Defense is not merely about avoiding punches. It is about minimizing damage, conserving energy, and putting yourself in a position to capitalize on opportunities.
A solid defense allows you to evade your opponent's strikes, minimize the impact of incoming punches, and create openings for effective counters.
By prioritizing defense, you can dictate the pace of the fight, frustrate your opponent, and increase your chances of victory.
In the words of the great Muhammad Ali, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see."
How and When to Defend
Before delving into specific defensive techniques, it is important to note that proper execution and training of these techniques should be supervised by a qualified coach.
The guidance of a trained coach is invaluable in correcting any mistakes and ensuring optimal performance.
For this reason, I won’t be giving you any tutorials on how to perform each defense but I will give you small tips and things to keep in mind while you do learn them with your coach
With that in mind, let's explore some common defensive techniques and when to utilize them.
What is it?
Head movement refers to defenses that are based around moving your head, This includes your slips, rolls, and lean backs.
What is it good for?
Head movement is mainly effective at a mid to long-range. This is because your opponent's punches have a greater distance to travel. Which will give you that extra half a second to see it and react.
Another thing head movement is good for is changing the distance between you and your opponent. You can either step forward during your movement and close the distance allowing you to create an angle that is ideal for counters.
Or you can step back during the movement and create distance in order to get out of danger and give yourself a second to breathe.
The final main thing that head movement is good for is showboating.
There is no doubt that avoiding multiple punches by simply moving your head is an extremely difficult and impressive thing to do.
So even though it is extremely risky, head movement is a great way to show off your skills
Although I only recommend it when you're sparring with your mates, no one around and you simply want to remind him who’s number 1.
As I just mentioned, head movement is extremely risky and even though it may look cool there are some big downsides when performing these movements.
The first major risk is your opponent overwhelming you with a barrage of punches. You see one punch is easy to move around, two will require extra focus, three requires a lot of training and as the number of punches increases so does the chances of you being hit.
The best way to avoid this is to mix in a combination of hand defenses with your head movement so you aren't as vulnerable and easily overwhelmed.
Another thing you can do is only break out the head movement on a gunshy opponent.
The word “gunshy” means that they are afraid to throw punches and so the chances of them throwing a massive combination is extremely low.
However in order to make an opponent gunshy you will need to give him a reason,
Meaning you will have to be overpowering him and punish every bad decision he makes while the two of you are sparring.
The next problem you need to be cautious of is throwing yourself off balance.
A common problem with beginners is either leaning too far forward or too far backward when trying to slip.
This will throw you off balance meaning you won't be able to counter effectively.
Plus if you do this in an actual fight and your opponent pushes you instead of punching,
You may look like you have just been struck with a big hit and this could cause the ref to call an unnecessary 8 count.
On top of the risks, there are also some downsides.
For example, during the movements, your mind is so focused on your opponent's next punch
That you aren't trying to notice any flaws or tells your opponent might have.
This means even though you dodged the other guy's punches, you haven’t spent time figuring out how you can land your own punches.
The other big downside is the energy it takes to go through these movements.
It may not seem like much energy but then compare it to your basic hand movements and you will see that there is a serious difference.
Trust me anyone who has fought or even sparred a tough opponent will tell you…
“You can’t afford to waste any energy in the ring”
For these reasons, head movement is more effective in the later rounds and should only be used to either escape your opponent or create a strategic opportunity to punish your opponent.
What is it?
Catching is when you hold your backhand firmly in place and allow your opponent's punch to land in the palm of your glove.
This is mainly used for straights and uppercuts as it allows you to keep your hand close to your face so you aren’t as vulnerable.
A small tip for catching is to try and high-five the opponent's punch right before it hits your chin.
This is because if you don’t push your hand forward then you risk either the energy being transferred and you punch yourself in the face
Or your opponent's punch might go straight through your hand and land anyways.
Blocking is when you put your guard up and catch your opponent's punches with the back of either of your hands.
Blocking can be done with either of your hands or arms and works well for all punches thrown at your head or body.
A small tip for blocking. Try and twist with the punch as it is landing in your guard, if timed you time it right then the rotation will take away from the force of the punch and allow you to take less damage.
What is it good for?
Catching and blocking are most effective in the mid-short range.
Now it can and should be used in the long-range however less distance between you and your opponent make it easier to counter due to reasons that will be stated in the risks section.
But if you are at long range then these moves are extremely energy efficient,
So they can be useful if you need to take a second and try to catch your breath.
