Guarding the Mark

Here’s a lively discussion from the Bartitsu society, addressing a question that I get a lot… actually the question comes from quizzical looks when I talk about guarding the mark during the Introduction to Bartitsu. It can be phrased as this forum user did:

Peter Thomas:
I have been reading The Art of Boxing (William Edwards) and Boxing (R.G Allanson-Win) and a lot of emphasise (sic) is placed on guarding the Mark with your rear arm.

I was wondering what everyone’s views are on this as I have never really thought much about it in any other styles I have practised. Also, in the majority of street fights that I have witnessed, most of the attacks are aimed at the head and any body shots tend to be just wild swings with no particular target. I understand though that a good hit to the mark can end the fight a lot quicker than one to the face.

Is guarding the mark so important in a street defence situation? Or is it just something to worry about against a trained fighter in the ring?


The questions “What is the mark?” And “Is it really important to guard it?” are important to understanding historical scientific boxing. There are references in every period book on pugilism, as summarized here:

Kirk Lawson:

OK, here is a *very* quick “survey” drawn from some of the manuals I’ve repubbed (or have local digital access to for simple word searching).

The Mark

“The Art of In-Fightin,” Frank Kaus, 1913
Fig. 7 – “The In-Fighter’s most Deadly Punch: the Right Drive to the pit of the Stomach” pp34
“The In-Fighter’s most Deadly Punch.
This is undoubtedly the most deadly in-fighting punch possible, and means decisive victory if properly administered. In trying for this, however, it must be remembered that a right may come along and upset our plan. Therefore the left is brought up to the opponent’s chin almost simultaneously with the right drive to the mark. If successful the left jolt should send your man’s head back, a movement which causes the muscles of his stomach to relax.”

“Boxing,” R.G. Allanson-Winn, 1915
“…the mark, i.e. over the pit of the stomach, just above the belt, where a severe blow may do so much damage.”
Illustration: “GUARD FOR LEFT-HAND HIT AT MARK” shows the forearm barring the pit of the stomach (not the solar plex.).

“The Art and Practice of Boxing,” A Celebrated Pugilist, 1825
“the pit of your stomach, which is called the MARK”
Illustration: “Defense of the Face and Pit of the Stomach.” shows the forearm barring high, roughly at Solar Plex. level.

“The Art of Boxing,” Richard K. Fox Publishing Company, 1913
“Easily balanced on your feet, the right arm should be across the “mark” (that point where the ribs begin to arch)”

“Boxing,” ‘Philadelphia’ Jack O’Brien, 1928
“at the same time driving the left fist to the “mark,” which is the depression just beneath the breast-bone.”
Plate 10 – “Charlie Wolpert parries my left and shoots his left to the mark.” shows a verticle punch to the Solar Plex.

“Boxing,” Edwin Haislet, 1940
“The “mark” is the boxing term used to designate the solar plexus.”

“Doran’s Science of Self Defense,” Bart J. Doran, 1889
Spring in, bend forward at the hips, case your head well to the right and cast your right shoulder well back and land your left upon his diaphragm.”

“The Art of Boxing and Manual of Training,” Billy Edwards, 1888
“Raise your right forearm from the elbow and throw it across the chest so that the middle joint of the thumb, when shut on the fingers, is about the region of the nipple of the left breast, and its direction runs along the right “divide” of the ribs. The spot from whence the ribs branch off the breast-bone to either side is generally known as “the mark,” and is the most vulnerable of all the region below the neck.”

“Treatise Upon The Useful Science Of Defense,” Captain John Godfrey, 1747
“GRETTING had the nearest [sic. neatest?] Way of going to the Stomach (which is what they call the Mark) of any Man I knew.”

“How to Box,” ‘A Professional Boxer’, 1882 (plagairism from Ned Donnelly)
“The right arm should be across the “mark” (that point where the ribs begin to arch)”

“The Modern Art of Boxing,” Daniel Mendoza (assumed), 1789 (estimated)
“The MARK. The pit of the stomach. So called, from its being the object at which a stroke most likely will put an end to a battle can be aimed.”

Peace favor your sword,

Outside of the historical advice, what does the modern practitioner, the neo-Bartitsu experimenters, have to say? Here’s one anecdote:

I know a guy who worked as a bouncer in the night. He told that once he hit a guy 3 times down to the ground using punch to the face, and all the time after a little rest the guy just jumped up, and tried to attack again, so at the end he hit the guy on the mark. The guy collapsed, and laid on the ground for a nice amount of time, and he didn’t wanted to attack anymore.

The way I explain it is fairly simple. In the following discussion, I intend to be clinical and realistic, but some may find the frankness too graphic.

Stopping someone who is enraged can be done in very few ways.

  1. Knockout: they are rendered unconscious and cannot continue
  2. Overwhelming pain: every movement (or any leg movement) causes such extreme pain that they cannot continue
  3. Inability to move or attack: whether you remove yourself, or lock them in a closet, they cannot attack
  4. Inability to breathe or other life-threatening problem: most assailants will not cross a fire just to attack you, and they need to breathe to live.

The reference to Karate Kid III is merely coincidental.

I think this list is fairly self-explanatory, and I’m fairly sure it is exhaustive. You cannot reason with an enraged person. Causing small amounts of pain will only fuel their anger. One of the only truly effective ways to stop an assailant who is actively attacking you is to cause their breathing apparatus to fail. We’ll deal with the other three in weeks to come.

Damage to the mouth and nose may eventually prevent breathing, but that requires massive destruction. Damage to the trachea, the breathing part of the throat, requires less force, but requires a precise hit. The lungs themselves are protected by the ribs and sternum. The only part left is the bottom of the breathing apparatus: the diaphragm.

The muscle that flexes and relaxes at the bottom the lungs, across the lower ribs, is the diaphragm, and when it smasms you hiccup. Hitting that muscle will not only cause an expulsion of breath, it will make the next efforts at breathing laborious and painful. Furthermore, the diaphragm is not well protected by the ribs, and a hit into the stomach compresses the entire region. It is a target that is large enough to hit consistently, effective enough to stop a fight, and civilized enough to be used by a gentleman.

Choke holds that prevent breathing are not effective when they are released because the attacker rapidly gets their breath back. If they are conscious and their trachea was not damaged, they will attack you again. A solid punch to the pit of the stomach or solar-plexus will give you time to escape while the assailant is struggling for breath. If you are holding them while they struggle for breath, you haven’t escaped the situation yet.

Breathing is only the most obvious life-threatening situation that will stop an attacker. Most assailants will not cross a fire just to attack you. They will not climb through barbed wire to attack you. These are not effective strategies in a street fight, but illustrate the point: if someone’s life is in danger, they will save themselves before continuing to attack you. Hitting the diaphragm is an unarmed technique that is easy to learn and works against even trained men — just ask Houdini (too soon?)

In future posts, I will discuss the merits and problems with the first three strategies. Today, it’s important to remember that an attacker who cannot breathe is a neutralized attacker.

Go to Part 2: The Knockout

Don’t miss the next Introduction to Bartitsu workshop coming up this Saturday, 8 October. In four hours, we’ll learn the basics of the four weapons of this Victorian self-defence style: Boxing, Savate, Jujitsu and the iconic Walking Stick.

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