Street Boxing

Street Boxing is boxing modified to work for self-defence. Some changes have to be made to the modern gloved sport form of boxing: for example to avoid breaking the hands; to defend against holds and throws; and to use throws where appropriate - just as in old English boxing.

Who invented it?

Nobody - it is a training method taught by individual coaches in order to deal with the problem that although boxing itself is a highly effective combat method, the modern version of it has serious weaknesses for street survival.

Indeed, the old bareknuckle boxing system was far more useful for any kind of real fighting or self-defence - because it was a true fighting system in every sense of the word. It was a comprehensive combat system comprising punching, striking, throwing and wrestling, with a parallel training system in weapons. The only reason we need anything from modern boxing is because of the technical advances in defence, movement, and angles. Traditional boxing was light years better for actual fighting, since that is what it was designed for: it was nothing to do with sport. It was a road defence system, used for hundreds of years; later, some of the bigger men started taking part in challenge matches, for wagers (bets).

Thousands trained, but only a very few took part in the challenge matches. Part of the reason for that was that the winners were generally big men who were expert with weapons as well as unarmed combat: the matches were openweight, of three untimed rounds to the KO or submission (no points decisions), using sword, staff, and unarmed combat (boxing). The injuries received were, essentially, battlefield wounds.

A modern practical boxing method

A good, modern boxing system for actual fighting will be based on the old boxing method - but with modern or global boxing additions and improvements, if they contribute to rather than compromise the system.

To put it simply: modern punching methods are based on having almost bombproof hand protection; plus, real fighting often involves some standing wrestling and throws; and global boxing systems such as Thai boxing have a huge contribution to make in the areas of short-range fighting, practical kicks, and small-man technique.

Fixing it: making boxing better for the street

This page is an outline of what street boxing is, and a rough guide to what needs to be done to go about properly constructing your own version of it - since there is no set syllabus, or any association for gyms. We already did that development over 25 years, and the following is a list of what you need to realise, to accept, and to do, if you likewise want to do the job properly.

Street boxing as a self-defence method

Of course you can box for self-defence. Boxing is an exceptionally effective self-defence method when done right.

There are some issues to be faced, though, for a modern sport boxer - since breaking your hand on the first opponent of three is not optimal, and being grabbed and thrown is generally a bad idea on the street; and modern boxers are the weakest of all fighters with regard to defence against throws - something that would make James Figg spin in his grave. Figg, the first recognised champion of challenge matches and therefore English boxing champion, was a wrestler, slugger and weapons expert. He generally won the weapons round, then in the boxing / unarmed combat round he would slug the opponent, throw them, then strangle ('choke') them out on the ground - as that was all permitted in English boxing in his day. There are no rules in a fighting system.

Indeed, English boxing in the early 18th century is what today we would call Vale Tudo or no-rules fighting. In fact this is a guide to what we have to do: go back to when boxing was an all-round fighting system (they also used a range of weapons such as swords and staves ['staffs'], but we can ignore that for now) - since fighting for real requires a lot more than modern sport boxing offers.

Modern boxing is fast and technical, with excellent movement and punch defence. What it isn't is a fighting method. You can certainly win a lot of fights with it - check out all the YouTube clips of boxers beating others on the street; but if these wins are analysed, they tend to be unarmed opponents of low ability, or dummies who line up to get whacked. A combat system does not operate on the lowest common denominator, like this - ideally it prepares you for better, stronger opposition.

If you want to build a fighting system based on boxing, you first have to ask basic questions such as, "How will we deal with two opponents, one in front, one behind, and the one behind has you in a bear hug with your arms trapped?". These sorts of situations are commonplace in street confrontations. And that is only the beginning, of course.

So, moving on, here is some of the detail:

  • Modern boxing is not designed for fighting with no gloves, no rules and multiple opponents.
  • Therefore it helps to modify the moves, make some additions, and adjust the strategy.
  • Boxing is good for disposing of unskilled opponents fast (though it is not unique in that respect), and overcoming semi-skilled opponents reliably - this is its greatest strength and should be played to.
  • Boxing is also very good for beating skilled opponents who didn't box much - as long as you can avoid getting caught by their moves first. So you have to be familiar with various fighting methods and not just boxing.
  • Multiple opponent fighting is a weak area because it isn't trained for - it needs specific skills and training.
  • Modern boxing is almost entirely dependent on having the hands well-protected with gloves and heavy wraps. Without those, you need fists of granite - or a different strategy.
  • Modern boxing is a combat method conducted at one range and in one mode: at medium range, standing up. Anywhere outside of those parameters it is either weak or useless. That has to be fixed, in order to create a realistic fighting method.

