Succinctly defining the progression of boxer is not a straightforward process. Boxing falls into the realm of combat sports where belts are only given for victories in the ring, rather than meeting laid-out proficiency criteria. We know we get better through practice and application but much of the assessment is derived from coaching opinion mixed with trial and error. With that said, I’ve called upon my own experiences to deliver a guide on how you can asses your boxing journey.
If you’ve never ever thrown a punch, in a ring, before, well you’re a beginner. There is no set amount of time that one stays a beginner and, as with every endeavor, your natural aptitude for the sport, combined with work ethic, defines how fast you learn. Generally speaking, if you’ve been boxing for less than 6 months. This is the group you fall into.
Some beginner milestones to pass before moving on to the next level would be:
- Become proficient at moving in all 4 directions, as well as pivoting in two directions, without compromising your stance
- Be able to throw the 6 basic punches without dropping the opposite hand
- Be able to, successfully and consistently, execute at least one defensive move i.e. slip, weave or parry
Getting to grips with the basics doesn’t mean you stop working on those skills. These are the foundation blocks that are practiced day in day out, no matter what level you’re at. I can hear the cries “but Coach, how can I practice every day?”. Are you slipping imaginary punches while wearing your headphones on the way to work? Randomly shadowing in front of reflective surfaces? I salute your application – you must really want to try those skills out!
Intermediate boxers looking to move the next level can achieve this once they:
- Begin technical sparring. (technical sparring allows you to practice your skillset without going to all out war. There is a time and place for HARD sparring, but keep it to a minimum when you’re still starting out.
- Start watching boxing fights critically, whether it’s live, TV, YouTube videos or even pros training. Do not watch fights as a spectator, watch it as if you were going to fight that fighter. Try and understand everything. Why his stance is different, why certain punches land and why some don’t, what could he have done to avoid a punch, dissect as much as you can. You have the benefit of retrospect and the convenience to slowly break down the opposing fighter whilst viewing it from the outside. Not so easy on the fly when punches are coming at you. Appreciate and learn from the plethora of footage out there on the sweet science.
- Learn to understand the setup. Most punches are not an island on their own. Hitting someone with a knockout punch rarely just happens. Often times they occur because of a setup, drawing a certain punch that you’re looking to counter or throwing a particular punch that draws the opponent’s attention and even using feints.
- Participate in a competitive boxing bout. Here it is, the big one. Can’t run from it. The only way to get better at boxing (or at least competitive boxing) is to fight. Experience is the best teacher. A jab thrown against a hundred opponents will, in my opinion, be always more measured and accurate than one thrown against two.
You’re finally here. The mecca. You can safely say you’re at an advanced level. The only caveat here is that old mantra ‘the sky is the limit’. It’s never been more true than right now. Skill level has no cap to it. Everything you’ve learnt matters. The only difference is now is defining your style takes precedence over learning everything.
There are so many different ways to fight that developing a style can seem daunting at first. If you’ve arrived at this level, chances are you’ve developed a style, of sorts, getting here. Be it a brawler, swarmer or even a boxer-puncher, your training should be tailored to enhance your style. That is not to say that you’ll never be able to add anything to it (by all means if you can add elements to your style that enhance your fighting capability, and is usable in an actual bout, make sure it’s part of your arsenal) but stay with aspects that enhance your fighting style.
Advanced boxers can usually be identified by the following:
- The ability to manipulate range. If you’ve ever sparred one you’ll probably remember falling short a lot and all it took on their part were small steps or slight movements that made you miss.
- They look comfortable in the ring. They use up less energy doing the same movements or the same drills. This comes not only from physical but also mental efficiency and stability. Ever tried doing something with someone shouting in your ear constantly? Bet it wasn’t as easy. Think of mental efficiency and stability as something akin to that. The ability to tune out external pressure, and focus on the task at hand, is a distinct skill that requires development and maintenance. This doesn’t mean the best do not feel pressure, it is simply that they excel at dealing (the great ones thrive) with it.
- Always ready to talk about boxing. Be it about the latest fight or a new move they’ve learnt, expect them to respond in detail when you ask for their opinion on all matters boxing.
- Randomly breaking out into shadow boxing. Hey we spend a lot of time punching things, don’t blame it on us the body just kind of acts on its own.
Till next time! – AJ