The Superman Punch

All I knew was that his upper body, outside of range an instant ago, was suddenly in range and the big blue glove that covered his right fist was expanding and filling my field of vision as time slowed. I realized that I, standing there flat on one foot, was about to be caught with a Superman punch that was going to put me on my ass.


A Superman punch, for the uninitiated, is basically just a big flying overhand right (assuming an orthodox lead) coming in when you are expecting a kick. A common setup is to throw a couple low kicks or knees, then a faking a low kick by lifting the knee, then kicking the same leg back while jumping in and throwing a big punch with the rear hand. It can be done off a leg check as well, but that’s less powerful.

The idea behind calling it a Superman punch is that it can be almost horizontal, and on leg is back and one arm is forward looking like Superman flying through the air. The dynamic for the version I learned is like a rocking motion or a contraction then expansion as the leg is brought forward and then kicked backwards while the fist is hurtled towards the target. In all fairness, any flying overhand could probably be called a superman punch.

As far as it’s origins, anecdotal evidence places it as a muay thai technique at least as early as the 1980s, although most arts can probably claim a technique vaguely similar.

We were sparring in a kickboxing class, switching partners every round, when I was matched with a lanky fellow without shin pads. “How rude,” I thought, as his kicks occasionally landed. Not that they were hard, but still, it’s simply not done for just one person to wear pads because someone’s obviously getting the better end of the deal. I don’t recall much of the sparring match, except when he floated in with that big right hand that got bigger the closer it got. At the last moment, the foot I stuck out to check him (teep) connected with his abdomen and halted his progress just in time. I was so preoccupied with getting drilled that I had forgotten it was even out there to check what I thought was an incoming kick.

Relief washed through me and the rest of the match we ran out the clock; he was frustrated with not getting in, and I was happy to just coast after avoiding that punch. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the Superman punch, but it had been awhile and it almost got me.

It can be an effective technique because it is unexpected; consequently the biggest danger is overuse because it’s easy to avoid and counter if someone sees it coming.

Here’s someone instructing a form of the technique:

Sorry, looks like that one was pulled.

Without a doubt, the highest level of competition in which it’s been employed was the George St. Pierre v. Matt Hughes fight at UFC 65. GSP misses the first time, but eventually after setting it up with low kicks he manages to land it and follow up, knocking Hughes down. Sorry, no video, Zuffa keeps pulling it from youtube.

But here’s a quick one that happens at about 13 seconds:

Will President Bush Pardon Jack Johnson?

Folks, we’re getting down to the wire and I for one am excited to see if this pardon will be granted. As a rule, modern presidents tend to issue a whole slew of pardons right before leaving office rather than doing so earlier. That way, they don’t have to hear a bunch of grief about it during their presidency and there’s no chance of a pardoned convict then holding up a liquor store and embarrassing the administration.

President Bush is on record as not being big on pardons, but there has been a lot of support for the pardon of early 20th century boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champ.

For more details about Jack Johnson, his conviction, and the pardon process itself, check out the article I wrote a few years ago for EJMAS linked below. Since that article was written, there has also been a U.S. House resolution passed in support of the pardon, joining with the U.S. Senate and Texas Senate resolutions.

Jack Johnson was a fascinating individual with and interesting boxing style, mainly defensive, and I would recommend any of the handful of biographies out there about him. His own was a bit self-serving, but still enjoyable. The Ken Burns documentary is also worth a watch if you want the multimedia experience. The link below will get you started, as it contains reference to the biographies as well as a link to the pardon brief, which gives a synopsis of many of the major events in Johnson’s life.

Will Li’l Bush Pardon Li’l Arthur? Some Legal Background to the Jack Johnson Pardon Petition

[UPDATE on 1-20-2008, post-inauguration. No last minute flood of Bush pardons, and no pardon for Johnson. I think it is highly likely that the pardon petition will be resubmitted under the new Obama administration.]

A Female Boxing Match (1876)

A blow-by-blow account of two women boxing at Harry Hill’s concert saloon in 1876. To give this tale some context, Harry Hill was an Englishman (born in Liverpool, 1819) who opened his saloon in New York city in 1854 and operated it until 1888 when the reform politicians finally gained control of both the liquor board and the police authorities and he was forced to close at the brink of bankruptcy. To Hill’s credit, he was wildly successful until the 1880s, and the former wrestler he did not go down without a fight; he was fined, arrested, jailed, and even forced to testify in police corruption probes before he finally capitulated.It was generally a peaceable joint, where “the main entrance was for men, who paid 25¢ admission. The side door was for women, who paid nothing. Hill’s drinks were over-priced and the air was a cloud of tobacco smoke. Other than that, Hill ran a respectable house, and his boxers circulated among the crowd to keep it that way.” (Svinth).