On top of allowing you to catch your breath, they also give you time to figure out your opponent.
What I mean by “figure out your opponent” is watching him punch and see if there are any patterns. For example…
- Does he have any tells for when he is about to punch
- Does he leave anything open when he’s about to punch
- Does he drop his hands at any stage
- What are the main punches and combinations he is throwing
- Is he starting to get tired
- What are his main strengths
- What are his main weaknesses
All of the answers to these questions will help you predict your opponent's next move and figure out how you can capitalize on it
However, the answers will change as the fight goes on and so you need to constantly be analyzing your opponent so he doesnt figure out how he can capitalize on you.
Why not long range
So why is catching and blocking not the most effective defense for countering at long range?
Well, the short answer is that on its own, it isn't effective for closing the distance between you and your opponent.
You see if you block and catch alone with no head movement and no counters then all you are doing is eating punches.
Even though you block them on your guard, they will still go through and hit you with some force.
So if you just walk forward and catch/block all the punches then you will look and feel like a human punching bag.
Plus your opponent will be under little pressure which will make it easy for him to move back and angle out as he continues to jab your face off.
But there is one way to do it.
If you can catch their straight and spring forward with a perfectly timed and explosive counter.
You may catch them off guard and land some damaging punches.
Now I still recommend it at mid to short range due to it being safer and more efficient. However, there are 6 main things you must be aware of in order to do it effectively and not get scored on.
1. Don't over twist
Earlier I mentioned that you should twist when you block punches in order to redirect the force of the punch.
This is still true but a common mistake I see is people overtwisting which always leads to them either throwing themselves off balance
Or putting themselves in a position where they can no longer see their opponent.
The reason both these scenarios are bad is because not only can you not counter but if your opponent throws a follow-up punch,
You either won't be able to move or you won’t even see it coming.
So even though you should still twist.
It should be a small twist that shifts your weight from 1 foot to another, winds up the counter punch, and allows you to keep your eye on your opponent.
2. Don't catch it too far away from your face
This is a problem that every beginner will have to overcome at some point.
The main problem most have when catching is that they either anticipate it too much or they don’t time it right.
This leads to them catching the punch way too far away from their chin.
And if you do this and your opponent feints and then follows up with a lead hook,
You will get HIT.
For this reason, be careful not to catch your opponent's punch too far away from your face and after you do catch it, make sure your hand comes right back to your chin.
3. For body shots keep elbows tucked
Flaring elbows is another problem with beginners.
Not only does this leave your body open for a hard smack to the liver.
But even if you manage to catch that body shot.
Your elbow is just going to receive the momentum and you will end up elbowing yourself in the body.
Trust me, no matter how tough you think you are. If that elbow hits the right spot,
You will go down
So make sure when blocking body shots that your guard is tight and your elbows are always touching your body.
4. Don't let your opponent shift your guard
Even though you should never let your opponent do this to you,
You should also try and do this to your opponent.
What am I talking about?
When the guard is up, you cannot protect your whole body without moving.
So one technique is to punch one area multiple times to direct your guard and then quickly capitalize on the spot that is now available.
For example, I might only throw straight punches to the head in order to make my guard high and central,
Then I can throw an extremely hard curved shot to the side of your body which is now made open.
The point here is that you should always be aware of what areas your opponent is punching and also be aware of the areas that are open
So you have an idea of where your opponent might be trying to punch.
5. Don't keep your guard for too long
The reality is that even when you block shot, some of the momentum is still hitting you and doing damage.
It may be a lot less damage but over long periods these small amounts can compound to seriously affect how well you can think and react.
For this reason, you cannot hold your guard up the entire fight and you should always be looking to counter your opponent as fast as possible.
This style of defense is good to catch your breath but once you feel better, you need to go in and try to score some points or try to seriously hurt your opponent.
6. Breathe out when you catch your punch
This mainly concerns shots to the body because the right body shot can feel like you’ve been hit with a sledgehammer.
Unfortunately the right body shot(in the liver for example) is going to drop you no matter how much you try and fight it.
But there is a way to decrease the pain for the body shots that don’t damage vital organs.
By breathing out you increase the duration of impact. Which will decrease the force due to a greater time span.
Similar to how the front of your car was made weaker so it has a crumple zone if you ever got into a crash.
So even though some shots will still damage you, if you can breathe out during the impact then it will require more power and better placement in order to hit that sweet spot.
What is it?
