hit below the belt / low blow

An unfair, underhanded tactic, from the sport of boxing, in which it is illegal to hit an opponent below the belt or waist. Both phrases are also applied to speech, where someone says something that is too personal, and often hurtful.

A groin attack, or a ‘low blow,’ is a deliberate attempt to cause pain to one’s opponent. Often used in self-defense, the technique can be quickly debilitating, due to the large number of sensitive nerve endings in the penis and testicles of males, as well as the highly innervated vulva and ovaries of females. A sufficiently powerful blow may fracture the pubic bone of the victim.

In boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts competitions, where full-contact strikes are normal and permitted, strikes to the groin are now almost universally forbidden. Using them will result in penalties and disqualifications. Such ‘low blows’ are generally considered illegal in professional wrestling as well.

The first official rules agains hitting below the belt were drafted by boxer Jack Broughton in 1743, and were called the London Prize Ring Rules. These included:

“That no person is to hit his Adversary when he is down, or seize him by the ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist. A man on his knees to be reckoned down.”

The basis of the rules for modern day boxing is the Marquis of Queensbury Rules, created in 1867.

Although the rules were created in Britain, the term ‘below the belt’ appears first in print in the USA. Here’s an early example from the New York Daily-Times, June 1853:

“… he will always respect that noble rule of pugilistic chivalry and ‘never strike below the belt’.”

In street fighting, a low blow may be used as a self-defense technique. When one’s opponent is at close range, a knee attack to the groin is easy to execute and difficult to defend against, giving a weaker fighter the chance to escape. It is often, though not always, effective.

This self-defense technique is something most women are taught. My father, however, told me to use the ‘old one-two,’ which is another boxing expression that I’ll deal with next week.

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