Traditional Boxing Rules

There is some interest in reviving the traditional boxing contest of the early 18th century because it is a realistic combat ruleset allowing bareknuckle punching, strikes, wrestling and throws - and therefore it represents a very close match to modern street defence. The issues this raises are:
  • How close to the old boxing should it be?
  • How to provide a structured progression from novice through intermediate and open class.
  • Will the novice class use gloves - if so, what type?
  • Should any groundwork be allowed? (It sometimes was, in the early years.)
  • Do the rules need to prevent kick/knee as will be used in modern fighting?
  • Do we need elbow pads?
  • Should headbutts be allowed, as in Burmese boxing?


Modern hybrid boxing systems are highly efficient for urban street defence but there is no way to contest them accurately. Thai boxing and modern bareknuckle fights each have aspects of the right approach. MMA has far too much emphasis on groundwork to be an exact match for modern street defence, since going to the ground can prove fatal in what may turn out to be a multi-opponent battle. Vale Tudo is basically MMA with no rules and therefore too much time is spent on the ground for a sensible equivalent to street usage.

The early 18th century English boxing rules were closer to modern urban street defence than anything else either before or since.

About contests

A fighter can only develop fighting ability in fights. It cannot be gained in the gym. The gym provides the tools needed to start the real learning process, which is in fights.

Clearly it is better to develop this ability with a referee present, as without one an engagement can have serious consequences. Therefore the fighter needs to be able to compete. There are numerous ring codes which are applicable; the closest to our requirements - as few rules as possible, minimal groundwork - is Thai boxing. There is no need to use a strict Thai style in these bouts since the rules allow punching, striking, stand-up wrestling, clinch hitting and throws; therefore a fighter competent at stand-up fighting with no rules or minimum rules can easily compete in this contest type. There is no need to kick, for example, if the fighter prefers not to. An even closer format is Burmese boxing aka Lethwei as it has handwrap/no-glove fights and allows headbutts. However such contests are (a) rare in the West, and (b) probably not suitable for many trainees.

Any of the regular boxing formats also apply. These include amateur boxing, pro boxing, unlicensed boxing and bareknuckle boxing. These are far more restricted and therefore limited to developing punching skills only.

Modern BKB boxing

Today's forms of bareknuckle boxing are nothing like old-time boxing. They are all simply modern boxing without gloves. The biggest in terms of the number of fights, in the UK, is traveller boxing: contests between (commonly) members of the traveller community. Next come official BKB fights, which are gaining ground.

These fights are all good for gaining bareknuckle experience - but are not related either to the old-time fights (which included strikes, wrestling and throws), or modern street boxing systems (which will also include Thai methods due to the superb short game the Thais developed, plus some of the kick/knee technique that is effective and safe for street use).

How to compete in traditional boxing

Therefore it should be fairly clear that modern street boxing is something of a unique and eclectic system, and difficult to contest accurately under any modern rules. Thai boxing is a very close ruleset to what we desire to use in practice - but has gloves; modern bareknuckle has some of the realism of traditional boxing but is simply today's boxing rules without gloves - nothing at all like the old fighting system. Burmese boxing uses handwraps and headbutts.

To contest the modern hybrid boxing systems requires a return to the old boxing rules because that is the only ruleset that approximates real-world fighting in the urban environment: no gloves or wraps, almost all striking and grappling allowed, minimal groundwork.

All punches, strikes, wrestling and throws must be allowed, with no timed rounds, no decision, and a 30-second time allowance to return to the mark after going down. Bouts could have a time limit such as 5 minutes for the novice class; 10 minutes for intermediate class; and 15 minutes for open class fights. Novice contests could have gloves (maybe the heavy padded MMA gym type), and the last 2 minutes judged for points. Intermediates could have the last 2 minutes judged for points. Open class would have no points decision: bouts are decided by KO (stoppage), Withdrawal (verbal or physical tap-out or equivalent), or RSF (referee stopped fight - a TKO equivalent). Title bouts could allow headbutts, and 10 second's unrestricted ground work.

It is fairly easy to tell realistic contests: the referee has little or no work to do. We can see this in the stand-up phase of MMA fights, and in Thai boxing bouts in Thailand. This is a simple metric to aim for because it always indicates realistic action. Bouts in which the referee is in effect the the third man in the fight are not in any way realistic.

The Traditional Boxing Rules

for modern contests allowing a full range of traditional boxing technique combined with modern advances in combat ..........

[placeholder - rules to be developed and added - your input welcomed]