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Defensive Exercises

Learning Boxing Defense & Defensive Tactics:

A well-known fact in modern boxing, at least among trainers and serious students of the game, is that too many fighters are too offensively oriented and fail to master even basic defensive skills. Witness Floyd Mayweather and his famous shoulder roll, which seems remarkable today, but was a fairly standard tool in the arsenal of many a club fighter as recently as the 1970s. On the other side of the spectrum, look at Paul “The Punisher” Williams, who is a spectacular offensive fighter, but is so defensively flawed that he barely moves his head and bends over to throw punches. This latter impairs his balance and increases the exposure of his head, which as previously noted, barely moves expect when he is bending over.

The two most fundamental defensive techniques in boxing are keeping your guard up and slipping, both of which are profoundly misunderstood by non-boxers. No one who has never boxed understands how much stamina is required just to hold your guard up for half an hour straight, while non-initiates also mistake slipping for ducking. Exercises for mastering the guard and slipping are key to any basic boxing routine, and after these two skills are mastered they should be incorporated into almost every other exercise a boxer does.

Keeping Your Guard Up

Over the years, I’ve seen far too many guys come into a boxing gym adopting a stance they frequently see on TV, namely carrying either the left hand or both hands low. If they insist on keeping their hands down, those guys invariably wind up unconscious and on the mat in their first sparring session. Moves like that are for pros, not every pro can make the transition, and frankly some pros should never have made that transition in the first place. In terms of defense, few things rival having your muscle memory trained to return your arms and hands into a guard position where they automatically block incoming punches.

The only real way to learn to keep your guard up at all times is to keep it up at all times. Even the most veteran boxers are often unaware of tendencies to drop their guard or not return their hands to guard position immediately after punching, however, which is why any exercise meant to ingrain a high guard requires the aid of a coach or training partner. The simplest thing to do is simply to have someone tell you whenever your guard is down while working the heavy bag, punch mitts or shadow boxing (preferably all three). Another idea is to have your partner smack you whenever your guard is down during punch mitt work.

For chronic offenders there is the high guard bar. This is a chest harness with a horizontal bar running across it. The idea is not quite so much to hold your arms up as to remind you whenever your guard drops. Ideally, your arms should never touch the bar.

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Slipping isn’t ducking, because ducking leaves a fighter off-balance and exposes the head to greater danger. Slipping involves compressing the abdomen to lower the head, and in extreme cases bending at the knees. You never, ever lean forward to slip a punch.

The starter exercise for slipping is to work on it in front of the mirror. Instead of shadowboxing, work on slipping while stepping forward to the mirror. Then work on slipping in place, and finally work on slipping while stepping backwards. Then repeat it over and over again, always watching to ensure you have proper form.

From there, you can move on to other slipping exercises. One is slipping the rope. Usually this involves tying a taut cord across a room, and then slipping under the string and moving side to side as you go forward and backward along the line. Sometimes throwing punches at the end of each slip is worked in. If your gym has an old three-rope ring, you can get away with using the ring ropes for slipping the rope.

Another classic for mastering the art of slipping is the maize bag. This is a weighted bag attached to the end of a rope which is suspended from the ceiling. The bag is punched or tossed into motion, and the boxer slips it with each pass. Mike Tyson used to work on the maize bag for hours every day, until he had the best slipping technique in the heavyweight division (or at least he did until he stopped practicing).

Tools for Basic Defense

Some accessories for heavy bags can greatly aid a boxer in mastering both their guard and their slipping. One is a tether bag. This is a padded, inflatable bag on the end of a bungee or rope, which is then clipped onto the heavy bag’s chains. The movement of the heavy bag cause the tether bag to swing around, and if keeping your guard up and slipping aren’t second nature, you will get hit by that bag all day long.

Another accessory is the strap-on punching arm. This is basically a plastic bar with a boxing glove or a padded ball on the end. Like the tether bag, the punching arm also gives the heavy bag the ability to hit you back, thereby making sure you pay as much attention to defense as to offense while working the heavy bag.