Society Women Wrestlers: Ladies’ Craze for Japanese Ju-jitsu

From the Daily Mirror, April 4, 1904

Impressed by the success of the Japanese system of wrestling – the Ju-jitsu — President Roosevelt has ordered it to be adapted in the. Naval Academy, where it is to be practised, in addition to the ordinary athletic exercises.

President Roosevelt is said to be devoted to this style of wrestling, and many American society ladies have taken it up as a new diversion.

But Americans are not alone in their enthusiasm for the new sport. I In England women are taking great interest in Ju-jitsu. Yukio Tani, the great Japanese exponent of the art, who is quite confident of beating his English opponent in the great match for £200 a side, puts in several hours a week instructing the dames and damsels of Mayfair in the noble art of (Japanese) self-defence. Lady Clara Vere de Vere has taken up Ju-jitsu , as the science is called, with vigour, and is rapidly making herself competent to tackle the burliest hooligan who ever donned cap and muffler. The writer on Saturday received the testimony of “Apollo,” the Jap’s manager, on the subject.

The strong man was at breakfast when our reporter called at his cozy flat in Shaftesbury avenue, but he readily consented to talk.

Makes Women Graceful

“Ju-jitsu”, said he, “is particularly adapted for ladies for several reasons. In the first place, no muscular strength is required, for it is all a question of ‘knack’ and quickness. In the second the science, apart from its usefulness as a means of self-defence, induces grace of carriage and develops the’ figure. You see, to be a competent ju-jitsuist you must hold yourself upright. Whereas, in other styles of wrestling, one has to adopt a crouching attitude, which contracts the chest and makes the figure ugly.”

The fad, it appears, commenced when Tani began to take engagements to appear at private houses and give exhibitions’ of wrestling in the Japanese style. Fashionable hostesses began to vote Hungarian fiddlers and Polish tenors altogether out-moded after they had seen the lithe and graceful Jap and his manager give a glimpse of ju-jitsu. Sometimes, at dances, the wrestling-mats were spread on the ball-room floor between waltzes, and looking on at a bout of ju-jitsu gave the dancers a rest. The grace, the quickness, and the absence of violence which are the distinguishing marks of
ju-jitsu fascinated Lady Clara Vere de Vere, and from seeing it done to wanting to do it herself was but a step. Now, Tani has his hands full putting fair and aristocratic aspirants up to the various locks and holds which constitute the Japanese art of self-defence.

Keenness of the Ladies

“A girl,” says the authority, “will learn ju-jitsu in one-third of the time, and with one-half the trouble, compared with a man. For one thing, they are keener about it; and for another, we cannot get the men to take it seriously enough to moderate their drinking, smoking and late hours – all of which are not conducive to excellence in ju-jitsu.

“Again, a girl is more anxious to improve her general physique than the male thing – and there is no doubt that this style of wrestling is a first-class thing for health and beauty.

An ever-present terror to women living in the country is the prowling tramp. But, armed with a knowledge of ju-jitsu, madame or mademoiselle may take her unattended walks abroad, and in the event of an encounter with the ‘hobo,’ may give him the alternative of crying quarter or having an arm broken.”

So fashionable is the new craze becoming that some West End stationers are printing invitation cards with “Wrestling” in the corner where “Dancing” or “Music” was wont to stand.

2 Comments

  • By Gordon, Saturday, 19th May 2012 @ 10:08 am

    Great article. I was wondering, is Lady Clara Vere de Vere the lady who taught the British Army ju Jitsu techniques as a means of unarmed combat around the Great War period?

  • By Bartitsu Society, Saturday, 19th May 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    “Lady Clara Vere de Vere” is actually a character in an 1840s poem of the same title by Alfred, Lord Tennyson; the author of this article is using the name generically to refer to “ladies of the upper crust”.

    There were very few women qualified to teach jujitsu during the Great War era; you might be thinking of Edith Garrud, Diana Watts or Phoebe Roberts, though I can’t recall reading that any of them taught soldiers.

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