10 Self-Defense Tips From Boxer Jack Dempsey, Circa 1950

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Even though boxing has been around for hundreds of years, few athletes have commanded as much respect and reverence as Jack Dempsey (1895-1983), the modestly-sized pugilist who toppled heavyweights far exceeding his 187 lb. fighting weight during his heyday in the 1920s.

In 1950, the same year the Associated Press named him Fighter of the Century, Dempsey published an instructional book titled Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense [PDF]. In it, Dempsey holds court on his philosophies regarding self-defense for the layman and professional alike and stresses technique above all. While you’re probably better off getting one-on-one lessons in managing attacks, many of Dempsey’s tips remain valid today—so long as you can forgive some of his more curious metaphors. Here are 10 things Dempsey wanted you to know about the Sweet Science.

1. EVEN A BABY CAN KNOCK SOMEONE OUT—AND YOU ARE STRONGER THAN A BABY.

Championship Fighting insists that the reader understand the importance of putting one’s weight behind punches: Dempsey helpfully illustrates his point by having you consider how even a child can seriously injure an adult given the proper circumstances. “What would happen if a year-old baby fell from a fourth-floor window onto the head of a burly truck driver standing on the sidewalk?” he writes. “It's practically certain that the truckman would be knocked unconscious. He might die of brain concussion or a broken neck. Even an innocent little baby can become a dangerous missile when its body weight is set into fast motion.”

2. BEWARE OF BIG CROWDS; THEY LEAD TO CONFLICT.

A big portion of self-defense is situational awareness, and Dempsey cautions that large gatherings should be treated with a guarded attitude. According to Dempsey:

Populations increased so rapidly during the past quarter-century, while improved methods in transportation shrank the globe, that there is much crowding now. Also, the pace of living has been so stepped-up that there is much more tension in nearly every activity than there was in the old days. Crowding, pace, and tension cause friction, flare-ups, angry words and blows. That unprecedented friction can be noted particularly in cities, where tempers are shortened by traffic jams, sidewalk bumpings, crowdings in subways and on buses, and jostlings in theaters, saloons and nightclubs.

3. KNOW YOUR ENVIRONMENT.

Has a hooligan drawn you into a physical confrontation? Before you even think about raining blows upon him, consider your arena: “Let me suggest that any time you are about to be drawn into a fight, keep your head and make a split-second  survey of your surroundings," Dempsey cautions. "Decide immediately whether you have fighting-room and whether you have good footing. If you haven't, try to force your opponent to shift to another battleground, where your knowledge of fighting will leave the percentage in your favor. Yell at him, for example: ‘Okay, wise guy! You want to fight! Let's see if you've got the guts to come out into the street and fight me like a man!’”

This, Dempsey says, will allow you to avoid obstacles and crowds, “so that you'll be able to knock his head off when you get him where you can fight without footing handicaps.”

4. YOU NEED TO STUMBLE BEFORE YOU CAN FIGHT.

Dempsey had a very specific method for generating some of the forward momentum needed to land a devastating strike on the jaw, mouth, or nose of your instigator: Imagine yourself stumbling forward. “It is a quick, convulsive and extremely awkward step,” he writes. “Yet, it's one of the most important steps of your fistic life; for that falling-forward lurch is the rough diamond out of which will be ground the beautiful, straight knockout jolt. It's the gem-movement of straight punching. Try that falling step many times.”

5. YOUR PINKY IS THE KEY TO YOUR POWER.

Those new to inflicting violence might not stop to consider where power comes from and how it’s transferred. Dempsey discusses this by having amateurs refer to their shoulder and then “draw” a straight line all the way down to the pinky finger. “The power line runs from either shoulder straight down the length of the arm to the fist knuckle of the little finger, when the fist is doubled. Remember: The power line ends in the fist knuckle of the little finger on either hand," Dempsey writes. "Gaze upon your ‘pinky’ with new respect. You might call that pinky knuckle the exit of your power line- the muzzle of your cannon."

6. USE THE ”SNEAKER” PUNCH.

The former champ is exhaustive in his study of the numerous weapons available to boxers, from the left hook to the snot-box-crushing uppercut. But he reserves the most affection for what he calls the “sneaker punch,” a blow dealt over your opponent’s arms after a break in the clinch.

“In boxing, it is illegal for you to use this blow, or any other, after the referee has told you to break. But you can use it before he orders a break—when you make your own break. In fist-fighting you can use it whenever you get the chance.”

Dempsey’s description:

(1) Keep your head in close to the left side of your opponent's head, with your chin slightly over his shoulder.

(2) Maneuver with your left hand until you can grab the inside crook of his right elbow, and thus hold his right arm so firmly that he can't punch with it.

(3) Get his left arm under your right arm, and clamp your right hand under his arm—just above the elbow—just below the biceps. When you hold him in that fashion, he can't hit you; but you are in perfect position to break away sharply and deliver a stunning overhanded "sneaker" hook.

