Active and Passive Defense


Defense in boxing consists of your footwork, slips, rolls, etc, but some defensive techniques are viewed as better than other defensive techniques. If you think about which defensive techniques are more spectator-friendly, you can get a rough idea about which of these techniques are viewed as better than other ones. This is where the idea of Passive and Active defense comes in. These terms are uncommon terms you might hear in boxing and may only be important for scoring purposes, spectating, or refereeing.

What is Passive Defense?

Passive defense largely consists of “running,” crowding, blocking, and shelling up. These defensive techniques are passive especially when the boxer does not throw her own punches back at her opponent. Running is a pejorative term for using one’s footwork for an extended period of time to evade punches. Crowding is when one boxer closes the distance on the opponent and stays at that distance; this would smother the opponent’s and the boxer’s own work, so it is usually done when the boxer is planning not to throw punches. Blocking is simply using the arms or hands to interfere with the opponent’s punches. Shelling up is a variant technique of blocking that is seen as the worst of the three; it is the extended use of the boxer’s arms and hands to cover up most of her openings so that most punches are blocked.

Passive defense is bad for scoring purposes, spectating, or refereeing, as you can imagine. But they are not necessarily bad when boxing. For example, Muhammed Ali used the rope-a-dope (which is basically shelling up until your opponent gets tired) to beat George Foreman. You have to know when to use passive and active defense, and expert use of passive defense can be one of the tools for victory.

What is Active Defense?

Active defense is almost every other defensive technique not included in passive defense. It largely consists of slipping, rolling, catching, parrying, ducking, pulling, using the shoulder roll, punching with an offline head, and having the offhand up for blocking.

Slipping is done when the boxer moves her head to evade punches. Rolling is done when the boxer moves the head and torso side-to-side in a U-shape. Catching is done when the boxer has her palm facing outward, ready to intercept punches with the glove. Parrying is done when the boxer redirects a punch by “swiping” it away. Ducking is done when the boxer simply lowers her level to evade a punch. Pulling is done when the boxer moves her torso backwards with the evaded punch. The shoulder roll is the use of one’s shoulder to interfere with, to mitigate the power of and change the direction of a punch. Punching with an offline head is done when the boxer punches in such a way that the head is not in it’s predictable position. Finally, having the offhand up for blocking is done when the boxer throws a punch with one hand and the other hand is still in the guard position.

Footwork as Defense

Footwork is one of the boxer’s most important defensive tools. It is relatively easy to do, requires less energy, leaves the boxer in a safe position, and when done correctly, guarantees that a punch won’t connect. Yet, the use of footwork can be either passive or active defense as it doesn’t always fall into one of the categories. For example, a step back, a defensive technique where the boxer steps back to evade a punch, is not considered passive defense, but pivoting out of the corner may be considered passive defense. Given that footwork is not always one or the other, it is up to the footwork maneuvers that one does in a given situation that will allow one to determine whether the defensive footwork is passive or active defense.

Author: Loc Ho

Loc Ho was assistant coach, team captain, and boxed at 139 lbs, 132 lbs, and 125 lbs for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s boxing team from 2016-2019. He has trained hundreds of novices and seasoned athletes and created the program’s year-long training curriculum that has taken complete beginners to elite collegiate competitors. With Loc as assistant coach for three years, the program placed six athletes regionally and nationally, including the program’s first men’s national champion at 119 lbs and a national runner-up at 195 lbs. Loc is currently studying law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

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