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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Great Early Bare Knuckle Boxing Info!

Hi I'm Oz,

Iain has kindly let me send you some information about my website, but before I do I'd like to tell you a little about what I teach, and how I got to teaching it.

My first proper martial art was Shotokan, I started it when I was a kid, and like most people I really bought into it.  I knew deep down that if I practiced my kata enough, and stretched enough at home, I'd be able to fight just like Bruce Lee.  But after several years of training I started to get disillusioned.  The bunkai I was being taught just didn't seem to make sense.  I guess I wasn't the only person to feel that way.  A lot of people in the early 90s felt the same way.  There wasn't really anyone teaching practical, and believable applications the way Iain is today.  But unlike Iain I took a different route.

I overheard a conversation one day at a medieval re-enactment event about an ancient German book that described how to fight with a sword, and it became a bit of an obsession for me, so I set out to find it.  I eventually did, but along the way I found a lot of things that were much more impressive, at least to me.  I found books by English people, books that were hundreds of years old.  Books that taught how to fight with swords, daggers, and quarterstaffs, books that taught how to fight with your fists, how to wrestle and grapple.  I gave up Shotokan and focused entirely on learning English Martial Arts.  Obviously the karate I had been taught was nonsense, and the real secrets to fighting were English.

But as the years went on, and I trained more and more, I began to realise something that surprised me.  I was teaching the art of Classical Pugilism.  The art of fighting with bare fists from an age where grappling and throwing were a standard aspect of fighting.  But I also seemed to be teaching something that looked a lot like the Shotokan I'd done.  Long straight punches, stable stances, even the blocks looked similar.  One day, in a draughty old wrestling gym in the North of England I was being taught traditional Catch wrestling by a crotchety old man who couldn't walk without a stick. He was trying to describe a throw to me, a shoulder throw that landed in a submission hold.  When he told me to step over my opponent as they hit the ground I realised I'd been taught that very movement in Heian Godan twenty something years ago.  It was a bit of an eye opener for me.

I haven't gone back to Karate, but I have a new found respect for it.  It turns out the early English bare knuckle boxing I've been teaching for the last decade or so isn't so different after all.  There are a lot of strikes to set up throws, a lot of holds, traps, and escapes.  And a lot of sneaky elbows, backfists, and “accidental” knees.

Anyway, that's enough about me.  I've spent the last few years writing e-books and filming videos on what I do – trying to spread the word of English Martial Arts.  If it sounds at all interesting to you then there are all sorts of things available on my website, I suspect you'll be surprised at how similar it is to the fantastic work Iain's been doing for years.

Some of it is free, and some of it is for sale.  I offered Iain a cut of any money I made and he turned me down flat.  We did agree however that instead of giving him money we'd give it to someone who really needed it.  And so if you do choose to buy anything, I'm going to give 50% of all the profits to the NSPCC  (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)

The Serious Striking course represents not just another collection of drills and interesting points, but a complete martial arts system with a track record stretching back hundreds of years. This course is perfect for someone who has no idea how to start; but it's also perfect for a seasoned martial artist who wants to add an additional fighting style behind his or her name.

Oz delivers with clarity and directness - his knowledge and capability come through with each instruction. Thorough, practical and historic are the words that come to mind when I watch Oz's material. If you can't make this work, nothing else will help you! I highly recommend it.” - Ken Harding, St. Louis, Missouri.

