Boxing Day!

Every day is boxing day for me. It’s just coincidence that in Canada we also celebrate the day after Christmas by the same name.


Is it Boxercize?

If you’re not taking some punches, hardening your abs for impact, and feeling your fist contacting an opponent (or a heavy bag to simulate one), then you’re doing boxercise, not pugilism. One of my new students, John, who has a strong boxing background made that great observation at last Friday’s sparring night.

There’s no doubt that boxing is good for fitness. The use of legs for bursts of speed, the arms for strikes and guards, keeping the abs tight against hits, and the endurance to keep going are all excellent for keeping in shape. A boxing regimen a couple of times a week should eliminate one’s need for a treadmill. However, pugilism for self-defence goes beyond fitness.

Striking in Bartitsu: Atemi-waza

Traditional jujitsu uses the term “atemi” for striking techniques, often called “vital point striking” in texts. Atemi is not only pressure-point work or the mystical “death touch” like dim mak. Atemi-waza covers all strikes within jujitsu and the self-defence aspects of judo. Unfortunately, most judo dojos do not teach atemi because they are not permitted in competition.

Thinking of the pugilism of bartitsu as atemi, one can more easily integrate it into practice and give strikes their proper strategic place in your combat mindset. Scientific boxing should not be thought of as the primary unarmed system, but as an augmentation of jujitsu techniques or a manner of protecting oneself to get close enough for the grabs, locks and throws.

The Striking Range

It takes some practice to learn the distinction between grappling range, striking range and beyond unarmed range. The strongest strikes happen at full arm’s length, and kicks transfer the most damage when the knee is fully extended. And since a grab with your arm fully extended puts you at risk of many simple counters, your punch range is actually a narrow window.

When you are outside that distance, you should always be checking your surroundings. You may have an opportunity to escape. You may see an object to use to your advantage. And you may need to deal with another attacker.

When you are close enough for round punches, such as hooks and uppercuts, your next move should be a transition to jujitsu, not a flurry of nearly useless short hits. Distract with one or two punches, then take your opponent down with a throw or lock.

The Hammerfist or Chopper

In texts on scientific boxing and jujitsu alike, the use of the forearm or edge of the fist in a chopping action is recommended for attack and defence.


As a strike, the hammer fist is part of the first unarmed example of Bartitsu. The jaw is the target, as a distraction leading into the back-heel throw. It can be used to break the collarbone or the floating ribs, and any body part will feel the force behind this brutal action.

As a defensive movement, the chopper can be used to break out of holds or to hit an incoming punch in the forearm or elbow. Don’t let the motion take your arm too far off-line; it should actually prepare you for a follow-up punch, not leave you exposed.


When we examine close strikes, I am often asked, “Are elbows allowed?” As Bartitsu is for your self-defence, nothing is against the rules. However, elbows are often impractical.

The elbow is extremely hard and resilient with the exception of the “funny bone” nerve. But its range is very short, within the grappling range, and it is difficult to generate power with so little room. So if the opportunity presents itself, use the elbow, but since you’re close enough for jujitsu, that should be your focus.

Go for the Throat!

The main targets for scientific boxing are the mark and the jaw. See my article on the Knockout in my series on Ending Violence the Bartitsu Way for more information on those targets.

As mentioned above, jujitsu’s atemi-waza are sometimes mired in the esoteric maps of body’s energy channels and pressure points. Not only is this level of precision difficult in an adrenaline-soaked rapid-fire fight, it is often hard to remember in the best circumstances.

So choose the best targets for your strikes for maximum effectiveness in any circumstance. Here’s my list:

  • Throat
  • Jaw (beside the chin)
  • the Mark (bottom of the sternum)
  • Clavicle (collarbone)
  • Floating ribs (the lowest ribs at the sides if the mark is covered)
  • Ear (best with a palm strike, since the cheek and temple may break the knuckles)

David McCormick Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
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