Pugilism (Lat. pugil, a boxer), the art of fighting with the fists, practised in modern times according to certain rules, known as the rules of the English prize ring. It is said that Theseus was the inventor of the art of boxing, or the skilled use of the fists and arms in assault and defence. Homer describes pugilistic encounters, and Pollux, Hercules, and others are mentioned as excelling in pugilism. Boxing was one of the most important exercises in the Olympic games. The ancient pugilists fought with the cestus, formed of strips of leather wound around the fist and arm, fre-quently as far up as the elbow. This was sometimes studded over the fist with knobs loaded with lead or iron, and was practically the same as the brass knuckles of the present day. The cestus used by the Greeks was of various kinds, called The were the softest, and the the hardest. The rules of boxing in ancient times resembled those of the modern prize ring, except that wrestling was not permitted. The right arm was used chiefly in offence, the left arm serving to protect the person. The ears were much exposed to injury in the old games, and they were sometimes protected by covers. With the cestus, especially when loaded with knobs of metal, the ancient pugilistic encounters must have been terribly severe, resulting often in mutilation, and sometimes in death. At the Olympic games the boxers were usually naked, or wore simply a girdle around the loins. In the earliest times boxing at the games was permitted only between freemen and those who had not committed crime. Contests between boys were early introduced at Olympia. - The art of boxing, as now practised, may be said to date from the building in London of a theatre for exhibitions of the "manly art of self-defence" by one Broughton, about 1740. Broughton, who for 18 years was champion of England, is said to have invented boxing gloves. He held exhibitions in his theatre, and laid down certain rules for fighting, quite similar to those of the present day.
But for many years before the time of Broughton pugilistic encounters had been common at fairs and festivals in England. The funds for the erection of Broughton's theatre were provided by about 80 of the noblemen and gentry of England, and the encounters were witnessed by the best blood in the land, including the prince of Wales. Jackson, who was champion in 1795, is now regarded as having been one of the most skilful professors of the art. He gave instruction to many of the aristocracy, among whom were Lord Byron and Shaw, the life-guardsman. The prominent points in Jackson's system were the use of the legs in avoiding blows and the correct estimate of distance, striking no blows out of range. In 1817 the future emperor Nicholas of Russia witnessed a prize fight in England, and shook hands with the victor. Since that time the prize ring has gradually fallen into disrepute; but for a long time the principle of "fair play" was strictly adhered to in England. At the present day prize fighting is practised only in Great Britain and America. The brutality of such exhibitions has at last excited the general condemnation of society, and for more than half a century the practice has been under the ban of the law.
The rough character of the assemblages on such occasions, and the frequent "selling out" and fraud in the encounters, have disgusted those of the patrons and professors of the "manly art" who believed in fair play. It is thought that very few of the fights which have occurred within the past few years have been honestly conducted. - Although prize fighting has deservedly fallen into disrepute, many persons practise boxing for exercise and amusement, the rules being essentially those of the prize ring (commonly abbreviated to P. R.). The present rules are briefly as follows. The ring shall be on turf, formed of a square of 24 ft., bounded by a double line of ropes attached to eight stakes. The lower rope is 2 ft. and the upper 4 ft. from the ground. The choice of "corners" is determined by the toss of a coin. The winner of the choice selects his corner according to the state of the wind and the position of the sun, it being an advantage to have the sun in his opponent's face. The loser takes the opposite corner. A space is marked off in each corner large enough to accommodate the man, his second, and his" bottle-holder," who are allowed to attend their man in the ring. The colors of the men are tied around the stakes at their respective corners.
Each man names his second and bottle-holder. The seconds agree upon two umpires, one for each man. The umpires usually select a referee, unless one be agreed upon in some other way. The referee directs the contest, and decides the fight and all questions of fairness, and his decision is binding and final. The umpires watch the fight in the interests of their respective men, and call upon the referee for a decision regarding all questions of fairness. The referee withholds all expressions of opinion until he is appealed to by the umpires, or until the close of the fight. The referee and umpires are so placed as to be able to watch the fight, but no one is allowed within the ring except the men with their seconds and bottle-holders. The men are stripped before the fight by their seconds and dressed for the contest. The dress is usually knee breeches or drawers, stockings, and shoes, the soles of the shoes being provided with spikes three eighths of an inch long and one eighth of an inch broad at the points. The men are naked above the belt. The seconds and umpires see to it that no improper articles are used in the dress. The men are allowed nothing in their hands, and no resin or other sticky substance is allowed upon the fists.
