“Actual Self-Defence” (from “The Complete Boxer”, 1914)

Some sound advice from author J.G. Bohun Lynch, on the subject of street self-defence particularly from the boxer’s point of view. 

Mr. Lynch’s recommended defence against a kicking attack is reminiscent of the so-called “secret style of boxing” developed by E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny.


“… may Mars who watches o’er
The half-stripped votaries of the sawdust floor,
Protect thee still.”

THE practical uses of boxing for the purposes of self-defence in a street or other row are considerable, but sometimes just a little overrated. Everybody is accustomed to stories, actual or invented, telling of the big bully thrashed by a little boxer. Plenty of big bullies have been thrashed by little boxers: but in the interests of truth rather than of sentiment it is as well to add that where the bully is himself a boxer (and a boxer may be fairly competent without being very courageous) the little man will wish he was a big man. Weight and height and size must of themselves tell.

But then, most fortunately, these valuable qualities sometimes tell against their owner. A hulking ruffian with no knowledge of boxing, or—what is worse — a very little knowledge, will expend his strength in futile swings and wind-mill blows; he will get his feet mixed up; he will fight himself to a standstill. And all the while the other man, little or not as the case may be, will keep himself in reserve; looking on, so to say, an interested spectator. The mighty, blundering arms will pass and repass over his head; but by a little slipping and ducking on the part of a skilled opponent, these stupid blows will never land on any vital part. And then when the giant has worn himself out and stands panting and exhausted, his antagonist—still keeping admirably cool and collected—will carefully and systematically smash him.

That is the best side of street fighting, and it happens fairly often; but it is not always safe to reckon on the ruffian being a merely hulking one: he may be a good hand, for instance, at kicking with hob-nailed boots. And so to be useful in such emergencies the boxer has to alter his methods a little and be prepared for eventualities in no way connected with the Queensberry rules.

Of course you will soon see whether the man who attacks you, or whom, for one reason or another, you feel called upon to attack, is going to fight fairly or not. In the former case all you have to do is to box as well as you can—as though you had entered for a competition with bare knuckles, but with certain modifications. In the latter you must keep a sharp look out and employ certain dodges, some of which will be indicated here, which are outside boxing.

In the first place, your position in any impromptu encounter should be rather different to that employed in ordinary sparring. You should stand more edgeways on towards your opponent, so as to give him as small a target as possible; and your attitude should be more cramped. You need not be afraid of this on the score of being tired the sooner, as such a fight is unlikely to last long. It is extremely important to guard every vital point rigidly. Your left shoulder should be held well up with the chin sunk below it. Your left arm should be more bent than is usual, your right elbow nearer the pit of your stomach, and the fist close to your face. Your feet will be in the same position as they ordinarily are.

It is an ungainly posture, and there will be none of the free and easy movement which is so essential to good boxing. But a fight in grim earnest cannot allow for the elegances of sport. You must protect yourself as best you can and damage your enemy as much as possible in the quickest time. In the case of a hooligan, you must do all in your power to disable him completely. Winning by a fair margin of points is hardly satisfactory in a street rough-and-tumble.

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Note that this illustration portrays a right hand punch to the throat, although the following text details an attack to that target with the straight left.

If your opponent stands up and boxes like a man, there is one particular blow you should try and land at once; and that is a straight left at his throat. You can occasionally bring it off when boxing with gloves if your antagonist leans his head back; otherwise the size of the glove mitigates its effect, and the blow lands partly on the top part of his chin and partly on the top of his breast-bone. With the bare fist, however, there is no difficulty about bringing the knuckles into undisturbed contact with the apple of the throat. Such a blow, well delivered, may virtually finish the encounter. The man who receives it gasps for breath, and probably staggers back, laying himself open to another blow given as you please—at the side of his jaw. It is extremely painful, this throat blow, and if you happen to receive it yourself you should cover up with both hands and get away for a moment or two if possible. In order to land it, you should feint with the left at your opponent’s head in order to make him throw it back to avoid the blow. Then step in a little closer and send the left home well under his chin.

