Global Training Report
A certain skinny kid
from Louisville Kentucky vowed to learn the sweet science of English
Boxing in order to whup whoever it was that stole his new bike, if he
ever found him.
No one stole Masaaki
Horiguchi's bike. He took up boxing because it was a family tradition.
His father did it, and his father's father did it. His grandfather was
Piston Horiguchi, the legendary Japanese featherweight champion
(1933-34, 1942, and again in 1948) who established the gym in Chigasaki,
in 1936. Piston died under mysterious circumstances, run over by a
commuter train while walking on the tracks late one night on Oct.
24,1950. The gym stayed in the family. Piston's grandson Masaaki runs it
now, assisted by his mom and dad (Piston's son Masanobu) .
Masaaki was not as
successful a boxer as his grandfather, but still, an amateur record of
79-19 and a pro record of 12-4 isn't anything to scorn (not unless your
record is better). He retired in 1997 and has since devoted his energy
to training a new generation of boxers and from time to time teaching
pro wrestlers and former judo champions like Naoya
Ogawa and Murakami
Kazunari the rudiments of punching (pictures below).
The current location
of the gym (it moved twice before since 1938), is on the top floor of a
non-descript four-floor building across the street from the Chigasaki
Main Post Office about a half block down from Denny's on National Road
It's a small gym even
by Japanese standards, but the quality of the coaching has attracted 10
pros and 30 amateur boxers, in addition to another 70 people who train
for "fun and fitness", according to Jason Kennedy, a Canadian
English teacher and former kung-fu stylist who trains and teaches there. Some
are kids and some are females. The young ladies training at Piston
Horiguchi boxing gym don't look like they could knock down a wall, but
they are doing everything right. The only thing they are missing is
upper body mass.
The pros have their
own trainers. The amateurs can't afford trainers, so make do with
informal coaching from Masaaki and other boxers. Absolute beginners get
several lessons in the basics of stance and stepping. The jab is taught
as part of the step. The other boxing skills are taught on an "as
needed" basis. Most people seem to learn what they need to know by
watching other people who already know how to do it.
The mirror is a
boxer's best friend, Sean O'Grady once said, and the feedback provided
by the sound made by a well stuffed heavy bag when you whack it
correctly can be an excellent teacher as well.
Boxing is not an
esoteric art kept secret from anyone in a temple for a thousand years.
It's all right there for you to see. You get some feedback now and then,
but basically, you are on your own. The rhythm of the training is
dictated by the round clock, but how rigidly you obey the clock is an
individual matter. There's no sensei to tell you when to stand up and
when to sit down--or even how to sit, for that matter. Boxers develop
self-discipline by methodically doing what they know they need to do,
not by blindly following someone else's commands.
A recommended training
routine is posted next to the ring (below). Boxers use it as a guide.
Since the gym is a bit cramped and there are only three heavy bags,
there is a lot of shadow boxing going on most of the time. Sparring is
not even listed, because sparring is not a routine part of training but
rather a reward for the hours of hard and tedious floor work and
happens only under the supervision of a hawk-eyed trainer, and only when
he deems it to be appropriate, and only with a specific learning
objective in mind. Pros who earn enough to hire sparring partners can
spar when and how they like. Amateurs exchange sparring with each other
(always supervised by a trainer). Sparring occupies the smallest
portion of a boxer's training time. In one sense, it is the most
important form of preparation for the fight. In other sense, it is the
most expensive, in terms of "bodily capital".
Intelligent boxers and trainers seek to establish the correct quantity,
variety, quality, and intensity of sparring for each individual
Typical Training Routine
training is also not a normal part of training for people who don't have
a trainer (obviously, because who's going to hold the mitts?).
