Taking Inspiration from Jack Dempsey
I’ve been focusing lately on something my husband found in the book Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching, Aggressive Defense by the all-time boxing great Jack Dempsey – that the power of your strikes comes from throwing your weight through your target. This technique coincides with what Neung (my boxing coach here) has been trying to teach me, especially on my right cross. Step strongly – almost like staggering forward a single step – with lots of weight-transfer, forehead down, driving the punch forward like your diving with it. I’ve been becoming much more aware of my step forward and the way I’m trying to include more of my weight in my strikes, something my husband and I have been calling “throwing the baby”…if you read the Dempsey excerpt below you’ll see why.
This principle of weight-transfer really is not new to me, though it can take years before you really start to understand it in your body, and seeing it from a boxing perspective helps me make connections I would not otherwise make. Creating power in your strikes by throwing your weight is something that I was always taught by Master K, my foundational Muay Thai teacher in N.J., who focuses on sometimes overlooked aspects of technique such as driving power through your hip and standing leg, or by hopping across on kicks and punches. His refrain was always to urge me to use all 100 lbs of me, as if I was a 100 lb hammer, “not 5 lbs” he’d say for a punch and generously offer that my kicks might be a full 10 lbs if I used only my limb. For Master K, throwing of weight often happens in a kind of slashing across your opponent action – like chopping a tree, he’d say. You can see it in his countless examples where he jumps across the kicking bag with a thundering bent leg. I include the video below where he shows something of this body dynamic as he breaks down how the hip and torso lead his beautiful high kick, pulling the kick across with his hip and through the striking zone, propelling the body weight through in one clean line that can be hidden when you see the kick at full speed. He is showing how it feels to pull the kick through (see the 2nd GIF) and where the power is coming from.
above showing the hip and torso directionality
above showing the forward vector, exploding to your target
then adding a snap at the end, after forward torso motion
My current trainers are trying to get me to drive down into the kick more than in this kick, establishing the quick chopping, high-scoring motion with less lean back; but the same priciple remains. The body comes through, driven from the hip and standing leg so that the power doesn’t peak on impact but rather pushes into the target a little farther. (Master K taught this kick, too.)
And moving from Master K to Jack Dempsey is the same physics. Instead of a slashing through action Dempsey approaches the throwing of weight by describing two fundamental directions: one is either throwing one’s weight forward (which can be most plainly seen in his “Falling Step” technique, below) or one is twisting and torquing. Of course there are countless combinations of these two physical vectors in techniques. But what I’ve really been thinking about lately and implementing in my practice is the forward collision, and the Falling Step which begins with the jab. I include some excepts and illustrations from his book (the whole of which you can download here) so you can see the simple physics he is talking about.
(I love the illustrations in his book. One of my favorite details is that in the illustration for falling forward the man is wearing dress shoes, slacks and a nice shirt, but with the sleeves rolled all the way up because he’s obviously working. Keep it classy, 1940’s!)
The Opening of Dempsey’s Book
What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver, standing on the sidewalk? It’s practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck. Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile WHEN ITS BODY-WEIGHT IS SET INTO FAST MOTION.
You may feel as helpless as a year-old infant-as far as fighting is concerned; but please remember: (1) YOU WEIGH MORE THAN A BABY, and (2) YOU NEED NOT FALL FROM A WINDOW TO PUT YOUR BODY-WEIGHT INTO MOTION. You have weight, and you have the means of launching that weight into fast motion. Furthermore, you have explosive ingredients. You may not appear explosive. You may appear as harmless as a stick of dynamite, which children have been known to mistake for an oversized stick of taffy. You can launch your body-weight into fast motion; and, like dynamite, you can explode that hurtling weight against an opponent with a stunning, blasting effect known as follow-through.
