“Drunk History” (US) Tells the Story of the Suffragette Bodyguards

The Comedy Channel’s hit series Drunk History, in which interesting past events are related by inebriated comedians, has followed in the footsteps of the UK version of the show by featuring the jujitsuffragettes of the Edwardian English women’s rights movement.  “Civil Rights” was the title and theme of Drunk History’s episode 5, season 5 show, which screened in the US on Feb. 20, 2018.

The suffrajitsu segment is narrated by Kirby Howell-Baptiste and stars Tatiana Maslany as Emmeline Pankhurst, who is introduced leading the ill-fated “raid on Parliament” on November 10, 1910. This raid was the fourteenth attempt by the Women’s Social and Political Union to present a petition to Parliament and developed into a near riot in which many protestors complained of police brutality; the event later became known as “Black Friday”.

Although the Drunk History episode gives the impression that Mrs. Pankhurst’s sister was killed during the protest, in reality she died about a month later (possibly as the result of an accident while she was being force-fed in prison).

Actress Maria Blasucci plays martial arts instructor Edith Garrud and several scenes are set in her opulent dojo, where she is shown training the new suffragette Bodyguard team in the womanly art of jiujitsu. Gert Harding, played by Kat Dennings, is portrayed as Mrs. Garrud’s star pupil; in reality, Harding did study martial arts with Garrud and also led the Bodyguard team.

The show also offers fairly accurate representations of two key WSPU rallies in which the Bodyguard clashed with the police. The Campden Hill (Camden) rally, which was also portrayed in the Drunk History UK episode on the same theme as well as the 2015 feature film Suffragette, shows how the Bodyguard tricked the police into arresting a body double while the real Mrs. Pankhurst made her escape.

The second re-enactment is of the famous “Battle of Glasgow”, when the Bodyguard openly confronted and fought with the police on the stage of St. Andrew’s Hall, in front of some 4500 shocked witnesses. Although the show implies that this event turned the tide of the radical suffrage movement and led directly to the enfranchisement of women, the real history is (of course) vastly more complicated.

In reality, the First World War broke out shortly after the Glasgow brawl, at which point Mrs. Pankhurst suspended all militant suffrage activities and supported the government throughout the crisis, especially by organising and encouraging women to “do men’s work” while their husbands, sons and brothers were fighting overseas. It’s generally conceded that the suspension of WSPU militancy, in combination with the work done by women during wartime, tipped the balance in favour of “votes for women” as the conflict drew to a close.

The “Civil Rights” episode of Drunk History also includes interesting segments on the Birmingham Children’s March and the disability rights activists who organized America’s longest sit-in of a federal building. It is currently available to view for free via the Comedy Channel website (some conditions apply) or to purchase via Youtube or via Amazon.  Note that the dialogue does include some swearing and mildly raunchy slang and so may not be safe for work.

If you enjoy Drunk History’s take on the suffragette Bodyguard story, keep an eye out for the upcoming full-length documentary No Man Shall Protect Us, which will cover the same subject in much greater depth, albeit with much less drunken hilarity.

An Update on “No Man Shall Protect Us”, the Suffrajitsu Documentary

Production is now well under way on No Man Shall Protect Us, a documentary on the secret society of martial arts-trained women who protected the radical suffragettes of England just prior to the First World War.

Re-enactment scenes have been shot in collaboration with the Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s production of The Good Fight, a suffragette play by Anne Bertram.  Further re-enactments as well as “interviews” with actors portraying historical figures including WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst and martial arts instructor Edith Garrud will be shot over the next several weeks.

The production will also feature fight scenes between a London police constable and a member of the WSPU Bodyguard team, a demonstration of the rare circa 1908 board game Suffragetto and the use of archival media to tell the fascinating story of the “jiujitsuffragettes”.

No Man Shall Protect Us was fully funded via Kickstarter and it will be made freely available online as an educational resource.

“I’m Teaching the Police to Fight” (1911)

The following article describing a Bartitsu-like method of self-defence was first published in Pearson’s Weekly of January 26, 1911. The author’s name is given as Baron Albrecht von Knobelsdorff-Brenkenhoff, but archive searches have failed to bring up any further reference to that name, let alone in connection with teaching self-defence to the London police.

By Baron ALBRECHT VON KNOBELSDORFF-BRENKENHOFF, Who has been Appointed Official Instructor to the London City Police in Wrestling and Self-Defence.