Things did get rowdy upon occasion, and it was not always the men who started the affrays.

For example, Nellie Smith and Jennie Collins, regulars at Hill’s, were often ejected for causing a ruckus. One night they showed up with Fanny Kelly in tow, and, after being ordered out of the joint, Kelly stabbed Harry Hill with a penknife, first in the face and then again in the forehead near the temple, hard enough for it to remain there with the handle jutting out of his head. Understandably chagrined, Hill promptly punched her, knocking her teeth out and sending her tumbling down the steps. The women fled outside and were arrested by New York’s finest. New York Times, November 6, 1869.

The sports mentioned in the article below were well known to anyone in the city that followed boxing and wrestling; most were themselves boxers at one point. Most had also been arrested at some time for participating, or sometimes for just being present, at illegal prizefighting matches. Hill and other hall owners sidestepped the prohibition by calling the matches “sparring exhibitions,” which was true in many instances, but periodic crackdowns resulted in occasional arrests.

The article below, from the New York Times, March 17, 1876, was not a one-time affair. Hill was known for often hosting women boxing, African-Americans boxing, and other less mainstream entertainment, occasionally partnering with Richard K. Fox’s National Police Gazetteunder the auspices of an ad hoc world championship title.

For more on combative women, see Joe Svinth’s Women’s Martial Arts: A Chronological History, 479 BCE-1896 CE.



Some weeks ago Prof. James Campbell, the manager of Harry Hill’s establishment in Houston street, conceived the idea of having as a feature of its benefit, which took place yesterday, a sparring match with boxing-gloves between two women, and offered as a prize $200 and a piece of silver-plate. The opportunity offered by Mr. Campbell was embraced by two variety dancers, Miss Nelly Saunders and Miss Rose Harland. Miss Saunders is the wife of John Saunders, a pugilist, and Miss Harland is unmarried. The former is Irish, twenty-four years old, five feet six and a half inches high, and weighs 153 pounds. Miss Harland is an English woman, twenty-five years old, five feet seven inches high, and weighs 164 pounds.

The match being made, both women at once went into training- Miss Saunders under the tuition of her husband, while James Kelly gave Miss Harland her first lessons in the pugilistic art. Owing to the declarations of both ladies as to their respective intentions of conquering the fray, what the sporting class would term “a lively mill” was anticipated, and yesterday afternoon the theatre was packed with an appreciative but noisy audience. Among the sporting men present were the three brothers Coburn, Prof. William Clarke, Ned Mallahan, “Mike” Costello, “Billy” Madden, “Butt Reilly, “Pete Croker, and many others. After the usual variety performance and sparring matches between Seddon’s “Mouse” and “Join” Kelly, the event of the entertainment was announced.

Mr. Hill introduced the lady contestants to the audience. Miss Saunders wore a white bodice, purple knee-breeches, which she had borrowed from one of the negro performers, red stockings and shoes. Miss Harland wore blue trunks and white tights. Both appeared exceedingly nervous, were very pale, tried to blush, and partially succeeded. Time was then called, and the female boxers shook hands. Miss Harland did not know what to do with her hands, but kept her head well back out of the way. Miss Saunders had a fair idea of attack and defense, but could not carry it into practice. After some preliminary sparring, Saunders managed to hit Harland fair in the face. Miss Harland endeavored to get square and was again worsted, but finally succeeded in disarranging Saunders’ backhari by a vicious blow from the shoulder. Both women then smiled, and the result of the first round was announced by Prof. Clark–Saunders, 7 hits; Harland 4.

The second round was in the main a repetition of the first. Miss Saunders hitting out from the shoulder, while Miss Harland swung her hands around in the air. Score–Saunders, 14 points; Harland, 10. The third round was of a somewhat different character. Miss Harland seeing that she was overmatched in science, presumed on her superior strength and “sailed in” for punishment. The exchanges were lively and hard. The result of this round was announced as 20 all.

The wind-up was of a similar character, and Prof. Clarke, on being asked for his decision, said that under other circumstances he would have declared the match a draw, but that Miss Saunders was the winner by a point, and she accordingly received the prize and the applause of the audience. Some gentleman handed Miss Harland a ten-dollar bill, and the tow female boxers left the stage arm in arm. A clever set-to between Pete Croker and Billy Madden brought the performance to a close.

“Physical Culture and Self Defense” by Fitzsimmons (1901)

Our indefatigable friend Kirk Lawson recently finished transcribing another martial classic. This one was on my list, but he saved me the trouble with this faithful reproduction. Here’s his description:


As with all other retranscribed antique manuals that I republish, the text is available for free. You can download it at no charge. The treeware version is at “cost.”

