“Miyake, the Champion of Japan: an Interesting Interview” (1907)

This interview from the Midland Daily Telegraph of  August 1,  1907 offers some further details on the life and career of Taro Miyake.  A prominent member of the “second generation” of Japanese jiujitsu champions to travel to England, Miyake enjoyed great success as a challenge wrestler. 

Miyake also partnered with former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani in opening London’s Japanese School of Jujitsu and, in 1906, in co-producing “The Game of Jujitsu”.  This book was an unusually advanced and detailed training manual for its time, especially notable for its instruction in ne-waza (mat grappling) techniques, which were a particular specialty of Miyake’s instructors, Mataemon Tanabe and Yataro Handa.  

Miyake  later travelled throughout Europe, again competing successfully in numerous wrestling challenge contests, before settling in Seattle, USA where he ran a jiujitsu dojo.  Later in life he became interested in professional wrestling and attempted to introduce it to Japan, without great success.  Miyake died in New York City in 1935.

Noting for the sake of clarity and interest that:

  • Taro Miyake’s name was frequently rendered as “Tarro Miyake”, “Tarro Myake” and similar variants by Edwardian journalists.
  • The term “Jap” carried no pejorative meaning at this time, being in the nature of a simple abbreviation like “Brit” for “British”.
  • This is the first reference that we have come across to W.H. Collingridge serving as Miyake’s translator.  Collingridge had been a student at the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu and later wrote a manual of his own, titled “Simple Tricks of Self-Defence”.

It is no exaggeration to say that the most-talked-of man in Coventry to-day is Tarro Miyake, champion ju-jitsu wrestler of Japan—and of the world for that matter. His exhibitions at the Hippodrome have aroused a degree of interest in the city that has seldom been equalled. Miyake ‘s fearless challenges to all comers have met with a ready response in Coventry; but the challengers, it must not be forgotten, have all received an equally ready defeat.

A “Midland Daily Telegraph” reporter had a chat with Miyake on Wednesday night before he went on to the stage to give his second performance of the evening. He was accompanied by his manager, Mr. W. H. Collingridge, and as he does not converse fluently in English — although he understands it perfectly — the conversation was carried on chiefly by the aid of Mr. Collingridge, who acted as interpreter.

Miyake, like many another champion, bears his honours lightly; and it was only after a little persuasion that he could be got to talk of his many victories. Bit by bit, however, he gave the reporter an outline of the story of hie life. It is simply a record of success. In brief, it is as follows.

He was born at Osaka about 25 years ago, and after leaving school first began to take an interest in jujitsu at the age of 18. He attended the school of Tanuba and Hauda (sic – Tanabe and Handa)- two well-known Japanese teachers—and soon he became exceedingly proficient in wrestling. He visited various small tournaments with signal success, and then tried his luck at the large ju-jitsu competition at Kioto (sic – Kyoto). Here be quickly proved his wonderful skill and succeeded in defeating 24 men in succession. Tarro accomplished this feat in the presence of Prince Komats (sic – Komatsu) and other Japanese grandees.

But his great triumph still lay before him. He celebrated it—appropriately enough—at Osaka. At the great tournament there in 1904, Miyake defeated five of the best wrestlers in Japan, and won for himself the championship of wrestling in the jujitsu style of that or any other country. For this success he received a gold medal, presented to him by the Crown Prince of Japan.

On another occasion Tarro received as the reward of his remarkable prowess a sword of honour from Prince Komatsu, President of the Buto Kukai. It was not till two and a half years ago that he came to England. Here he found another expert in ju-jitsu already installed in the person of Yukio Tani. Miyake at once challenged Yukio, and the match took place at the Tivoli Music Halt in London. The result was that Yukio met his Waterloo in seven minutes, and Tarro held his title of champion stronger than ever. In passing, it might be mentioned that one result of the encounter between Yukio and Tarro was that they became fast friends quickly after, and are now at the present moment conducting school together for the teaching of ju-jitsu at 305, Oxford Street, London, where over 350 pupils attend regularly and are taught this simple yet all powerful art of self-defence.

