Types of Guards

Introduction

Sometimes, as a novice, you may wonder why another boxer’s lead hand is so low? After all, conventional wisdom tells us to keep both hands up. As an intermediate boxer, you may wonder why both hands of another boxer are so high? Wouldn’t their body be wide open and their vision blocked by their own hands? The way boxers position their hands in their stance is called their guard, which complements any one of the four fighting styles that they may be using. Further, every guard has its strengths and weaknesses. This article will give you an overview of the different types of guards in boxing.    

Types of Guards

Keith Thurman using his conventional guard

Conventional

Place your rear hand near your rear cheek; place your lead hand about 4-6 inches from your lead cheek. Elbows do not flare out. The primary defenses from this guard are blocking, parrying, slipping, bobbing, and footwork. This guard best suits out-boxers, boxer-punchers, and counter-punchers.

Advantages. Above all else, this guard is versatile. You can easily attack or defend, and almost all offensive and defensive maneuvers are available to the boxer. Further, you can most punches, although lead shovel hooks (forthcoming) may be difficult to spot. There is a reason why this guard is the default boxing guard: it works with everything and anyone.

Disadvantages. Because the lead hand exposes your left cheek, this guard does not work well at close range. Further, rhythmic upper body movement (e.g. weaving) is awkward and inefficient.

Keys to the Conventional Guard

  • Lead hand slightly off-line (i.e. not centered);
  • Lead hand 4-6 inches from lead cheek and up or near eye level;
  • Both elbows covering the rib cage;
  • Rear hand against cheek and up at eye level.
Floyd Patterson posing for Everlast with a peek-a-boo guard

Peek-a-boo

Square your shoulders. Place both hands around cheek or chin level, palms facing inward. Elbows lie by the side of your ribs. Primary defenses are blocking, slipping, weaving. To see in action, check out Mike Tyson or Floyd Patterson. This guard best suits swarmers, but agile sluggers may also benefit.

Advantages. With you arms closer to your body, moving your upper body becomes easier. In turn, this helps with rhythmic head movement and improves your vision for straight punches. This guard tends to neutralize height/reach advantages, given its emphasis on weaving. And since the hands remain at the cheeks or chin, blocking becomes automatic. Further, this guard lessens the need for reflexes, since it emphasizes passive defense and rhythmic movements.

Disadvantages. The extra bulk on top discourages quick, reactionary head movement. Further, your fist block your downward vision, stopping you from seeing sneaky uppercuts.

Keys to the Peek-a-boo:

  • Square your shoulders;
  • Fists at chin or cheek level;
  • Elbows resting on ribs;
  • Must have quick upper-body movement.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. using his Philly-shell guard

Philly-shell

Place your lead hand over your abdomen; place your rear hand near the lead side of your chin. Elbows rest on your ribs. Primary defense would be blocking, parrying, rolling (with shots), slipping, and footwork (pivots, etc.). Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the best example of this guard. Adrien Broner and James Toney are other prime examples. This guard favors out-boxers, boxer-punchers, and counter-punchers.

Advantages. This guard favors boxers with excellent reflexes and height/reach advantages. The guard allows for a full (unimpeded) view of the opponent, an almost full and passive coverage of the body, and tends to position the hands for counter hooks and right hands.

Disadvantages. You can easily telegraph your jab, since your lead primarily defends your abdomen. This guard also requires a lot of experience: first, you need confidence in your reflexes, and second, you need a high fighting IQ to anticipate combinations, counters, and follow-ups. Further, this guard encourages fighting off the back foot (forthcoming), which appears passive.

Keys to the Philly-Shell:

  • Lead side shoulder forward;
  • Close off your center line;
  • Hold rear hand against the lead side of the face as a shield;
  • Hold lead hand across the stomach and below your rear arm;
  • Rear hand catches, parries, or blocks any punches targeting your head.
George Foreman using his Cross guard

Cross (arm) guard

Forearm(s) are placed in front of your face. Primary defense would be weaving and blocking. George Foreman and Joe Frazier are good examples. For a more modern example, Daniel Jacobs sometimes uses this guard. This guard favors sluggers and swarmers.

Advantages. The cross arm guard allows for the most security when blocking the opponent’s looping and straight punches to the head, especially when body punches are not a concern. For example, very few boxers could hurt George Foreman with body shots. The guard also follows naturally from throwing hooks.

Disadvantages. This guard leaves the body totally exposed, does not allow you to throw anything but hooks, and offers little defense for uppercuts.

Adrien Broner advancing on Jessie Vargas with his high guard

High (aka Double) guard

Square your shoulders. Place both hands on your temples, palms facing inward. The body weight tends to be slightly forward. Primary defense would be footwork, blocking, and parrying. Vasyl Lomachenko uses this guard often. Errol Spence Jr. also uses the high guard at times. This guard best suits swarmers, boxer-punchers, and counter-punchers.

Advantages. This guard favors security and offensive capability. Using this guard positions the boxer for leading an offense with almost full coverage of the head, consequently reducing the risk for the opponent’s stop-hits. The guard also positions the body for easy upper-body blocking and quick counters (stop-hits and block-counters).

Disadvantages. The guard requires more energy holding up your arms than all other guards. Further, you can easily get blindsided as your hands form a tunnel for your target. Given the extra upper body weight, head movement can be sluggish. And your body becomes exposed.

Keys to the High (Double) Guard:

  • Square up;
  • Both hands around your temple;
  • Do not flare elbows;
  • Form a tunnel with your hands;
  • Relax your shoulders to preserve energy;
  • Perfect for setting up an offense.
Yasuhiro Suzuki using half-guard against Serik Sapiyev in London 2012 Olympics

Half (aka Low) guard

Drop your lead hand (often, but not always, below your abdomen). Place your rear hand on either the lead or rear cheek. Although the lead is low, many boxers still raise their lead when in-close or defending. Defense would be blocking, parrying, slipping, ducking, and footwork. This guard favors out-boxers, boxer-punchers, and counter-punchers.

Advantages. The Philly-shell and half guard share some advantages. Like the Philly-shell, the half guard gives the boxer superb vision. Unlike the Philly shell, the half guard does a better job at concealing the boxer’s lead hand (thus allowing for sneakier lead hooks and jabs).

Disadvantages. This guard leaves your lead side defenseless and can telegraph your lead punches. Further, the half guard requires experience and athleticism. To take advantage of your hidden lead hand and extra vision, you must anticipate your opponent’s actions and have good agility, balance, and hand speed.

Keys to the Half Guard:

  • Lead shoulder forward;
  • Hold rear hand against the rear side of your face;
  • Lower lead hand to abdomen (or lower);
  • Rear hand catches, blocks, or parries punches targeting your head.

Conclusion

Muhammad Ali evading with his hands down (no-guard)

There may be more guards with specific uses or theoretical ones (e.g. both hands down, using slipping and weaving for defense) that may not be useful at all. Still, these are the most common and possibly most useful or versatile guards you will see.

Author: Le Ho

I am currently a law student at the University of North Carolina Law School. As an undergraduate, I boxed for Carolina and earned its first men's national championship title.

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