Because of this, old-time bareknuckle boxing is a better starting point for self-defence boxing as it was a fighting method and didn't require gloves and wraps. At first there were no rules, so strikes and throws were used as well. In addition their punching was different in many ways to that of today's boxing. They also trained with weapons, which is probably advisable today too.

Modern boxing has made significant technical advantages, but it isn't a fighting method, and it depends on well-protected hands. Therefore, these issues have to be fixed before you can go any further. There is simply no point in continuing until these problems have been resolved; you can't punch attackers in the head in the same manner as in ring fights; and you can't take it to the street when as soon as you're dealing with one guy, the other one behind you gets you in a bear hug and you have no defence. Some additions and adjustments are clearly needed.

So your street boxing method by necessity is going to be very different to the modern ring contest method. It's going to need different punches, different tactics, and some decent wrestling ability. Or you lose, maybe badly. For sure, you can use the core system, as it is brilliant for fighting - just not in the form used in today's ring contests. There's nothing wrong with the basic principles and method - just the current practice.

Once you have got past that realisation and decided to fix it somehow - then by all means go for it.

Creating a street boxing system

First of all, street boxing is anything you want it to be. No doubt you're going to base it on boxing somehow, if you're using that name. There are a lot of ways you could build a system that works for street survival based on boxing - and they are all valid, assuming they work.

The only way to know if it is (a) a system not a cobbled-up method, and (b) if it works, is to test it for real. Then get feedback, change waht needs changing, and develop it. A system is a method that has been developed to produce something better than just the moves it contains: it has logic, synergy and a multiplication of effectiveness. It is greater than the sum of the parts: synergy. To get there takes a few years of experimenting, developing and testing for real, and it would be hard to do that in less than ten years, from scratch.

At the Croydon Gym we developed a street boxing system over more than two decades that could be modified for use in various ring contest codes.

Where to start?

It makes a lot of sense to start out with the old bareknuckle fighting system of England's 18th century prizefighting, since they fought at first with no rules apart from conventions between the fighters such as that eye gouges would not be used. Almost everything else was allowed.

The fighting system - it's hard to call it boxing, now, as it was nothing like what we call boxing today - used different fist forms from today's boxing; different punches; it used strikes of all kinds including spins; clinching was allowed ad lib (= as much as you like); and of course throws were used. In the early years of the 18th century, before all the rules started to come in, boxers would sometimes continue on the ground - as all could wrestle as well as punch, since wrestling was part of boxing and not prohibited, and of course anyone who couldn't wrestle to basic level would quickly be thrown. They didn't prioritise for ground work because a fighting system designed for road defence against multiple / armed assailants is not going to use that, since anyone on the ground would probably die. Nobody fights on the ground when there are multiple attackers, or knives, swords and cudgels are being used.

So your new system will take full advantage of those old methods, since they knew so very well how to fight: how to punch without breaking the hand, how to strike, how to throw.

One of the first things you might notice in many old prints of bareknuckle fights is that they used a vertical fist for straight punches. There are several good reasons for this - but you won't have any clue why (to be honest: we didn't, either, at the start of the process in the late 1970's) - till you use this method yourself in barefist fights. And then you will see why.

Next: add some modern boxing

Now we'll add the advanced technical stuff from modern boxing - like the angled hooks. They had nothing like it in the old days since they used a different fight method.

Modern guards and movement have a place too: we don't like to get hit too much, but they regarded it as inevitable and were proud of their ability to take punishment. For example in the Royal Navy sailing ships of that era, off watch and below decks, two sailors would fight a match for bets with a crowd cheering them on: they would be seated on a large log, probably a spare spar (a length of wood that could be turned into a yard or mast), and their legs were tied down onto it so they were in a seated position, face to face, a couple of feet apart. They couldn't move in any direction. They then proceeded to batter each other until one was unconscious or unable to continue.

So we can see that (a) life was tougher then, and (b) we respect defence in a way they did not. Defence is good.

No spray & pray

What we cannot do is use the modern sport boxing tactics of spray & pray, where dozens of shots at the head are fired off in the hope that something lands, somewhere on the head. Nope: that doesn't work. Too easy to break your hands. It is specifically for, and only viable in, an environment where the hands are well-protected by heavy wraps and gloves. Instead we use the old bareknuckle method of targeted shots plus strikes:

  • Always aim below the eye line. Never punch higher than the eye line. Never risk hitting above the eye line. Pick your target specifically and don't just flail away: aim for one of the preferred targets such as the jaw, nose, or left eye. Or the body.
  • If you're confident of where it's going to hit, and it's low on the face: punch, and punch hard.
  • If you're not sure if it will hit low on the face, and it might hit hard skull, then use a snap punch - both left and right snap punches are used in bareknuckle fighting.
  • If you think there's a good chance you'll hit skull, or you can't target it precisely, then use a strike: a hit that doesn't use the fist.