7. NEVER SWING, UNLESS YOU WANT A RIDE IN A HEARSE.

Any pro will tell you that straight punches are the key to victory: Wild, looping punches dilute your guard and lack precision. Dempsey is no different. “Some current fighters attempt a long-range right upper-cut called the ‘bolo’ punch. They even attempt to lead with it. Let me warn you that the bolo is more showy than explosive. It's more dangerous to the user than to his opponent. The bolo, or any long-range uppercut, is merely an underhanded swing. And you know that any type of swing, against a good straight puncher, signals to the mortician.”

8. WATCH YOUR OPPONENT’S WRISTS.

To help anticipate your opponent’s moves, Dempsey advocates keeping watch on the position of his or her wrists. On a related note, he advises not to close your eyes while being punched. “Never close your eyes; no matter what kind of a punch is coming at you, and no matter what kind of a punch you are throwing. Keep your eyes riveted on his left fist. After you develop the habit of watching punches, you'll discover that even though your eyes are focused on one threatening fist, you'll be noting from the corners of your eyes every other move your opponent is making.”

9. DON'T COUNT YOURSELF OUT BECAUSE OF YOUR SIZE.

Although he advocates routine fitness programs, Dempsey doesn’t subscribe to the theory that you need to be a chiseled beefcake in order to protect yourself. “Though you resemble a circus fat man or a human skeleton, you'll be able to fight surprisingly well if you practice the fundamentals of explosive fighting I've explained in this book. You'll be able to stiffen many a fellow with one punch, or with a couple of punches.”

10. FINISH IT QUICK.

The number one obstacle to victory in any altercation, Dempsey writes, is fatigue. “True, your opponent also may be getting fatigued; but you can't be certain about his exact condition unless he's blowing and staggering. You know for sure only that you're nearly ‘all in,’ and that he's still out there swinging at you. Accordingly, the longer he keeps fighting, the less chance you have of winning; but the greater chance you have of being battered, cut up, knocked down, knocked out, or injured.”

The “Manassa Mauler” has practical advice to combat this issue. “Because of the danger in a fist-fight, it is imperative that you end the brawl as quickly as possible; and the best way to do that is by a knockout. The knockout is far more important in fist-fighting than in boxing, YOU'VE GOT TO KNOCK 'EM OUT IN FIST-FIGHTS.”

If a baby can do it, so can you.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About the White Night Riots

The Elephant Walk, one of Harvey Milk's favorite bars in San Francisco's Castro District, was one of the many landmarks damaged during the White Night Riots. In 1995, it was fittingly renamed Harvey's in Milk's honor.
The Elephant Walk, one of Harvey Milk's favorite bars in San Francisco's Castro District, was one of the many landmarks damaged during the White Night Riots. In 1995, it was fittingly renamed Harvey's in Milk's honor.
jondoeforty1, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

On November 27, 1978, Dan White, a former police officer and city supervisor, broke into San Francisco City Hall with a loaded revolver. Evading metal detectors, he snuck through a basement window and shot and killed both Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, in their offices. Weeks earlier, the mayor had refused to reinstate White as city supervisor after he previously resigned from the position; Milk was among those who backed the mayor's choice. Hours after the shootings, White turned himself in to the police and confessed to his crimes. What seemed like an open-and-shut murder case, however, turned out to be anything but.

The city's gay and lesbian population stood aghast on May 21, 1979, as White was convicted of the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter, which only carried with it a maximum prison sentence of seven years and eight months (White would only serve five years). That night, thousands of enraged protestors showed up at City Hall and engaged in violent clashes with the police over the outcome of the trial. What would later become known as the White Night Riots redefined the relationship San Francisco's gay and lesbian community had with the political structure and law enforcement in the city at the time. Here are some facts that you should know about the White Night Riots, one of the most violent protests in San Francisco history.

1. Dan White's trial will forever be known for the "Twinkie Defense."

During Dan White's trial, his legal team had to convince the jury that their client wasn't a cold-blooded killer but was instead a man suffering from diminished capacity due to ongoing bouts of depression. Among the evidence they used to illustrate that White wasn't in his right mind during the killings was the fact that he had recently given up his normally healthy lifestyle in favor of sugary junk food and soda. To give these claims credibility, the defense even called Dr. Martin Blinder, a psychiatrist, to the stand to talk about how, among other things, White's sudden intake of sweets was clearly a sign of a man depressed. (He also brought up White's strained marriage and unkempt beard.)

Reporters covering the trial would coin the term Twinkie defense to describe the unique strategy, but despite its outlandish nickname, it was enough to sway the jury after six days of deliberation. Today, "Twinkie defense" has been inscribed into law dictionary history as a derogatory label for an improbable legal defense. (Though, in reality, Twinkies weren't even brought up during the trial, and the killings were never blamed directly on junk food itself.)

2. The police openly supported Dan White's cause.

Dan White, the former police officer, turned himself in to an old friend down at the department just a couple of hours after the killings. Soon, members of the city's police and fire departments had helped raise over $100,000 for White's defense and many officers were seen openly wearing “Free Dan White” T-shirts in the weeks and months before the trial.