One of the umpires is selected to act as time-keeper. It is his duty to call "time" at the expiration of 30 seconds after each round. If one of the contestants fails to come to "the scratch" within eight seconds after time has been called, he is considered to have lost the fight. The scratch is a straight line drawn through the centre of the ring between the two corners. The bottle-holder is provided with a bottle of water and a sponge, and it is the duty of the second and bottle-holder to take their man to his corner at the close of each round, render him all needed assistance there, and bring him to the scratch when time is called. The second and the bottle-holder are not permitted to approach their man during a round, or to give him advice at that time, and are cautioned not to injure the antagonist when they pick up their man at the close of a round. When the man cannot come to the scratch at the call of time, the second usually throws up the sponge as a token of defeat, and the victor takes his antagonist's colors as a trophy. The men being ready, time is called, and each man is conducted to his side of the scratch by his second.
The men shake hands with each other, the seconds do the same, the latter retire to their corners, and the fight begins. "When time is called after a round, the principal rises from his second's knee, and walks unaided to the scratch. A round is considered closed when one or both men are down, either from a knock-down blow or from being thrown after they have closed. Unless there is a knock-down, the rounds usually terminate in a clinch. The following acts are considered foul: wilfully falling without receiving a blow at the time of falling, except that one may slip from the grasp of his antagonist after the men have closed; butting with the head, gouging, scratching, biting, kicking, or falling upon the antagonist when he is down; striking the antagonist below the belt, or grasping him by the legs, and striking the antagonist when he is down (a man with both knees or with one hand and one knee upon the ground is considered down). If one of the umpires claim a foul, the referee may caution the man and his second, or may declare that the man against whom the foul is claimed has lost the fight. The referee's judgment is usually based upon his opinion as to whether the foul was intentional. In case of disputes, the men retire to their respective corners pending the decision of the referee.
In case any circumstance interfere with the progress of the fight, the referee may appoint another time or place of meeting, at which the fight is to be continued; but unless it is concluded within a week, the battle is considered drawn. The referee has power to cause the men to be separated when one is in such a position across the ropes as to be helpless or in danger of his life. - The first prize fight in the United States took place in 1816, between Jacob Hyer (father of the celebrated Tom Hyer) and Tom Beasley, the result of which was a draw. The rules of the ring were observed during the first part of this fight, but it soon degenerated into rough-and-tumble, and friends of the men interfered after one of Hyer's arms had been broken. This was followed by numerous fights of a more scientific character. Among the most celebrated was the. fight between Tom Hyer and "Yankee" Sullivan, in 1849. Numerous other fights occurred between 1849 and 1860, when the so-called great international fight took place in England between John C. Heenan of New York and Tom Sayers, champion of England. This was very severe, and the general opinion has been that Heenan was the winner, although no decision was given by the referee, the fight being interrupted by breaking in the ring. - In the accounts of fights, particularly those published in the earlier history of the English ring, the slang words and expressions used are peculiar, and some of them are quite descriptive and suggestive.
The following are some of those commonly met with in pugilistic writings: "Bellows," lungs; "bellowser," a blow in the pit of the stomach, taking one's breath away; "blinker," a blackened eye; "bore," to press a man down by force of weight and blows; "brain canister," "knowledge box," "lob," "lolly," "nob," the head; "buff," the bare skin, as "stripped to the buff;" "cant," a blow; a "cant over the kisser," a blow on the mouth; "castor," a hat (before entering the ring, the pugilist generally tosses in his "castor"); "chancery," a position in which a pugilist gets his opponent's head under his arm; "claret," blood; "claret jug," "conk," "nozzle," "proboscis," "snuff box," "snorer," "snout," the nose; "cork," to give a bloody nose; "daylights," "goggles," "peepers," "squinters," the eyes; "fancy," a general name for pugilists; "fibbing," striking blows in quick succession at close quarters; "fives," "a bunch of fives," the fist; "fives court," a boxing hall; "send to grass," to knock down; "groggy," used to describe the condition of a pugilist when he comes to the " scratch " weak on his " pins;" "grubber," "kisser," "oration trap," "potato trap," "whistler," "ivory box," the mouth; "mauley," the fist; "mill," a fight; "mourning" - "to put the eyes in mourning," to blacken the eyes; "painted peepers," blackened eyes; "pins," the legs; "portmanteau," the chest; "rib roaster," a blow on the ribs; "smeller," a blow on the nose. - A closely contested prize fight taxes a man's strength, endurance, and "pluck" to the utmost; and, however courageous he may be, poor physical condition is so great a disadvantage that it can hardly be overcome in the face of good condition of an antagonist, the skill, courage, and strength of the men being equal.
It has therefore been considered of the last importance to bring a man into the ring perfectly trained. The duration of rigid training depends largely upon the previous muscular condition; but two or three months are usually sufficient. Without going into the minutiae of the different training systems, it will be sufficient to indicate the general method and the main objects to be attained. Fat is inert, useless matter during a fight., and is to be eliminated from the body as far as is possible without depressing the nervous energy. The muscular system should be developed to the highest degree. The nervous system should act promptly and perfectly, a condition essential to endurance, which is probably the most important quality in a pugilist. The respiration should be free and performed with the smallest expenditure of nervous and muscular force. Finally, the temper and judgment should be clear, the skill as great as possible, and the man should have the moral and physical force to fight to the last extremity of endurance.
