“The Gentle Art of Ju-Ju-Tsu” (1907)

This article, originally written by G.G. Chatterton and published in vol. 84 of Chambers’s Journal in 1907, provides a glimpse into the Golden Square School of Jujutsu. Founded by former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi, the Golden Square School was also the early base on Gunji Koizumi, who went on to found the London Budokwai, now the oldest martial arts school in Europe.

JU-JU-TSU—translated literally, ‘The Gentle Art’—the wonderful science deduced by patient study of the source of things, and unravelling of their reason, and consequent mastery of their knowledge, that is so essentially Japanese. It has already been exploited with approbation by medical and other authorities on physical culture; but still, perhaps a few remarks, without claiming to be profound, after a visit to its school may prove not devoid of interest.

You need pass through but a couple of streets that lead directly off the seething thoroughfares of Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus to find yourself in Golden Square, one of the quiet, green oases which here and there in London take you by surprise, and in it the Japanese School of Self Defence has now established its headquarters. And thither we went to watch the teaching of the science upon which years of a life may be spent with ever-growing interest, since it claims that there is always something to be learnt—a perfected science of self-defence, wherein brute-force takes a back seat, and size, weight, and strength surrender their importance. For the Japanese, having probed to the heart of things, can prove how the essence of self-defence is knowledge of how to overcome by yielding to an attack instead of resisting, by using the strength of your assailant in place of your own, and, getting him at an anatomical disadvantage, as they so admirably phrase it, by then applying the skilled leverage which so infallibly can maim and disable.

The school is under the supervision of its instructor-in-chief, Professor Raku Uyenishi, premier ju-ju-tsu exponent. But as he was professionally visiting Paris we were received with smiling welcome by Professor Koizumi, and courteously given advantageous seats; and, as he was engaged upon instruction on our arrival, we had an immediate opportunity of watching the science of the ‘gentle art.’

Our first impressions were belying to the title. Fearful and wonderful were the resounding slapping noises as master and pupil fell upon the
shining mats beneath them—mats made in Japan, over two inches thick and stuffed with hay under a surface of woven rice-straw, which are spread over the entire floor; slap-slap striking the ear with unnerving effect upon spectator and would-be learner, until one saw the combatants leap up again with never hurt or jar, the Japanese laughing softly through his gambols. For to fall with immunity is the skill of ju-ju-tsu, and takes the beginner in its craft months to master.

The pupil upon whose lesson we happened to arrive was no novice, but had been over three years studying, and was as well clever at his game; and yet with what smiling ease did Koizumi, so much the smaller of the two, vanquish him! At times he tossed him right over his shoulder—a curious sensation this at first experience, we are told; on the floor he was ever the man uppermost, and whether recumbent or erect he kept scoring the points by establishing the ‘lock.’ A ‘lock’ or point is scored by rendering an adversary helpless, holding him in such a way that the least resistance can be responded to by a pressure which, if continued, would entail exquisite pain and possibly serious injury. In ju-ju-tsu a lock is acknowledged by a slap on the handiest substance, human or otherwise, and the combatants arise and start afresh.

The lesson finished, after many resounding falls and endless locks declared, the pupil retired to the enjoyment of a hot shower-bath, and Professor Koizumi kindly gave us a display of falls broken into harmlessness, throwing himself down backwards, forwards, sideways, as if flung with violence, to leap up easy and unshaken.

The pupil is first taught to break a fall on his back, and next to break one on his head, saving himself by learning to come down first on his hands outspread and relaxed—the hands which make the slapping noises on the mats. The gist of breaking falls in ju-ju-tsu is keeping all the muscles relaxed for them —nothing may be rigid, or as it were in protest; and the seat of balance—and knowledge of balance is a portion of its science—comes from the waist, not from the shoulders. Knees are kept always bent, the feet move quickly, and, as in boxing, the gaze is fixed on the opponent’s eyes.

The pupil is provided with a costume identical with that of the instructors: a Japanese jacket with loose, short sleeves, which leaves bare the chest and wraps across in double-breasted fashion, and is girdled with a strong band round the waist; drawers like bathing-drawers, and legs and feet bare; and the English tyro will find that his toes catch in the fine straw-work of the mats, the unaccustomed big-toe sometimes catching with unpleasant effects.

Inflexible rules find no place in the ‘gentle art,’ etiquette typically Japanese alone governing its friendly practice. This etiquette ordains that combatants courteously shake hands before and after a contest, and prohibits the infliction of any unseemly indignity on an opponent, at the same time allowing ample scope for placing him at an anatomical disadvantage.

So as to know how to inflict these anatomical disadvantages, bones and muscles are given careful study—where pressure exerted sideways can break or dislocate, and where lie sensitive parts pressure against which can force the assailant to desist. Prominently sensitive parts lie about the elbow — can one not imagine desistance enforced by skilled elaboration of ‘funny-bone’ tortures ? — and in the back of the calf of the leg ; and pressure beneath the chin, forcing backwards the opponent’s head, lays him at your mercy for throttling.

Quickness and agility, resource, simultaneous thought and action, must be acquired by those who would master the science of ju-jutsu, in which even partial proficiency would form a valuable equipment; and the English aspirant must cast aside his stubborn English principles to conform to those discovered for him so excellently by the Japanese. Different they may be—for are not most Japanese principles diametrically different from English ones? In the simple craft of threading a needle there seems to lie a keynote suggestive of their whole scheme of opposition. The English girl is taught to pass her thread through the eye of her needle, the Japanese one to pass the eye of her needle over her thread.

Englishwomen learn ju-ju-tsu, and as the ‘gentle art’ unfolded its power before us we fell to wondering what might have been the end had the suffragettes mastered it before their great display in the House of Commons. When, with lamentable lack of manly chivalry, screams and kicks were set at nought and overborne, ju-ju-tsu would have aided the maltreated ladies. Instead of being ignobly carried out shrieking, with arms round the policeman’s neck, the baffled suffragette might still further have defied the law, and, grasping his chin to his anatomical disadvantage, have quietly throttled him in his brutal progress. Instead of being dragged down from her lofty position as she gained it, she might have broken or dislocated arms that thwarted her, and the whole lobby of the House might have been held up by ladies triumphing in victory, and proving by their example in thus supporting the law and order of their country how admirably they were adapted for being granted a vote in its management. Then, when they had obtained their rights, ladies endowed with votes and as well a knowledge of the ‘gentle art’. But we shuddered away from the imagination.

More pleasing was it to watch the merry little Japanese instructors chatting so gaily amongst themselves or with their pupils, and to exchange a few more words with Professor Koizumi, who, in an interlude before taking on another pupil, had appeared clad in a dark-blue kimono, with matting sandals on his feet and a Japanese book in his hand. Then we left him to his reading, and he took farewell of us with smiling courtesy.

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