Born June 4, 1862, Robert Fitzsimmons began boxing first as an amateur n Australia, defeating four men in his debut. He quickly transitioned to professional, and in the late 19th Century met and defeated numerous well known champions of the day including Dempsey, Maher, Hall, Creedon, Corbett, Ruhlin, Sharkey, ‘and others of like note.’ retaining and defending the Heavy-Weight title until June 9, 1899.

In retired life, Fitzsimmons taught Boxing, Self-Defense, and Physical Fitness, then known as “Physical Culture.” In 1901, he published his Fitness and Boxing manual titled “Physical Culture and Self Defense” which included material from earlier articles he had written.

This book is a faithful transcription by Kirk Lawson of the original text. Special attention has been given to recreating the look and feel of the original document, including similar fonts, the preservation of spelling, hyphenation, and intentionally blank pages.

You can get the book at:

While you’re there, check out Kirk’s other offerings:

Was Savate’s Drop Kick from Pro Wrestling?

Of course that begs the question: Does savate possess the drop kick?

Unless you’re a youngster, you’re probably familiar with the numerous books Bruce Tegner published primarily in the 1960s, one of which was a text on savate. Therein, Tegner demonstrated first a jumping drop kick from the standing position and then a leaping sidekick from a moving start. Click on the thumbnail below for a close-up:

Drop kick

So is this a savate technique? If not, from where may it have derived? First, I am skeptical that the drop kick is a technique common in savate. I could easily be mistaken, but I don’t recall seeing the drop kick in either modern boxe francaise or in any classical savate manuals.

So where did it come from? Well, the obvious jumping ability and the high knee chambering does remind the reader of savate. A further reading of the history section of Tegner’s book reveals that he did go to Quebec at the age of fourteen for a year to learn savate from Jean-Claude Gautier. Tegner was born in 1929, so this was during WWII. Tragically, Gautier later died in that war as did so many other French savateurs. In fact, savate instruction was so severely depleted at that time that the art was nearly lost.

While Tegner may have very well learned the drop kick from Gautier, it may instead have been an anachronism. Tegner did not publish his savate book until seventeen years after his early training with Gautier. In the preceding thirty years, wrestling had introduced the drop kick as part of its aerial theatrics. Then once WWII began wrestlers were tasked with much of the hand-to-hand combat training and later published their methods, often including lip service to savate methods (think D’Eliscu, Cosneck, etc.).

“Jumping Joe” Savoldi had begun using the drop kick in the squared circle as early as 1933 and took credit for its invention. Likewise, wrestler Abe Coleman claims he invented the drop kick after seeing kangaroos on a visit to Australia in 1930. Either way, the method was firmly established well before Tegner went to Canada to learn savate.

In 1934, the press made a to-do over an anonymous wrestler complaining about Savoldi’s use of the drop kick. (Washington Post, Jan. 30, 1934). This was likely Jim Londos complaining before his January 31, 1934 rematch with Savoldi. Savoldi won the rematch after previously double-crossing Londos earlier in 1933, although in the meantime Savoldi had lost the title to Jim Browning.

But back to the relevant point: in 1934, the press referred to the drop kick as the “American savate,” giving initial credence to the idea that the drop kick may have been a technique introduced to wrestling from savate, but I think that also is a red herring. My take is that the term savate was just being used as a generic term for a foot technique in the article because of savate’s strong association with kicking techniques. I don’t believe the term was used to indicate an actual connection to savate.

Therefore, I conclude that Tegner’s use of the drop kick was idiosyncratic and not a widespread technique commonly used in savate. I suspect that instead the drop kick was incorporated at some point from the influence of wrestling. I’d love to be proven wrong, though, so if any of you savateurs can set me straight, don’t hesitate to speak up!

Bartitsu FAQ

This is the Frequently Asked Questions post Tony Wolf publishes every now and again for the benefit of new members to the Bartitsu Forum. I thought this would be a good introduction and a good time to spread the word because work is now underway on Volume II of the Bartitsu Compendium.


Q – What is Bartitsu?

A – An eclectic martial art founded in the late 19th century by E.W. Barton-Wright. See for the basics, for a more thorough summary and buy the Bartitsu Compendium for the whole story. The Bartitsu Forum message archives, Files and Photos sections are also full of information and the best place to get involved.

Q – What is the Bartitsu Society?

A – An informal, international community of Bartitsu enthusiasts who communicate via this email list. Since 2002 we have been active in the research and restoration of Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”. Our major project to date has been the publication of the Bartitsu Compendium in 2005 and our major interests include:

* the early history of European jiujitsu

* the eclectic Japanese/European self defence methods developed between 1899 and the early 1920s, and the lives of their founders and practitioners

* street gangsterism, the suffragette movement, “physical culture” exercise programmes and other Victorian and Edwardian-era social phenomena, as related to the martial arts

Q – What is the difference between canonical Bartitsu and neo-Bartitsu?

