Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Aug 2001

Boxing for Beginners, with Chapter showing its Relationship to Bayonet Fighting

By William J. Jacomb, with introduction by Joseph E. Raycroft.

Originally published by Lea & Febiger (Philadelphia and New York, 1918). This electronic version copyright © 2001 EJMAS. All rights reserved.

Editor’s introduction: The book, Boxing for Beginners, consists of three parts. The first shows how to box, the second describes the relationship of boxing to bayonet fighting, and the third tells how to organize a boxing tournament. Although the first section is omitted and the third section is summarized because they are exactly what one would expect, Raycroft’s introduction to the third section is included as an introduction because the remarks give insight into the War Department’s reasoning in teaching boxing to soldiers.

William Jacomb was a Canadian officer with experience in teaching boxing in both military and university settings, while Joseph Raycroft was an American YMCA official who during World War I served as chairman of the athletic division of the War Department’s commission on training camp activities.

The Value of Boxing in Military Training

By Joseph E. Raycroft

The object of teaching boxing in the army is to make "head up and eyes open" two-fisted fighting men rather than expert boxers and ring fighters. Therefore the instruction of the mass and not of a few individuals is of prime importance. Work for the largest number of men in the shortest possible time. Eliminate the "frills" and fancy work and do your best to get the men to fight aggressively and effectively. Six standard blows are sufficient. A straight left, well delivered and backed up by aggressive American determination, is a Boche eliminant in nine cases out of ten.

The big contribution of boxing to military training is to develop in men the willingness and ability to fight at close range. Its purpose is to teach soldiers to give and take punishment. There is a close relation in the qualities required for boxing and bayonet fighting. Both require agility of body, quickness of eye, good balance and control in giving a punch or thrust, and an aggressive fighting spirit that breaks down or weakens defense and makes openings for an effective "finish."

An efficient fighting soldier must not only be trained in the technique of offence and defense, but must be "charged" with the proper fighting spirit. We are dealing with men who are strangers in the main to personal combats of any nature, and it is toward this class of soldiers that the major portion of athletic and boxing activities should be directed. Forward action and aggressiveness in bayonet fighting is essential. Aggressive action in boxing tends to the same end and should be given due credit in the judging of contests.

Boxing practice will build up "the habit of consecutive action," i.e., the ability to sense an opening and take immediate advantage of it without thinking and without hesitation. The practical application of this faculty to the exigencies of hand-to-hand conflict and trench attacks is obvious. "Open" rather than "inside" fighting should be encouraged.

The importance of systematic boxing bouts throughout the camps should not be underestimated, and contests of this sort should be encouraged to a rational extent. Bear in mind always that the success of your work is gauged by the number of men who engage in this direct competition and who thus develop, through practice, that confidence and fighting spirit that will become so much a part of them that they will be found available in the excitement of actual combat.

Boxing rules throughout the country vary in accordance with the professional or amateur viewpoint. Those commonly in use in civil life are so formulated as to permit or put a premium upon "covering up," clinching to avoid punishment, hanging on, stalling, and like evasions of punishment. These features in the generally accepted codes are handicaps in the work of developing cleverness and fast aggressive work.

Boxing instructors in various camps have modified the commonly accepted rules of boxing contests in an attempt to correct these deficiencies. These modifications have been along the right line and have had a good effect, but, in view of the still existing differences, it has seemed wise to draw up a set of regulations which will standardize the practice in boxing and will emphasize those points that are most valuable in the development of military qualities.

The following code is formulated to encourage the type of fighting that is most valuable as a preparation for a serious fight and to prevent the development of habits that are not only useless, from a boxing standpoint, but are a source of positive danger in a real hand-to-hand contest. [EN1]

Physical aggressiveness, to be effective, must be based upon intelligent thought and practice. The sensing of an opening and the following blows must come close together. Habit is the result of repeated efforts, physical or mental. Hence the necessity of a simple, intensive schedule of instruction. Such a program, to produce mass uniformity, must be simple and graded so that it can be readily grasped by the least efficient members of your unit.

Supervise your boxing contests so that a stinging blow or defeat may be used as a stimulus for self-betterment. Keep in mind constantly that all of this is for one purpose alone – namely, to make a first-class fighting man.

Boxing Applied to Bayonet Fighting

By William J. Jacomb

It has long been recognized in the army that good boxers make good bayonet fighters. Many illustrations could be given of this. A noticeable instance is that of a guardsman who killed with his bayonet eleven of the enemy in one charge. He was the champion boxer of his regiment. Other boxers have done as well. The position of a boxer is identical with that of a bayonet fighter, and the illustrations that follow show how closely related these two exercises are. The armies of England and this country [United States] now have instruction on boxing as an indirect method of instruction in bayonet fighting.

In the summer of 1916, I was appointed instructor on the Bayonet Fighting and Physical Training Staff of the Canadian Army to teach my method of instruction of boxing to a number of picked men, so that they would, in turn, act as instructors throughout different regiments in the Canadian Army. These men were of splendid physique, and were chosen, when possible, from those who had had previous experience as boxers. They were the most interested pupils I have ever had, loved the work and developed splendidly. I took them in classes of twenty, lined them up, sized, numbered them, and led the odd numbers step forward two paces, making two ranks. They were then put through the positions of the different blows. After that the front rank faced about and the guards, counters, etc., were then gone through in pairs. The course lasted twenty-one days.