Wehn I was quite a boy my father, an officer himself, once remarked that I would never he a horseman. I made up my mind to prove the contrary, and when I was nineteen I joined a cavalry regiment, and during my ten years’ service in the German Army I became rather well known as a steeplechase rider.

A similar determination influenced me when I took up wrestling. At that time I was not very strong, and once I overheard Peter Gotz, the well-known wrestler, make the remark that I would never he a good wrestler. I determined to study not only wrestling, but also boxing and jiu-jitsu and the science of self-defence generally, and I planned a course of work and exercise to that end. I made such good progress that I was soon able to begin teaching my system to others, and it is this system of self-defence—a combination of wrestling, boxing, and jiu-jitsu—that I am teaching to the police in London.

One Policeman to Six Ruffians

Perhaps I might recall my first contact with the Metropolitan Police.

Some years ago I was over here on business, and one night I found myself in the neighbourhood of Spa Road, Bermondsey.  As I turned a corner I came suddenly upon a struggling group; a policeman trying to beat off the attack of six men.

How the trouble had arisen, I do not know; probably the policeman had been arresting one of the men, and his friends had attempted to rescue him, and when I arrived on the scene things were looking very bad for the unfortunate constable. The men had knocked his truncheon out of his hand, and were pressing him so hard that he had no opportunity of blowing his whistle for assistance.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, six to one seemed to be unfair, so I took a hand in the matter myself. I succeeded in restoring his truncheon to the constable, and after a few minutes’ active “self-defence” we had half-a-dozen surprised and rather dazed ruffians spread out in the street. Other assistance arrived soon, and as I did not wish to be called as a witness I slipped away.

My system of resisting and overcoming attack is, to a certain extent, based on boxing and wrestling, but these two forms of exercise depend so much on the height and weight of a man that a short, light man has little or no chance in the ordinary way against a heavy opponent. It is obvious, then, that something more is needed than the mere ability to strike hard.

Swiftness is Everything

A straight, powerful blow with the left fist is an excellent thing, but often it is easier and quicker to put an adversary on his back by some swift, unexpected grip that at once disarms him and puts him at your mercy. This may seem difficult, but it can be done, and my policeman pupils are making excellent progress.

No great expenditure of strength is necessary. In fact, one of my first troubles in training a man is to get him not to exercise his utmost strength as he is usually inclined to do. The whole thing can be learned very easily if one makes up one’s mind to discard strength for swiftness. The blows of a man who trusts to his strength and weight are almost certain to be too slow in a fight against a swift, agile adversary, as shown many times in “the ring.”

Here are one or two hints on self-defence. If you are attacked by a taller man, get down instantly and grasp his legs. Then you can either jerk his legs towards you and throw him on his back, or lift him straight up and throw him over your head. If you are attacked by a smaller man, get hold of him and pull him up so that he has no chance to get hold of your legs.

When thrown on the ground, never let your feet get out of contact with the other man’s feet and legs. In this position even a light man can throw a heavy man. Leverage, not weight, counts here, and if the standing man should resit he runs the risk of getting his leg broken.

In all cases let your opponent get a firm hold. This may sound strange advice, but you will find that you have a bettor chance then to throw him because he cannot break away quickly enough, and is mostly at your mercy.

A Lesson from Houndsditch

My pupils in the Metropolitan Police are all powerful men, but, as has unfortunately been proved lately, something more than strength and weight are required if policemen are to carry out their duties with any degree of safety in the rougher quarters of the East End of London.

By an extraordinary coincidence, on the night of the recent Houndsditch murders I happened to be at the police gymnasium, and my pupils were discussing how a man could defend himself against another with a revolver. One of them asked me: ” Supposing I were going to shoot you at fairly close quarters, what would you do?”

“Fall down at once,” I replied, “as though dead.” He laughed, and raising his arm, pretended to fire at me. But before he had got his aim I was down on the floor; then, in a flash, I twisted round, seized his ankles, and tipped him over. He was prostrate on the floor with myself on top of him before he knew what was happening.

I would strongly advise the authorities to arm the police with revolvers–and the sooner the better –if it is only to frighten those dastardly scoundrels who will never dare to fight an even match.

