How Boxing Benefits Martial Arts Training

Hello everyone. So for those of you who know me or have read some of my previous posts, you may know that I am a big advocate of cross training. The concept of stylistic purity is outdated and serves no useful purpose. For example, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is my primary art. But I make room in my schedule to also train in Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling, and of course, the Sweet Science: Boxing. The pugilistic path of Boxing can benefit any martial arts practitioner, regardless of which style(s) you currently practice. It’s an effective training supplement even if you can only do it once a week. 

The gentlemanly art of Fisticuffs: Brad Pickett and Ian McCall prepare to give each other what for!

Now, to clarify a couple of points: I am not saying you should replace your main fighting discipline with boxing. Still spend the majority of your training time on whatever your martial art of choice is. Just add a little boxing into your weekly routine. Whether you do it one day a week or a few, always remember that consistency is key. So don’t skip weeks, just commit to doing it, minimum once per week. I am also not suggesting that you will become a super slick, skilled, pro level boxer by training just once per week. That’s ridiculous. I am stating that a minimum of consistent, focused training will help you become a more well rounded martial artist, regardless of what your primary style is.

Here is a quick rundown of things boxing will help you improve:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • footwork
  • head and body movement
  • cardio & conditioning
  • hand speed
  • timing
  • creating new angles of attack
  • defense against punches
  • and, of course, punching

Another benefit worth mentioning, from a self-defense standpoint, getting punched in the face in a controlled environment is good for you. As Mike Tyson has famously pointed out, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” You could drill forms, techniques and katas all day but if you have no clue what it feels like to get punched, you will lose all composure if it happens to you in a real fight. All your training could be for naught if you haven’t the mental and physical preparation of getting hit and working through it. So, once you start to get comfortable with your boxing, talk to your coach about sparring. It’ll give you an honest gauge of your skills and condition you to work through the pressure of getting wailed on.

So how does this pertain to other martial art styles?

“A good boxer isn’t just someone who punches well, a good boxer is someone who moves well.

Martial Arts Nerd

Striking Disciplines

If your primary discipline involves striking, such as Muay Thai, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing, etc. then I think the benefit of supplementing it with Boxing is pretty self-apparent; Boxers have the best punches of any fighting style because that is literally what boxing is about; the most effective ways to throw punches. Being that boxers throw punches all day, they also have a very deep understanding of how to defend against punches via slips, parries, bobbing and weaving, and counter-punching. But another important and oft overlooked aspect of the sweet science is that it also teaches superior footwork, head movement and over all maneuvering. A good boxer isn’t just someone who punches well, a good boxer is someone who moves well. Their movements are precise and practical, and predicated on small details that yield big results. So in learning boxing, you learn to perfect your punches, defend against skilled (and unskilled) punchers, and use good footwork and body movement to not only defend yourself but to also create angles of attack against your opponent.

The famed Bruce Lee, known for his fast and powerful strikes, studied Boxing to improve his own style. Lee has famously stated that legendary boxer Muhammed Ali would beat him in a fight.

Now, before any style-supremacists get their panties in a bunch, I am not saying Boxing is a superior art overall; I am just stating the obvious fact that it teaches the best punching technique overall. Boxing, as a style, has its own shortcomings in that it doesn’t address kicks, grappling, takedowns, etc. Again, one of the recurring themes of my blog is the importance of cross training, because I don’t believe there is any one discipline that has it all. This is true not just in martial arts but in life as well: there are always things you can learn from other schools of thought outside of your own. Study religious traditions outside of your own. Consider political ideas outside of your tribe. Ponder philosophical concepts that may be new to you. I digress.

If you do Muay Thai, Dutch Kickboxing or any style of Kickboxing really, you probably have strong punches and kicks, and an aggressive, square stance. Add in a little boxing and your punches are a little crisper, and your footwork cleaner. You can find more angles off your opponent’s attacks. If you do Karate or Tae Kwon Do, you probably have a very wide stance and very linear footwork. A wide arsenal of kicks from different angles. Maybe some punches with power but nothing that could touch a boxer. Add a little pugilism to your routine, in a few months your footwork will be more dynamic, creating new angles that perhaps your classmates haven’t thought of. And naturally, it’s Boxing, so, it will add some dimension to your punching and counter punching.

Fun historical side note: Modern Muay Thai schools teach the use of the lead hand jab, as found in Boxing. However, this isn’t a part of ancestral Muay Thai; punches from the traditional style were simple and powerful, while most of the discipline focused on powerful kicks, knees, elbows and a mean clinch known as the Thai Plum. However, from exposure to and competition with western fighting styles, such as Boxing, Muay Thai coaches observed the versatility of the lead hand jab and now you can pretty much find it at the vast majority of Muay Thai and Kickboxing Schools in the US. Martial Arts evolve when exposed to other styles (or at least, they should). And cross training allows us to evolve as individual martial artists.

