“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Friday, 19 February 2010

Boxing, a social construct? Oh do leave off!

There aren't that many old or rare books in my home library. A 1912 edition of Modern Science and Anarchism, a very old copy of Faust that belonged to my Dad and a few other odds and ends account for the vintage section of my overburdened bookshelves. One little gem that I do have is Bombardier Billy Wells' Modern Boxing. A Practical Guide to Present-Day Methods. Published in the early years of the 20th century it shows, despite it's claims to modernity, a style of boxing close to that of the 19th century prize ring and very different to the one that we see today. Boxing in the day of Bombardier Wells (and now you know how the beer got it's name) was very much a straight standing, straight punching, parry and counter kind of affair. Yet fast forward twenty years and fighters, especially in the States, are fighting out of a crouch, using the hook a lot and standing much more square on to their opponent. This more square stance lends itself to bobbing and weaving, rolling the hips and shoulder and a far more fluid style. So how come this transition? There is a school of thought suggests that this new approach was something learnt from the Filipino fighting arts and adapted for the boxing ring by American servicemen stationed in the Philippines.It could well be true.
In the years that I spent in boxing, wrestling and martial arts gyms I don't recall that much time being spent discussing fighting as a social product but from my current safety of being a mere keyboard warrior I can probably risk it. Clearly combat systems are not only products of society but reflect changes in society as well. From the Sioux Indians getting the horse to British Indians getting rap, hybrid culture is always innovative and exiting; and it changes things. This change is frequently resisted by traditionalists and the more conservative the particular area of culture the more the change will be resisted. In the past for example musicians have been considerably more amenable to outside influence then have martial arts masters. Sometimes this innate conservatism produces a faux tradition. A false history that might claim for example that Japanese Karate is thousands of years old when in fact it was introduced into Japan from Okinawa in 1922. The Martial Arts boom of the late 70s seemed to become the last refuge of Orientalism. The truth is that few aspects of culture remain "pure"; and those that do simply stagnate. Modern boxing probably does owe a lot to Filipino influence. Judo has certainly been influenced by Western wrestling and I have often wondered how much Muay Thai is a product of French colonialism.

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