And there are several other reasons for when strikes not punches are used.

Thai boxing

There are all kinds of boxing, and the Thais have a well-developed and highly effective version of it, especially good for small people in its pure form. It's boxing, and therefore it fits in perfectly with any other kind of boxing.

What they developed in Indochina - in Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia, and with similar methods of boxing in each of those countries - was a way small men could hit hard and fight effectively. The average bodyweight in days past was 120 pounds though a little less in the fights, although the average weight is a little larger in ring fights today.

For people this weight, punching is the least effective of any kind of attack: they can hit harder with everything else. Therefore, everything else became better developed than their punching - which is why we use these other moves.

What the Thais are famous for is that they took the international boxing admin system - ring, gloves, weight divisions, rounds and so on - but left the old technique as it was.

While the British were gradually removing all the other fighting moves from boxing apart from forefist strikes, the Thais left all that in; and then in 80 years or so under the new admin system introduced in the mid-1930s they supercharged the old method until, on average, nobody in the world could beat them in a no-rules stand-up fight with gloves optional at under 130 pounds, during the golden era of 1960 - 1980. (The Thais keep their 6 ounce gloves on in such fights as you can hit harder.) A lot of people tried, and they were mostly carried out of the ring after a round 1 KO. The rest, in round 2. After that, everyone else borrowed their technique and training methods; the Thai supremacy came to an end when everybody else used some of it in their own systems.

The Thais have a lot to offer a practical boxer. Some of it is not practical for Westerners or larger people - and especially, for large Westerners - but there is a lot of good material in there. They also use similar wrestling and throws to that in old English boxing before it was censored, and that allows us to see exactly how a boxer can use throws and wrestling optimally.


Practical fighting without any wrestling knowledge is a bad idea. It is also impossible in mob brawls as you will get taken down or trip or fall or otherwise somehow end up on the ground.

Modern boxers are the easiest of all fighters to throw. That is an important point to remember if you're basing your street method on boxing: after changing your fist positions, punching technique, and tactics: then throws and defence against them are going to be your next priority.


Better remember that as it's important - it is especially so with multiple opponents, less important in a duel (a safe 1-on-1 where no one else will get involved and no weapon is produced by the opponent when he finds he's losing). Duels are not all that reliable a bet in many places though - suddenly more people are involved in the scuffle...


Some of the reasons strikes are used are laid out above. There are others too. Esentially, restricting yourself to punches only is an artificially limited way of fighting, and makes no sense when there are no rules.

Range and target type
Boxing with punches only has one good range out of the 4 possible in fighting, and one mode out of the 2 where you can go.

Fighting has 3 modes: stand-up, ground fighting and weapons. Unarmed fighting has 2 modes: stand-up and ground fighting. Fighting in stand-up mode has 4 ranges: long range, medium range, short range, and body-to-body.

Modern sport boxing has one mode: stand-up; and it has one good range only: medium range. This shows where the limitations are.

Some boxers are reasonable at short range, but they are not common. Against a Thai boxer's holds, knees, elbows and throws (and punches - but they won't use them short as they're so weak compared to the alternatives), they are not competitive at all. The Thai striking methods are way more efficient at short range.

Strikes in general are a good bet when the target is not at medium range and not a guaranteed soft or easy hit; an elbow strike can hit the skull with impunity, indeed that is its home turf.

The modern boxer has no defence against effective long-range moves such as some kicks; or against effective short-range moves such as throws, which are supremely easy to use on them at the body-to-body range.

So: a conventionally-trained modern international-style boxer has to keep it standing and keep it at medium range. Often - particularly with unskilled opposition - they can do this. Indeed the YouTube videos of skilled boxers knocking over dummies is without number.

However, against *skilled* fighters things are not so easy, because the practised opponent knows that the one place they *don't* want to be with a boxer is at medium range, standing up. And in a brawl, with several people fighting and multiple assailants, a modern boxer has little chance of staying on his feet because it is impossible to keep everyone else at arm's length.

In our gym testing method called the Bundle, we found modern boxers without any cross-training in other methods hit great - but they are as easy to throw as a sack of feathers. Something has to be done about that.

Forming the fist

There are safer ways to punch than modern boxing. The old boxing didn't have any gloves and hand wraps, so they could not box using today's methods and tactics. They punched just fine though: using different fist positions from today, different tactics, and with some fist development.

