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Wear Them Down: Corbett’s Jab

A New Era

James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett is regularly acknowledged as the dividing line separating the brawler/slugger era of boxing to the gloved “scientific” era. Corbett himself would tout the “scientific” method of fighting, which meant more fluidity and the addition of finesse punches to the usual power arsenal. Hear Corbett himself on the differences:

In the old days of the London prize ring there were hard and fast rules for training. Today they are to be laughed at. They may have been all right for those men in those days, but they would not do now. They did not look for speed then, but rather developed a physique that was oak–like in its strength, and cultivated a blow that would fell an ox—if it landed. Blows like that are too easily avoided nowadays, and the man who feints and sidesteps has to be reckoned with.

A Focus On Avoidance

Corbett acknowledges heavy power—power that is to be avoided—and this avoidance was a hallmark of his style. It was also what allowed him to render the seemingly impervious Great John L. a bit, well, pervious.

Corbett was not a heavy-hitter, but that lack of power seemed to be more of a choice than a lack of oomph. Out of 20 fights we see a mere 5 wins by knockout. If we recall Corbett’s own words, we can reason that he practiced what he preached.

He made a point of using footwork, evasion, and movement in general to avoid power. He was working in an era where there was such an emphasis on raw power that he realized adopting a strategy in the other direction would give him an advantage.

Altering The Jab

Adding to his chosen light-handedness was his jab form. He used the jab frequently and was, at the time, one of the best big men using the tool, but his choice of fist contact or striking position lessened its power.

We can only surmise that a fighter as intelligent and well-considered as Corbett knew that he was choosing a less-than-powerful jab and that he made that choice in favor of speed—both speed of execution and perceptual speed. Let’s break down Corbett’s Jab, have a look at some of its positive attributes, and then put it through some drill paces.

The Corbett Jab

The primary facet that distinguishes Corbett’s Jab from a standard jab is the lack of fist turn-over.

If we hold our hands up in a defensive position and have a look at our jabbing fist we will see that the palm is facing the inside line, but not perfectly so. It has an ever-so-slight twist of the palm forward.

When the standard jab is fired, the fist begins a thumb-to-the-inside-line rotation that ends with it making contact with the palm facing down.

This twist and snapping drive is what powers many a good, strong jab-puncher. Corbett’s jab, when fired, never loses the on-guard orientation. It arrives at its target as it left– neutral. That is, with the fist striking just off-center of the vertical.

If we take this jab to the bag, to the pads, or to the sparring ring, we will find almost immediately that it lacks the oomph of a turnover jab executed with proper snap. But…we do gain three unexpected attributes that I wager Corbett had in mind when facing his foes who were schooled in heavy-hitting as opposed to finesse.

Three Unexpected Attributes

ONE: Speed of Execution

  • Corbett’s Jab is not necessarily using the hip-twist or other driving mechanics as it is being primarily an “arm-punch,” that is, almost exclusively driven by the arm and shoulder muscle.
  • This use of less muscle and body mass to fire the punch results in less power but in a bit more speed.

TWO: Perceptual Speed

  • Since the punch lacks the need to make large body shifts it is a harder read.
  • Take it to the mirror and have a look for yourself. Throw standard jabs and watch for telegraphing. Even if you have a solid jab with few tells there is a bit of body “English” that goes into firing it.
  • Now watch yourself throw Corbett’s Jab, you will find there are far less tells that signal punch intent.

THREE: The Jab as Foil Defense

  • The arm of the jab fired in this position is a stop-hit tool, that is, a speedy counter that serves to disrupt attacks before they start (or before they arrive).
  • And if a punch is incoming while throwing the Corbett Jab, we find that our arm behaves as a fencing foil, blocking/deflecting the incoming punch with no forward head-lean.

A Long-Game Strategy

Again, not a powerful punch, but I sincerely think that it was not designed to be so. It was designed to disrupt a powerful opponent. It was used to score points and wear men down. It was used as a fencing probe to remain active and light on the feet without having to “settle down” into your punches.

Then, when the time was right, one could shift to power punches, including snapping the jab in the standard manner.

Five Rounds of Corbett Flip-Flop Jabbing

An acknowledged light punch, the tool should not be a primary, but…it has its place.

