Boxing has been documented as being around as early as Egypt in around 3000 BC although it was over 4700 years later before gloves as we know them now was designed and even longer for some of the most used equipment in your boxing gym to be introduced. Below in the history of boxing equipment blog where we explore the origins of where boxing equipment originated from in your club and kit bag.
Although fighters may have used basic mouth protection made of any number of materials, the first known use of modern day mouth protection as we know it occurred in the late 1800’s. Woolf Krause, an English dentist, used gutta-percha - a substance made from tree sap and often used in the dental industry, to create strips that could be placed between a fighter’s upper and lower teeth to offer protection and prevent direct bone-on-bone contact. The mouthguard’s development, is down to London dentist Jack Marles when he transformed those simple strips into a moulded, reusable gum shield that fighters could customise. The use of mouth guards in boxing bouts didn't become widely accepted until Ted “Kid” Lewis, a friend of Marles, had a mouthguard created to help protect him from reoccurring injuries to his cheeks and gums. Lewis used the first version of this mouthguard in his 1921 championship fight against Jack Britton. Since then, mouth guards have become standard used protection in most contact sports but boxing was the first.
Original boxing shoes were constructed of genuine leather and featured smooth soles. To lessen the chance of slipping, fighters, prior to each bout, stepped into boxes of resin in their corner to coat the soles of their shoes for added traction on the canvas. In 1916 Jack Dempsey got a store to make him some custom leather boxing shoes, these leather boxing boots were light, had rubber soles with traction to prevent slipping, and provided sufficient ankle support. They are a style of boot’s still popular and used today. Modern day boxing shoes are now built with a variety of nylon, breathable mesh and synthetic fabrics. Styles vary with many high cut and low cut versions popular with fighters.
In the late twenties, the first groin protector was introduced. It was called a “Taylor”, named after Brooklyn shoe sole manufacturer, James P. Taylor. His invention didn’t take hold until the fight between Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey fight in June 1930, which ended in a disqualification. Sharkey lost due to a controversial “low blow” which gave Schmeling the win and gave the United States a German Heavyweight Champion. After that bout, “No Foul Rules” were introduced and Taylor’s No Foul Protector was adopted.
DOUBLE END BAG
The first documented case of a modern day fighter using any type of equipment to punch in training is in the late 1870’s when Middleweight Champion Mike Donovan was seen hitting a rugby ball suspended from the ceiling on a string. His device the ‘flying bag’ was quickly adopted by other fighters to train cutoff and counter punches. Over the next 10-15 years, punching bags evolved and took on many different variations, still used today. Its most recognisable relative is the double end bag, patented by J Lovatt in 1890 that featured straps to tether the bag to the floor as well as the ceiling limiting its range, movement and ultimately creating a punching bag that requires a faster response time.
The Floor To Ceiling Bag gained widespread popularity in the 1950’s when combination-puncher Sugar Ray Robinson was seen working this piece of equipment with masterful speed, timing and accuracy. Boxing equipment still evolves now with floor mounted reflex bag’s being modern versions of the focus ball.
Another piece of equipment likely inspired by Donovan’s rugby ball and Simon D. Kehoe first version of a punch bag is the modern day speed ball. It’s similar in function, as it provides the same type of head target and reactive reactions as it bounces back, but with the inclusion of a swivel and platform this innovation requires quicker reaction time and is geared more toward developing reflexes. Made popular in the early 1900’s when Jack Johnson was first seen using this type of bag, although it was much bigger back then. They was gradually installed in carnival booths and bars as well as boxing gym’s as their popularity grew.
The use of punch mitts or focus pads likely came about as Muay Thai and Far Eastern martial arts made its way toward the United States in the late 1700’s. The concept first began with martial artists using foot tongs or slippers on their hands to absorb the impact from kicks and strikes. The earliest photos or documentation of hook and jab pads in boxing came about around the time of Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. Marciano’s trainer Charley Goldman used a vision of a punch mitt as a tool to improve accuracy during training. Modern day focus pads came into more widespread popular use in the mid-1960’s when Bruce Lee was seen using them in his training routines. Emanuel Steward. while working as a trainer began to put some gloves on backwards to protect his hands that most likely led to the modern day versions seen now. Although they have been around for decades, they were never a central part of coaching until the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Now they’ve become an almost irreplaceable part of a fighter’s routine.
The earliest form’s of striking equipment was not used for punching, but for kicking, grappling and other strikes specific to the pankration, the ancient Greek form of MMA. These versions of bag’s was an entire pig skin filled with sand and hung upside down by the tail. Another type of ancient striking equipment was a hanging ‘effigy’, a stuffed replica of a human torso, not dissimilar from the popular freestanding ‘bobs’ used in martial arts practice around the world. The final type of ancient punching bag and most likely where the modern version’s stem from, was a sack of barley hung from a roof beam. This item was about the size of a human head and moved more like a maize or slip ball [the small bag used for head movement drills in some gyms]. The United States Office of Patents and Trademarks awarded a patent for punching bag designs to Simon D. Kehoe in 1872, one of which was similar to the ancient sack of barley bag. Since this time, many improvements have been made to these designs to better replicate a fighters needs and improve the designs using modern day materials. Punching bags actually gained popularity around the 1920’s when heavy bags based on the early design’s were originally constructed from old chamois sack duffle bags or cloth “gunny” sacks and were initially filled with a mixture of horse hair (like early and some modern day boxing gloves), sand or grains. They only normally weighed 10 to 20 pounds and was more like modern slip balls or a maize ball. It was usually hung from a rope and swung along a wide arc, made popular by fighters like Jack Dempsey and ‘Kid’ McCoy.