If you'd like to find out more then just follow the link below:

If you access the site via this link then a percentage (50% of the profit) will be donated to the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children): http://www.pugilism.org/idevaffiliate/idevaffiliate.php?id=106_12_3_4

If you access the site via this link then a percentage (50% of the profit) will be donated to the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children): http://www.pugilism.org/idevaffiliate/idevaffiliate.php?id=106_12_3_4

Testimonials

"I've had great fun training at English Martial Arts Academy the last 4 years, the full contact sparring is a blast. The club has a solid student base and classes are well structured, focusing on fitness and the Martial form. Oz really knows his stuff. Fitness Instructor, Historian and martial arts expert all rolled into one." - Darren

"Being a member of the EMAA has exposed me to the world of HEMA and allowed me to study & experience a variety of martial arts/forms I never knew existed. The EMAA is driven by Oz's passion for sharing these disciplines. He's an excellent instructor and always there to give me a push in the right direction when needed." - Matt

"I have been involved in martial arts for nearly twenty years and have trained in traditional Japanese karate, boxing, kickboxing and Filipino martial arts (Kali). During this time I have been fortunate enough to have been taught by world champions and experts in self protection; individuals with great experience, insight and skill. Oz is one of those individuals, he has opened up a whole world that was unknown to me in martial arts. His classes are highly enjoyable and challenging and cover a full syllabus from martial fitness to a variety of weapons, notably the backsword, and unarmed combat. I cannot recommend Oz highly enough!" - Jonny

English Martial Arts Academy: http://www.englishmartialarts.com/

css1971
css1971's picture

Good stuff. I really know nothing about pugilism other than it's an earlier form of boxing which allowed additional things. How far back in time does pugilism go and what sorts of things does it contain? I'm aware of some of the German treatises on early Ringen but not of any English ones.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

css1971 wrote:
Good stuff. I really know nothing about pugilism other than it's an earlier form of boxing which allowed additional things. How far back in time does pugilism go and what sorts of things does it contain?

“Pugilism” isn’t a system in itself, or a forerunner to boxing, it’s simply another terms for “fist fighting”. A dictionary definition of “pugilism” is “The skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.” So all martial artist who use the hand strikes – whether modern or ancient; eastern or western – are studying and practising pugilism. As a karateka, I am also a pugilist.

The boxers of the past described what they did as “boxing”, but that’s not a good label to use today for “old style boxing” because it instantly makes people think of modern boxing (which is very different). The wider term of “pugilism” would therefore be a good label because it is still an English word describing an English art, but it does not have misleading connotations. But as previously mentioned, it is not an inherent independent system.

Old style boxing included weapons, throws, holds, etc. Much like the older version of karate, it was a very holistic system that became more “specialised” as time progressed.

A long time ago, I wrote this article on James Figg; who was the boxing champion of England:

http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/james-figg-first-bare-knuckle-boxing-champion

The following extract would seem to be relevant here:

“The boxing that Figg taught and practised was markedly different from the boxing of today. Although hitting with fists was emphasised, a boxer could grapple and throw his opponent (the cross-buttock throw being a favourite) and then either hit him when he was down, or continue to grapple whilst on the ground. Indeed, it was not until 1743 - 13 years after Figg's retirement - that kicking an opponent whilst he was down ("purring" as it was called at the time) and gouging were banned from the 'sport'. Whilst the original art of boxing was a complete system that covered all ranges, the skills of kicking, grappling and ground work are completely omitted from the arts modern offspring. And this situation is by no means unique to boxing. As examples, Judo and Aikido tend not to include the striking skills that were once a fundamental part of the art. And the vast majority of karateka no longer include the grappling and groundwork associated with the karate katas in their training (read my book, "Karate's Grappling Methods" for further details). This "specialisation" does have an upside however, as it has resulted in these specific skills being taken to extremely high levels. There can be little doubt that when it comes to punching, modern boxing is head and shoulders above all other arts.

As an example of how complete boxing was, I shall tell the tale of one of Figg's most famous fights. On the 6th of June 1727, James Figg fought Ned Sutton - a pipe maker from Gravesend. The bout generated huge interest and amongst the audience were many important names of the time, including Sir Robert Walpole - the Prime Minister.

The first match was to be with swords! Which goes to illustrate that the use of weapons were also part of a boxer's training - Much the same as weapons were also a part of the training of the majority of eastern martial arts. The first thirty minutes of the bout were fairly uneventful until Sutton went on the attack, which resulted in Figg cutting his arm on his own sword. Under the rules this did not count, and hence the bout continued. It was in the sixth round that Figg cut Sutton's shoulder, which resulted in Figg being granted the first victory.