  • Round 1: Work the Corbett Jab on the heavy bag or pads, do not forget to apply it with light footwork, emphasizing the side-step.
  • Round 2: Work your standard boxing on pads or bag but return to using the standard jab.
  • Round 3: Work using the Corbett Jab with a Rear Hand power follow up. It will initially feel odd to go light then HEAVY but it will come.
  • Round 4: Work the standard jab and the Corbett Jab in an alternating manner so that you can get used to changing the flavors inside a round or even inside a combination.
  • Round 5: Take it to pads or light sparring where your feeder/partner is playing the role of the bigger more powerful fighter and you must use the Corbett Jab as intended. Stay on your bicycle, pepper the Corbett Jab, and if the opportunity for the power follow-ups occurs, seize it.

Again, not a powerful tool, but a canny speedy tool that has its place.

Wrapping Up

The Corbett Jab is an extremely useful weapon to keep in your arsenal and there is so much we can learn from the strategy surrounding its origin. Remember, power is not everything. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Anyway, get out there and hit the bags and be sure to let me know if this helped you by leaving your thoughts in the comments section down below!

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46 thoughts on “Wear Them Down: Corbett’s Jab”

  1. Thank you , Good read Im 5’1/4 tall 107 pounds and im not a Hard hitter Really not much of a fighter . But givin the Thought That sometimes Fights happen. I gained some insight From this post .

  2. An unusual approach. I remember as a young kid having boxing cards depicting both fighters. I am eighty years old and still work out regularly. I am 5’7″ and weigh 135. I have very little body fat =10.5 percent.

    I use weights and swim regularly, although I am remodeling parts of my house and that has interfered with my workouts. I find swimming to be a phenomenal exercise, especially for old guys like me.

    Thanks for the insightful article.

  3. Love it , I teach every Friday , martial arts and some boxing, survival, etc
    I really enjoyed the Corbett training and will be including this.
    Thanks again always.
    Jeff
    U.S.military (ret)

  4. Growing up, I was a light, middleweight, amateur boxer…… 30 yrs ago. One of the most important things I learned as a “ pugilist “, was that SPEED WAS OF THE ESSENCE!!!!!. It was by far better to be quick to avoid getting hit than it was to focus on delivery of the knockout punch. By wearing down your opponent, with initial speed on light jabs, allowed for setup of the bigger punches, which were not expected. Thank you so much for reaffirming 👍

  5. Pretty cool. Did not know this. But I am originally a street fighter, to martial arts to street martial arts. Never been techniquely a boxer. A kick boxer yes. But that is a very well described technique. I find it very cool how he made the transition and used it to his advantage. Nice blog.

  6. Thanks for the great fast fights videos has change my insights to self defense which is more effective in street fights when face with any situation keep up the good work

  7. Very enlightning and also useful! Indeed, it is a summary of the revolution from raw pugilism to scientific boxing and also a good tool for training!
    All the Best and keep going,
    Dan-Tudor, Bucharest, Romania

  8. Fantastic info. Had been playing with that quick jab lately, as well. Tucking in those elbows and shooting it straight out with no warning, extra movement nor telegraphing.

    Michael Jai White(the movie action/fighting star)a great tutorial on YouTube regarding how coming straight forward with a punch without the windup, but a straight line from you to your opponent kind of screws with their visual perception and they don’t react to the punch as quickly as you would think. – almost becomes an optical illusion as it approaches, but you won’t see it in time and you’re popped a good one. I would imagine that illusion and inability to stop it drove his opponents crazy and then once they were unsettled, put them away with more power shots that do the real damage.
    Great stuff. Will be on it even more.
    Thanks
    Steve Ross

  9. As with most of the FightFast videos the point is that if you are forced into a confrontation there are ways to lessen the time you are in the confrontation and allow you to exit the situation as quickly and safely as possible. This is another excellent way to get to your opponent just a little faster than he is expecting. Appreciate the tips!

  10. Yes this is good I am 79 just fought in street a 23 yr old male that attacked me because I am a disabled veteran.

  11. It sounds great, but I think that that it couldn’t pass against today fighters in boxing. It was a boxing “between two gentlemen”.
    Do you remember the way of Mike Tyson boxing?

  12. Learned only one boxing combination. Changed it a little bit shuffling in with a jkd jab, overland right & left hook. Very hard for an opponent to stop if he’s moving toward you.