A – Canonical Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as we know it was”; the specific self defence techniques and sequences demonstrated by E.W. Barton-Wright and his colleagues between 1899-1904. Today, canonical Bartitsu is practiced as a mark of respect for Barton-Wright and as a form of living history martial arts training. It also serves as a common technical and tactical “language” amongst contemporary Bartitsuka.

Neo-Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as it might have been” and to “Bartitsu as it can be today”; to modern, individualised interpretations of the art, potentially including sport, self defence and performance applications. We are currently developing the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium to provide resources towards neo-Bartitsu. In any case, we hope that neo-Bartitsu forms will hold to the spirit and feel of the c1900 methods.

Q – What is the Barton-Wright memorial project?

A – E.W. Barton-Wright died penniless in 1951, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” in Kingston Cemetery, Surrey, England. In 2006, Bartitsu Forum member Phil Giles discovered the exact location of B-W’s grave-site. All proceeds from sales of the Compendium and Kirk Lawson’s Bartitsu DVD have been dedicated to creating a suitable memorial for B-W as a pioneering martial arts innovator. We have nearly reached our target figure!

Q – How can I get involved?

A – Easy! Post your questions, ideas and comments to the Bartitsu Forum (and by all means, an introductory post will be welcome). The Forum is an active and notably positive venue for communication on all matters Bartitsuvian.

The Chopper: The Pugilist’s Backfist

The backfist, and by that I mean the direct backfist, not the spinning one, often gets a bad rap. Many view it as a technique that is useful for TKD practitioners to get a quick point in tournaments, but one that has little value otherwise. Boxers and kickboxers are particularly skeptical of its effectiveness because there is little point in throwing a backfist with gloved hands when you could throw a jab instead.

However, it may surprise some readers that the backfist, once called “the chopper,” was a common technique in western pugilism for a few hundred years. By pugilism, I’m referring specifically to bare knuckle boxing rather than the modern gloved boxing that took over at the end of the 19th century.

Daniel Mendoza, active primarily in the late 18th century, has long been associated with the chopper. As a smallish man in a dangerous sport with no weight classes, Mendoza relied on quickness, a deft defense, and fast, multiple strikes rather than size and power. His manual, The Art of Boxing (1789), does cover the chopper, but copies are rare and the pages found online contain only a reference rather than the actual instruction.

An anonymous boxing manual from 1825 by “The Celebrated Pugilist” does contain a discussion of the advantages of the chopper and goes on to describe the blow as Mendoza’s favorite:


A Back-handed Blow or Chopper,

with the large knuckles of the right hand and a straight arm, is very effectual, as these blows, upwards or downwards, cut, and it is better to hit with them than the middle knuckles of the fingers, which are apt to be much injured. This blow was Mendoza’s favourite, and the power of striking it with dexterity often enables you to return with the same hand with which you parried the hit of your adversary. Thus, if you are struck at either side of the face, you may successfully raise up your elbow, catch the blow upon it, quickly bring round your arms, and give the chop. When the elbow is pointed a little upwards, it is the most favourable time for striking the chopper; because, by affording your arm a swing round, it gives a greater impulse to the blow.The chopper may be happily used in giving the return; and should a pugilist engage with a person ignorant of the science, it will certainly prove successful.

A round blow is easily perceived on its approach, and of course readily stopped. It is not a strong or quick way of fighting, and only resorted to by indifferent boxers; but the chopper is a blow out of the common line of boxing, and is found most effectual. For this purpose, the arm is to be drawn back immediately after giving this blow, so as to recover your guard. It generally cuts where it falls, and if hit but moderately hard on the bridge of the nose, or between the brows, produces disagreeable sensations, and causes the eyes to water, so as to prevent your adversary from seeing how to guard against two or three succeeding blows. If struck with force on the bridge of the nose, it splits it in two parts, from the top to the bottom; if on either of the eyes, it causes a temporary blindness, and if on both, it disables the person who receives it from continuing the fight.

The rear elbow stop from which a backfist can be thrown:
chopper1Rear Elbow Stop

Not all pugilism authorities were fond of the chopper. Lord Headley (R. G. Allanson-Winn), author of Boxing (1897), observed the transition from bare knuckles to gloves and not surprisingly found the chopper useless following the changeover. What was somewhat surprising was that Lord Headley thought it a weak blow even for bare knucklers:

A chopping hit from the elbow was made use of by some old timers, and though such a hit was capable of splitting a man’s nose, it was a poor hit and never could do much real damage, and in the present day it would be quite useless even for disfiguring purposes on account of the gloves.