Our own canvas punchbag was developed in the 1950’s and (much in tune with the versions you see today) was made world famous when Muhammad Ali on a tour of England. He liked the bag he was using at the BBC gym so much he took one home with him, using up all his luggage allowance and leaving the rest of his kit and clothing behind!
Traditional Heavy bags as they look today have advanced greatly, with genuine leather and synthetic materials that now last much longer, using protective materials such as padded foam jackets and soft fillings to protect the fighters hands. Since the 1970s, boxing equipment manufacturers such as AMPRO, have developed new shapes and variations to provide variations and better training experiences suited to the ring.
Although painted images of skipping bamboo and vines date all of the way back to Egyptian times (around 1600 B.C.) exist, also aborigines of Australia were known to jump vines and bamboo for fun and Chinese rope makers produced skipping ropes it as part of their New Year’s celebrations, calling it the Hundred Rope Jumping game, or Jumping 100 Threads. The actual origins of a skipping rope are unknown beyond that, what we do know is that Dutch settlers are actually credited with bringing the jump rope to America and Europe during the 1600’s. The activity at the time was considered indecent for girls because they might show their ankles. The activity started to thrive early in the 1940s and 1950s, predominantly with children in inner cities, because it was inexpensive and could be taken anywhere for fun. In the early 20th century, boxers began using ropes in training to improve conditioning, leg strength and foot speed. When Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, skipping rope to the song “Night Train”, the jump rope surged in popularity and became a staple of every fighter’s routine. Jump Ropes were primarily originally constructed of leather with a propeller handle design, but often now use a variety of dense rubber materials and plastics. Many modern ropes feature designs such as ball bearings in the handles that increases the rope speed and decreases wear at the point of rotation. Ergonomic handle designs to aid skipping from the wrist, an adjustable rope so you no longer tie knots for a bespoke length and wire ropes for a faster rotation. Ampro actually started from the construction of bespoke skipping ropes in the 1940’s that were made for a local gym where the sport’s shop owner was a coach. Today Ampro are still the best rope around, known as being used by superstar fighters and being the best value for money skipping rope available.
One of the oldest and earliest pieces of training equipment used, while details are sparse on the starting point of medicine balls, we can track their usage back around 3,000 years where they were used by Persian wrestlers looking to build strength. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates considered them to be an essential tool for helping injured people regain mobility. He advised people to use them as a general, all purpose way of remaining healthy. The word “medicine” was long synonymous with the word “health.” At that time medicine balls were made from pig bladders or animal skins filled with sand. Renaissance physician Hieronymus Mercurialis advised that people of all fitness levels should use what we would recognise as medicine balls in his book De Arte Gymnastica, as part of what he called “medicinal gymnastics.” The use of the word “medicinal” in this case was to highlight how the exercises could be used as both a way of healing injuries and preventing them in the first place, through general fitness. Although devices we would recognise as being medicine balls have been commonplace for millennia, the word itself is only a few hundred years old, being attributed to Professor Roberts back in 1889, when Roberts coined the term “medicine ball” in reference to the fact that using the ball “invigorates the body, promotes digestion, and restores and preserves one’s health.” In more modern times they were a prominent fixture in Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson’s training routine. The Medicine Ball has become synonymous with boxing training and enhances total body power and conditioning.
The Ancient Greeks first used strips of oxhide softened with olive oil, called himantes, to wrap and protect their hands over 3000 years ago, but when gloves of "fair size" were declared by the Marquess of Queensberry Rules in 1867 (see our history of professional boxing) greater precautions started to develop for better hand and wrist protection. Fighters pre-wrapping their hands beneath the gloves evolved over time but became standard practice in the 1920’s when the use of gauze and tape was used for gloved fighters to further protect there hands. Hand protection actually become more important with gloves as previously bare knuckle fighters couldn’t only concentrate on punching to the head as it was generally to hard on their hands and punches were targeted more to the body. The invention of gloves lead to more punches being thrown at the head and greater protection needed for the hands.
Even though there were earlier versions used like a frozen coin or chilled can, the enswell design we know now, wasn’t developed until the early 1980’s. The original enswell, was a thick piece of metal that was placed in a freezer or ice bucket to be cold when applied and was developed by a big boxing fan and New Jersey physician Dr. Michael Sabia. The tool is still used today in-between rounds by the corner man to slow swelling and subdue bruising on fighters as the cutman presses the enswell against a fighter's skin to cool and reduce swelling from injuries, especially in areas around the eyes where swelling can impair vision. The cold causes the capillaries beneath the skin to constrict, reducing blood flow to the area. Modern end-swell, endswell, stop-swell, no-swell or eye iron, come in many different shapes and sizes. Some newer models have longer easy-to-grip handles or can be filled with ice to remain colder for a longer period of time. They have become a standard tool for any cornerman, seconds, coach or cutman working in a fighter’s corner.
In 1917, the young Jack Dempsey got a local sporting goods manufacturer to design him a protective head guard that would stand up to more than fifteen rounds of intense boxing training. Similar in design to a more wrestling style head gear we know today it paved the way for the modern day designs. Headgear has made some huge advancements since that time, with multi-layer lightweight padded systems to absorb greater shock and more comprehensive designs that provide a greater degree of protection for the chin, nose and cheeks.
Jack Broughton, known as the the father of english boxing designed the first Boxing gloves made from a form of padded bandage or mitten in the mid 1700s. He introduced them at his gym as a training tool to reduce injuries to boxers' hands and faces prior to official bare knuckle fights. For the next decade or so, the use of “mufflers,” as the gloves were often called, was considered unmanly. But Broughton encouraged the use of 'mufflers', to be used in 'jousting' or sparring sessions in training, and in exhibition matches and they eventually caught on.