After a thirty-minute interval, the "Fist-Fighting" began. After eight minutes Sutton executed a throw which resulted in Figg being dumped at the umpire's feet. Figg immediately regained his feet and went onto to throw Sutton such that he required time to recover as the result of the bad and heavy landing. When the bout continued, Sutton landed a blow that was so powerful that Figg was knocked clean off the stage (ropes were not used at the time) and into the audience. Figg recovered and went onto punch Sutton to the floor, where he then grappled Sutton into submission.

The final bout was with Cudgels, during which Figg broke Sutton's knee and hence secured a three-nil victory. The description of Figg vs. Sutton bout shows how grappling, groundwork and weapons skills were as much a part of boxing as the punching for which the art is so revered today. This tale also helps to show just how skilful and knowledgeable a martial artist Figg was. How many of today's martial artists would have the skills and the courage to fight in no-holds-barred contests where the contests fought with bare knuckles, and live swords & cudgels! When you consider that Figg was also never beaten, I think it becomes clear just how talented a martial artist he was.”

If people want to know more about this, Oz’s website (link above) would be a great place to go.

All the best,

Iain

Bowmore91
Bowmore91's picture

I was reading (and training of course) on bareknuckle boxing for quite a time, and it's a very interesting "system". The treatises on German ringen are fairly different, as pugilism was intended as a professional fight and not self defence or warfare. Whereas people saw the use of those techniques in a self defence context very fast and utilized it for this occasion. The Internet is full of old books on self defence that used la canne/ stick fighting in combination With Savate and Bareknuckle boxing. Also Military fencing was a part of these.

 The Leibringen from Lichtenauer or the abrazare from fiori dei Liberi are still fascinating recources. Dei liberis flos duellatorum is if I'm not mistaken the oldest European treatise existing,coming to existence about 1410 and consisting of many techniques, involving wrestling (abrazare) and dagger fighting.

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

Thanks very much for posting this Iain,  I think it's fascinating how many similarities there are between Classical Pugilism and proper Karate.  I kinda wish you were around 20 odd years ago, I might never have given it up! I recorded a short video looking at the difference between the way I was taught to generate power in striking in Shotokan, and the way it was done in the pugilistic era.  You can see it here:  http://www.pugilism.org/index.php/free-video-on-power-generation/ In the interestes of full disclosure, I ask you to sign up to my newsletter to get the video, there are no commitments and you can unsubscribe any time, but I hope you won't.  It's the first in a series of videos I recorded. Oz

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

M J Austwick wrote:
I recorded a short video looking at the difference between the way I was taught to generate power in striking in Shotokan, and the way it was done in the pugilistic era.  You can see it here:  http://www.pugilism.org/index.php/free-video-on-power-generation/

In the interests of full disclosure, I ask you to sign up to my newsletter to get the video, there are no commitments and you can unsubscribe any time, but I hope you won't.  It's the first in a series of videos I recorded.

I’ve signed up and enjoyed the video (the mention of my good self was unexpected – thank you!).

In my view, power generation is something no one should get wrong because is super easy to put to the test! On the video there is a marked contrast between your final punch (using your preferred dynamics) and the ones before. It’s therefore plain to see which is most effective. We can cut through all the endless discussion and just hit things. It’s an empirically test which will prove which methods are most effective.

The other vital consideration is that without power everything else is pointless. It is powerful blows that end situations. Skill in other areas (accuracy, speed, opening targets, tactical positioning, etc, etc.) are all rendered redundant if power is absent.

From a karateka’s perspective, the sad thing is that the forward linear motion you show and describe is, to my mind, exactly what we should see in karate when people are learning “front stance” (or more specifically the transfer of bodyweight that should occur as you shift into that position before instantly moving on). That’s just one methods of generating power, but it’s a very important one that should be taught from day one.