I see the merit in both sides of the debate. It is a weak blow, in the sense that a knockout will not be scored from chopping the opponent. On the other hand, a strike breaking and splitting the nose or cutting the eyebrows or striking the eyes would be useful in an all-day bare knuckle match or a modern street encounter. A nice shot to the nose can be both disorienting and disheartening, resulting in the recipient watching through watery eyes as the claret flows down his chest. As the celebrated pugilist states, it also arrives in an unexpected manner because the line it takes is not “normal” in boxing.

A faithful reproduction of the chopper description from the Celebrated Pugilist’s Art and Practice of Boxing is depicted in the second sequence on this page: [Update- Uh oh, looks like the American Heritage Fighting Arts Association may have went the way of the dodo. However, Pete Kautz was the man behind it and it looks like his overall site is still up.]

While that sequence does correspond with the image above of the rear elbow stop, it is not my preferred way of using the chopper. I prefer an elbow stop with my lead arm, rather than rear, because throwing a backfist from the rear hand is awkward for me and I often find myself out of range when doing so. From the front, however, it works well and I throw it like Terry Brown teaches on p. 197 of his excellent treatise English Martial Arts.

Basically, when you are at distance in a left lead and a right from your opponent comes in, you raise your left arm, blocking the strike with the elbow as below:

Mendoza stopFront Elbow Stop

This does NOT have to be a complicated move. From my regular boxing guard, I keep my hands in place and simply rotate my left elbow up into a position as if I were throwing a left hook to the head. The elbow works as a great stop because it has a solid structure behind it, lining up with the shoulder. If you are stopping a bare hand right, the consequences of your opponent hitting the point of your elbow should be easy to imagine.

So, after you raise your elbow and stop the blow, you keep your elbow in place and swing your forearm around and strike the face of your adversary with a backfist.

Another variation can be used when the action is a little closer. A common defense against a right hook is a left elbow cover wherein you raise your left arm and cover the left side of your head by reaching back and placing your hand on the back of your head. The motion is similar to throwing an elbow directly upwards from a guard.

Here’s a pic I found on the interwebs something like what I’m talking about, although it’s not the tightest cover in the world:

From that position, the backfist goes directly out and strikes the opponent in the face.

I was recently shown another method of using the chopper, and it was in a “modern” boxing match. My brethren on the History Forum recently discussed the Pancho Villa vs. Jimmy Wilde fight (1923). You can see the clip here. The first inkling of a backfist comes at about :53, but then at 4:18, Pancho Villa misses with a huge backfist. Throughout the fight, it looks like Villa throws a left hook at a little distance, then follows up with a backfist from the same hand. He may have also been throwing a left jab/left backfist combo at times, but the grainy, jerky film footage makes it difficult to tell. It doesn’t appear to have been too successful, and it’s not the reason he won the fight, but it does show another application of the chopper: a backfist off a missed hook. That makes perfect sense to me, as it is launched from almost the same position as an elbow stop with the lead arm as described above.

Butting in the Revolutionary War

For Independence Day, I thought the following account would be an appropriate choice. It is an excerpt from a butting article I am working on (I have collected dozens of these types of accounts) that took place during the Revolutionary War. Butting, in its broadest sense, was headbutting. It was predominantly practiced by African-Americans, and was, I argue, practiced as play, sport, spectacle, and combat.

People were not the only participants in butting encounters; both animals and certain inanimate objects ended up on the business end of butting heads. Butting’s closest brush with fame came with the Revolutionary War heroics of slave Jack Sisson. On the night of July 9, 1777, a daring raid, consisting of an all-volunteer commando or forty-one men, led by Lieutenant Colonel William Barton, made its way in whaling boats through enemy waters to land on the northern end of Rhode Island. The group proceeded to the Overing House, which British Major General Richard Prescott used as his headquarters, and subdued the sentry at the gate.

Accounts differ, but either the front door or the general’s bedroom door was locked and, on the second try, the smallish Sisson butted through the door panel with his head and the door was opened. The general was quickly captured and rushed out of the house in a state of undress. The group captured the general, his aide-de-camp, and the sentry, and slipped back to their own lines. (Field, Edward (ed.). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History, Vol I)

The ignominious elements of Prescott’s capture were immortalized in a ballad that circulated after the affair:

A tawney son of Afric’s race
Them through the ravine led,
And entering then the Overing house,
They found him in his bed.

But to get in they had no means
Except poor Cuffee’s head,
Who beat the door down, then rushed in,
And seized him in his bed.