Incidentally, mention of the baby and explosives reminds me of what happened at Toledo on the afternoon of July 4, 1919. Standing there that day under the blazing Ohio sun, I felt like a baby as I glanced across the ring and saw big Jess Willard shrug off his bathrobe in the opposite corner. Cowboy Jess was heavyweight champion of the world, and he was a giant. Moreover, he was a perfectly proportioned giant. He was every inch an athlete. He tapered down beautifully from derrick-like shoulders, and his muscles were so smooth you could scarcely see them rippling under his sun-tanned skin. He towered six feet, six inches and a quarter. He weighed 245 pounds. In comparison I shaped up like an infant or a dwarf although I nudged past six feet and scaled 180 pounds. My weight was announced as 187 pounds; but actually I registered only 180.
As I looked across the ring at Willard, I said to myself, “Jeez! What a mountain I’ve got to blast down this time!”
I knew about blasting-about dynamite. I had learned about dynamite in the mines of Colorado, Utah and Nevada, where I had worked off and on for about six years. And I knew plenty about dynamite in fighting. I had made a study of fistic dynamite since I was seven years old. That was when I had my first fist-fight, with a boy about my own size, in Manassa, Colorado. I was born at Manassa and spent my early years there.
Before I fought Willard, my manager-Jack (Doc) Kearns-already had nicknamed me “Jack the Giant-Killer” because I had belted out such big fellows as Carl Morris and Fred Fulton. They were big men all right, but neither had appeared such an awesome giant as Willard did that sweltering afternoon. I had trained for Willard at the Overland Club on Maumee Bay, an inlet of Lake Erie. Nearly every day Kearns and Trainer Jimmy Deforest reported that I was shaping up much better than Willard.
But when I saw big Jess across the ring, without an ounce of fat on his huge frame, I wondered if Kearns and Deforest had been bringing me pleasant but false reports to bolster my courage. I won’t say I was scared as I gazed at Willard, but I’ll admit I began to wonder if I packed enough dynamite to blast the man-mountain down.
Since this is not a story of my life, I’ll refrain from boring you with details of the fight. I’ll wrap it up in a hurry; I’ll merely recall that I sent Jess crashing to the canvas six or seven times in the first round and gave him such a battering in the third session that Jess was unable to come out for the fourth round. As Willard sat helplessly on his stool in the corner, his handlers threw in the towel just after the bell had rung to start the fourth. I won the world heavyweight championship on a technical knockout. I won the ring’s most coveted title by stopping a man much larger and stronger than I was-one who outweighed me 65 pounds. I blasted him into helplessness by exploding my fast-moving body-weight against him. I used body-weight, with which the falling baby could knock out the truck driver; and I used explosion.
The Falling Step
The falling procedure is simple. Remember the baby and the truck driver? The baby fell straight down from the fourth-floor window (Figure 1). It was yanked straight toward the earth by gravity. It encountered nothing to change the direction of its moving body-weight until it struck the truckman’s head.
However, the direction of a falling object can be changed. Let’s take the example of a boy sitting on a sled and sliding down a snowy hill (Figure 2). In a sense, the boy and his sled are falling objects, like the baby. But the slope of the hill prevents them from falling straight down. Their fall is deflected to the angle of the hill. The direction of their weight-in-motion is on a slant. And when they reach the level plain at the bottom of the hill, they will continue to slide for a while. However, the direction of their slide on the plain-the direction of their weight-in-motion will be straight out, at a right angle to the straight-down pull of gravity.
Those examples of the falling baby and the sledding boy illustrate two basic principles of the stepping jolt: (1) that gravity can give motion to weight by causing a fall, and (2) the direction of that weight-in-motion can be deflected away from the perpendicular-on a slant, or straight forward.
Now-without any preliminary movement-take a long, quick step forward with your left foot, toward the object at which your left toe had been pointing (Figure 4). I emphasize: NO PRELIMINARY MOVEMENT BEFORE THE STEP. You unquestionably will be tempted to shift some of the weight from the left foot to the right foot just before you step. But don’t do it. Do nothing with the right foot, which is resting lightly on its ball, NO PRELIMINARY MOVEMENT! Just lift the left foot and LET THE BODY FALL FORWARD IN A LONG, QUICK STEP. The left foot should land flat and solid on the floor at the end of the step.
