Is Boxing a Martial Art (Of Course It Is)

Is Boxing a Martial Art?

Kung-fu movies and the massive popularity of eastern martial arts have led many people to believe that all martial arts must be steeped in esoteric knowledge and draw from the various cultures and religions of Asia and its various excellent martial arts.

Indeed, the popularity of movies such as Karate Kid and others like it convinced most people that martial arts are something steeped not only in thousands of years of knowledge but are also about the connection between the body, the mind, and a certain particular philosophy or approach to combat, as well as life.

While elements of this are true, these aren’t necessarily essential, and the definition of martial art is much more all-encompassing.

The true definition of the term, martial art, is a codified series of systems and traditions of combat practiced for reasons such as self-defense, competition, physical, mental and spiritual development as well as military and law enforcement applications.

Some also add the preservation of a particular national or cultural heritage as a key element of martial arts too, but this isn’t always the case.

In short, martial arts are forms of combat and aren’t even always melee oriented, with some incorporating swordplay and other weaponry into a codified system of combat much like the more popular forms.

It’s also true that the term martial arts, and the generally poor understanding of them, means that many people get confused about what is and isn’t a martial art.

There are often debates about various styles of fighting, and this isn’t helped by the clear and obvious biases among practitioners and the various different communities.

Many people argue over which form of combat is superior, which is better for self-defense, and so on. These aren’t productive but indicate how competitive and how fierce the rivalries are in the martial arts community.

Is Boxing A Martial Art?

One martial art that people often overlook is boxing, despite its huge fame and appeal across the world.

Many people don’t see boxing as a martial art because it has its cultural roots in the west, and doesn’t have many of the traditions that are used by eastern martial arts.

Boxing is a martial art, however, as it is a codified system of combat that has various uses both physical and spiritual, and while the philosophical side of boxing appears much less spiritual than some other martial arts, there is a similar mindset among boxers as all martial artists, with a lot of emphases placed on sportsmanship, honor, hard work and sacrifice.

Interestingly, while the term ‘martial art’ has become closely associated with eastern fighting arts, the term actually originated in Europe sometime in the 1500s and is derived from the term ‘arts of Mars’ the Roman God of War.

While of course, many eastern disciplines are far older than the term, the idea that martial arts are only based in the east is a falsehood that is simply a case of misguided popular culture.

Boxing has a series of strict and codified forms and methods, from southpaw to orthodox, and brawler to counter puncher and the various types of punches, movements, and timings that take a very long time to learn.

What’s more interesting is that boxing is a combat sport, and boxers actually use their knowledge in fights that are as close to a real combat scenario as possible.

While many martial arts only take place is very organized and controlled competitions where elements of true combat are reduced, boxers who fight as amateurs or professionals are often tested to their limit, and there is nothing more true to martial arts than this.

History Of Boxing

History Of Boxing

While much is made of ancient far eastern martial arts, it is actually believed that the oldest form of hand-to-hand combat is wrestling, which was depicted in artworks from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Boxing is almost as old as this too, with the earliest depictions of boxing coming from Sumerian reliefs in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium BCE.

This early form of boxing may have been bare-knuckle or maybe used light hand wraps, with the first evidence of fist fighting gloves being found on Minoan Crete from 1500-1400 BCE.

Boxing has been a popular form of fighting in ancient India, was introduced to the Greek Olympiad in 688 BC, and was also popular in Ancient Rome.

However boxing in these eras, though similar in essence to modern boxing, was far different and didn’t use weight classes, real gloves, and didn’t use rounds, with fights continuing until someone was unable to continue or acknowledged defeat.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, records of classical boxing more or less disappeared, but fist-fighting remained popular through the 12th to 17th century in Europe, particularly in Italy.

In Russia, there was also Kulachniy Boy, or Russian Boxing, which remained popular in Ancient Rus.

During the 16th century, boxing resurfaced in England as bare-knuckle boxing or prizefighting, and the first documented account appeared in 1681 in the London Protestant Mercury with the first champion being James Figg in 1719. It was around this time that the term ‘boxing’ began to be used.

Modern boxing is very different from these roots, however, as it was chaotic, extremely brutal, and has no weight divisions, round limits, or even a referee.

The first series of rules, known as Broughton’s rules, were introduced by the champion Jack Broughton in 1743, to protect fighters and lower the risk of death. The rules introduced the first count if a man could not stand, and if he could not stand in 30 seconds, the fight was forfeit.

The Marquess of Queensberry rules were founded in 1867 and were drafted by John Chambers, which established weight divisions and included 12 rules which introduced measured rounds, a referee, a standing count, the provision for ring sizes, gloves, and proper footwear as well as rules on downing, kneeling and leaning on the ropes.

These rules bear the most resemblance to modern amateur and professional boxing and are the genesis of the modern rules of the sport, which is now a multi-billion dollar form of entertainment and one of the most popular and lucrative martial arts in the world.

Final Thoughts

Boxing is, incontrovertible, a martial art, and it is among the most ancient in history. Anyone who deems boxing not a martial art doesn’t know their history of the sport or martial arts in general, so don’t be afraid to inform anyone trying to dismiss boxing and its heritage.

Boxing is one of the most effective combat sports, is excellent for fitness and health when practiced properly, and is also useful for self-defense, often more so than other more traditional martial arts, so if you’re interested in the sport and want to learn more, don’t be afraid to get stuck right in as there are gyms all over the world and almost certainly somewhere you can start training nearby!


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