Karate gets too static and wrongly fixates on the accuracy of the end position (the “stance”) and not the key transfer of bodyweight that occurs by momentarily assuming that posture. Nakasone had it bang on when he said, “Karate has many stances; it also has none”. In other words, we have many positions, but we never hold those portions in application. I wrote an article on this for those interested in more detail: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/my-stance-stances

As a little aside, when you “slipped into pugilism mode” and hit with a vertical fist to the head, that’s exactly the first head punch my beginner’s learn! Lots of fascinating similarities!

Thanks for sharing this!

All the best,

Iain

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

I’ve signed up and enjoyed the video (the mention of my good self was unexpected – thank you!).

My pleasure.  As I said earlier if you'd been around doing this twenty five years ago I probably wouldn't have become disillusioned with karate.

Quote:
In my view, power generation is something no one should get wrong because is super easy to put to the test! On the video there is a marked contrast between your final punch (using your preferred dynamics) and the ones before. It’s therefore plain to see which is most effective. We can cut through all the endless discussion and just hit things. It’s an empirically test which will prove which methods are most effective.

The other vital consideration is that without power everything else is pointless. It is powerful blows that end situations. Skill in other areas (accuracy, speed, opening targets, tactical positioning, etc, etc.) are all rendered redundant if power is absent.

I couldn't agree more.  It is sad that people become "tribal" about technique and refuse to enter into any form of debate.  We can all learn from each other.  In my experience finding people who do these things better than me only ever helps me to improve what I do.

Quote:
From a karateka’s perspective, the sad thing is that the forward linear motion you show and describe is, to my mind, exactly what we should see in karate when people are learning “front stance” (or more specifically the transfer of bodyweight that should occur as you shift into that position before instantly moving on). That’s just one methods of generating power, but it’s a very important one that should be taught from day one.

Karate gets too static and wrongly fixates on the accuracy of the end position (the “stance”) and not the key transfer of bodyweight that occurs by momentarily assuming that posture. Nakasone had it bang on when he said, “Karate has many stances; it also has none”. In other words, we have many positions, but we never hold those portions in application. I wrote an article on this for those interested in more detail: http://iainabernethy.co.uk/article/my-stance-stances

That is a very interesting concept, and one of those that is so simple I can't believe I have not come across it before.  When interpreting Historical European Martial Arts from original manuscripts, one of the first things you learn is that the stances are transitionary positions, and not fixed postures.  There is no reason at all to think it isn't exactly the same in karate.  I look forward to reading that article once my kids are in bed.

Quote:
As a little aside, when you “slipped into pugilism mode” and hit with a vertical fist to the head, that’s exactly the first head punch my beginner’s learn! Lots of fascinating similarities!
Lol!  Love it, I am an accidental karateka. :)

GPNorwich
GPNorwich's picture

Hi Iain & Oz, now going to watch the video. I am really interested in power generation and test everything we do. I have a Tai Chi friend who is open minded but he does not do that much impact work. He often mentions Fa Jing of Tai Chi do you know of this? I ask him can you show this on a pad and he says yes but it is not always notacible. As if done on a real person the energy is going into the person and effecting the nerves system of the body? Now I'm not sure with this concept, has anyone any knowledge or experience of this?  GP

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

Iain,  I read the article and I really enjoyed it.  You have a lovely knack for summarising a complicated concept and then describing it in a way that is easy to picture. It is just possible I spent some time experimenting with my old karate stances in the sitting room.

GP, Fa Jin is not something I am particularly familiar with, but I tend to be particularly sceptical of methods of power generation that cannot be demonstrated on pads or bags.  I try to stay open minded, and am happy to be proved wrong, but to my mind simple physics is perfectly capable of creating immensely powerful strikes, why do we need to go beyond that?

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

“Pugilism” isn’t a system in itself, or a forerunner to boxing, it’s simply another terms for “fist fighting”. A dictionary definition of “pugilism” is “The skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.” So all martial artist who use the hand strikes – whether modern or ancient; eastern or western – are studying and practising pugilism. As a karateka, I am also a pugilist.