It is a quick, convulsive and extremely awkward step. Yet, it’s one of the most important steps of your fistic life; for that falling-forward lurch is the rough diamond out of which will be ground the beautiful, straight knockout jolt. It’s the gem-movement of straight punching. Try that falling step many times. Make certain, each time, that you start from a comfortably balanced position, that the body-weight is resting largely on the left leg, that the knees are slightly bent, that the arms are at your side, and that you make no preliminary movement with the right foot.
I call that forward lurch a “falling step.” Actually, every step in walking involves a small “fall.” Walking is a series of “falls.” But in this particular step, the fall is exaggerated for two reasons: (1) your weight is well forward when you step off, and (2) the step is so long that it gives gravity a chance to impart unusual momentum to your body-weight. The solidity with which your left foot landed upon the floor was caused by your
momentum. The late Joe Gans rarely missed with a long, straight punch; but, when he did you could hear for half a block the smack of his left sole on the canvas.
Although the weight of your body was resting largely upon your left foot when you stepped off, you didn’t fall to the floor. Why? Because the alert ball of your right foot came to the rescue frantically and gave your body a forward spring in a desperate attempt to keep your body balanced upright-to maintain its equilibrium. Your rescuing right foot acted not only as did the slope of the hill for the sledding boy, but also as a springboard in the side of the hill might have functioned had the sledding boy whizzed onto a springboard on the side of the hill. The left foot serves as a “trigger” to spring the right foot. So, the falling step sometimes is called the Trigger Step.
I warned: DON’T MAKE A PRELIMINARY MOVEMENT before stepping off. Had you followed your natural inclination and shifted your weight to the right foot before stepping, that action would have started your body-weight moving backward-away from the direction in which you intended to step. Then you would have had to lose a split-second while your right foot was stopping the backward motion and shifting your weight forward again before the punching step could be taken.
Learn now and remember always that in fighting you cannot afford to give your body the luxury of a useless preliminary or preparatory movement before shooting a punch. In the first place, your target may be open for only a split-second, and you must take advantage of that opening like a bolt of lightning. Secondly, preliminary movements are give-aways-“tell-tales”-“telegraphs”-that treacherously betray to your opponent your own next action. Joe Louis was knocked out in his first fight with Max Schmeling principally because tell-tale movements of Joe’s left glove disclosed the fact that he was preparing to shoot a left jab. Schmeling timed Joe’s telegraphs and smashed him again and again with straight rights to the head.
Body Weight Coming Forward
The stepping straight punch, which you learned earlier, is pure because it has all the essentials of a punch. One of those essentials is this: THE BODY-WEIGHT MUST BE MOVING IN THE SAME DIRECTION THAT YOUR STRIKING KNUCKLES ARE POINTING. In other words, the body-weight must be moving in the same direction that the exit of your power line is pointing. When you punch straight from the falling step, the fall and the right-foot spring send your body-weight straight forward-in the same direction your striking knuckles are pointing (Figure 20). And the assisting power you get from the accompanying shoulder whirl in the falling step does not change the direction of your weight in motion.
That essential-same direction of weight and striking knuckles-is lacking when you punch straight from the shoulder whirl, WITHOUT STEPPING. You’ll understand what I mean when you try this little experiment. Take your normal punching position before the bag. Using the shoulder whirl, hit the bag hard with your left fist; then, move to follow with a terrific straight! right to the same spot, BUT, INSTEAD OF LETTING YOUR RIGHT FIST ACTUALLY HIT THE BAG, YANK YOUR FIST IN AGAINST YOUR CHEST JUST BEFORE IT CAN LAND.