Above: Taro Miyake (seated, second from left) with some colleagues in Paris.

To describe Tarro Miyake is not a difficult task. He is taller than most of his countrymen, standing 5ft. 8in.—the avenge height of an Englishman, in fact.  He is built in proportion and weighs eleven stones and a half. Altogether Tarro Miyake, when dressed in the orthodox English garb, appears very little different from an ordinary Englishman—but whether he will take this remark as a compliment or otherwise the writer is not quite sure.

He is seen at his best on the stage, however. Dressed for wrestling he wears a pair of short white cotton pants and a shirt, through the open neck of which can be seen his sun-browned skin and fine chest. With his curly hair disarranged, his fine figure and happy confident smile, Tarro presents a very pleasant picture when seen “on the boards.”

And he has good reason to have confidence in himself, for he confided last night that on only four occasions has he had to pay out the sovereign which he offers to all who stand more then seven minutes against him.

“Tarro,  Yukio and I,” said Mr. Collingridge, “are trying to introduce ju-jitsu into England as a pastime. Its three great objects are moral culture, physical culture, and self-defence. It is a game which can be played equally well by the weak u by the strong.”

Asked if any of his family were wrestlers, Miyake replied in the negative. “How do you like England?” asked the reporter.

“Oh, very much, very much indeed,” replied Tarro with enthusiasm.

“He doesn’t want to go back to Japan any more,” interjected Mr. Collingridge. But though Miyake said nothing, there crept into his eyes a far-away look which told another story.

“And English wrestlers,” queried the reporter, “Do you find them easy to beat?”

“Oh, very,” was Tarro’s still smiling but rather disconcerting reply. ” Very easy,” be repeated and then explained that Englishmen when wrestling relied on their strength, while he simply depended on his skill. And his prowess has always stood him in good stead so far.

But Miyake has not only wrestled and defeated Englishmen. He has continued his success on the Continent. He was at the Athletic Tournament at Paris last year, when he succeeded in defeating all comers, including some of the best European wrestlers, and in each case his man was beaten in less than a minute. Since then Miyake has challenged Hackenschmidt, Munro, Madrali—the world of wrestlers, in fact—but has not yet succeeded in finding anyone to take him up.

A short time ago Miyake had an accident, which necessitated his undergoing a serious operation. While in the Tottenham Hospital a visit was paid to his ward by the Prince of Wales, to whom he was pointed out. His Highness admired Miyake’s fine physique, and shook him cordially by the hand—an honour of which Miyake is quite justifiably proud.

Although Miyake’s temper on the stage is imperturbable, his opponents do not always manage to keep theirs. This was illustrated a little while ago, Mr. Collingridge explained. Miyake was appearing in a northern town, when a huge black fellow, of towering height, accepted his challenge. Miyake defeated the black, but when the latter was allowed to get on his feet he “went for” the Jap, who, however, dodged the blow, and, getting the arm lock on, in his own expressive words, “sent him to sleep,” or in plain language rendered him unconscious.

“Miyake thinks a lot of Coventry,” said Mr. Collingridge. “Is that so?” asked the reporter. “Yes,” replied the Jap, “I think it is a very clean town indeed.”

Pansy Montague, a.k.a. “La Milo”, a tableau vivant performer, processes through Coventry as Lady Godiva.

“Wouldn’t you like to stay and see La Milo as Godiva?” persisted the interviewer.

Miyake laughed, “I would like to see the procession” he said,  “but can’t possibly stop as I have particular business in London next week.” He explained that he had come to Coventry as a personal favour to Mr. Barry, who is an old friend. During his stay in Coventry he has admired all the beauties of the ancient city, and hopes to renew his acquaintance with them when he returns to fulfill another engagement at the Hippodrome early next year.

The national flag of Japan may be seen flying on the Hippodrome below the Union Jack. This Miyake takes as a great compliment. He has also been very much gratified by the number of people who have stopped him in the street and shaken bands with him. This morning, at the invitation of Mr. Lennox Barry, the manager of the Hippodrome, a private exposition of ju-jitsu was given by Tarro Miyake and Mr. Collingridge, to a large number of the members of the City Police. Several of the officers tried conclusions with the redoubtable Jap, but were quickly glad to cry, “hold ! enough.” He also very carefully described, by ocular demonstration, how the various “locks” were brought about.