The boxers of the past described what they did as “boxing”, but that’s not a good label to use today for “old style boxing” because it instantly makes people think of modern boxing (which is very different). The wider term of “pugilism” would therefore be a good label because it is still an English word describing an English art, but it does not have misleading connotations. But as previously mentioned, it is not an inherent independent system.

I don't know if you have mentioned it but think the original use of the word pugilism comes from pugilato, which is a greek word for ancient boxing in original olympic competitions.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

M J Austwick wrote:
Iain, I read the article and I really enjoyed it.  You have a lovely knack for summarising a complicated concept and then describing it in a way that is easy to picture. It is just possible I spent some time experimenting with my old karate stances in the sitting room.

Thank you very much!

I think a lot of the way stances are viewed in karate comes from the militaristic training in large groups i.e. everyone moving at once on the instructor’s command, and then the final positions of the group being overseen and corrected. Of course, it’s not really the end position (the “stance”) that is important, but instead it is the way the body mass was moved as the stance was assumed. It’s that movement that fundamentally creates the power of the strike, pull, push, lock, throw, etc.

This is why impact work is so vital. The student gets immediate feedback when they hit the pad. They know it was wrong if the punch was weak. If you get an almighty “CRACK” on impact, like a shotgun going off, odds are that the bodyweight was transferred correctly.

Judging quality by arbitrary aesthetics just does not cut it. And the irony is that training on the pads validates and rewards correct body mechanics, and those body mechanics become habitual, which is why when students return to solo kata they look so sharp and the techniques have such a good aesthetic!

Seek function and a graceful aesthetic is inevitable. However, seek a graceful aesthetic and there is absolutely no guarantee of function!

M J Austwick wrote:
GP, Fa Jin is not something I am particularly familiar with, but I tend to be particularly sceptical of methods of power generation that cannot be demonstrated on pads or bags.  I try to stay open minded, and am happy to be proved wrong, but to my mind simple physics is perfectly capable of creating immensely powerful strikes, why do we need to go beyond that?

I’m pretty much on board with that too. The good examples of Fa-Jing that I’ve seen are always explainable through sound body mechanics. The poor examples tend to be put forth by those claiming a mystical force is at work and that the body-mechanics of karate, boxing, etc are nothing more than “crude muscle” (big impact comes from refined technique; not raw muscle nor scientifically unknown “energies”).

Combine good body mechanics, correct breathing and intense intent and you get big impact. It’s all very down to earth and simple to understand (although it can take a lifetime to perfect).

“It does not impact as hard on the bag, but in reality it has more power” is a little like saying, “That person may have finished the race sooner than me, but in reality I was quicker.” These are empirically testable claims and the results will speak for themselves. Impact is impact, and we can measure it by the amount of impact ;-)

The human body is of course different from a bag, but the claim that “less physical impact” somehow generates more “physiological impact” would seems untenable to me. Everything we know about human physiology supports that notion that the bigger the impact the greater the damage and the greater the shock.

If others think differently, and they are certain that they can cause more damage with less impact, then the burden of proof lies upon them to prove their claims. And if they can do that, it will overturn everything we know about modern physics and modern physiology. I’m therefore inclined to stick with the evidence and await to be convinced.

All the best,

Iain

Mark Powell
Mark Powell's picture

I practiced fa jing strikes for years training with the world taiji boxing association and there is nothing against the laws of physics about them and no "mystical energy" involved.

As Iain said:

Combine good body mechanics, correct breathing and intense intent and you get big impact. It’s all very down to earth and simple to understand (although it can take a lifetime to perfect).

This is as true for fa jing strikes as any other sort.

