By: Stephanie Kent
No matter the greatness of the teacher, no one can learn boxing from a book.
Deep in the archives of great fighting literature, you’ll find Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense by Jack Dempsey. First published in 1950, the heavyweight champ from 1919 until 1926 offers this memoir-meets-how-to-guide. Most of the pages are dedicated to a boxing education from an older era; the book won’t make a world champion out of anyone, but all levels of fight fan can learn from the hard-won wisdom of Dempsey’s legendary career.
After noting that his first million-dollar gate brought a flood of novices to the sport (you know the type: boxing “trainers” and who’ve never been in a ring), Dempsey laments that “Fighting became ‘big business’; but in the scramble for money in the cauliflower patch, the punching technique of the old masters… seems to have been forgotten.” He sets out to remedy the lack of boxing education with the seventeen chapters that follow; step-by-step, illustrated guides for punching, footwork and defense.
Championship Fighting details the author’s title-winning fight against Jess Willard in 1919 and introduces a theory of boxing: explosive body weight is the single most important weapon. Dempsey will go on to demonstrate how to incorporate the concept into every type of punch.
This section, which makes up the majority of the book, boasts lofty claims of teaching would-be boxers everything they need to know about fighting. No matter how much we’d all love to learn boxing at the feet of a champion like Dempsey, the book is hardly a substitute for time at a gym, with a coach. The vocabulary is straightforward enough, but the short, precise movements he describes and the very philosophy of punching seems only recognizable to those who’ve spent time in a gym. Likewise, about half of the illustrations — all strapping, young white men with already-toned boxers’ physiques — were vague and failed to shed additional light on the accompanying instructions.
A handful of Dempsey’s instructions did resonate as interesting meditations on form and technique, though, and felt akin to that moment when your boxing coach explains an old concept in a fresh way that sticks. As an accompaniment to time in a gym, or as a refresher for an experienced fighter, the book might serve as a good reminder of the ABCs of the sport.
Even if a new boxer was to grasp all the concepts Championship Fighting teaches, the book fails to acknowledge one of the truths of learning the sweet science: that an education in boxing is an art, a living, breathing thing that requires teachers, teammates and real human interaction to perfect.