To secure these ends, the diet is restricted "to lean and easily digestible meats, stale bread or toast, a small quantity of vegetables, and a very moderate quantity of liquids; but the amount of food should be sufficient to satisfy the appetite, never allowing the nervous system to become depressed. The exercise is such as to develop the general muscular system, particularly the muscles employed in hitting, and the legs. To secure perfect condition of the nervous power, all sources of mental irritation are avoided, sexual intercourse is interdicted, and stimulants, if taken at all, are used with care and in very small quantity. Tea may be used moderately once a day, without sugar or milk; a glass of sherry with a raw egg or a glass of old ale may be taken once a day, though it is generally best to avoid alcohol. It is of the greatest importance to secure perfect and tranquil sleep, which is a good indication of the condition of the nervous system. If a man is in good health, purgatives, with which the training sometimes begins, are unnecessary. The bowels may be kept regular by varying the diet, and oat-meal gruel is frequently used with this end in view. Perfect action of the skin should be secured by proper ablutions after exercise.
Fat may sometimes be removed from particular parts by local sweating with bandages. It is especially important to remove fat from the face and to harden the skin and subcutaneous cellular tissue, so that the "punishment" will not puff up the face, particularly about the eyes, which sometimes become closed by swelling under the blows of the antagonist. A man is not in good condition unless the skin be bright, clear, and free from blotches or pimples. A constitutional taint, such as syphilis, usually shows itself during a course of severe training, and the man breaks down or "goes stale." The wind and endurance are developed by boxing and running. The man boxes with his trainer or strikes at the bag for several hours each day, and runs at a moderate pace from six to ten miles, doing a quarter or half of a mile at the top of his speed. This shakes the abdominal organs, promotes the removal of fat from the omentum, and gives play to the diaphragm, while at the same time it gives agility and power to the legs. The trainer should have his man under complete subjection, and never leave him, night or day, during the whole course of training. He learns, if possible, the points and style of fighting of his adversary, and generally fixes upon a plan of battle.
He boxes with his man constantly, hits him hard, and accustoms him to bear punishment without loss of temper or judgment. His man should go into the ring confident that he will win the battle. For at least 24 hours immediately preceding the fight the man should rest. Many trainers bring down the weight of their men by diet and sweating below the point at which they are to fight, depressing the system somewhat at first, and then allow the weight to come up to the proper point, so that they fight when the system is at its maximum of reaction and in perfect condition. In the articles of agreement of a prize fight, the weight at which the men are to fight is usually stipulated. When no such stipulation is made, the men are said to fight at "catch weight," or at such weight as they may think proper. A man may fight at less than the stipulated weight, but he is ruled out if he is over weight. Pugilists are usually classed with regard to weight as follows: a man of 115 lbs. or under is called a feather weight; between 115 and 130 lbs., a light weight; between 130 and 150 lbs., a middle weight; at 150 lbs. or over, a heavy weight. - Boxing, which is practised for exercise and amusement and in training for a prize fight, is conducted according to the rules of the ring, and the hands are provided with gloves padded with hair on the back to the thickness of two or three inches, so that the blows are much less severe than with the naked fist.
Glove fights are sometimes practised at public exhibitions in exact accordance with pugilistic rules, and these are frequently quite severe. Occasionally the gloves are blackened so as to leave a mark when a man is hit, each blow being counted by the judges. Boxing constitutes the greatest part of so-called pugilistic science, and different professors of the "manly art" usually have different methods' or styles. The most important principles of boxing are as follows. The position is with the left foot forward, the feet separated 16 or 18 in. according to the size of the man. The weight rests mainly upon the right leg, the left leg being free to advance. The body is erect, the head easily poised and erect, so that the movements are free, and the hands are placed at about the level of the upper part of the chest, with the fists closed and the arms slightly bent. The left hand is somewhat in advance of and lower than the right, and is used mainly for striking when the antagonist is just within distance. The right hand is used in guarding blows of the left and in close work. A boxer keeps his eyes constantly fixed upon the eyes of his opponent, ready to hit or guard when occasion offers.