The problem is many who claim to have "mastered" fa jing not only have not but wouldn't know the real thing if it smacked them on the snout. No one who ever held a pad for Erle Montague could fail to be impressed by the serious impact of his close range strikes.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Mark Powell wrote:
The problem is many who claim to have "mastered" fa jing not only have not but wouldn't know the real thing if it smacked them on the snout. No one who ever held a pad for Erle Montague could fail to be impressed by the serious impact of his close range strikes.

Erle was the “good example” I was thinking of when I wrote the above post. When he hits a pad you can see it. There is no “this looks weak, but it’s not really”. It looks powerful because it is powerful.

All the best,

Iain

css1971
css1971's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:
“Pugilism” isn’t a system in itself, or a forerunner to boxing, it’s simply another terms for “fist fighting”. A dictionary definition of “pugilism” is “The skill, practice, and sport of fighting with the fists; boxing.” So all martial artist who use the hand strikes – whether modern or ancient; eastern or western – are studying and practising pugilism. As a karateka, I am also a pugilist.

I take the point. It does leave us with a problem though if I want to for example refer explicitly to the type of fighting which was typically practised pre 1743 in England before all the rules came in. On Oz's web site he calls it "Classical Pugilism".

karate10
karate10's picture

YouTube have countless history videos on Pulgilism and even today, underground bare Knuckles still exist and going strong. Their fighting stance reflects a lot in Martial arts, especially in the Jeet Kune Do art.

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

It's something I've struggled with for years.

What do I call what I do?

I even wrote an article for MAI some years ago on that very subject.  In the end I gave up worrying about it and figured it would sort tself out eventually.  It does seem to be doing that, at least where the unarmed side is concerned.

Whilst Iain is completely correct Pugilism does simply mean fighting with the fists, it is beginning to be recognised as referring to the style of fighting with the fists that predates the Marquess of Queensberry's rules.

Though that being said  it is still a huge umbrella term covering at least three distinct rule-sets.

Classical Pugilism is a little more specific, as at least the Classical era is already defiend for us (1750-1830 approx), but even that covers two different rule sets.

I wrote a brief fact sheet some time ago for the Historical European Martial Arts Coalition covering the basic facts of the art known as Pugilism.  you can get it here (PDF download) http://www.hemac.org/data/fss/hemac_fact_sheet_002_pugilism.pdf

Personally I tend to focus on the Early Era, and the Broughtons Rules Era, so I refer to what i do as Early English Pugilism, but that's a bit of a mouthful at the best of times.

That's one of the downsides of practicing a martial art from England, we can't just adopt a description of an art as it's name in the way we can with Oriental arts.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Thanks a very interesting “state of the art” post Oz. Thank you.

M J Austwick wrote:
That's one of the downsides of practicing a martial art from England, we can't just adopt a description of an art as it's name in the way we can with Oriental arts.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” as Shakespeare said :-)

Labelling an art – eastern or western – in a way that is both accurate, not limiting, definitive and all-encompassing is almost impossible. I think what I do is definitely “Karate”, but others also label what they do “Karate” when what we actually practise is radically different in nature (i.e. all they share is the label).

“Pugilism” is defiantly a good name for “old style boxing”, but as you say it, like “karate”, also needs further clarification to accurately define what is actually being practised.

All the best,

Iain

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

Hi again, It's not a big amount, but as promised I have made a donation of 50% of the sales that came through Iain.

 

If you'd like to download some material on pugilism and know you're helping disadvantaged children then this is the link to use for the site.  http://www.pugilism.org/idevaffiliate/idevaffiliate.php?id=106_12_3_4  

Thanks Oz

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Every little helps :-) I'll give it a push over social media over the weekend and see if we can raise some more.

Thanks for this.

All the best,

Iain

M J Austwick
M J Austwick's picture

I just thought I would drop by and let you know I am currently running a special offer of Lifetime Membership to the whole site for a one off payment.  It's only on until friday evening, and the charitable donation is still happening for anyone that signs up using Iain's link.   So if you have an interest in Early English Pugilism it might be worth checking this out. http://www.pugilism.org/idevaffiliate/idevaffiliate.php?id=106_12_3_4