Boxers don't do things
that don't work, but they do sometimes fail to do things that do work. A
case in point is holding the focus mitts. Holding the mitts for someone else is a great way to develop a lot of
important boxing skills. You learn to see punches coming at you
without blinking or otherwise reacting in a counter-productive way, and
you learn the angles of attack in a very intuitive way. When your body
knows where the dangerous punches are coming from, you save enormous
amounts of physical and mental energy not reacting to feints and random
movements, and you can concentrate on what is important. (Occasionally,
hard punches come from unexpected angles--the uppercut that turned the
tide in round 6 of Leonard
vs. Hearns I (Sept. 16, 1981), for example--but only boxers who are
highly skilled can pull this off.)
amateurs tend to train differently because they are after different
things. Pros want crowd pleasing knockouts. Amateurs want points. But
for both (and for the fun and fitness crowd too), there is one common
denominator: the jab. The jab is the key that unlocks the door, the
solution to every problem, and the answer to every question ( "jab
more"). Masaaki's way of putting it is
左を制するものは世界を制する (hidari wo sei suru mono
wa, sekai wo sei suru--"someone with a good left can rule the
Boxing is the
"sweet science" as the British sports writer Pierce Egan
called it a long time ago. It is not rocket science. Boxing is simple.
Boxing is easy to learn. But boxing is not necessarily easy to do. The
skill of boxing comes in being able to apply and to combine the basics
under fire, to improvise under pressure. Many guys look formidable on
the floor or shadow boxing in front of the mirror, but fall apart when
the leather starts flying.
Boxing works best when your opponent doesn’t have to defend his legs
(i.e., you can’t attack his legs), and you don’t have to defend your
own (your opponent won’t or can’t attack them); when neither you or
your opponent can attack with your elbows or knees; when neither of you
can throw the other to the ground and continue fighting there; and when
your own hands and wrists (at least) are protected.
In other words, boxing works best when your opponent is also boxing.
But the sub-skills of boxing are applicable to a variety of situations,
including vale tudo (mixed martial arts fighting). Just as every striker
learned grappling after seeing Royce reign supreme in the original UFCs,
so too do grapplers now feel the need to learn at least enough about the
manly art to avoid getting surprised by someone who can land hands with
precision and power. (In a way, Vitor
Belfort did for punching what Royce did for grappling, even though
Vitor has not yet demonstrated, or needed to demonstrate, any boxing
skill other than a very serviceable cross.)
Kazunari, honing his striking skills
Several pro wrestlers train at Piston. Their boxing skills look minimal
at best, but Masaaki says they are training primarily for the aerobic
workout. Others have more practical purposes. One is judoka Murakami
Kazunari, who fights in Pride. Kazunari debuted impressively, smacking
the huge American shoot fighting champion Bart Vale down in the first
round of Extreme Fighting 3 in 1996. In his second outing, he got
flattened by Maurice Smith. He came back strong, submitting striker John
Dixon, but hasn't done as well lately, losing to experienced but
untalented former K-1 fighter Satake on the ground! Also in
evidence on occasion is local Chigasaki resident Naoya Ogawa, the former
four-times World judo champion, and now pro-wrestler who it
is rumored will be the next opponent of Rickson
Gracie. Like everyone else in the known universe, Ogawa probably likes
his chances better against Rickson standing up. Since Rickson won't be
wearing a gi, and won't be constrained by the rules of judo, that leaves
striking as the only option. Takada and Funaki both showed that it is
possible to stall quite effectively against Rickson, for a while, and
remain standing, as long as they could lay against the ropes. Now, if
they had been able to hit him hard too, they might have had something.
Ogawa apparently intends to do better when his turn comes, because he is
working on his hands at the Piston dojo. There he is below, gloved up, working the mitts (Masaaki Horiguchi is holding).
Ogawa's boxing skills range between minimal and non-existent (at least,
on the occasions that I observed him--which isn't to say that he might
not be vastly improved by the time he meets Rickson). Ogawa is a big
fellow and he could hurt someone if he somehow managed to land a punch. He
could get lucky. Accidents do happen. Rickson might decide to throw
caution to the wind and swap shots with him.
