How African Martial Arts in the United States influenced “Western” Boxing and Wrestling Part II...Introducing The Black Terror
Martial Artist and Owner of School Of Arms Media.
In the late 18th early 19th century, the beginning of what we know of as, English Pugilism, or “Boxing,” was coming into itself as a combative sporting method.
British Boxing in the American Colonies was considered unmanly, if not even too polite. At the time, in the American colonies, the common method of fighting was “Rough and Tumble,” sometimes locally referred to a “Gouging.” Gouging, being, that the emphasis was on maiming an opponent; they would do this by biting off a piece of ear, nose, or even gouging out an eye. Nevertheless, African Americans were drawn into prizefighting very early on, as it was a means to improve upon their position.
An example of this, comes from the war of 1812, in the racially segregated prison of Dartmoor. This is where, African American prisoners of war, led by prizefighter Richard Carafes, charged tuition to their fellow Americans and British captors for lessons in dancing and boxing.
In the late 18th, early 19th century, a former slave by the name of Bill Richmond, rose to the top of the ranks and introduced innovations that were very alien to the world of English boxing. Bill Richmond liberated himself from slavery when his former Master fled from the British occupation of Staten Island; it was here, that Bill Richmond enlisted in the British Army, where he would impress General Hugh Percy, whom would make him his personal valet. It was this relationship, that allowed Bill Richmond to travel to England and enter the world of prizefighting.
The British method of pugilism at this time period was a very static affair. The idea was to “toe the line,” where a specific set distance was marked by a line on the ground to set the range. This line marked the distance where each would stand in place to pulverize the other. Though, the rules did allow, for movement and defense, it was considered bad form to do so. This was where Bill Richmond broke the mold and introduced his revolutionary methods of defense. The methods he used were described as “hitting and getting away,” “side-stepping,” and many “dodges and jumps.” Instead of taking a punch “like a man,” he “hopped and danced about the ring, sometimes falling down, at others jigging round somewhat in the style of an Otahetian dance.”
It was this new form of defense that allowed Bill Richmond to fight and defeat opponents that were much larger than he was; it is also why he was given the cognomen, “The black terror.” With a very long and successful fight career, Bill Richmond's “antics,” became accepted as an actual system. This allowed Bill Richmond to become a successful trainer, and passed down his revolutionary system of defense; making a lasting contribution to “Western boxing.”
Nevertheless, how did a former slave with no formal training in English pugilism come to develop this type of defense? It seems from the outset, there may be a connection to the African diaspora martial arts mentioned in my previous article; However, not much is known about Bill Richmond's early life, so the evidence is anecdotal, but deserves to be explored further.