Suffrajitsu at the Royal Armouries Museum

Images from the upcoming “suffrajitsu” display (courtesy of Charlotte Graham Photography) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, and their Edwardian-era antecedents:

A street-fighting suffragette executes a kote gaeshi wristlock against a police constable.
Bodyguard trainer Edith Garrud demonstrates a kote gaeshi lock and takedown.
The suffragette Bodyguards were often armed with concealed Indian clubs.
Indian clubs are prominent in this photograph taken during a suffragettes vs. police brawl near Buckingham Palace, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

“Suffrajitsu” Back in the News as UK Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

February 6, 2108 marks the centennial anniversary of (limited) women’s suffrage in the UK.  As numerous cultural and media organisations mark the anniversary, here are some current and upcoming projects that focus particularly on “suffrajitsu” – the use of jiujitsu by radical suffagette Bodyguards, circa 1913-14.

The Good Fight

Chicago’s Babes With Blades Theatre Company is currently staging Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, which details the history and missions of the suffragette Bodyguard team.  Women’s jiujitsu pioneer and Bodyguard trainer Edith Garrud appears as a character in the play.

Suffrajitsu by Horse + Bamboo Theatre

England’s Horse + Bamboo Theatre Company is currently developing Suffrajitsu, an original play celebrating the suffragette Bodyguard through puppetry, music and film.  Aimed at young audiences, the play will begin touring the UK in Autumn 2018; you can learn more about, and support the project via this Crowdfunder site.

“The Awesome Art of Suffrajitsu”

The UK fashion and lifestyle magazine Stylist has featured suffrajitsu, including some great original illustrations, in its suffragette centennial issue.

No Man Shall Protect Us

Currently in production, the documentary No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards will make use of narration, rare archival media and dramatic re-enactments.  Successfully crowdfunded in late 2017 and co-produced by Tony Wolf, author of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, the completed documentary will be made freely available online later this year.

Suffrajitsu at the Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England will be showcasing Edith Garrud’s suffrajitsu as part of the Warrior Women exhibition during mid-late February.

Kitty Marshall: Suffragette Bodyguard at the Museum of London

The Museum of London’s year-long Votes for Women exhibition includes a showcase for Katherine “Kitty” Marshall, who was an active member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Bodyguard team.  Marshall also wrote the memoir Suffragette Escapes and Adventures, which currently exists in manuscript form as part of the Museum’s suffragette collection.

Kitty and the Cats: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Suffragette Bodyguard and the London Police

Author Emelyne Godfrey’s book on Kitty Marshall and the Bodyguard will be released later in 2018.

Suffragette City

Suffrajitsu martial arts lessons will be part of the UK National Trust’s Suffragette City, an immersive, interactive experience that will recreate the headquarters of the Women’s Social and Political Union circa 1913.

“The Art of the Cane” (1912) Revisited

The article “L’Art de la Canne” originally appeared in the Revue Olympique of May, 1912.  The anonymous author provides a rare technical description and some analysis of Pierre Vigny’s stick fighting system during the post-Bartitsu Club period, after Vigny had left England and returned to Geneva, Switzerland.

A translation of this article was published in the first volume of the Bartitsu Compendium (2005); the following revised and annotated translation offers some updated information and references.

The text begins:

It is all very well to learn how to use “noble”, but unusual weapons such as the sabre, the epee or the rifle; it is even better to superimpose upon this knowledge the management of the weapon that we hold most frequently in hand but of which, it must be admitted, few of us know anything in terms of effective use.

There does exist an art of the cane, but that cane recalls the gymnastic “horse” which is not constructed to resemble the animal in such a way as its exercise can be practically useful. The assaut (sparring) stick is a small, short, light wand, which is neither a baton nor a whip; a hybrid weapon for which no occasion will ever arise to use in earnest.

The author refers to the canne d’assaut, a slender, somewhat flexible stick for relatively safe fencing in the salle d’armes.

When you know how to use the assaut stick and you then pick up your walking stick – rigid, stronger, heavier and of a different length – you are in no way prepared to use your stick for your own defence. And so the opinion has been formed that the so-called walking stick is a worthless weapon.

Prof. Pierre Vigny, who taught at boxing clubs in London and at the military School of Aldershot and now runs a “Defensive Sports Academy” in Geneva, has demonstrated that (the canne d’assaut method) was nothing and that his own method, in addition to constituting an excellent system of gymnastics, leaves little to be desired in terms of practical application. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to explain (the Vigny method) other than by direct instruction. An illustrated manual might succeed in ways that cannot be claimed for a short article. So, we will confine ourselves to an attempt to indicate the characteristics of this method, whose expansion is to be desired.

