Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

boxing and physical culture

broken jaw, cheekbone, and ribs, several teeth
 It is a great regret that I have discovered the "sweet science" so late in life when responsibility and savaged joints and tendons will force me to take it no more than a weekly distraction. If I had known I wouldn't have spent so much time in silly trousers doing feeble useless Kata as a kid.

 I've been reading up a fair bit on the history of exercise and came across some interesting information on the training of pre-war boxers. For many this is the golden age of boxing when literally every young man learned to box and there were very few titles to contend for. If you were heavyweight champion in 1921 you knew you were the best heavy weight fighter in the world, the title actually meant something. Aficionados say that they game was more based on tactics, cunning and skill and has degenerated into a contest of athleticism in recent years.Fights could last along time,even hours if both fighters were defensive minded.
 The physical culture movement was born out of the Victorian insecurity (why do you think they achieved so much?) over their degeneracy.  Industrialisation ,it was recognised by many, was leading to a general poor state of health in the population and a weakening of industrial man.
 Far from being an irrational fear this view would appear to be a valid . Medieval man was taller, more robust and in pretty good shape compared to his industrial successor. The British establishment realised the ravages that had been wrought on the working Briton in the first Boer war when weak and spindly city boys had a really hard time against Dutch farmers. Even in the Second World War British armies marched slower than commonwealth armies.
 Boxing was linked with physical culture from the start influenced as it was by classical sources. George Herbert the spiritual ancestor of the Movnat system and developer of the method naturel (parcours) included fighting as one of the aspects of natural movement.
 Combat sports provide a great synthesis of movement and a great element of pressure and intensity even if they are not taken into the ring, Knowing how to punch hard and fast is no bad thing either. Boxers should be of interest as they have to fuel and perform in gruelling intense activity in which any gap or failure in training is rewarded with a visceral and humiliating defeat, they also have to develop strategies to stay within certain weight boundaries and get the most out of the body they are allowed to have.
  This article says it all
 Old time boxers should be of real interest because  there was a greater and healthier degree of amateurism in the sport (and all sport) at the time, far more intense competition and competitors, less money many of them had jobs and even fought just to eat therefore their nutrition and training were more relevant and approachable for ordinary people.They fought more and more often too.
Harry Greb fought over 300 fights

 Gene Tunney in preparing to fight the heavier "man killer" Jack Dempsey took himself off to become a lumberjack and came back 15 pounds heavier, in the thirties you chopped trees down with axes and saws!  Here's Jack Dempsey on preparing for the rematch;"I disappeared into the hills near Ojai, California, away from everybody and everything, including the telephone. I chopped trees for hours at a stretch, did calisthenics, raced against dogs, jumped rope, carried rocks and climbed trees."Many old time boxers performed  physical labour to build up bulk Most exercise was done outside as were many fights.
Sam Langford regarded as one of the greats
 Fighters trained outside climbed trees, lifted logs swam in lakes   they may look smaller than modern boxers and often they were but there were plenty of big men too, Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson were very large men who would look fine in a ring today.

Flicking through the pages of Fleischer’s terrific little manual, one striking impression is immediate. Everyone is out in the open air. Jack Johnson strengthens his shoulder by carrying a heavy log. Freddie Welsh chops wood. Battling Nelson, typically, clambers up a steep mountain and follows up with a spot of hurdling. Johnny Kilbane plays leapfrog in Central Park. Luis Angel Firpo ‘chins the bar’ whilst hanging from a tree. Dempsey swims in a lake, rows a boat, slugs baseballs and strengthens his arms and abdominal muscles by working a water pump. Abe Attell climbs a tree. Ad Wolgast lifts a heavy trunk to develop his shoulders, arms and thighs. Jim Jeffries strengthens his mighty body still further by wrestling. 

