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"Biting," Bare-Knuckle Boxing, & Jack Johnson by Mark Hatmaker

First things first, in today’s sermon “biting” has nothing to do with your teeth, so rid yourself of images of Mike Tyson chowing down on Evander Holyfield’s ear.

In early Frontier Rough & Tumble parlance “to bite” was to take a shot at your opponent’s punching arm with your own fist—specifically an incoming fist.

There is an entirely different rough & tumble vocabulary for injuring your opponent’s arms while in the passive, defensive, or on-guard position which we will discuss another day.

You will find a few references to biting as a not necessarily on the square tactic in the early days of bare-knuckle work in Merrie Old England, and it made its transfer across the pond with some fighters making it a feature of their work.

In American frontier rough and tumble there was no onus or pretention of “That’s not quite cricket” as more often than not All-In fighting was just that. Let’s face it, in an era and fighting method that prided itself on numerous ways to scoop eyes, taking a shot at your opponent’s arms is child’s play.

The tactic survived into the early gloved era where it was often “hidden” as a less than kosher blow, but some made no bones that it was part and parcel of their arsenal. The legendary Jack Johnson made training the “Biceps punch” as he called it, a standard part of his training camp.

Johnson’s use of the “bite” is ideal for those with an eye on street work and it is perfectly legal in MMA rule-sets.

The “bite” is almost exclusively a lead hand blow and can be thrown in 4 Primary Ways.

One-As a short lazy jab to the biceps of the incoming punching arm.

Two-As a loose open hook to the biceps.

Three-As an elongated backfist or hammerfist.

Four-As a rising hammerfist when the lead arm is in a down refence point as in a Philly-Cover.

“Biting” has an easy correlate in the “gunt” of Filipino martial arts and the “defanging the snake” concept that runs through practically every combat school no matter the hemisphere of origin.

Whereas the “gunt” often has a rear hand assist or the use of the offensive rear hand as well, the “bite” is a lead hand tool, and seldom if ever will you see the rear hand adding to “sending the limb” off track.

Frontier rough and tumble has a very strong thread of old-school boxing running through it and there is a respect for punches [speed and power] that sees far less attempts at freezing or seizing of limbs.

The old school “bite” will appear almost invisible, that is, it appears to be a loose aspect of a “reaching defense.” If one will call to mind the great boxer Tommy Loughran’s “Jab and a Half” method of fighting as we detail in both DVD and book form in Boxing like the Champs, you will have a very good idea of how to throw such an animal.

Loughran’s jab was always accompanied by a reaching defense with the rear-hand. Now, Loughran’s jab was kosher seeking legal targets, but that rear hand used as an aggressive adjunct of defense is on the correct page.

If we look to Jack Johnson’s rocked back “picking off the punches” style we can see the ideal form of “biting.

To “bite” as Johnson did, we would shift slightly out of range, hold the hands high, allow the rear hand to “lay back” and play catches, pats, cuffs, and muffles, while the lead hand loosely sought to find the incoming biceps of either arm.

One does not have to put a lot of power into “biting,” the stink of the bite comes from the opponent’s own power. If he swings that hook hard, your loose hooking “bite” is merely acting as a punch in a head-on biceps collision.

The “bite” offers many attractive qualities:

·        A good offensive-defensive game.

·        Allows the shorter fighter to skip worries about reach.

·        Allows the taller fighter to emphasize reach.

·        Saves hands—smacking on biceps is far easier on the bare-knuckles than colliding with craniums.

·        Slows your opponent’s roll. It takes only one or two “bites” of your opponent’s arms to begin mitigating his or her power game as the new factor of limb injury comes into play.

·        It’s an easy “hide.” By that, I mean when played well it almost impossible to tell you are using a biting strategy from the outside, and when facing a good “biter” it is almost invisible as “biting” looks like defense, which it is, but a defense that, well, bites, and bites hard.

I highly suggest resurrecting this formidable and easily educated old school tool.

For Drills and applications of the Rough & Tumble Bite see RAW 183.


  1. And that is when Jedrzejczyk reversed the script and asked the reporter to step to the podium. What happened next will make you cringe.

    See it unfold from the press above.UFC 229 Live Stream


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