Scientific Boxing under the Boston A.A. Rules

Journal of Manly Arts
April 2003

by R.C. Macdonald, M.D.
Originally published in Outing magazine, October, 1892, No. 1, p. 23-24.

WHEN it was announced that the B. A. A. intended to give an exhibition of boxing under the new rules, the organs of the professional punchers devoted columns to matter and pages to cartoons ridiculing what they called "gentleman" sparring. All this, though personally unpleasant, was not unexpected. What was unexpected, however, was the very widespread interest which was manifested.

From all parts of the country, from the South and from the West, from Canada and from New York, comments and inquiries poured in upon the management. Owing to the errors and haste of the newspaper reports of the proceedings, much misunderstanding arose concerning the object and scope of the new movement, many papers even believing, or affecting to believe, that the new rules were intended as a substitute for the old system. To this misconception can be attributed much of the opposition encountered.

Now that the storm is over and the "hurly-burly done," as the author of the rules, I wish to present, in an accurate form, to the widespread amateurs who look to Outing as the champion of the true spirit of gentlemanly sport, the scope of these new rules. For the last three years I have acted as judge at nearly all the amateur boxing tournaments held in and about Boston, and I had been forced to the conclusion, reached, I doubt not, by all judges of amateur boxing, that science was becoming more and more conspicuous by its absence, and that slugging, pure and simple, was becoming more and more the order of the day. Boys with the merest rudiments of boxing skill enter competitions, depending solely upon their strength and endurance; little effort is made for defense; the competitors hammer each other like savages, and the one who is the luckiest, the strongest, or the most enduring, gets the decision. This is not boxing; it is fighting. This is not the art defensive, but the art offensive.

It will be admitted readily, I think, that there is need of reform and improvement in boxing; the only difference of opinion which can exist is as to the method. Whatever the method, it must be radical; merely instructing the judges to consider form and points will have no effect. The A. A. U. rules contain such a clause now, but it is rarely considered, nor can it justly be, for it is undoubted that when two men come together to fight, the one who whips the other should receive the decision, even if he made less points or did his work less gracefully. I doubt if any judge or referee would have the courage to give a decision to a whipped man because he showed more cleverness; and yet such cases occur in every tournament. It is manifest to me that rules to compel science in ordinary competitions will be useless. There is, however, another method; namely, to separate the two forms of boxing, leaving the ordinary form as it is now, and instituting a separate system of distinctively scientific boxing, This was the object of the new rules, which are here given:


These rules are not intended as a substitute for the ordinary boxing rules, nor are they expected to interfere with the holding of regular boxing competitions, from which the question of strength and endurance can never justly be eliminated, they are framed solely to encourage exhibitions and competitions, if desired, of purely scientific boxing.

Rule I. -- The A. A. U. rules shall govern all contests, except as they conflict with these rules.

Rule II. -- Contests shall be decided entirely on scientific points. The question of endurance, condition or strength shall not be considered.

Rule III. -- If, in the opinion of the referee, a competitor shows a determination to "slug" or maliciously injure his opponent, he shall caution him. If, after two cautions, the offense be repeated the referee shall disqualify the offender.

Rule IV. -- If, during a contest, a disabling accident occurs, the decision shall be given on the points made previous to the accident, unless, in the opinion of two judges, or one judge and the referee, the accident was caused deliberately, in which case the offender shall be disqualified.

The question to be considered is this: Are the rules practicable? It is an undoubted fact that men do spar in a friendly way in private; that in the boxing room men can and do give clever and interesting exhibitions without any intention or desire to injure each other. If they can spar thus for points in private, there is no reason why they cannot do so in public.

I am not so infatuated with the new rules as to imagine that an anxious public, debauched by the modern methods, is clamoring for them; on the contrary, I believe that it would be impossible, at the present time, to give a paying exhibition under them, for the public has been educated, unfortunately, to look for something more stimulating. These rules, however, are not framed for the purpose of money exhibitions. They are intended to stimulate an interest in sparring in clubs and in private. They are intended to bring back, at least in part, the pre-Sullivanite method under which two gentlemen, even if strangers, could spar for scientific mastery without being compelled to undergo a long and arduous prize-fight training. In former times rules such as we are now considering were not necessary, because the idea of "killing" each other rarely entered into the minds of competitors. The rules here presented amount, indeed, to little in themselves. Their sole object is to place the contestants at ease, to inspire them with confidence.

As in former times, and as now in private, men sparred as gentlemen, seeking only to show superior science, so, in the confidence inspired by these rules, men will compete with each other and will each endeavor to show eater cleverness. Of course, there will be hard hitting; there always was hard hitting when two friends sparred a friendly bout; but there is a very material difference between hard hitting and "slugging," between a blow which is quick and sharp by its very method of delivery and a deliberate, nerve-concentrated blow dealt with the desire to injure. There is a difference between the leads and counters, the parries and shifts of a clever, gentlemanly set-to and the vicious swings, the bull rushes, the foul elbow and shoulder jabs now too often present in the style of so-called amateur boxing. Who can doubt that, when under the new rules men come together, each will do his cleverest work? Who can doubt that such a spirit will result in true science?

The science of boxing will be improved; there will be more good boxers, and as there is nothing to prevent a man from entering into both kinds of competitions, the result would be a more scientific lot of boxers in the ordinary competitions. The scientific competitions would be, as they should be, schools from which would graduate every now and again some who have not only science, but strength and endurance and the fighting desire. Such men, fitted against men equally as good physically but with little science, would so easily show their superiority that the mere sluggers would, be more chary of entering competitions until, in mere self-defense, they had required some cleverness. The result could not fail to be more scientific if less extended.

While men can spar friendly bouts in private, while professionals can spar for points, we cannot reasonably deny the practicability of these rules. The whole matter depends upon the contestants. If men desire to spar under these rules, the can do so, and that very desire will keep them from "slugging." As in an ordinary contest each man goes in with the consciousness that he must "slug" and be slugged," so, under the new rules, each man would compete with the confidence that not only that he will be slugged, but that slugging will injure rather than help. The object of boxing is, of course, to make fighters; not, however, fighters who can only attack, for that is a natural instinct, but true fighters, who cannot only act on the offensive, but on the defensive. In a few words, the science of boxing seeks to enable one to incapacitate an opponent with as little injury to one's self as possible. The science of boxing is an artificial method, and can only be acquired by study and practice; the science of fighting is a natural instinct, greater in some than in others. The fighter is "born, not made," but the opposite is true of the boxer. That our present system of so-called boxing is merely natural fighting is beyond need of proof; and as fighting and scientific boxing are by no means necessarily conjunct, an experiment which separates them should be welcomed by all true amateurs.

R. C. Macdonald, M. D.

April 2003