Parrying refers to smacking the side of their glove right as it approaches your face.
This is similar to catching only you hit the side of their glove instead of letting the glove hit your hand.
What is it good for?
Unlike catching, you should not try to parry uppercuts as they are most effective on straight punches.
One of the reasons they are so effective is because they not only throw the opponent off balance due to the sudden change in weight distribution.
But they also restrict his ability to punch while setting up the counter.
For example, let's say he throws a jab. I can either parry on the inside of his glove, which forces his hand out of the way and exposes his left side for a counter.
Or I can part the outside of his glove which crosses his body and makes him unable to throw his right hand.
This allows me to counter, create space or catch my breath while he is trying to regain his balance and return to his proper guard.
This defense is also good for conserving energy, creating and closing the distance
But due to it only being effective with straight punches, it is mainly effective in the mid to long range.
The risk for these are extremely similar to the risks of catching.
You need to be careful not to bring your hand too far from your face and once you do parry,
Your hand needs to return straight back to your chin to defend against potential counters.
Another risk that was previously discussed is parrying too softly.
That punch is going to come at you hard and fast meaning if you give it a little love tap then it is going straight through the parry and hitting you square in the nose.
For this reason, you need to make sure that every parry is fast and firm, to knock that punch off course and give you enough time to capitalize on your opponent's change in positioning.
The main use of defensive footwork is to simply step back and out of range. This is the only footwork defense you should use on its own.
You certainly can step forward, to either side or pivot off.
But you must always incorporate either blocking, catching, or head movement with it to avoid becoming a human punching bag.
For example, when you step forward you want to add in a slip or a roll to move your head away from your opponent's line of fire.
What is it good for?
Footwork (if used properly) can be effective at any range.
If you are at long range then you can step in while your opponent is punching and close the distance so that you are in range for an effective counter.
If you are in mid-range then you can either step back to create space and give yourself time to think. Or similar to long-range, you have the option to step in and close the distance
Or if you are in close range then you can use footwork to pivot or shift your body to the side, in order to throw your opponent off and create an angle for another effective counter.
Like all defenses, there are some risks and some things you must be aware of while performing these moves.
The first thing you need to be cautious of is throwing yourself off balance. If you dont have experience performing these moves then you are going to throw yourself off balance at least once in the ring.
This is why it is important to practice it on the bag and while shadowboxing but also keep in mind that it is completely different once your opponent is moving and punching back. Although like anything else in boxing, once you master it, you’ll be able to make your opponent dizzy without even thinking about it.
Another thing you need to realize is that these movements will take up a lot of energy and burn your legs in the process.
So if you decide that you do want to use a lot of footwork in your sparring then I recommend doing a lot of running and building up your leg endurance to handle the high-energy output.
Now I understand that improving leg endurance can be a painful and annoying thing
But unfortunately, it is something that all boxers must do.
If you do want to make the process slightly less painful and annoying then I recommend checking out our Boxrope.
I’ll be honest it won’t take away the burn from your hard-skipping sessions
But it will take away the unnecessary inconvenience of your rope tangling up or feeling off-balance and hard to use.
Anyways the final problem with footwork is that each movement is only helpful in certain scenarios.
For example, angling to the side is a great way to direct your opponent when he is in a corner.
But if you try it in the middle of the ring then there is a great chance that he is simply going to step back, out of your range and there is nothing that you can do about it.
On the other hand, stepping forward might be great when you're in the middle of the ring and you want to push your opponent back.
But if you have your opponent in a corner then stepping forward will make it easier for him to counter or clinch up and throw you into the corner.
So if you do want to use footwork to defend yourself and throw off your opponent.
It is crucial to study and practice exactly when and how to use these movements so that you don’t accidentally make it easier for your opponent to punch you.
In conclusion, defense plays a crucial role in boxing and can significantly impact the outcome of a fight.
By prioritizing defense, you can evade your opponent's punches, minimize damage, and create opportunities for effective counters.
The techniques we discussed, such as head movement, catching/blocking, parrying, and footwork, provide different tools for defensive strategies at various ranges.
However, it's important to remember that defense should be complemented with offensive techniques and that proper training and guidance from a qualified coach are essential for mastering defensive skills.
So, next time you step into the ring, don't underestimate the power of a solid defense, as it can be the key to victory.
As the great boxing trainer Cus D'Amato said, "The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, and projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters."
So embrace the fear, hone your defensive skills, and become a formidable force in the boxing ring.
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