Western Boxing vs Filipino Boxing, two similar but distinct arts?

The largest obstacle facing Filipino martial artists – is the lack of written documentation regarding the technical evolvement of their art. The earliest surviving – instructional manual on the art is Placido Yambao’s – Mga Karunungan sa Laring Arnis (1957). However, this is a book focusing on classical espada y daga as opposed to empty hands. A copy of Don Baltazar Gonzales’ book De los Delitos (1800) remains to be found, according to the late Manong Eulogio “Yoling” CaƱete – this book made references to Pangamut (empty hands). According to Manong Abner Pasa the only copy which Yoling had seen – was destroyed during the second world war. As a result, we must rely on oral tradition…which some critics regard as unreliable.

In contrast, about 20 instructional western boxing manuals were published before 1850. Since 1850, over 200 instructional manuals are known. This allows us to trace the early evolution of the art through literature. Some years back, I spent a considerable amount of time – reading most of these manuals – at the British Museum Library. The following are my thoughts on the evolution of Western Boxing.

Early boxing (1740 – 1780) was somewhat crude and highly individual. Footwork was meagre, the only individual to have used it to any great extent during this period – was Ned Hunt – a pupil of Broughton (the father of modern boxing). Broughton was extremely proficient at body punching – and the solar plexus, was often referred to as Broughton’s “mark”. During this period, chops with the hammer-fist and swings were widely used. Defense was essentially guarding with the forearm. The forearms were used to deflect straight punches and to block swings and chops. Counter attacks called “returns” were made after the initial attack was complete. Straight punches using a modified fencing lunge – so as to throw the body’s weight into the punch – were known from the earliest period. The stance was the same as that of english singlestick play – which many boxers of this period cross-trained in.

In the 1780’s, the great pugilist Daniel Mendoza did much to evolve boxing footwork; retreating and side-stepping gradually began to lose their overtones of cowardice. “Gentleman” John Jackson perfected the straight left lead in 1790 and used it with authority. During the same period Ben Brain fathered the straight right, and Dutch Sam introduced the uppercut in 1800. The hook was hardly used – because it is a short range blow – the hook would more easily expose its user to a close and throw. Throws played a great part in the fights of this era, cross-buttocks (high hip throws), and a variety of trips – such as the back heel were common. Fighters often “accidentally” fell on their opponent – so as to maximise the impact of the throw. “Fibbing” later called “head in chancery” (holding the opponent’s head with one hand whilst hitting it with the other) was widely practiced. Defensive hitting (the ability to hit effectively whist retreating) was known during this period, but was called “milling on the retreat”. It was developed by Tom Cribb in 1810.

Sometime, during the 1840’s the on-guard position changed. Perhaps the decrease in boxers cross-training with weaponry (principally singlestick) influenced this development. The hands were lowered (note: not always to their detriment), the left pointing forward and the right held across the mark. The stance was more upright, sometimes effaced and sometimes with the shoulders square. The lower guard led to the development of “head movement” -slipping, ducking and swaying back. It also contributed to the development of “drawing”. Counters (counter-attacks delivered simultaneously with the attack) were also developed during the mid 1800’s.

It is interesting to note, that under Broughton’s Rules (1743), and the Rules of the London Prize Ring (1838, 1853), few blows were barred, wrestling was allowed, and the fight continued until one man or the other could no longer rise (“toe the scratch”) or be dragged to his feet at the end of thirty seconds. The Marquis of Queensberry Rules (1867) introduced the wearing of gloves for fights (although they were known as “mufflers” and were worn for sparring since Broughton’s time). The Queensberry Rules also introduced the 3 minute round, and the 10 second knockout. This further changed the shape of boxing. In some cases, it increased the severity of professional fights – for gloves protect a fighter’s hands more than his opponent’s face.