Stop, let me put my breeches on,
The general then did pray.
Your breeches, massa, I will take,
For dress we cannot stay.

(Kaplan, Sydney. Black Presence in Era of American Revolution).

Unfortunately for Sisson, the one thing he continued to regret, according to Barton biographer Catherine Williams, was that his name never appeared in any accounts of the action. (Kaplan). As well as being unnamed, he has been variously called Jack Sisson, Tack Sisson, Prince, Quaco (a different person altogether), and as seen in the ballad above, Cuffee.

Barton’s own account neglected mention of the butting completely, but Sisson’s obituary finally included an account of the incident. (Providence Gazette, November 3, 1821).

Savate in the United States in 1896

Here’s an article describing an attempt at introducing savate to the New York Athletic Club in 1896. To the best of my knowledge, it never gained much of a foothold in the NYAC. After all, Mike Donovan was the boxing instructor for decades and it is unlikely he would have cared to have competing pugilistic instruction at the club. On the other hand, savate was briefly fashionable in the 1890s U.S. and the NYAC did include at least one savate bout in their boxing programs earlier in 1893, so there must have been interest from at least some of the moneyed members of the NYAC.

The movements described in the article are familiar to boxe francaise practitioners today, although the descriptions can be difficult to follow because they are classified by the target area rather than the type of kick. The coup de pied bas, revers, chasse, and foutte all appear to be mentioned or at least listed by intended target.

The history is anachronistic, as savate was almost certainly less than a century old at this time (e.g., see Loudcher’s writings), but it’s still probably more accurate than the history section of most savate clubs websites and popular books. This article was originally printed in the Washington Post, June 14, 1896, p. 18.


Knowledge of Savate as a New Prize Ring Accomplishment


It Provides Unique Combinations of Feet and Hands and Is Especially Effective in Rough an Tumble Fighting-The Primary Rule In Learning Savate for Offensive and Defensive Purposes-Tripping the Kicker Up-The Coup de Flanc Kick

New York, June 12.

IF CERTAIN members of the swell New York Athletic Club have their way the fighter of the future will not only give upper cuts with his hands, but he will deliver straight jabs, half swings, cross counters, and knockout blows with this feet. These men who set the fashion in amateur athletics have lately taken up the French style of fighting, which, if not as deadly as the present prize-ring method, is much more picturesque and requires double the amount of agility for scientific work.

In Paris there are numerous academies where this science is taught. The art is known as “Savate,” which literally means old shoe. A century or two ago a ball or dance held by the lower classes usually wound up in a row. The same state of affairs exists today, but unlike the present custom of throwing beer glasses, empty beer kegs, or using blackjacks, knives, and revolvers, the French brawlers made use of their wooden shoes. A hearty kick delivered in the right place by a strong man booted with one of these wooden shoes did tremendous damage.

The efficacy of this kind of warfare was speedily discerned and it became part of the young Frenchman’s education to use his feet well. No self-respecting young lady would think of attending a dance with a young man who could not put up a good fight with his feet; otherwise she might be insulted and further humiliated by the fact that her escort had failed to kick the life out of her traducer. Naturally, there were some who excelled in the art to such an extent that they became instructors, and later on professors.

Useful Against Street Ruffians

Today there are scores upon scores of these professors in Paris and several of them in this city. The young American regards a kick in a fight as the rankest kind of foul play, but a Frenchman argues on the theory that when a man is attacked he should be qualified to use each and all of the weapons given him by nature without any show of partiality. The average Frenchman acquires a knowledge of the savate for the single purpose of defending himself against attack by street ruffians. He does not expect to make use of it on his friends or acquaintances, as that would be vulgar. The duello code covers that contingency.

There are six times as many blows in the French styles as there are in the accepted form of fighting. Many unique combinations are made with the feet and hands, and for rough and tumble fighting it affords a system which is not to be beaten easily. A clever man at the savate can disable an adversary in short order. His leg can be broke, his neck dislocated, or his face smashed in at the will of a man of science.

The primary rule in learning savate and one of the most difficult to remember in the heat of combat is that the weight of the body must always rest on the foot furthest away from the opponent. The foot in front must be entirely free of all weight or other hindrance so that it can wave about in all directions like a flag in a gale of wind.

This rule is necessary both for offensive and defensive reasons. If the front foot is hampered by weight it cannot deliver a speedy kick. Moreover, as soon as the man you are fighting with sees that you are resting your weight on your forward foot he kicks it from under you and your countenance collides with the floor. This is necessarily sad. As the rapidity of the contest keeps the two men dancing about sometimes with one foot in front and just as often with the other foot forward it behooves the fighter to do a lot of thinking to always sustain his weight on the rear foot. When a beginner has thoroughly learned this rule half of the art has been acquired.