The need to acquire a great flexibility of the wrist is just about the only similarity between this new fencing and the cane fencing that is taught elsewhere. The guard and strikes are very different. The guard is essentially a combat guard. The left arm is forward as if it were holding a shield; the right arm is raised back with the weapon overhead in, so to speak, a perpetual “back-swing”.

The French term here is prise d’elan, also implying a state of momentum poised before release, like a compressed spring.  This guard is described by E.W. Barton-Wright as the Left Guard or Rear Guard, as demonstrated here by Pierre Vigny (on the right):

You are attacked; a brief retreat with a rapid change of guard and your cane falls mightily onto the hand or arm of the aggressor. You are almost mathematically certain to reach and damage it.

This is the Guard by Distance from the Rear Guard, as described by Barton-Wright and illustrated in Self Defence With A Walking-Stick:

After which, you advance upon him while quickly turning your wrist, thrusting the steel ferrule of the cane like a dagger into his eyes or beneath his nose. And here is a man … amazed!

The use of the ferrule end of the cane as a dagger thrust into the opponents face or throat was referred to by Barton-Wright and described by a number of practitioners and observers of the Vigny style circa 1900, most famously Captain F.C. Laing:

The other strikes are usually whipped. Although M. Vigny calls some strikes “whipped” and  others “wrapped” in order to distinguish them better, you must always get the whistling sound of a whip.

The term used here is enveloppé, which can be translated as “wrapped” or “folded”, but the technical implication is unclear.  Speculatively, it’s possible that a “whipped” strike delivered a slashing or glancing impact whereas a “wrapped” or “folded” strike was a direct, percussive blow.

The little “riding crop” cane will whistle when swung without much effort. The rigid cane will not whistle unless you handle it with real vigour. Where does this force come from?  From the shoulder and in the reins.

This word implies the lower part of the back; the muscular structure of the body on both sides of the spine between the lowest (false) ribs and the hipbones.

You must attain serious mobility of the reins and a wide range of movements of the arm, operated by the shoulder.

Unlike the fencing of the light assaut cannes, managing the momentum of the heavier, asymmetrically-weighted Vigny cane often, though not always, requires a whole-body engagement.  The shift of weight from foot to foot that “powers” this type of action is transmitted into the cane via the legs, hips, back, shoulder and arm.

Of course, the teaching is given on the left as well as the right. The left will not be as strong as the right, but must be able to provide for it on occasion.

Here the author evokes the characteristic ambidexterity of the Vigny style, as from the double-handed guard position:

There are also bludgeoning strikes that require a special preparation. There is nothing like it in other styles of fencing.

Possibly a reference to the use of double-handed striking:

And the muscles, at first, do not want to accommodate.  They contract incorrectly; the force is lost en route and the blow arrives low and as if cushioned. There must be, so to speak, an internal continuity between the cane and the arm that extends it. Without stiffness, but with a tensile force, the wrist must become like a knot in the wood.  For this reason we hold the cane with a full grip, the thumb folded on the other fingers and not lengthened against the cane.  This habit is difficult and somewhat painful to acquire. The palm wrinkles and blisters and the muscles register tension and pain, but this is the price of efficiency.

The Vigny method requires not only that the body is always well-balanced, but also that it sustains equilibrium in perpetual motion. In this, it is akin to Ju-jitsu. It has the disadvantage of not allowing the assaut between average amateurs (students); to truly spar in such a sport would be to expose oneself and one’s partner to the risk of severe injury. Therefore, one must stick to the prescribed lesson or engage in a mock combat with the professor. But does this not, in fact, commend it as an exercise of defence?

The Vigny style was, in fact, used in sparring bouts, at least during the Bartitsu Club era and afterwards at Vigny’s own academy in London; though ironically Pierre and Marguerite Vigny may have employed the canne d’assaut for that purpose, as shown in this photograph:

Vigny vs. Vigny

La canne vigny en Santiago Stickfighting.

Geplaatst door Andres Pino Morales op zaterdag 3 februari 2018

Santiago stickfighter Andres Morales (in the fencing mask with white trim) takes on a sparring partner also using the Vigny style in this clip from our Chilean colleagues.

“Sports de Defense” Postcards on Video

Thanks to Rodney Bennett for sourcing and compiling this video, which consists of a series of self-defence postcards featuring French jiujitsu pioneer Ernest Regnier (a.k.a. “Re-Nie”).

The caption of postcard series B, #3 (appearing at 1.52 in the video) is curious in that the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira was almost completely obscure outside of Brazil during the very early 20th century.