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    “Science”, “wind” and “bottom”: late eighteenth century pugilism

    Day, Dave (2008) “Science”, “wind” and “bottom”: late eighteenth century pugilism. [Conference or Workshop Item] (Unpublished)


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    The proliferation of boxing manuals in the last quarter of the eighteenth century reflected both a revival of interest in a long standing sporting entertainment and a desire of some participants and observers to record the essential elements of this martial “science”. While this term had been used in conjunction with similar activities for over half a century, and while training had been undertaken by professional fighters for at least as long, it was only now that contemporaries believed a full understanding had been achieved of the importance of “wind” (endurance), “bottom” (courage), and “science” (technique). This paper explores a number of texts where authors discussed these essential components of boxing performance, analysed the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary fighters, and highlighted the favourite stances and techniques of each individual, often in considerable depth and with an apparent understanding of basic mechanics. Whether written by fighters or by “Amateurs”, the men who backed combatants in the prize ring and took instruction from them in the gymnasium, these manuals display a uniformity of agreement in their articulation of boxing “science”, and in their ancillary discussions of training regimes, which is not surprising given the limited and exclusive circle that surrounded professional fighters. As this cadre of sportsmen subsequently extended their sporting interests, many pugilistic training methods, with some sports specific amendments, became the standard modes of preparation for other gambling focussed activities such as rowing and pedestrianism and they remained substantially unaltered for the first half of the nineteenth century.

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