The History of Coaching Tools in Boxing





The use of punch mitts, or focus pads, came about as Muay Thai and Asian martial arts made their way into 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 actual, modern day, punch mitts came about around the time of Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. These were more rudimentary designs and did not play as large a role in training as they do today.  


Contemporary punch mitts came into more widespread use in the mid-1960’s when revolutionary martial artist, Bruce Lee was seen using focus mitts at the peak of his martial arts career. They were an important training tool for practicing and perfecting his Jeet June Do punching and kicking techniques. 


Lee used punch mitts to develop the fighting techniques he described as “style without style' or 'the art of fighting without fighting “, because they emphasized fluidity of movement, reaction time and best mimicked realistic fighting situations. 

That is why they, then, slowly began transitioning into other combat sports and have become an integral part of today’s boxing training routines.  


In the late 70’s, legendary trainer, Emmanuel Steward began implementing punch mitts with many of his Kronk fighters.

At first, Steward had the idea to just reverse boxing gloves for use as targets. He later acquired real punch mitts and, after that, could be seen training his fighters with them. Prior to that, they were not widely used in training, certainly not to the degree they are today. 

What caught the eye of other coaches was the WAY he incorporated them into his training sessions. Rather than just being another target to hit, Emanuel used them for mimicking fighting styles and to replicate specific fight scenarios. 

That is part of what made KRONK fighters so effective and technically precise.


When used correctly, punch mitts can be the perfect tool for teaching a fighter the finer points of the game, how to deal with specific styles and developing strategy.


Mitt designs began to evolve, from just your standard, flat target, used in the mid 1990’s, into more innovative varieties incorporated into training today. A wide range of mitt designs allow a boxing coach to focus on specific attributes of their fighter, to work on combination punching, speed or to develop power and accuracy.  




Even though there were some “rough versions” like chilled, solid half dollar coins or empty tuna cans, filled with water and then frozen, the current day Enswell was not widely used or recognized before 1981. Then, it took center-stage at Caesar’s Palace and played a pivotal role in the “Showdown” between Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy “Hitman” Hearns. The introduction of this more advanced design could not have come along at a more opportune time.


Prior to that monumental fight, Leonard’s trainer, Angelo Dundee had been introduced to New Jersey physician, Dr. Michael Sabia. As fate would have it, Sabia was also a big boxing fan and had been developing a tool to help slow swelling and subdue bruising. He gave what he called an “Enswell”, to Dundee as a gift. The Enswell was a 3” x ½” thick piece of metal to be placed in a freezer or in an ice bucket to retain its chilled temperature.

Dundee hadn’t given it much thought, until the end of the fifth round, when Leonard returned to the corner with his left eye noticeably beginning to swell shut.  Dundee, then, remembered that he had packed this new gift between two ice bags to try out, in the event he would need it.  With the assistance of the Enswell, which he used between every round from then on, Dundee was able to keep the swelling under control.  It helped Leonard make it to the 14th round when he rallied from behind and stopped Hearns by TKO.


Today, several types of Enswells, or NoSwells as some are called, come in different shapes, sizes and have easy to grip handles. Some models can even be filled with ice or frozen with water inside to remain colder for a longer period. They’ve become a standard tool for any cornerman or cut man, and just as in Leonard’s case, can make or break a fighter’s chance to see the next round.




Although it's obvious that fighters of the past realized the importance of practicing body punching, an actual body protector like what are used today, did not come about until the mid-1980’s.  Before that, you can find images of fighters like early 1900’s middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel using a chair cushion or other images that appear to have their sparring partners wearing thinly padded aprons. So, although the idea of body protection has existed for over a century, they only took full form around 40 years ago.


The first body protector was released around 1987 and patterned after a common piece of karate or Taekwondo equipment used in point fighting competitions. Like boxing, competitors were assigned a red or blue corner, and they would wear these types of chest guards for protection. These were modified for boxing and used in training, by combining them with a thicker style chest guard, like what you would see on a baseball umpire.  The hybrid of the two is what really brought about today’s modern body protector. 


What coaches use today are, obviously, much more padded, more shock-absorbing and fit better than a chair cushion. Plus, we now have the advantage of technologically advanced foams, GEL padding, memory foam and a variety of multi-layered materials that provide greater impact absorption and protection than ever before.