Functional Boxing


When unarmed men attack, punching is one of the first things they do. And there's no combat sport better than boxing to prepare a person for incoming punches. There are only a handful of techniques in boxing, and that small number of techniques and a reliance on training that mirrors fighting allows boxers to become experts at distance, position, timing, and footwork.

With that said, boxing isn't suited for the street. Punching a man in the head without padded gloves is a bad idea. Even boxing legends like Mike Tyson have broken their hands when punching men ungloved, and doctors use the term "boxer's fracture" to refer to broken knuckles since they're so common. However, boxing provides outstanding training for dealing with punches...hitting another person, getting hit, and avoiding getting hit...and with a few simple modifications the techniques can be adapted for the street.

Boxing Techniques

My partner in the video above is a good friend of mine, and this is only his third training session. It's a great demonstration of how quickly someone can pick up basic boxing.

There are relatively few techniques in boxing compared to other combat sports. The commonality among them all, and what makes boxing so conceptually excellent, is the technical structure and expert use of distance, position, and cover. Here are the fundamentals:


  • Stand-up Base
  • Cross Footwork
  • Circling


Blocks, Parries, and Evasive Techniques

Boxing Training

Training for boxing consists primarily of striking various bags (heavy bag, double end bag, and speed bag) and focus mitts (hand pads held by a training partner) to develop qualities such as speed, power, stamina, and technique, along with endurance and agility drills, and sparring. Every training method relates directly to improving a quality or technique necessary for the sport of boxing.

Isolation Phase

Boxing techniques can be practiced solo against bags and pads to develop speed and power, or shadow boxing in the air, but the best training methods are with partners, either holding focus mitts or with isolated sparring. To isolate a boxing technique, choose a punch and a defense, and either have a designated attacker to work the punch and a defender work the defense, or alternate back and forth. For example, the attacker begins with a jab and the defender defends with a simple catch. This can either be repeated over and over again, or practitioners can take turns. Do the same with the low jab, cross, hook, etc. See the video above for a great training progression in the isolation stage.

The second step in the isolation phase moves closer to sparring integration, where the attacker can use any punch to attack, and the defender can use any defense to counter, including blocks and/or counter striking. So the attacker may attack with a jab, and the defender may duck and blast with a combination of strikes.

Sparring Integration

Once practitioners are comfortable using techniques in isolation, all techniques should be integrated into the live sparring mix. This can be done at a low intensity, and boxing gloves and a mouth piece are recommended.

Boxing for the Street

If you're using boxing as a training tool for self defense, as we do with FSD, there are a few changes you'll need to make:

Punches to Palms

This is a simple one, but it takes some training. As mentioned above, punching a person in the head is generally a bad idea. Most people will lower their head instinctually when attacked, so even if you think you're going to hit a man in the jaw, you may end up breaking your hand on the top of his head. Striking the lower body with punches is ok (unless you happen to punch an elbow), but you should train jabs, crosses, hooks, and even uppercuts using palm strikes rather than punches.


The vast majority of boxers train only in a left lead or a right lead, so either the left foot is always forward, or the right foot is always forward. Even in martial arts and self defense schools were boxing is used, this is most often the case. On the street, you never know which side your opponent will approach from, so it's essential to be able to use either lead. Your right jab needs to be as good as your left, and your left cross nearly as good as your right. In addition to preparing you for attacks from any angle, training with no set lead will also allow you to use what's known in MMA as the "boxing blast" or "alternating crosses", an excellent technique for blasting an opponent back. Training to box without a particular lead will also seriously increase your abilities in the ring, as few boxers will be prepared for you to switch leads in mid fight, much less using it to advance faster during combinations.

Additional Offensive Techniques & Targets

Training palm strikes rather than punches allows for a wider variety of techniques and targets. Due to the structure of the hand, hook punches should ideally be thrown tight. They're relatively close range punches. With the open hand, a hook ("power slap") can be thrown to the ear at a much longer range. Using a wider upper-cut motion with the open hand creates an opportunity for a mean rising diagonal slap, or even a groin slap. And, the jab can be converted into a finger jab to the eye.

Here's one example of the open hand hook followed by another additional technique, a knee:

Threat Low Jab Low Cross Open Hand Hook Control Knee

In the images above the defender uses classic boxing counter punching against the opponent's attack, but follows the low punches with a high open hand slap to the ear and a knee to the solar plexus.

Additional Defense

These days, boxers should be prepared for takedown attempts on the street. Training in the clinch and on the ground would be ideal. At a minimum, every boxer should have a solid takedown defense or two. In addition to grappling, basic defense against kicks, knees, and elbows (Thai boxing) should also be included in training.

Another problem on the street is the use of weapons. Many of the boxing covers are less than ideal against a knife attack, for example. So boxers should also learn how to use and defend against weapons.