Raps Your Opponent’s Shins

The first kick to learn is the cow kick. This is simply a rap on the shin of your opponent as near to the knee as possible. Cleverly administered by a man of science, it will dislocate the joint and end then and there. More often it simply lames the leg. It is called the coup de savate, and is made with the toe aiming downward and outward. The parry for this kick is to raise the forward foot and bringing it back to the knee of the rear foot. Another way is to counter the kick by springing forward and getting inside the extended leg, and at the same time smash your opponent on the point of the jaw. Still another way is to spring back and endeavor to catch the extended foot with the hand, and then turn the luckless one upside down, so that his head will smash into the floor.

The coup de flanc is the next kick, and it is quite a fancy one. This kick should be so delivered that the heel will land on the human target instead of the toe. This is either a high or low kick, the point of attack being the face, chest, or side. It is a dangerous kick for a beginner to attempt, for in the event of a miscarriage it gives the other a splendid chance to end the combat. The kick is made by suddenly drawing up the knee of the fighting foot and then shooting it out in a half swing. The parry for the chest kick is to bring down both hands on the extended foot and endeavor to throw the kicker down. When the kick is aimed at the face, the parry is the reverse. The body is drawn back, and an effort is made with the hands to throw up the floor, so that the kicker will fall on the back of his head. For the side kick the parry is to throw the extended foot either to the left or the right with the arms.

Kicks Meant for the Face

The cross kick is capable of doing a lot of injury. The kicker makes a full half swing, usually with his left foot, and lands the heel of his shoe on the side of his opponent. The parry is to draw in the body, and bring both hands on the foot. Of course, a good grip on the kicker’s foot means that he is in for a nasty tumbler. There is a kick for the top of the head, a backward side-face kick, belt kick, a high body kick, the front side-face kick, and numerous others, all elaborations of the three principal kicks, that is the one for the shins, the one for the body, and the other for the head.

The professors of the art practice all day long kicking at imaginary things. Their accuracy is remarkable. With a side kick, as high as the head, they can knock the ashes off a cigar without injuring the fire. They never seem to lose their equilibrium, and always land with the weight of the rear foot, with the front foot swinging and ready for immediate action.

Chinese-American Boxers Before 1900

After 1900, there are a number of reasonably well-known Chinese-American boxers that fought in the western boxing tradition including at least two with variations on the name Ah Wing. The handful of Chinese-American boxers that fought in the 19th century are so obscure as to be unknown. Unfortunately they tended to be unknown in their own time as well, and every time a Chinese American boxer received any press, he was billed as the “only” or “first” Chinese to fight in the western style. That trend continued for at least fifty years.

For all practical purposes, Chinese immigration to the U.S. did not begin until 1850 (in 1849 there were less than 100 Chinese in California, by 1876 there were 116,000 in the state). Once the California Gold Rush began in 1849, Chinese flooded into California, eventually resulting in a backlash against the Chinese population in the U.S.

Anti-chinese sentiment

Discoveries of gold in Australia and played-out mines in California caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket. Looking for someone to blame, rabble rousers marched, preaching their views on the “Chinese Question.” The Chinese Question was, of course, what to do about all the Chinese crowding America’s shores. The Chinese were an easy target because they stayed segregated initially by the language barrier and often their own choice. After all, most were present only as sojourners, and intended to return to China after saving enough money.

The Chinese benevolent societies, such as the Six Companies, lobbied long and unsuccessfully for better treatment under the law, but anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant. Even so, some Chinese in America lived, worked, and owned property outside Chinatown ghettos, and generally interacted more than others.

Queen Chinatown Poster

One area where language is no barrier to successful interaction, even today, is in the fight ring. Boxing speaks its own language and quite a few Chinese in America and Chinese-Americans have learned to speak it fluently over the last 150 years.

The First
Of them, the earliest known pugilist was California boxer Ah Bung in 1871. Unfortunately, other than his existence and that he resided in San Francisco (along with the other quarter of the Chinese population in the U.S.) nothing more is known about Ah Bung, other than that his name was a source of amusement. Some newspapermen found it an apt name for a pugilist because “bung” could mean both the stopper in a cask itself or the act of hammering in the stopper.

Battling Laundry Workers
It was in Philadelphia that the headlines were next captured with “A Prize Fight Between Chinamen” in early 1883. Neither of the men involved were professional fighters, but they had a feud brewing and forty spectators were drawn to see the encounter.