The object of the boxing was twofold. It must be remembered that our armies are new armies, composed of every class and every kind of man. Many had never fought in their lives and never wanted to. Thousands had never received any form of physical preparation. Many qualities had to be developed and developed quickly. Physical courage is perhaps the most common of virtues, but the courage needed in the soldier, and especially in the bayonet fighter, is a courage born of confidence and ability to fight and to defend himself. I do not believe there is any other form of exercise which develops this as quickly as the practice of boxing. Secondly, and fortunately, bayonet fighting is so near akin to boxing that the practice of boxing develops skill in bayonet fighting in less time, with less expense, and with fewer casualties. The official 1916 copy of Bayonet Training tells us that the spirit of the bayonet must be inculcated into all ranks so that they will go forward with that aggressive determination and confidence in superiority born of continual practice, without which a bayonet assault will not be effective. Major Percy E. Nobbs, of the Canadian Forces, says in the Infantry Journal for August:

      I have seen youngsters in khaki turn pale lilac with orange blotches on being told to put on the gloves, and give up cheerily at the end of the first round, notwithstanding the fact that they were daily going over the jumps and hitting the bags about; and I have seen the same boys six weeks later, in the strength of their youth and fitness, come up against skilled boxers in the regimental boxing finals, get a fourth round ordered and come up with a grin for a certain knock-out. A fight to a finish with the gloves is an excellent experience for anyone. I do not mean a ten-round heart-destroyer, but a short, hard fight. Such a fight is in my opinion an essential part of any infantryman’s training. Whether he wins or loses he learns a lot. Bayonet training does the 10 percent that is not spiritual in the making of a fighter, and boxing can do the other 90 percent. That is the makeup of the first-class fighting man.
Major Nobbs has had a great deal of experience as an athlete, boxed in the semifinals at his university, was a good cross-country runner and a champion swordsman. When the war broke out [in 1914] he was professor of architecture at McGill University and went to England to join the Imperial Army. His work was of such high order that he was sent out to the Canadian Forces to take charge of bayonet fighting and physical training. He is a worker and a fighter.

Fig 1

Showing similarity between the "on guard" position of the boxers and the "on guard" position of the bayonet fighters. The officer has merely opened the hands and allowed his rifle to drop. A motion picture made for the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities by the Community Motion Picture Bureau.

Fig 2

Showing similarity between the boxer’s left hand lead and the bayonet fighter’s long point thrust. A motion picture made for the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities by the Community Motion Picture Bureau.

Fig 3

Showing similarity between the boxer’s right upper cut to jaw and the bayonet fighter’s jab to chin. A motion picture made for the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities by the Community Motion Picture Bureau.

Fig 4

The boxer starting a left-hand swing for the head and the similar position of the bayonet fighter as he starts his slash for the neck. A motion picture made for the War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities by the Community Motion Picture Bureau.

Fig 5

The butt stroke here illustrated is almost identical with the right cross-counter, except that the right foot has been brought forward.

Fig 6

Close work with the bayonet is like the infighting of the boxer.

Fig 7

Illustration shows method of class work. Front rank leading left for head, near man, ducking to right.

Fig 8

Illustration shows the moveable ring used at Camp Borden. A length of rope, fifty to sixty feet long, is tied at the ends. Four men hold the corners, forming the boxing ring. After each pair of boxers has finished their round they relieve two of the men holding the corners.

Formation for Classes in Boxing Varied according to the Work in Hand

For ordinary class work, a class consisting of not more than twenty men, they were lined up in single rank, each man with his gloves on. They were then numbered. Odd numbers were then ordered, "Three paces forward, march. Even numbers, cover." This brought them in two ranks facing the instructor. The blows and methods of advancing and retiring were taught in this position. Every blow, guard or counter, etc., was first demonstrated by the instructor and an assistant.

After a few minutes’ practice and correction of delivery of blows the class was called to Attention, and the command, "Front rank, about turn," was given. This brought the men facing each other as opponents. In this position they were put through the guard, counter, etc., front rank being turned about again to face the instructor during demonstrations of new work or correction.

When the space was limited, the men were lined up in two ranks. On the command, "In two ranks, fall in," the men fall in in two ranks, on the double. One man falls in two paces in front of and facing the instructor; another falls in two paces in the rear of the first man, all others lining up on the left of the men already in position, going around by the rear, rear rank covering as front rank men get into line. This should be practiced frequently until the men line up on the run, quickly and smoothly. When they are lined up, they must be numbered in twos, both ranks numbering. On the word, "Open ranks, march," the number ones of the front rank advance two paces to the front. As the second pace is taken the even numbers take one side pace to their right to cover. The even numbers of the rear rank take two paces backward and one to their right, commencing with their right foot, the whole movement complete in the count of one, two, three, four. With twenty men this gives a depth of four. Number ones turn about on the command, "Number ones, about turn," thus facing the even numbers.