Grappling Disciplines

I may be biased but I think grappling is pretty great. Styles of this variety include Wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jiu Jitsu and Sambo. I myself love Jiu Jitsu, but every grappler should know some basics of striking, and more importantly, how to defend against strikes. Sure, if someone punched you in a fight you could just duck under and take them down… or could you? Even a quarter-decent striker isn’t just going to hold his punch out there so you can easily duck under it and do a sick takedown. They are going to punch quickly and move around. They will probably punch hard in an effort to knock you out before you can get close enough to grapple. And they will probably keep their legs and hips away from you to avoid your takedowns. But, a grappler who consistently studies boxing will be able to negate all these things. 

The venerable “Judo” Gene LeBell doing what he does best; choking people and making mean faces.

A good example is grappling legend “Judo” Gene LeBell, who knows Judo, Wrestling, and even Sambo and Jiu Jitsu. Turns out, he also knows a lot about Boxing, but he doesn’t use it to hit people. Rather, he uses superior footwork to avoid striking attacks and get close enough to do mean Judo and Wrasslin’ things. He’s famously beaten up Boxers this way before; by understanding what they know, and then using it to force his grappling game on them. Other grapplers have followed suit. The modern MMA fighter has at least a rudimentary understanding of the sweet science.

“Judo” Gene LeBell takes on boxer Milo Savage. LeBell was able to use boxing footwork and movement to avoid Savage’s strikes and get in close enough to use his Judo and Wrestling to secure a victory.

In Rickson Gracie’s autobiography “Breathe”, he laments how the sport competition aspect of BJJ has somewhat diminished the self-defense aspect; in his view, a Jiu Jitsu blue belt should know how to defend against punches. But modern practitioners tend to focus on just grappling for competition, and have no idea what it’s like to get hit (this in of itself could be a topic for another article). Rickson even writes about how in the early days of his BJJ club in Los Angeles, he would sometimes have a boxer put on gloves, and make his students practice trying to take the boxer down so they could have that practical experience of knowing what it’s like trying to take someone down while they are actively punching you. 

Internal Disciplines

So these styles are referred to as “internal” because they offer more of an internal benefit such as inner calm or body maintenance, but have no practical self defense application. Examples include Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Aikido. The fact that I would put Aikido in this category instead of “grappling” may ruffle some feathers. Although I respect that everyone has a unique martial arts journey, and I try to be respectful of all styles, I am also very blunt and honest. I’m not going to pretend that Aikido, or any of these styles, can stand up to Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, Judo or Sambo when it’s been proven time and time again that they can’t. My first real fight teacher, Jaime Vasquez, had black belts in Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Aikido. He stated that in terms of fights, he’s always relied on Judo and Jiu Jitsu (and Boxing of course) for self defense. However, he chose to attain his belt in Aikido because of how Aikido made him feel. It offered him a sense of spiritual tranquility. That is one of the benefits of an internal martial art. As Jaime was fond of saying, “I do Aikido for inner peace, but Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Boxing for outer peace.”

Internal martial arts such as Tai Chi can improve balance, flexibility and aerobic function. The movements help loosen up joints, massage internal organs, and improve the practitioner’s over all mood.

Here are some other examples of what makes an internal martial art useful: Qi Gong, for instance, teaches breathing techniques that have been shown to reduce stress. I personally know some veterans with PTSD, and the breathing techniques found in Qi Gong have helped them immensely in dealing with their trauma. Another good example is Tai Chi, the movements of which loosen and lubricate the joints and massage the internal organs. Tai Chi is actually very beneficial for self-care. I have great respect for the internal benefits these disciplines offer, and encourage their study for those purposes. But I would never tell you that you can defend yourself with these styles, and in fact, I strongly encourage skepticism of anyone who claims otherwise.

Having said all that, the benefit of Boxing part time should be readily apparent for internal martial artists: If doing one of these styles makes you happy, then continue doing it, by all means! Adding a small but consistent amount of weekly Boxing to your schedule though will give you more practical self-defense options. Even if you chose an internal style because you hate violence, as stated earlier in this article, a decent boxer isn’t just someone who punches. You can develop your boxing skills to evade your would-be attackers. Not to mention the additional health benefits Boxing brings to the table, such as the improved hand coordination, stamina, endurance, footwork, etc.

No matter what your primary style is, working boxing drills into your schedule will be beneficial in your martial arts journey.

So to recap, if you are a striker, Boxing will make your punches more effective, while providing you with better footwork to evade, defend, and create new angles of attack. If you are a grappler, Boxing will help you develop some striking, but more importantly, give you the tools to evade strikers and work past their attacks so you can get close to them to work your grappling game. And if you are an internal stylist, Boxing will offer you some practical self-defense options as well as supplement the physical benefits of your discipline with a little extra coordination and cardio. All styles benefit from studying Boxing. One last note, I use the example of training once per week as a supplement to your main art. I will reiterate, this is useless if you are not consistent. If you decide to add Boxing to your regimen, even if it’s only once per week, you must be consistent! You can’t just sometimes do it and then fuck off for a few weeks at a time. Once you make the commitment to do it on whatever night (or nights if you are able to commit to more than once per week), stick with it. After a couple months of consistent training, you’ll start to notice the difference.

As always, I hope this article provided some food for thought. Remember to breathe, and happy training!

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