Loo Hing was a laundry washer and Hi Sing Foon an ironer in another laundry. Hi Sing Foon had recently arrived from San Francisco with a reputation as a “bad man” and within a month had confirmed that reputation by branding Hing with a hot iron. Hing pressed charges (I couldn’t resist) but Foon produced unscrupulous witnesses to testify that Hing had absently sat down on a hot iron in Foon’s hand. Foon was therefore acquitted.

Understandably chagrined at the results of the trial, Hing sought revenge for his mistreatment. While delivering laundry to Clarke’s boxing gym, Hing proposed to do Red Mooney’s laundry in exchange for lessons in the fistic art. Accepting the proposition, Mooney began giving Hing western-style boxing lessons twice weekly.

Not one to miss a chance for promotion, Mooney contacted fellow sport Dan Reilly who, after informing Foon of Hing’s preparations, offered similar boxing instruction for Foon if he agreed to fight Hing in a bout. Foon refused the instruction, but agreed to fight a boxing match with Reilly as his second.

Mooney and Reilly drew forty spectators (seven of whom were Chinese) at $2 a head into a second floor back room lit by coa-oil lamps; the winner was to receive a share of the gate receipts. The boxers wore hard gloves, which back then were often little more than regular leather gloves, and rarely weighed more than a few ounces. For costume, they both stripped to their blue linen trousers. There was no ring, but men held up barrel staves to keep the spectators out of the way of the combatants.

Like most Chinese of the time, both men wore their hair in queues, and in a common streetfight among Chinese in America, the combatants normally grabbed their opponent’s queue with their left hand, and pummeled their face with the right. For this match, Hing specifically banned hair pulling, hitting below the belt, and scratching, prohibitions to which Foon agreed, and the match was afoot.

Hing brought his arms up in in the prizefighter’s guard and Foon awkwardly mirrored his position. Hing nailed Foon with a straight left that rocked him and followed up with two more punches. Foon shrugged it off and rushed Hing, showering Foon with wild punches before they clinched and fell, thereby ending the round according to prizefight rules.

Unfortunately, poor Hing was probably hindered more than helped by his brief couple weeks of boxing instruction. He was likely in that awkward phase where whatever natural method of fighting with which he was accustomed was being supplanted by the not-yet-learned beginner’s movements in boxing. Foon, on the other hand, judging by the fight descriptions, either knew a bit of Chinese boxing or was just more at home in a rough and tumble.

Hing did his best work at range, ducking and creating distance; Foon ruled the infighting and the grappling component and usually ended up on top when they went down. Both were gassed and bloody by the fourth round and by the fifth Hing had given up on his newfound science and reverted to swinging for the fences.

Rounds six through ten were back and forth, but in the seventh Foon managed to kick Hing in the eye. Hing called foul, but the referee disallowed it, deciding that a kick with a bare foot was not a foul. Then in the eleventh, Foon, gaining his second wind, blasted Hing with a flurry of punches and struck Hing on the top of the head with what may have been a hammerfist (“[Foon] made one tremendous effort, raised his hand high over his head, and brought it down like a pile driver on top of his opponent’s head”), consequently putting Hing down.

Mooney pushed Hing out for the twelfth, but he had finally had enough and sat down on the floor, refusing to continue. The seconds said that both men had wanted to quit a half dozen times each during the match, but had been afraid of being mobbed by the disappointed spectators, which would likely have been the result in that era if they had quit. Hing, again failing to gain the satisfaction he sought, was helped out by his friends while Foon collected his winnings and strolled out with his own happier comrades.

The Contender
In August 1891 Lee Bin Nam, billed as a “noted Chinese pugilist,” passed through Baltimore on his way to San Fransisco from New York. Little more is known about Nam, other than he was about 5’8, 200 lbs., and claimed that he was planning to challenge John L. Sullivan.

Nam spent his time in Baltimore visiting with Ting Yong Moar, the local “mason” leader, and Wong Chin Woo, a visiting New York newspaperman. “Mason” in that context could have meant almost anything: a benevolent organization, trade group, general fraternal order, secret society, or fighting tong.

The Last of the Century
The last Chinese-American boxer of the 19th century was Li Hung Foy, who was matched to fight first Brooklyn boxer Harry Fisher for twenty rounds in early May 1899, and then Tom Williams in Fairview, New York later that month. It is unknown if either bout ever took place.

The pre-1900 bouts were preliminaries in one sense, because it was not until early 1900 when Ah Wing entered the boxing field and became the first Chinese-American to make a career in western boxing. Perhaps one day we will know more about these earlier pioneers who made the first inroads into the field.

Primary sources consulted include:

New York Times, 2-18-1883
Washington Post, 2-19-1883
Washington Post 7-25-1886
Middletown Daily Times, 8-1-1891
The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 8-1-1891
National Police Gazette, 5-6-1899
The Sandusky Star, 5-25-1899