Your body whirled around, using the left foot as a pivot. Your body had practically no tendency to plunge forward into the bag, for your weight was spinning like a top. Had you completed that punch, your striking knuckles would not have been pointing in the same direction as that of your whirling weight. Your striking knuckles were shooting straight forward, but your shoulder was whirling.
Usually when a straight punch is exploded against its target, the arm is fully extended. At the instant of explosion in a non-step whirling straight punch, the striking knuckles of the extended arm are trying to continue in one direction. whereas the shoulder is trying to pull the arm in another direction (Figure 21). Your moving body-weight, instead of being exploded straight forward into the target as it was in the falling-step punch, may be whipped away to the inside by your whirling shoulder. That type of punch cannot have explosive follow-through-unless your opponent steps into the punch. Incidentally, I believe that “whip-away” causes many of the mysterious shoulder and elbow injuries suffered by fighters-torn ligaments, pulled muscles, and socket dislocations.
The harder you throw a straight punch from the whirl, the more your body will try to purify the punch by giving it loop. Your body will try to send your striking knuckles in the same circular direction in which your body-weight is whirling. The harder you try to punch, particularly in rapid-fire exchanges, the more old Mother Nature will try to force you to hook. You see: THE HOOK IS THE PERFECT WHIRLING PUNCH, IT’S PURE. Consequently, the more loop given a whirling straight punch, the more explosive the punch.
Nevertheless, you cannot let nature have her way with your straight whirls. It’s unfortunate that the wider the loop, the easier your opponent’s block or slip. Moreover, the straighter you throw your punches in a rapid-fire exchange, the better you will keep “inside” your opponent’s attack. The fellow who has the inside track in an exchange usually lands the most punches, so, DON’T LOOP ‘EM.
Although a non-step straight punch from the shoulder whirl is impure, don’t get the idea you shouldn’t use the whirl for straight punching, THE WHIRL IS VERY VALUABLE WHEN YOU CAN’T STEP, AND VERY VALUABLE AS AN AID TO POWER IN THE FALLING STEP. The more power you can generate with the shoulder whirl, the harder you will hit with both types of straight punches; and the more explosiveness you will inject into your hooks. The shoulder whirl is extremely important.
But let me stress this fact: NEITHER YOU NOR ANYONE ELSE WILL BE ABLE TO HIT AS HARD WITH A STRAIGHT PUNCH FROM THE SHOULDER WHIRL, WITHOUT THE FALLING STEP, AS WITH IT. I emphasize that because many instructors teach: “Never step with a straight punch unless you have to.” That instruction is wrong. The trigger step (falling step) must be part of your instinctive equipment before you begin experimenting with straight, shoulder-whirl punches. Otherwise, when you do have to step with a shoulder-whirl punch, you’ll be using the wrong type of step. When you step in with a left jab, you’ll be using a curved step; you’ll be letting your foot follow your whirl. And when you try to step with a straight right, you’ll be trying to “hit off the right foot” by “raring back,” like a baseball pitcher, before you throw the punch. A pitcher has time to rare back before he goes into his falling step, but if you rare back you’ll be a “catcher”.
You may ask, “Well, when should I step, and when should I whirl?” The answer is simply this: STEP WITH A STRAIGHT PUNCH WHENEVER YOU GET THE CHANCE, EVEN IF YOU CAN TAKE ONLY A VERY SHORT STEP. When you can’t step, nature will force you to depend entirely upon shoulder whirl.
Whirl and Weight
Here are some superb examples of weight transfer and footwork. I can say for certain that nobody wants to be hit by Jack Dempsey, even men bigger than he was. This is something you can see when you witness video of old bare-knuckle boxers hitting a bag – they just bend the whole thing in half with a single punch, the power moving all the way through the hip, torso, shoulder, elbow and into the fist like a wrecking ball. When Neung hits the bag (bare hands) or presses his knuckles against me to demonstrate something there is so much power behind his hands, even when he’s not throwing with any power at all. You just do not want to be hit by that.
from this video