At the conclusion of the exhibition Mr. Charsley, the Chief Constable, thanked Mr. Barry on behalf of his men, for inviting them to the exhibition, and Miyake and Mr. Collingridge for having so kindly demonstrated the wonderful capabilities of ju-jitsu. It was, said the Chief Constable, a wonderful science and capable of great possibilities. He thought his men would have to try the locks on each other before they began practicing them on refractory offenders in the street. (“Hear, hear,” and laughter).

There was again a crowded house at the Hippodrome last night, when Jack Madden, a focal wrestler, took up the challenge of Tarro Miyake, the Japanese wrestler. Madden succeeded in holding the Jap at bay for 7mins. 45secs. and was awarded a sovereign for his splendid effort.

“Ju-Jitsu For The Police: Its Possibilities” (#3)

Ralph Cleaver’s third jiujitsu cartoon for The Sketch seems, like #2, to have abandoned the premise of police applications.  Instead, Cleaver imagines how Japanese unarmed combat might be used to compel a recalcitrant husband to purchase jewellery for his skilled (and clearly unscrupulous) wife.

By the time this cartoon was published, jiujitsu was, in fact, being practiced by a number of “society ladies”, and “jiujitsu parties” had become quite a fad in London.

“The Vorpal Blade” (1983)

During the 1970s and ’80s, the Tales of the Unexpected anthology series brought many of famed author Roald Dahl’s sinister short stories to the small screen. The 1983 episode The Vorpal Blade is notable for starring the great character actor Peter Cushing and also for featuring a devious thriller/mystery storyline in which fencing plays a major role.

The type of fencing shown in this story is the unusual and ritualistic Mensur duelling style, which is still practiced in some traditional German university fraternities. Of relevance to Bartitsu, the Mensur style operates exclusively from high hanging guards – similar to the right guard or front guard of Vigny stick fighting.

As noted by one of the characters, this guard has the advantage of closing off several potential lines of attack, as the “defensive triangle” of arm and stick effectively shield  the right side of the face. Meanwhile, the downward sloping position of the weapon effectively “sheds” attacks.  Unlike Vigny stick fighting, however, the formal Mensur style employs no footwork and restricts attacks to the head and face.

The Vorpal Blade also features a brief swagger stick vs. training stick exchange.

The excellent fight choreography for this episode was by Malcolm Ranson, a protégé of English master fight director William Hobbs.

Visiting the Site of the Original Bartitsu Club

Martial arts enthusiasts who find themselves in central London may wish to visit the site of the original Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture (a.k.a. the Bartitsu Club).  The Club was the first commercial school in the Western world to teach Japanese martial arts and also the site of the first known experiment in deliberately blending Asian and European fighting styles, anticipating Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do by about seven decades and the modern MMA movement by about ninety years.

In addition, the Bartitsu Club was described by Captain Alfred Hutton as being “the headquarters of antique swordplay in England”, referring to his own classes there in the fence of Elizabethan-era weapons such as the two-handed sword and the rapier and dagger.

Above: instructors Pierre Vigny (left) and Hubert demonstrate stick fighting in one of the few known photographs taken inside the Bartitsu Club.
Above: Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright demonstrates one of his “heat and light ray” devices inside the Bartitsu Club’s electrotherapy clinic.

The Bartitsu Club operated from approximately April of 1900-January of 1902 and was originally located in the basement of #67b Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s Soho district.

#67 Shaftesbury very narrowly survived destruction during the London Blitz and today the exterior facade looks much like it did circa 1900, apart from the variety of modern shops at street level.  It presently houses a large, modern Best Western hotel, which was known formerly as The Shaftesbury and currently as The Piccadilly (harkening back to the days of the Bartitsu School of Arms, when the building was called Piccadilly-Circus-Mansions). Note, however, that the basement which housed the Bartitsu Club gymnasium itself is off-limits to guests and visitors.