Swings became popular again, because protection of the gloves helped reduce the risk of damage to the hands – when delivering these punches. James J Corbett was credited with developing the short or “shovel” hook in 1889. In the same year George La Blanche – knocked out the original Jack Dempsey – with the “pivot punch” – a move taught to him by the english lightweight – Jimmy Carroll. The “corkscrew blow” – which involved rotation of the fist from palm up to palm down – was popularised during the 1890’s by Kid McCoy (although it was taught to him by the great trainer – Jimmy DeForest). The Queensberry rules banned wrestling – as a result the natural crouch gained in popularity, and was used effectively by such fighters as Frank Slavin and Jim Jeffries.

During the early 1900’s, Jack Johnson (perhaps the greatest defensive boxer in the history of the game) – perfected the “catch” – a defensive manouver whereby you literally catch the opponent’s punch – in the palm of your glove. “Infighting” was also developed considerably during the early 1900’s. The bob and weave was used more often – to gain the inside position. Concepts such as “shifting” with the opponent’s punches and different types of clinching were developed.

Western Boxing came to the Philippines (via US servicemen) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As can be seen from the above, it was already a highly evolved art. Manong Dan Inosanto has mentioned that “when the Americans saw the Filipino’s box (early 1900’s) – they noticed a high on-guard position, unusually quick punching and lots of footwork…unknown to them – this was as a result of previous training with knife”.

In my archives, I have a boxing article called “the Father of Philippine Boxing”. (1927). The article is about Eddie Tait, one of the first boxing promoters in the Philippines. However, it contains some interesting observations – such as “…there has been a gradual discarding of the deadly knife without which the average Filipino once thought himself hardly dressed.”

It should be noted – that not many discarded the knife. Even today, the Philippines has a blade culture.

I believe it is the influence of the knife, which makes Panantukan (aka Pangamut) unique.

I trained extensively with Manong Estaneslao “Tanny” del Campo. Tanny was one of the best boxers to come out of the Philippines. He fought for the world bantamweight title in the 50’s, and fought two – very close fights against Gabriel “Flash” Elorde. Tanny told me the Filipino method of boxing differs from western boxing in the following ways.

Krishna Godhania training with Tanny del Campo

“It is essentially a bare-fist art. It makes use of punches to the groin, elbows to the body and face, arm wrentching, headbutting, and “turning” or “spinning” the opponent so as to disorientate him. The parry is favoured – against the block, because your opponent may be attacking with a concealed weapon in the fist. In short it is designed for the street. If you want to box in the ring, you must learn western boxing, if you use Pangamut in the ring – you will surely get disqualified”.

My belief is that any western boxer can – benefit from cross-training in the Filipino method. From a self defence perspective – it will give him many more options. From a ring perspective, some of the following training methods will help enhance his boxing.

Try using a training knife in conjunction with the focus pad, as a “coaching tool” – to improve punching, and body evasion.

For example, let’s take the jab. Hold a focus pad – in your right hand, and knife in your left hand. If the puncher drops the arm upon retraction, hold the knife at chest level. This will give him feedback. If the punching arm is slow to retract – after hitting the pad, cut it with the knife. If the puncher has a tendency to lean “over” the central-axis when punching with the right cross, put the knife in front of the sternum – this will make him rotate his torso “around” the central-axis. If you want to increase speed of footwork, get the puncher to move into range with the jab and stab the lead leg, so that he moves rapidly out of range – after jabbing.

To conclude, the Filipino’s must have embraced western boxing, and then applied their knowledge of the knife to create a similar – yet distinct art. Unfortuntately, there are no old surviving books on the subject (although Guro Rick Faye’s recent book – is an excellent effort). Old teachers are rarer yet. Most have passed away. I was fortunate to find two in the Philippines (Manong Tanny Campo and Manong Dicoy Veraye); this was after a decade of research – most of which was off the beaten track.

The US – is fortunate to have Manong Dan Inosanto, who’s Panantukan is highly evolved and unique.

These teachers – continue to keep this wonderful art alive.