3. The White Night Riots started off as a peaceful march on Castro Street.

Many within the city's gay community were furious when the verdict was announced, and that night, a crowd of people spontaneously gathered in San Francisco’s Castro District to begin a nonviolent protest march. Gay and lesbian activists raised their fists and led the way, chanting “No justice, no peace!” throughout the district. Originally, 500 people began the march, but that number would soon balloon to 1500 as the crowd moved through the city.

4. Famous activists spoke at the protest, including Cleve Jones and feminist Amber Hollibaugh.

Harvey Milk’s friend, Cleve Jones, spoke to a crowd on Castro Street through Milk's own bullhorn. He angrily denounced White's conviction, saying, “I saw what those bullets did. It was not manslaughter, it was murder.”

When the marchers reached City Hall, feminist and lesbian activist Amber Hollibaugh climbed onto the railing and gave a speech in front of the ever-growing crowd. She yelled, “It’s time we stood up for each other. That’s what Harvey meant to us. He wasn’t some big leader. He was one of us. I don’t think it’s wrong for us to feel like we do. I think we should feel like it more often!”

In the years after the protests, Jones and Hollibaugh would continue to be vocal activists in the LGBTQ community. In 1987, Jones became one of the creators of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a handmade quilt made up of more than 50,000 panels that commemorate the lives of over 105,000 people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses. It remains the world’s largest community folk art project. And Hollibaugh went on to establish Queer Suvival Economics (QSE) in 2014, a project that addresses the intersection of sexuality, poverty, homelessness, labor, and the criminalization of survival.

5. Chaos broke out once the crowd reached City Hall.

By the time the demonstrators had reached City Hall, they had attracted a crowd of 5000, and the peaceful march soon evolved into a full-fledged riot. Grieving and angry protesters broke the windows and bars of City Hall, set police cars on fire, pelted the cops with rocks, and ripped parking meters off the sidewalks, leaving 59 officers and 124 protestors injured in three hours. The White Night Riots remains one of San Francisco’s most violent protests, and one estimate put the cost of the damage at $1 million.

6. Some police officers covered their badges with black tape during the riots.

When police arrived on the scene, they were ordered to hold the crowd back. However, many officers began assaulting the demonstrators with night sticks, with some even covering their badges with black tape during the chaos. Protesters tore off tree branches to use them as protection against the police who were armed with clubs and riot shields. After three violent hours, the police used tear gas to stop the protestors. Later, the FBI investigated the police’s use of force but no officers were ever reprimanded.

7. Rogue police officers retaliated by raiding The Castro District, San Francisco’s “Gay Mecca.”

After the destruction at City Hall, some rogue police officers headed to The Castro District, an area known for its large gay community. Harvey Milk was an admired public figure throughout the district and was even nicknamed “the Mayor of Castro Street.” One of his favorite haunts was the Elephant Walk bar, a safe space for people otherwise unwelcome in straight bars.

During the White Night Riots, a crowd of people dashed into the bar for shelter, but the police stormed in and demolished the property. Officers clubbed and injured the people inside, crashed bar stools, and broke windows while shouting anti-gay slurs. When former police inspector Jack Webb questioned why officers were pouring into the Castro when it had been quiet and nonviolent, the police captain allegedly responded, “We lost the battle at City Hall. We aren’t going to lose this one.”

In 1995, 16 years after the riots, and after surviving a fire that almost destroyed the entire building in 1988, the Elephant Walk bar reopened under a new name: Harvey’s. You can still find it at 500 Castro Street.

8. Flyers were plastered all over Castro Street warning protestors from speaking out.

Days after the riots, flyers appeared around the Castro, warning neighbors to keep quiet in fear of persecution by the law. The flyers read, “Our defense against the police is each other, our strength is our silence.” The ongoing distrust in the gay community ran so deep that the flyers even discouraged people from cooperating with law enforcement looking for information about the Elephant Walk attack.

9. The day after the White Night Riots would have been Harvey Milk's 49th birthday.

The day after the riots, May 22, would have been Harvey Milk’s birthday, and an estimated 20,000 San Franciscans peacefully gathered to celebrate and honor his legacy. This event had been organized months prior to the riots, but in light of the protests, the organizers came prepared with community “gay monitors” who wore shirts with “PLEASE! No violence” printed on them. The community policed themselves as Mayor Dianne Feinstein ordered police not to enter the immediate area. The “noisy and sometimes drunken” celebration of Milk's life was a complete turnaround from the night before. “Last night, gay men and lesbian women showed the world we’re angry and on the move,” Cleve Jones said at the gathering. "Tonight, we are going to show them that we are building a strong community.”

10. The 2008 movie based on Harvey Milk's life and assassination omitted all mention of the White Night Riots.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, the biographical film Milk details the life of Harvey Milk, focusing on his rising political career as a gay rights trailblazer. But the film comes to an abrupt end when Dan White shoots Milk and Mayor Moscone, with a closing shot of a candlelight vigil across San Francisco. The film’s omission of the violence that wracked the city on May 21 also omits Harvey Milk’s legacy that sparked an aggressive fight for gay rights on the West Coast. In 2017, however, Van Sant did wind up recreating the riots as a producer on the miniseries When We Rise, which chronicles the major events in recent LGBT history.