As with any sport, it isn't offense alone which wins the game of boxing. This is because unless you hopelessly over match your opponent (and who wants to win that way?), you will need to ward off or minimalise the impact of your opponent's punches.
Therefore, along with everything else you need to work on in becoming a good fighter (legwork, conditioning, punching, etc), you also need to incorporate correct defensive fundamentals—especially when you are new and better able to formulate good, lifelong habits.
This is important, since learning proper technique in the first place is far easier than replacing poor technique down the road.
For now, here are some basics to know about defense, how to use it, and why it is so important.
It's About Not Being Hit Hard—Or at All
With defensive boxing, your goal is to be as elusive and hard to hit as possible and to deflect and minimalise the punches which do land. This can be done through quickness, agility, constant movement and above all, proper technique.
Remember, being hit is part of the game, and will happen no matter what. In fact, the only way you would likely ever make it through a fight without being hit would be for you to greatly over match your rival—and again, who would want that? You're here for the sport, not to be a bully!
So, since it is virtually inevitable that you will take punches during your bouts, you need to incorporate the next best thing to dodging punches completely, which is to minimize the energy you absorb from them.
With that in mind, let's go over both how to avoid being hit in the first place, as well as how to reduce the impact of punches which do land. This can be done using four main techniques, which are:
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each:
As the name indicates, blocking is a means of deflecting your rival's punches away from where they will do damage.
However, and even though blocking is the most direct means of defense, it isn't the best primary method of avoiding punches for a couple of reasons:
- Even though you are keeping the punch from hitting its intended target, you are still absorbing the punch's power
- You are essentially giving your opponent something to "hit against," which helps them stay balanced and in position to counter punch.
Even so, blocking is still something you need to work on and have ready in your defensive quiver since there will be times when you simply can't slip or parry a punch. Think of blocking as your backup plan to be used whenever a glove is headed your way and your only hope is to block it—sort of like a base baller ticking a tough pitch foul rather than taking it for a final strike.
Remember too that you need to ALWAYS keep your hands up and ALWAYS return them to the defensive position after throwing a punch. This will enable you to defend your head by not leaving it open to punches, as well as enable you to load up a counter punch.
To improve and maintain your blocking skills, try this drill:
- Start with a partner who is about your size
- Begin by having them throw slow-motion jabs at you while you practice blocking them before returning your hands immediately to the defensive position
- Slowly increase the intensity until your partner is throwing jabs at full speed
- Keep those hands up!
- You can also use this drill to work on your parrying and slipping
Think of blocking as one of many fundamental skills for you to work on throughout your boxing career, no matter how long you've been at it. In fact, never take defence--or any other fundamental skill for that matter--for granted no matter if you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran, since there is ALWAYS something new to learn.
While parrying may be another form of blocking, it has the additional benefit of using your opponent's energy against them. This is because rather than providing them with a solid punching surface, you are redirecting their effort along with their balance and energy. Think Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown.
The other difference parrying has with blocking is that it is typically done with the palm, rather than the back of the glove, along with the forearms. The idea with parrying is to intersect punches and swipe or knock them off-course while you remain balanced and in position to counter punch.
This does take timing, although when done right, it is a highly effective way to take advantage of an opponent's over commitment to their punch and put you in a better offensive position.
Slipping is a more advanced technique which, as its name implies, allows you to play the Artful Dodger and "slip" outside of or away from punches. As with parrying, slipping can also take advantage of an adversary's over commitment to a punch and take them off balance to give you an offensive advantage.
However, slipping does rely on reflexes and timing, which means you stand the chance of getting smacked hard if yours are off. For this reason, it is best that you focus on proper technique which will help you more than anything when learning this important defensive tool.
For instance, there is the "3-point slip" in which you keep your head moving on a 3-point axis to avoid jabs and hooks to the head. These 3-movements are:
- Forward and backward
Remember too that none of these 3-movements are "head only" movements or "wobble from side-to-side-like-a-lawn-toy" movements. Instead, your head movements need to start from where all your boxing fundamentals begin: Your footwork.
This is because the idea of a slip isn't to just get out of the way for now and then react to the next situation as it arises. Instead, the idea is to control your positioning with your legs, torso and head so that each slip sets up the next, as well as puts you in position to land counter punches.
For instance, doing "the wobble" with feet planted solid while bending side-to-side at the waist leaves you square to your opponent. This not only gives them a large target to hit—especially since, much to your opponent's appreciation, you are keeping your feet planted in one spot—it also prevents you from loading up counter punches.
Plus, your head only moves side-to-side rather than the elusiveness you get when you include forward-and-back and up-and-down movements.
Slipping should also be a part of your continuous movement in the ring—the up-and-down, side-to-side and forward-and-backward movements you incorporate while "dancing" with your opponent. Practice this when you shadow box and spar, and you can also do "slow-to-fast" drills with a partner such as the one outlined in the "blocking" section above.
Rolling—or the shoulder roll—is like parrying and slipping in that it minimizes the affect of a punch rather than allowing you to absorb it. It also allows your hands to remain free for counter punching since it involves turning—or rolling—your shoulder in the direction of the punch so that there is no firm surface for the punch to land.
However, while this can effectively negate the effect of entire combinations, it can also leave you vulnerable to punches should a "deke" punch be thrown causing you to roll in the wrong direction. It also doesn't work against small, fast jabs and similar shots which are used most of the time.
However, by rolling your shoulders away from a punch (which can be done in rapid succession for combos), the punch will harmlessly land on your shoulder and leave you in a prime position for counter punching. This is not only much easier than blocking, it also allows you to absorb far less of a punch's force.
Defense Wins the Game
In the words of the great Floyd Mayweather Jr, "He can have heart, he can hit harder and be stronger, but there's no fighter smarter than me."
This speaks to the essence of why defensive skills are so important: Brawn does little against a superior defensive strategy. In fact, no matter how strong a fighter's punch may be, it is only as strong as the ability to land it, which is something good defense sets up.