Remember always in a street fight a man who has some knowledge of boxing, but does not mean to use it fairly, will try and drive you up to a wall and hit your head back against it, if he can. The consequence of that is obvious; so always try to keep in the open. Do not waste time in hitting your man about the head if he ducks low: it will not hurt him, and you may damage your knuckles. In the same way, unless he has no coat or waistcoat on, be chary of hitting him in the body. Buttons or a watch chain may do considerable damage to your knuckles, especially when repeatedly hit. Of course you must not leave his body alone—particularly if the man is a fat or a flabby one. But make sure that when you do hit him there that the blow is a really hard one, carefully timed. With the hooligan type you should make a point of avoiding his mouth. Dangerous cases of blood-poisoning have resulted from knuckles cut on the teeth of this sort of man. Aim for his jaw, his throat, and his temples in particular.

With the man who fights “all in,” as the saying goes, who will employ any means of hurting you from half a brick to a knee in your stomach, you must be more vigilant. This kind of man will often charge with his head down, trying to butt the wind out of you. The ordinary boxer will naturally regard this as a first-class opportunity for an upper cut. So it is. But you need something much more damaging than that. It is not the slightest good being quixotic on such an occasion. You must stop the man as best you may. The thing to do in this instance is to wait for him, and as he comes in bring your right leg up in a level with the left, and lift your knee with all your power into his face. Your fists should then get a chance of completing the good work in the next second. By the same mark, never lower your own head in case your opponent may remember his knees.

Then there is the ruffian who tries to kick your shins. That is easily stopped if you can keep a cool head, and, as before, wait for him. Lift your foot off the ground six inches or so, and the fellow’s own shin will come into violent contact with the toe of your boot. More dangerous is he who pretends to fight with his fists and suddenly kicks out sideways at your stomach. Of course the most serious injuries may be caused in that way: but if you are quick enough—and the best of boxing is that it makes you alert to perceive this sort of thing as well as the fair manoeuvres of the ring—if you are quick enough then you can step back half a pace, snatch your opponent’s leg as it . rises, and by an upward jerk throw him down.

In any sort of street fight, however, do not be led into wrestling unless you are an expert at it; and keep to long range hitting, waiting your chance for a punishing blow. Little blows are of no use. It is far better to hit seldom and with all your might.

With the type of man already referred to who stops at nothing, who stoops to anything, it never does to run any risks at all. If, for example, you get your head into “chancery”—an expression now obsolete as regards boxing—you are likely to be severely handled. The origin of the phrase is fairly obvious. Having once got into actual Chancery there is considerable difficulty in getting out again. Getting your head into chancery is caused by ducking too low past your opponent’s left, so that he can bring his arm back quickly and hold your head beneath it. True that by this means he cannot hurt you much in the ordinary way as your face is protected by his body, and your left will be free to guard your own: but he may throw you badly, or he may inflict much punishment by kidney blows.

The best way to get out of chancery is to hit at your opponent’s “mark” with your left as hard as you can, at the same time getting your left heel behind his. It is not the least use pulling with your head: but if you are strong enough you may be able to loosen your antagonist’s grasp by forcing up his left arm with your right hand. But in street fighting you should make it a rule never to get near enough to your opponent to allow the possibility of chancery. In boxing, to grip a man’s head under your arm is just like any other form of holding—a matter to be dealt with instantly by the referee.

There is another kind of antagonist more frequently to be met with than any other in a street row, and that is the drunken man. He may be by practice a fair boxer or no boxer at all, or a “kick and half-brick” man. But when drunk—all types when thoroughly drunk have this in common—it is extremely difficult to hurt him. His sensibilities are deadened. His Dutch courage is heroic; and though it is but Dutch courage it serves its purpose. Men like this are easy enough to knock down as a rule, for the simple reason that standing at all is a considerable trouble to them. But unless they are very far gone in drink they will rise, little the worse for the fall, and make for you again. It is always disgusting to hit a drunken man, but it frequently has to be done—and it is as well to remember how difficult it is to make any impression on him.

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