When you hear “martial arts”, you naturally think of ancient fighting techniques that typically include depictions of Asian culture, ninjas, threatening weapons, or even Bruce Lee.
At first thought, you might not consider boxing a martial art.
So, is boxing a martial art? If martial arts are a series of various combat sports, and boxing is a popular combat sport, does that mean that boxing is considered a martial art?
Whether you’re merely curious or if you’re in a heated debate with a friend about whether boxing is a martial art, here is everything you need to know!
Is Boxing A Martial Art?
To put it simply – yes, boxing is a martial art. This is because boxing is one of the oldest forms of combat sports in existence, with its techniques and skills being developed for thousands of years.
Boxing has since been a huge inspiration for other martial arts and combat sports, creating some of the world’s best athletes, including Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.
Origins Of Martial Arts
The origins of martial arts are quite blurry due to its extensive and long history. Human aggression and combat have existed for thousands of years, which were then developed into forms of discipline and sport across the globe.
While people assume martial arts stem from Ancient Asian cultures, martial arts actually originated around the world. Wrestling was the earliest form of boxing, for example, which originated in Greece.
The original aim of martial arts was to imitate and prepare for war combat.
Over time, the necessity for using martial arts in wars became unnecessary (thanks to the development of larger weapons), wherein the arts became developed and used for sports and entertainment.
Origins Of Boxing
As mentioned earlier, the earliest forms of boxing originated in Ancient Greece, known as Greek wrestling. It became an event in the Greek Olympics as early as 688 BC, wherein the combat sport was also an important tool in hand-to-hand combat and war.
Boxing largely remained the same until the 16th-18th century, when it became more competitive in Great Britain.
In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were introduced, which was a developed code of rules generally accepted by most boxers. These rules are still implemented today.
Aside from being a competitive event in the Olympics, boxing was also taught to those in the military.
This is because there’s a particular science to boxing, wherein some strikes were intended to cause serious harm, paralyze, and even kill the opponent.
It wasn’t until the introduction of heavy machinery and weapons that hand-to-hand combat became unnecessary.
Despite this, military personnel are still taught boxing techniques to this day, along with elements of other martial arts, for when hand-to-hand combat is needed.
Boxing: Martial Art Or Sport?
So, we’ve established that boxing is a martial art, but does that mean it’s also a sport? Here’s where the technicality gets a little confusing.
The fact of the matter is that most martial art forms are also considered sports. Karate, for example, originated as a martial art until it became competitive.
As a result of this, it is both recognized as a martial art and a sport, because it is so often seen in tournaments and large competitions, including its most recent introduction to the 2020 Olympics.
The same applies to boxing. Boxing is first and foremost a martial art that has become a sport. In fact, it technically became a sport back in 688 BC, where it was introduced to the Ancient Greek Olympics as a key event.
The implementation of rules and regulations also contributed to boxing’s definition as both a martial art and a sport.
However, it’s worth remembering that boxing isn’t just a physical sport. Of course, it’s a highly physically demanding sport that requires skill and strength, and it poses a huge risk in injury.
Alongside this, boxing is a hugely mentally challenging sport that requires technical precision, concentration, and mental clarity.
As a result of this, boxing is considered one of the most respected sports to this day.
Detailed History Of Boxing
While the origins of competitive boxing date back to around 688 BC in Greece, boxing as a form of hand-to-hand combat (and general survival) has been recorded to exist as far back as 1600 BCE.
It was prevalent in Ancient Greece, the Middle East, Egypt, and India.
It was never really invented, but the skills of general fighting developed into something of a spectator sport like we know boxing today.
Another similarity is that ancient boxers would wrap their knuckles in leather to protect their hands, which eventually became boxing gloves. In the Roman era, these leather wraps were studded with metal studs to make the sport more gruesome.
Boxing moved into the western world in the early 1500s, where it moved over to Great Britain in the form of bare knuckle boxing (boxing without any hand protection).
This was known as prize fighting, because there was typically a cash prize for the winner of the fight. During this time, the term “boxing” was given to the sport.
There were few rules in the early days of boxing competitions. The sport encountered a series of regulations that were generally used, such as the prohibition of headbutting and use of weapons.
The brutality of prizefighting was the reason for its cancellation and banning. In 1867, the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were implemented.