he probably won't. Although Rickson is learning how to box, according to
Ray Leonard, it would be in violation of the cardinal tenet of
jiu-jitsu to do what your opponent does better. Overwhelming an opponent
with superior strength doesn't work if you do not have superior strength
to overwhelm him with. Rickson vs. Ogawa, if it happens, will not be a
addition to the skills of boxing, a boxer needs "heart". The
Japanese call it tookon (闘魂). Heart is, among other things,
the capacity to keep fighting when things are going against you. Some
fighters have it and some fighters don't. Heart can be a form of suicide
in some instances (boxers with tremendous heart have ended up in comas),
but it's safe to say that no fighter can be successful for long without
some degree of heart, simply because it is only a matter of time before
a tougher opponent climbs into the ring with him. The fans and the
matchmakers will see to that.
who utterly lack heart simply can't be boxers, period. For other guys, a
certain basic willingness to take punishment and hang in can be shaped
into heart. Watching the sparring one night (Monday, January 22, 2001),
I saw how this can be accomplished. An experienced smaller boxer with
white gloves was working with a slighter bigger boxer with red gloves.
Red was preparing for his amateur debut, and was totally
outclassed by White. Early in the round Red walked into a nasty uppercut
(among the dozens of shots he was eating from every angle and
direction). Blood gushed from his nose. His trainer began preparing a
rag to wipe the blood off with. White managed to land one light jab
during the entire round, while taking a constant barrage of punches. He
began to get desperate, wanting to save some face and land at least one
meaningful shot. "Abunai yo, abunai", his
trainer repeatedly reminded him ("dangerous, dangerous"), as
his hands dropped. He never did land that shot. But he stayed on the
attack and finished the round despite getting thoroughly tattooed and
bleeding profusely. It was only one round and it was only light sparring
with head gear and extra padded gloves. It wasn't a 12 round
championship fight with a ferocious opponent with murderous intentions,
but it was a start. Many people can't get even this far. They don't
Canadian kung fu stylist Jason was there. He works part-time at the gym
as a trainer and on this night was working with a 13 year old Japanese
kid, who had been the victim of ijime (bullying, a widespread
problem in Japanese schools). He was small for his age, which made him a
good candidate for bullying, but he had two qualities that are as
uncommon among kids as they are in adults--commitment and coachability.
This kid was serious. He had been in the gym 27 days this month.
"You give him one thing to work on, come back two weeks later he's
still at it", Jason said. He had been perfecting his straight
punches. Today it was time to learn the "hook". At 13, the kid
was at the age when puberty was imminent. When that happens the kids who
were runts before could suddenly be transmogrified almost overnight into
monsters. If such an erstwhile runt had also been spending everyday
after school in a boxing gym for the past two or three months, well,
some bullies may find reason to regret. Being able to throw a hard punch
and being willing to do it are enough to discourage most bullies (who,
studies show, are cowards and will not torment anyone who can and will
The kid was not the only kid there. There were young guys galore, plenty
of high school students, some already experienced amateur fighters,
others working toward a debut, others just training--so far--for fun and
fitness, and maybe because they like the atmosphere of the gym. Despite
the intensity of the training, a boxing gym tends to be a fairly
relaxed, friendly place. There are no attitudes on display. Attitudes
tend to be superfluous when reality is in plain view. Posturing
flourishes in an atmosphere of uncertainty and ambiguity. No one has
anything to prove in the gym--they prove what they have to in the ring
against a prepared and determined opponent.
strengths and weaknesses of boxing are both closely related to the
reality of competition--even boxers who don't fight, train as if they
might. Boxers do not spend their time practicing things that don't
work. They also don't spend their time practicing moves that they don't
need or can't use in a boxing contest. Boxing is not an all round
fighting style. It is not intended to be. It is, as Cus D'Amato said,
the art of hitting without getting hit. For precise and powerful
punching and effective and efficient defense against punches, boxing
can't be beat. Save your money on videos (except as a supplement). You
learn boxing by training like a boxer, in a boxing gym. A gym like
Oh yeah, that skinny kid mentioned in the first paragraph? He never did
get his bike back. He did however, grow up to become the
**More about boxing on GTR:
About Boxing and Muay Thai:
Muay Thai Clinch
Muay Thai Knees
And speaking of Muhammad Ali, Thomas
Hauser's biography was written with the full cooperation of Ali, his
friends, and family.
(c) 2001, R. A. Pedreira. All
Revised November 22, 2009.
Revised August 2, 2016 (poster added).