Sparring technically means the movements of the hands to and fro, which are constantly made when boxers are in position. The main point in striking a first blow, or "lead-off," is to deliver the blow without any "show" or warning, and so quickly that the opponent cannot defend himself. In boxing, feints are frequently made to direct the attention of the adversary from the place where the real blow is to be delivered. The blows of all good boxers are struck straight from the shoulder, and the most effective blows are those into which the whole weight of the body is thrown. It is not correct judgment to strike a blow unless the distance and position of the opponent be such that the blow will probably "get in." A "chopping" blow is one in which the fist is brought from above downward. This blow is frequently used by good boxers in returns, but is not a good blow as a lead-off. The great point in striking is to hit quickly, straight, and as hard as possible. One solid blow is worth a hundred light taps. Rounding blows are seldom if ever used by good boxers, as these are not efficient and they expose the person. The most efficient blows are about the face and neck, on the pit of the stomach, and over the lower ribs. All blows below the waist are foul.
Blows are avoided by guarding, jumping back, dodging with the head, etc. Dodging the head is very useful, and is practised in making many of the so-called "points." A very slight movement of the arm upward in front of the face is sufficient to cause a powerful blow to glance off. A movement of the arm downward across the body wards off a body blow. In hitting, the large knuckles should strike, and the back of the hand should be turned downward. In real fights points are seldom used, and the practical work is done by plain hitting and guarding of the head and body. The "counter" is a very effective blow, as it meets the man while he is advancing. This is a great practical point with good boxers. The man watches his opponent closely, and when he thinks he is about to lead off he strikes, hoping that his blow will get in before that of his adversary. At the same time he endeavors to guard his adversary's blow. A plain counter is when both men strike at nearly the same instant, with corresponding hands. If a man be remarkably quick in countering, he often demoralizes his adversary, who becomes afraid to make a full lead-off, under the apprehension of the counter blow. A man may counter either upon his opponent's head or body.
In countering, the opponent's blow is sometimes avoided by dodging the head to one side. If the head be dodged backward, the force of the counter is lost, and the opponent may get in a severe blow in following up. When the opponent has received a heavy blow, it is well to follow up the advantage with close work and to keep the man moving, so that he has no time to recover himself. Close work, rapid blows at close quarters, or "fibbing," requires great skill and judgment. The blows in close work should always be straight, as they protect from the blows of the adversary. Such quick work, however, is a great strain on the wind and endurance. Right-hand work is very effective in close quarters. In making points the right hand is very useful. A man dodges his head to one side to avoid his opponent's lead-off with the left, and strikes his opponent with the right in the face (called a cross counter, because the right arm crosses the adversary's left), or he strikes his opponent in the body. Another point is to drop the head quickly under the arm of the opponent when he strikes, and to deliver blows right and left when the head is raised. Another point is to strike the opponent's left-hand blow aside with the palm of the left, and immediately strike with the right.
Another is to strike the left-hand lead-off up with the left elbow, and strike immediately a chopping blow with the same hand ("peak and chop"). Numerous points such as those just mentioned are used, particularly in "fancy" boxing; but they can hardly be described clearly, even with the aid of illustration by drawings. Most of these "points" require great confidence, as the man advances to meet his opponent as he strikes, avoiding the blows mainly by dodging, or "head work." There is no such thing as boxing without a master. A good boxer must have great practice and must box with many different persons. Clinching, chancery, and throwing are fair, so long as a man does not grasp his opponent's legs; but these manoeuvres are not often practised in friendly boxing with gloves. A man steps in with his left foot, throws his left arm around the neck or chest of his opponent, and tosses him backward, the buttocks being crossed. This is called the "cross-buttock throw." Another throw is to step in with the right foot, throw the right arm around the opponent's waist, and throw him over the hips (the "hip throw"). Many throws and trips are used in fighting, and each has its counter movement.
Throwing in the ring differs from ordinary wrestling, as a man grasps his opponent wherever he can above the belt. The different kinds of chancery consist in rushing in when the opponent strikes, or in close quarters, and" throwing either arm around his neck, striking him as hard and as often as possible in this position. Each chancery has its counter movement, by which a man may sometimes extricate himself. The "upper cut" is generally used in close quarters. It consists in striking from below upward with the back of either hand, hitting the man under the chin or in the face, according to his position. Some boxers take a position occasionally with the right foot advanced, instead of the left; but this position is not considered good, and it is much more difficult, with the right foot advanced, to protect the body. - See Egan, "Boxiana, a Sketch of Ancient and Modern Pugilism" (5 vols., London, 1818); Brandt, "Habet! A Short Treatise on the Law of the Land as it affects Pugilism" (London, 1857); "Fistiana" (24th ed., London, 1863); Maclaren, "Training, in Theory and Practice" (London, 1866); Harrison, "Athletic Training and Health" (London, 1869); Flint, "Physiology of Man," vol. iii., p. 374 et seq. (New York, 1870); "The Slang Dictionary" (London, 1870); and "American Fistiana, from 1816 to 1873" (New York, 1874). "Bell's Life in London" contains accounts of the most important English prize fights, and Wilkes's "Spirit of the Times" (New York) of English and American fights.
The "Spirit of the Times" for May 5, 1860, contains a full account of the fight between Heenan and Sayers.