweather have mastered defensive first boxing and even their offence is finished off with a shot that closes up the gap. GGG has destructive power, but again shares subtle changes in angles to draw shots that get punished with vicious counters.
We very often find with recreational boxers that the ‘contest boat’ gets missed because those that do desire to compete follow the status quo. They look to master every shot in the book and feel confident in fitness and offence before looking to enrol onto our ‘Beginners Intro Sparring’. At this point their programming and boxing is so geared around landing first and landing correctly that defence becomes a secondary thought. The result of this is that someone who trains alongside you in a boxing gym who knows a quarter of your shot and combination variety ends up beating you in a contest situation as they’ve learnt boxing from a ‘not to get hit first’ perspective as opposed to a ‘I’ve got to hot someone’. This leads to boxers losing of confidence. Very often their antidote is to work back on offensive skills to improve confidence – they failed to realise why they failed and dissect their mistakes.
With respect to learning defensive skills, good coaching is essential but it must be carried out with some pad work. Pad work is good, but partner work is better. Partner work is good, but sparring is better, if you want to get better at boxing you need to compete – sparring is good, boxing is better.
Forget the status quo of learning to punch then learning to defend if you want to box competitively – at any level. The sooner you immerse yourself with the defensive side of the game and be comfortable with shots coming back at you the more complete of a boxer you’ll be. Build your fitness and learn and focus on learning to defend every punch you learn to throw before adding more shots to your repertoire.