The Allen Room.

In September of 2005, Tony Wolf launched the publication of the Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1 via a function in the Allen Room, an oak-panelled meeting room in the St. Anne’s Church complex adjacent to #67 Shaftesbury.  The exterior of #67 was shown in the 2011 feature documentary Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes and served as a rendezvous point for participants in the 2011 Bartitsu School of Arms symposium. The exterior and lobby were also featured in a 2014 mini-documentary on Bartitsu produced by the BBC:

Pilgrims to #67 should also take time to explore the Soho neighbourhood, which features many attractions including superb West End theatres, restaurants, Victorian-era pubs and shops. Of particular note are St. Anne’s Churchyard, a small park immediately behind #67 Shaftesbury, where informal classes in martial arts from Tai Chi Chuan to kickboxing frequently take place; and nearby Cecil Court, a  collection of some of the world’s finest antiquarian and specialist bookstores.  Be sure to check out Storey’s Ltd., whose extensive catalogues of antique prints have been known to include rare illustrations of both Bartitsu and Captain Hutton’s historical fencing.

St. Anne’s Churchyard offers a welcome respite from the bustle of Soho.
Above: Cecil Court Lane, a mecca for book lovers.

Finally, no Bartitsu pilgrimage is complete without a visit to James Smith and Sons, an establishment which has been manufacturing and selling fine walking sticks and umbrellas since the year 1830. The shop is only a ten-minute walk from #67 Shaftesbury and it’s been speculated that Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny’s special self-defence walking sticks may have been produced by the James Smith company. Although they no longer produce items overtly intended as weapons, the ornate Victorian-era signage still advertises “malacca canes, dagger-canes, life-preservers and swordsticks”.

“Ju-Jitsu For The Police: Its Possibilities” #2 (1905)

The second of cartoonist Ralph Cleaver’s jiujitsu illustrations for The Sketch offers a martial arts-themed update to Editha’s Burglar, a popular late-Victorian children’s novel in which the sentimental virtues of frail, bookish young Editha set a burglar upon the path to moral redemption. Cleaver’s suggestion of a swift seoi-nage shoulder throw would have yielded a much shorter story.

“Women and Self-Protection” (1922)

This article from the Pall Mall Gazette of March 17, 1922 offers self-defence advice according to the system of Professor Padian, who is described as “the Master at Arms of Mackenzie’s Dancing Academy”.  Archive searches have revealed no further trace of the Professor, nor of his “system of protective movements”, which clearly owed a good deal to jiujitsu atemi-waza.

It may be noteworthy that the then-recently formed British Ju-Jitsu Society published an undated pamphlet on the subject of “Nerve Pinches and Blows”.

“Ring-Combat” – A Novel 1920s Wrestling Sport

In this ingenious and curious style of wrestling, athletes contend over the possession of a solid rubber ring, with the winner being the grappler who is able to wrest the ring away from their opponent.  This ’20s-vintage sport was revived some years ago by members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, who endorse Ring-Combat as a strenuously enjoyable form of recreation.

“Ju-Jitsu For The Police: Its Possibilities” #1 (1905)

In March of 1905, artist Ralph Cleaver produced a series of cartoons for The Sketch newspaper, speculating on the possibilities of Japanese unarmed combat training for the English police.  The editors noted that “For details of certain of the holds, we are indebted to the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu, 305, Oxford St. W.” – a reference to the short-lived but influential London dojo operated by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his colleague Taro Miyake.

In the first of the series, a jiujitsuka bearing a strong resemblance to Tani demonstrates the tomoe-nage (“stomach throw”) upon a hapless constable.  The spectacle of the sacrifice throw, in which the defender drops voluntarily to the floor, using their own falling weight and momentum to propel the attacker into a somersault, was still an exotic novelty in 1905.

The Missing Link Between Vigny and Lang Finally Revealed!