You will need to do some work to toughen the fist. Fists come in all shapes and sizes: for example the 180 pound bricklayer's fist and the 130 pound office worker's fist. Even the brickie will benefit from some work on the knuckles; the office worker should think about a major upgrade.

We can just toughen the skin on the knuckles, and add some callus - or we can remodel the hand to some extent.

Any part of the body, bone or muscle, can be modified. The X-ray images of a pro tennis player's master arm versus the other arm, and the skeletons of archers, ship's gunners and swordsmen of the past make this abundantly clear (see the records of the recovery of the wreck of the Mary Rose, for excellent evidence). Bone can be both thickened and made more dense, and thus stronger; cartilage can be reprofiled; the tendon path in the knuckle can be protected; callus can be added on top. These are simple facts and inarguable.

Doing a little work on the fist provides a good tool for the job, as they well knew in the past.

So now you have your streetboxing method, OK?

Well - it's good, but so far it's just a cobbled-together mix of useful stuff.

We worked for 20 years, at Croydon and a little before that, on developing it into a system that works on the cobbles; in the famous local mob brawls; for nightclub door work; in Thai boxing contests; and in every kind of boxing.

You are most welcome to benefit from that accumulated experience - I don't coach fighters any longer, and therefore have no need of an edge.

Gym sessions and seminars are free if I can drive there; a train fare if it's too far; and soon we'll have some books out too.

How is practical boxing different from street boxing?

Street boxing is an optimised version of boxing for a specific purpose. However a basic law of fighting is that ability to fight is directly related to the number of fights a person has had. You can see this very clearly in the vast gulf of difference between a novice fighter and a veteran. It has very little to do with gym time, and everything to do with the number of fights the person had. Ability to fight is learned in fighting, not in any gym.

This presents difficulties for street-optimised methods, as the only way to get any good at fighting is to fight. It is the basic law of fighting competence. Indeed this is one reason why experienced contest fighters are often good in or out of a ring - they fight a lot.

Boxing though offers us a method we can use to improve the fighting skills of our street method trainees: fight in the ring too. Obviously there is a basic problem here: throws are not well-received in the amateur boxing ring. However it is remarkably easy to train boxers to be able to fight across codes: to fight well under all the various boxing-related contest rules and in street survival too. For the last 40 years it has been commonplace to see boxers fighting across the codes in their preferred choices of amateur boxing, pro boxing, kickboxing, Thai boxing - and now MMA - without any problems. They soon learn to optimise the method used for the circumstances, by training to do so.

Practical boxing is the combination of street and ring methods so that the boxer can move easily and fluently between the two. One is for survival, one is for racking up fight experience.

Fighting across codes

A good fighter is a flexible fighter: they adapt, and they can fight across codes or environments. A capable fighter is one who can both adapt and win across at least two environments: for example, amateur boxing and Thai boxing. Today this is considered normal. Boxers who win across two radically different codes such as amateur boxing and Thai boxing show clearly that this is not a major problem - it's a challenge that many overcome.

In case you think it is not possible to fight well across codes at elite level, one of the all-time greatest international-style pro boxers of all time, and therefore a Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, is the Thai boxing and international boxing world champion Khaosai Galaxy. He was a two-weight international boxing world champion and retired after defending his world boxing title successfully 19 times straight. This is not just an unusual achievement, it is phenomenally hard to achieve, which is why he is one of the all-time greats. Some fighters are talked of as 'great' when they didn't even defend a title once, although such talk is fatuous at best: multiple successful title defences are ultimately the only possible way to measure a fighter's real ability, great or not.

Boxers fighting across codes are almost without number. Adding another option into the mix: effective street defence, is not going to change anything dramatically. They adapt. The ring fights contribute greatly to the fighter's overall ability in fights: a veteran fighter is a master of combat and it doesn't really matter if they can or cannot use X or Y moves specifically - ability in fighting has less and less relevance to specific technical content as skill increases, surprising as it may sound.

It is perfectly true that Thai boxing rules are the easiest for a good street boxer to fight under since hardly anything has to be removed to make the method legal. Probably headbutts are the only item of note. It all depends on the local Thai boxing rules of course - there is an enormous difference between rulesets in Thailand, never mind anywhere else: between the TV fight rules, or the country town stadium rules, or the kard chuek (no glove) fights, for example. However we also found that it is easy to fight under amateur boxing rules too, since they are so incredibly restricted - we just say, "Punches only, no large head movements" (you can't weave and roll in the amateurs), and it's more or less done. The fighters see it as two different combat types, and adapt accordingly.