For shadow boxing when plenty of "elbow room" is required and when a large number of men are engaged, an open formation as nearly square as possible is the best. The men should have plenty of room. Much depends on the number engaged and the space available.

For a number less than one hundred, and when practice in marching tactics is desirable, line the squads up in two ranks and number by fours.

On the command, "Open ranks, march," number ones march straight to the front. When number ones have gone four paces forward, number twos march forward, covering number ones, then number threes and fours in like manner. When number fours are four paces from the rear rank, number ones of the rear rank move forward, covering their front rank four, number twos, threes and fours moving forward in their turn, covering to the front and in line by right or left. When number four of the rear rank starts to march the command "Halt" is given. With a class of sixty-four this gives a square – eight in front and eight deep.

A simple method is to line the men up in a number of ranks, two, three, or four paces distant, according to the depth required, and extend from the center. On the word "March" the center men stand fast while those on the right and left of the center men side-pace away from them looking and dressing to the center. As each man gets his distance he extends his arms sideways in line with his shoulders, fingers extended and halts as he gets his interval, finger-tips one inch from those of the man on his right, if he is on the left half, or from his left is he is on the right half.

When the left- and right-hand men have corrected their intervals the word "Eyes front" is given, and hands are dropped to the sides and head and eyes turned to the front. The last is a simple method and gives plenty of room. When less room is available the men raise the arm nearest the center only. With both arms extended the men occupy on an average of nearly six feet front; with only one arm a little less than four feet.

The first five lessons were devoted entirely to learning the blows, guards, counters, etc., under the direction of the instructor, lessons lasting for about forty-five minutes. The sixth lesson, after the class had run through the blows up to the swings, was devoted to mutual instruction, front rank man teaching rear rank and vice versa. From then on this was varied by work in the ring. Each pair boxed thirty seconds at a time, No. 1 attacking, No. 2 defending, practicing, ducking, etc. When each pair in the class had gone through once they were started around again, No. 2 attacking: then thirty seconds sparring for each pair and back to class formation for class instruction, going on with the swings, etc. After the tenth day the class was split up into three classes while different members of the class gave instruction under the direction and the criticisms of the instructor. The thirty-second rounds were extended to forty-five seconds and finally to one minute. These may appear short sparring periods, but it must be remembered that we were going to teach boxing to develop skill and courage in men who have had little or no experience in fighting. After a thirty-second round a pupil is still fresh and probably uninjured or may be unhit, and boxing is discovered to be "not so bad after all," and gradually confidence grows and with it endurance, interest and ambition to excel. It is better at first to stop them when they want to continue than to make them go on when they want to quit. Pupils should not always box with the same opponent; each pupil should box with everyone in the class.

Boxing Exercises in Mass Formation

Illustration shows Sergeant-Major Armstrong leading his class through a series of boxing positions. He is now at one of the camps in this country, and is, I am sure, making many new friends. He has taught thousands to box, has developed many good boxers, champions among them, and all who have come under his instruction and influence have profited from his genial personality and love of good sport.

Fig 9


Every man who is going to carry a rifle and bayonet should learn to box to help him use his bayonet. He should be taught by men who have had experience in boxing. His bayonet fighting must be taught by a teacher of that subject. If the instructor is good at both, so much the better.

The pupil must always be taught that the point of his bayonet is the best end of his weapon.

Editor’s Notes

EN1. The rules provided for four 2-minute rounds, with a fifth round in the event of a tie. The ring was to be at least sixteen but not more than twenty feet, and ropes, rails, and floors had to be padded. (Canvas over sawdust was recommended for outdoor use.) Gloves had to be at least ten ounces in amateur divisions, but lighter weights were allowed in heavier. Headgear was not required because it had not entered common use yet.

The scoring system allowed a maximum of 20 points per round. Fourteen points were awarded for clean hits, aggressive action, and making the opponent miss; four points were awarded for ring generalship, and two points were awarded for aggressiveness. Points could be deducted for stalling, covering up, clinching, hitting while holding, and rules infractions. Weights were, in pounds, 115, 125, 135, 145, 160, 175, and heavyweight. Fouls included hitting below the belt, hitting an opponent who was down, deliberately clinching, butting with the head, kneeing, flicking with open gloves, wrestling at the ropes, falling without being hit, striking the kidneys, and using abusive language. (In other words, fighting like the average professional boxer of the day.)

In those days, the boxer did not yet have a requirement to retreat to a neutral corner following a knockdown, he simply had to "retire out of striking distance, and… not resume boxing until ordered to do so by the referee."

These rules were adopted with some modifications by US colleges following World War I, and contributed to the establishment of NCAA rules. The program was also adopted for use by the Japanese army during 1923-1924. For an introduction to US collegiate boxing, see Robert H. Boyle, "It’s That New College Try," Sports Illustrated, Apr. 11, 1977, 80-83. For more about the Japanese programs, see Joseph R. Svinth, "Amateur Boxing in Pre-World War II Japan: The Military Connection," 2000, Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives,

JNC Aug 2001