Indian Police Superintendant Herbert Gordon Lang’s book The “Walking Stick” Method of Self-Defence (1923) is one of the seminal documents of the modern Vigny/Bartitsu stick fighting revival.  Lang credited Vigny – albeit via a misspelling – and offered a few more hints as to the origins of his method in introducing the book:

The System has been carefully built up after several years’ thought and demonstration, and combines a method devised by a Frenchman, Vigui (sic), of which, little is now heard, together with the stick play of tribes of negroes on certain of the West India Islands, called “Bois.”

Additions and ameliorations have been made as the result of experience and close practice under varying circumstances.

H.G. Lang was born in Grenada, West Indies, on December 3, 1887 and it’s likely that he learned the basics of the bois system there as a youth.  There are, however, no known records of Lang having studied at the Bartitsu Club, nor at Pierre Vigny’s own London self-defence school, so the questions of exactly when, where and how he learned the Vigny style have been long-standing mysteries of Bartitsu research.

As an aside, it’s pertinent to distinguish between H.G. Lang of the Indian police and Captain F.C. Laing of the British Army. Although both were Englishmen serving in a uniformed capacity in India during the early 20th century, and both were proponents of the Vigny style of stick fighting, they seem to have had no connection beyond the similarities of their surnames and circumstances.

Via recent correspondence with the Lang family, we have now discovered the missing link between Vigny and H.G. Lang, and thus between the stick fighting style taught at the Bartitsu Club circa 1901 and the method presented in Lang’s book in 1923.

Lang’s personal papers reveal that, while on leave from India between May 1920 – April 1921, he had travelled to a gymnasium in the East Sussex town of Hove, in order to study boxing and jiujitsu.  In conversation with the proprietor, Percy Rolt, Lang demonstrated some of the art of bois, and Rolt remarked that he had learned a similar style, as taught by Pierre Vigny.

The Missing Link

Above: Pierre Vigny (left) demonstrates his style at a Bartitsu Club exhibition.

Percy Stuart Rolt was born into a family of physical culture enthusiasts.  Circa 1900 he joined the London Bartitsu Club and seems to have been a keen member, cross-training between jiujitsu, stick fighting and historical fencing.  Rolt participated in several Bartitsu demonstrations alongside Pierre Vigny and exhibited the fence of rapiers and two-handed swords with Captain Alfred Hutton for charity events.

In March of 1904, Rolt lost a Graeco-Roman style wrestling match against the champion  Jack Carkeek at the Brighton Alhambra.  Then, in 1905 he assisted former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu “Raku” Uyenishi in a well-received display of jiujitsu:

The Japanese athlete was assisted in giving the first series of demonstration by Mr. Percy S. Rolt (of Moss’s Gymnasium) who is the English ju-jitsu champion. Rolt is about 5ft. 9in. in height, and is strongly built.

In ju-jitsu the object seems to be to throw the opponent before he has gripped you round the body. No sooner had Rolt seized Raku by the tunic than he was suddenly thrown to the ground. This operation was repeated time after time by means of various jerks, “locks” and “trips.” As Rolt went down his head and body struck the floor in a manner that seemed positively startling. Nevertheless, he appeared to suffer no damage; and it is stated that the body receives no shock from the fall, because the hands touch the ground first. What is called the collar-lock (a grip round the throat) reduces a man to a state of insensibility in five seconds.

Raku Uyenishi is a master of various “trips”, and he showed how an attack from a boxer may be dealt with. The professor of ju-jitsu suddenly winds his feet round the legs of his assailant and throws him to the ground with the quickness of lightning. Mr. Rolt and Mr. William Williams (a Londoner 5ft. 6in. and 10st. in weight) also engaged in contests; and the final exhibition between the Japanese and Mr. Rolt was most exciting. – Eastbourne Gazette, 28 June 1905

Percy’s brother, police captain Frank Leslie Rolt, was also trained in the Vigny style.  According to an article in the London Evening News of Wednesday, March 6, 1912, Captain Rolt of the Hove police had been teaching the the Vigny method of walking stick defence – “devised for the special discomfiture of the Paris Apache” – to the new London volunteer constabulary.

Above: the exterior of the Holland Road gym in Hove.
Above: a girls’ physical culture class inside the Holland Road gym.

