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Attacking The “Buckler” From Heenan To Louis

First, what’s a buckler?

A buckler is a small round-shield wielded by swordsmen or spearmen, it is worn on the defensive forearm or held in the defensive hand.
While the weapon-hand went to work the buckler was used to deflect blows and at times used as a weapon itself.

OK, so what does a buckler have to do with boxing?


James Figg

In the early days of the sport, boxing was thought of as an auxiliary activity to other forms of combat. Early boxing academies were not purely establishments for boxing training. They often offered a myriad of disciplines that were taught in tandem with one another.

There are numerous records of bouts where the participants not only boxed but also might engage in fencing, wrestling, and singlestick matches (essentially “sword-dueling” with a stout stick standing in for the sword itself.)

One of the anointed Fathers of Modern Boxing, James Figg, was an accomplished swordsman and engaged in many singlestick duel

As part and parcel of sword fighting we often see buckler-tactics, offensive and defensive use of the buckler.

When the buckler was not in use the rear arm (the defensive arm) was still held in the buckler-ready position.

The Buckler-Ready Position

What is buckler-ready position? Assume your boxing stance. Now look at your rearward arm, with its bent elbow and fist “up” position. Congrats, you have now had your first sword and buckler lesson.

To distract, feint, or to open a line, swordsmen would often attack the buckler itself.

There was a transfer of this tactic from swordplay to the empty-handed boxing scufflers who knew that the occasional “attacking of the naked buckler” could have its uses.

There are myriad instances of attacking the buckler, but let’s look at a mere two.

One from the early era when swordplay, wrestling, and singlestick were also part of the boxing curriculum.

And one from the modern era to demonstrate that the tactic still has a good deal to recommend it.

Example One: 1860

John Camel Heenan

John Camel Heenan, the Benicia Boy, was an American prize-fighter who decided to cross the pond and take on the British champion, Tom Sayers.

The two met on April 17, 1860.

The fight ended in absolute chaos when the crowd rushed the ring after Heenan tried to “strangle” Sayers by pushing his head down and across the ropes in the 37th round.

After this melee, the ring was set up a short distance away and the much battered and bruised warriors re-commenced for five more rounds before the police were spotted and the crowd dispersed. (Prize fighting being illegal at this time.)

Both men gave and recieved a good deal of punishment, but contemporary reports have it that Sayers was looking superior with good defense when by either luck or design Heenan “attacked the buckler.”

Heenan having trouble penetrating Sayers defense launched heavy blows at the defense itself and in the 6th one of these did the trick rendering Sayers right arm quite useless. (Heenan’s eye was closed in the 7th and yet these men carried on for 42 rounds and over two hours of brutal punishment.)

So, here we have an instance of banging the arms (attacking the buckler) to gain advantage.

Example Two: 1934

Jack Blackburn

Let’s look to a 20th century example.

Joe is facing the very slick Lee Ramage for his first time.

The two met for this inaugural bout in Chicago, December 10, 1934. Joe is having trouble penetrating Ramage’s tight defense.

He heads back to his corner after the sixth round and says, “I can’t get a good shot at him.”

To which, the ever-wise Jack Blackburn, replies, “Well, he’s got arms ain’t he?”

The canny Mr. Blackburn told the Brown Bomber to attack the buckler.

By the eighth round Ramage had trouble holding his arms up and Joe put him away.

Six Rounds of Attacking The Buckler

  • Round One – Get on the heavy bag and either visualize the arms in defensive position or chalk “arms” onto the bag for precise targeting. Go to work banging hard and heavy hooks to the biceps and forearms.
  • Round Two – Stay on the heavy bag. Work taking slide-steps to the inside and outside lines while placing straight punches to the arms (buckler.)
  • Round Three – Work on combining the arm-hooking and sliding straights.
  • Round Four – Grab your sparring partner and each take turns being a shelled-up cautious fighter. Work the arm-hooks with control so you both can keep playing.
  • Round Five – Now, work the sliding straights to the buckler with your partner.
  • Round Six – Combine the hooks and straights and your other boxing tactics.

With this minor change in targeting and the six preceding drills we can go a long way from seeing a shelled-up good defense to seeing everything (and I mean everything) as a target.

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19 thoughts on “Attacking The “Buckler” From Heenan To Louis”

  1. Very enlightening and seemingly solid theory, my friend!!! Would have to imagine that it must also exact some level of psychological effects on your opponents!! Because I believe an unknowing opponent would spend way too much time and energy striving to figure out what was actually going on and being somewhat befuddled at the same time. Thereby affording one an advantage of varying degrees based on the experience of your opponent.

  2. Interesting. Bruce Lee also believed in striking the opponent’s arms and hands rather than blocking or deflecting them. Too, he had studied Fencing and Western Boxing…

    Great post!

  3. Hey Bob, left a comment last night . Anyway your self defense train is great and on target. I grew up in a tough environment. Always the new kid in school or new guy in town. We moved a lot due to employees. Always getting picked on and beat up by the Bullies. I had this thought process of far fights. Wrong I’ve had run ins with pack fighters and had a guy threaten me at gun point after they broke into my . That didn’t go so well for him or his partner. I got lucky and beat the shit out of him twice that night. Anyway my father change my way of thinking on far. Your peoples thought process is so much like his. It’s a good thing to have. Thanks.

  4. The attack mode is a great ability. It’s some times the only way your going to survive. Used my fingers in eyeballs and scweezed bells to get up off the ground. Lol.

  5. I guess I did this instinctively, but it works. I got attacked coming out of the grocery store by a man larger than me. He wanted to grapple with me but I hit his forearm with a very hard hammer fist and it went limp.
    He turned away holding his arm and I managed to kick him in the butt, hitting his sciatic nerve, I guess. He gimped off so I left him alone.
    I had a friend who was in UDT and he related being in a knife fight in Manila where he concentrated on just cutting the other guys fingers. Same idea.

  6. Nice tactic if engaged in a long fight against an equal or near. There is a nice ganglia wher the deltoid meets with bicep and tricep on the outside of the arm. A targeted strike on the ganglia, preferably with a locked thumb jab or knuckle clump to penetrate a little deeper into tissue will cause arm to go limp like it’s asleep. I think this is purely “boxing” though, that you are talking about. Gloves really get in the way when shooting for nerves.

  7. Thanks Bob and all at fight fast for helping me feel more confident in self defense and getting great prices on these wonderful knives I have started to collect!
    Know body knows just how many knives I have on me at any given moment or day! Hope I never have to slice some poor son of a bitch trying to rob me! But then it was his choice to make, gullet to mullet, stop that damn gurgling!

  8. I like this style alot im sure there’s not much laughter seeing someone who has mastered it I like with Leonard said with Bruce Lee very nice Tunno it reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes movie all acting inside someone that would fight like that could switch it up to today’s style and just throw somebody off so I agree it is very much in opponents distraction in an arsenal for anybody who could keep that in the back of their minds but not completely forgotten

  9. You know I have never seen a true boxing match or have I ever known what a Buckler was. I now see clearly the logical science behind this attack scenario. Thanks for the insight

  10. Ip Man used this same tactic against the British boxer in one of the Ip Man movies based on a real match, I believe. Whether or not he used this in the real fight I do not know. Great advice either way! Thank you for yet another nice move!

  11. Sound tactics! With a little bit more training, nerve attacks on the arms also come into play for more aggressive and painful ‘killer’ moves