 Jim Jeffries
Boxer's wrestling was justified as building and strenghtening all the muscles needed for all round strength in much the same way as American footballers do pressups, Or as Doug McGuff says in "body by Science"  make your strength training non-specific. Boxers were encouraged to climb trees and leapfrog to enliven roadwork "don't plod attack the road with the verve with which you would attack your opponent"

 Jim Jeffries was something of a latter day superman he could run 100 metres in 10 seconds and leap 6' while carrying a heck of a lot of muscle on a large frame. Jeffries strongly believed that keeping hungry was key “A man can dissipate more and hurt himself more by eating than by drinking,” In training to fight Bob Fitzimmons he says: “For three months, I ate hardly anything. You’d be amazed to know how little a big man really needs to eat and how much stronger a man becomes if he doesn’t eat too much. It’s no joke that people dig their graves with their teeth.

“I would eat two small lamb chops for my dinner, with all the fat trimmed off. That made about two small bites to each chop. I had a little fruit and toast. I had dry toast for months – very little. All through that hard training, I ate as little as I could and drank nothing at all but a little cool water with lemon juice in it.” 

Dempsey, carved out of wood!
  Not heeding his own advice he gained lots of weight when he retired to his farm (he also had problems with drink) but he managed to lose over 100 pounds of fat in order to fight Jack Johnson in a very short time.

 Jack Dempsey also gave the working amateur some advice here

6 A.M. Rise. Drink a cup of hot tea, or a cup of beef broth or chicken broth.

6:30 A.M. Hit the road.

7 A.M. Arrive home. Take a brief sweat-out and shower. Have breakfast of fruit juice, cereal, eggs and milk or tea.

12:30 A.M. Lunch of lettuce and tomato on toast (perhaps with two or three slices of bacon). Glass of milk or cup of tea. If you do not have bacon with the lettuce-tomato sandwich, you can drink a malted milk.

6 P.M Gymnasium. Have a cup of hot tea with lemon before the workout.

7:15 P.M. Workout completed.

7:45 P.M. Home and dinner: half grapefruit or glass of fruit juice or cup of broth. A salad with olive oil and perhaps lemon juice. No vinegar! Meat - anything broiled [grilled] or boiled; nothing fried. Steak, chops or chicken. Stews are good if you need to gain weight. Also, a baked potato, if you need to gain weight. But no pork, veal, lobster, shrimp, crabmeat or starchy foods like spaghetti.
For dessert: stewed fruit, apricots, pears or rhubarb, etc. Also hot tea. No pastries.

8:15 P.M. Relax half an hour.

8:45 P. M. Take a fifteen minute walk.

9 P.M. Bed.

Like everyone pre-1980 from Tolstoy to Ray Davis he took as read the fattening affects of starchy foods.  Pork is also scorned by Fitzimmons I am not sure if this is a hang up from the Victorian idea it was starchy or a manifestation of religious practise (Leviticus) Dempsey in particular seemed to have his head switched on about foods.

"The things I eat in abundance are fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh and stewed. I like both equally well. And fruit and vegetables, plus good water, are the foundation of a healthful diet. Red meats, such as steak, I seldom eat when not in training. When doing my heaviest work I eat steak about twice a week. I go light on fowl; partaking of it only about once in seven days.

"My favourite meat is lamb chops. When other kinds are served me they usually come in the form of boiled dinners, in which they are cooked with many vegetables. Cereals, eggs, cheese and all kinds of salads and ice cream just about make up the remainder of my menu.

Pastries are splendid - to decorate the windows of ... restaurants. But the fellows who decorate their interiors with that stuff are playing with gastronomical dynamite."

 Modern heavy weight Tyson Fury blames his overweight appearance on his liking of popcorn and big cokes when going to the cinema (you read that bit about heavyweights in the past going into seclusion right?) It is something of an interesting comment that top boxers competing for a prize once regarded as being the "Emperor of Masculinity" are struggling not to look fat, indeed it is such a problem that maximum body fat percentages are being discussed in boxing circles.
All we need is a pub car park


  1. All too true. Lets not forget frequenting pubs just to fight people for money either. It's how I train!

  2. "I'll lick any man in the house"