The Holland Road gym in Hove was an impressive institute,  which had been managed by the strapping Staff Sergeant Alfred Moss since 1883.  Percy Rolt seems to have taken over the operation of the gym at some point between 1900-1910, and he and his family quickly became established as local authorities on physical culture and antagonistics.

We have no records as to whether the Rolt brothers taught public classes in the Vigny style at their gym and it may be that H.G. Lang’s status as a visiting fellow police officer afforded him unusual access to the style.  In a letter to the publisher of The “Walking Stick” Method of Self-Defence, Lang speculated that he should have given Percy Rolt credit for his instruction, which would certainly have saved modern researchers a good deal of wondering.

The Walking Stick Method of Self-Defence

Lang’s manuscript was, in fact, rejected by a number of publishers on the grounds that such self-defence books were not (then) popular enough to justify the risk, and also that the book contained too many photographs to be economically viable.  Lang had, incidentally, taken all of the photos himself, using his police trainees as models.   Fortunately for both Lang and posterity, Athletic Publications eventually agreed to print The Walking Stick Method and it was published, complete with 60 illustrations, in 1923.

Re. the misspelling of Pierre Vigny’s surname as “Vigui” in the introduction, it’s worth noting that it is very difficult to distinguish between the letters “n” and “u” in Lang’s handwriting.  It’s probable that he had actually written “Vigni” – suggesting that he’d heard the name spoken by Percy Rolt, but had not seen it in print – and that a typist then made a transcription error in working from his handwritten draft.

Correspondence between Lang and his publisher also reveals that the attribution of authorship of The “Walking Stick” Method to an anonymous “Officer of the Indian Police” was due to Lang’s belief that this title would carry more authority and therefore sell more books.

H.G. Lang found himself in some hot water soon after his book appeared on the market, due to its inclusion of a number of letters of endorsement from various notables.  Apparently these letters had been added to the manuscript without Lang’s knowledge, and without the various authors’ consent.  Lang then wrote a suitably contrite letter to the Inspector General of Police in Poona, which was graciously accepted.

In 1926 there was some correspondence between Lang and third parties towards producing a newsreel film on the method.  Lang even mentioned the idea of having Percy Rolt demonstrate the art for the film project, but unfortunately it was never produced – robbing us of the possibility of watching the Vigny style in action as performed by a first generation student.

The “Walking Stick” Method of Self-Defence was only a modest success when it was first published, despite Lang’s highly enthusiastic promotions, which included sending unsolicited copies to various parties and the idea of presenting the book as a prize during awards ceremonies at boys’ schools. He was also very keen to see the method adopted by the Boy Scouts.

Above: Herbert Gordon Lang (second from left) explains the “Walking Stick” Method of Self-Defence in 1935. The occasion is believed to have been a “Police Week” display at the Police Training School in Nasik, India.

While H.G. Lang’s book never became a best-seller, for many years thereafter it remained, effectively, the only detailed written work on the subject of stick fighting available in the English language.  Significantly, this meant that the basics of the Vigny system could be transmitted beyond Lang’s own students in India.

Above: future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left) trains in stick fighting (photo courtesy of Noah Gross).

During the early years of the Second World War, his book was translated into Hebrew and became the basis for the stick fighting training of the Haganah paramilitary organisation in Palestine.  It’s estimated that many thousands of students learned Lang’s method, which was was widely assumed to be of Indian origin and was referred to within the Haganah as the “long stick” style.

Above: the Vigny/Lang Front Guard demonstrated in Charles Yerkow’s book.

Also in the early 1940s, the “Walking Stick” Method was adopted by Charles Yerkow as the basis of the stick fighting instruction in his own book, Modern Judo: The Complete Ju-Jutsu Library (Volume 2).

Today, H.G. Lang’s book forms part of the foundation of the Bartitsu and Vigny stick fighting revivals, offering a systematic set of lessons to supplement the scenario-based set-plays in E.W. Barton-Wright’s  Pearson’s Magazine articles.  After many years of speculation, it’s good to know that we have Percy Rolt to thank, in part, for that resource.

With special thanks to the Lang family for generously sharing H.G.’s files and photographs.