Marquess Of Queensberry Rules
The Marquess of Queensberry Rules have been the general guidelines and rules of boxing since its publication. These rules include:
- Fight must be in a boxing ring (24-foot ring)
- Rounds must last 3 minutes with one minute in between rounds
- No wrestling or hugging
- Boxing gloves must be worn by both parties
- No shoes allowed
The list of rules goes on to explain the technicalities of winning, such as the reasons for declaring a knockout and what happens when someone is left on the ground for more than 10 seconds. Boxers must comply with these rules for a fair fight.
Why Is Boxing Not A Martial Art?
While boxing is absolutely a martial art, some would argue that it isn’t.
It’s quite a controversial topic in the world of martial arts, wherein most experienced martial art experts would count any hand-to-hand combat without weapons a form of martial art. However, this view actually doesn’t count for a lot of eastern practices.
The main reason why people would argue that boxing isn’t a martial art is because of its growth in popularity as a sport. Boxing has undoubtedly become commercialized over the centuries, meaning that it lost its traditions along the way.
Others would argue that, because boxing wasn’t invented in the east, it cannot be considered a martial art.
However, if boxing were to maintain its traditions today, it would undoubtedly be banned globally. The origins of boxing were to fight to the death, without the use of protective gear.
In a lot of cultures (such as the Roman era), weapons like metal studded gloves made the game absolutely brutal.
This is why others argue that boxing cannot be ignored as a martial art. Its origins and traditions have been recognized as unsafe, and so the implementation of rules have become necessary to respecting the art.
Can Boxing Be Used For Self Defense?
Aside from being a popular martial art and sport, people will often take up boxing classes to develop their self defense skills.
Boxing is a highly useful sport for self defense, as it teaches the user a variety of skills that can’t be replicated in a lot of basic self defense classes.
The benefits of using boxing as self defense include:
- Improvement of fitness, stamina, and stability
- Improves muscular dystrophy around the whole body, but particularly the upper half
- Encourages discipline, confidence, and mental preparation
- Improves footwork
- Teaches how to how strike and block effectively
- Teaches how to get back onto feet without being knocked over again
Boxing is undoubtedly a very technical activity, which is why the lines are often blurred when classifying it as either a martial art or sport. However, it’s not the only martial art that can be used for self defense.
Despite its myriad of benefits, boxing doesn’t focus on fighting on the ground, fighting without protective gear, defending yourself against weapons, and leg kicking.
While the rules for boxing are highly effective in a competitive sense, this only applies to boxing in a ring, rather than using boxing for self defense.
If you want to use boxing for self defense, it is recommended to look into other martial arts as well, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai, which help to incorporate other body parts and skills that boxing misses out on.
Boxing As A Striking Art
Along with blocking, defensive skills, strategies, tactics, complicated footwork, and preempting the opponent’s next move, one of the main aspects of boxing is learning how to strike properly.
It’s not just about punching – striking is a complicated art that goes beyond using your arm muscles.
Some could argue that boxing has developed further into the field of martial arts because of its development of striking. Striking once used to be a way to knock the other person out and cause serious harm.
Now, it’s far more tactical. Boxers learn which parts of the body are most effective to strike, how to block a strike, and how to be accurate with the strikes.
Striking is far easier said than done. Students will learn to strike from their feet, with an energy surge that powers up the legs to the hips, back, core, and finally through the arms, all within a quick second.
The placement of the strike will affect the opponent differently depending on the accuracy, speed, power, and whether they defended themselves upon impact.
Conclusion: Is Boxing A Martial Art?
So, there you have it. Boxing is one of the oldest forms of martial art, with its origins dating back to 1600 BCE, when the first instances of hand-to-hand combat were recorded.
Its introduction to the Ancient Greek Olympics helped to pave the way for its prevalence in the modern sporting world, but the traditions and skills still make it a martial art.
About The Author: Ahmed Mir
Ahmed Mir is the founder of MMA Boxx. After a weightlifting injury redirected his athletic journey, Ahmed discovered a passion for mixed martial arts (MMA), immersing himself in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.
Beyond the mat, Ahmed lives in Thailand and is a seasoned entrepreneur, earning recognition in notable publications such as Entrepreneur, Legal Zoom, and The Washington Post.
As the visionary behind MMA Boxx, he’s dedicated to fostering a community where enthusiasts can explore the world of MMA.