“Tricks of Self Defence”

This set of anecdotes published in the Otago Witness newspaper of August 23rd, 1899, may well have been inspired by E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence” articles for Pearson’s Magazine, which had been published several months previously.

N.B. that the term “Jap” was not pejorative during this period, but rather a simple abbreviation like the modern “Brit” for British, etc.

“There is a lot of talk about new methods of self-defence,” said an old sporting man, “but it seems to me that it is only an elaboration of what almost every man who followed the game in past days had to know or go under. Now, take the case of that Jap a few weeks ago in New York. He had drunk a little wine and was making a noise, and so was arrested. He was a little man, but it took ten big policeman to handle him without hurting him. He did not strike them — simply slung them around. All he did was to upset their balance. This is a wonderful specialty of these people.

Now, I remember seeing the same thing done years ago in a row at New Orleans. I and another man were set on by the men of the levee because we had made some big winnings, and I was for pulling my gun, when my pal said, ‘No, you’ll bring the whole roost on us. There are only six of them. You take the big one and I’ll attend to the others.’ He was a tall, muscular Irishman, and the first man he tackled was a big mulatto, with muscles like an ox. He rushed at him, and the mulatto stepped to one side, throwing his balance on to his left leg as he lifted his right arm for a swing. My pal caught him by the right elbow as the arm went back, slid to his wrist, twisted it, caught him by the trousers waist, lifted him and threw him at the others, felling two, and breaking the mulatto’s right arm. One of the others rushed at him with a knife, and he reached as if to shake hands, caught the man off his balance, pulled him forward, placed his foot behind the man’s nearest leg, and then, throwing his chest and full weight against the man, tripped him and fractured his skull. The other fled, and I had my man down and was sitting on him. My pal’s cigar never even went out, and I could not understand how he did it until he told me afterwards.

I went down to the West Indian Islands once. Well, I learned a trick there. There was a big row one night in the street. One man on foot was attacked by three men. He carried only an ordinary stout cane, and as they set on him he backed against a wall, holding the cane in both hands across his chest. One man rushed in on him from the left, another from the right, the third remaining a little way off in case he should slip past the others and run. Quickly stepping to one side, he dodged the left man. Both hands went up in the air, the left hand pointed the lower end of the cane at the base of the man’s throat, there was a quick swing of the arms downward, the lower end of the cane jarred on the upper part of the sternum, and the fellow dropped as if shot, howling with pain. The next man followed, and the third bolted. Then the man rolled and lit a cigarette, and walked away. I have tried that trick with good effect. Done rightly, it is a dead sure fall, and a pretty hard one. It is even better than the old trick of leading at the forehead with the open palm, thrusting the head back, and getting in with the left under the jaw.

Another very good plan is, if tackled by two or more assailants, to get with the back to a wall, and, with a light cane or umbrella, prod at their eyes. A well-known dry-goods man was attacked four years ago, and put one fellow’s eye out, and tore a second man’s nose.

Not long ago someone asked Bob Fitzsimmons what was the best thing for a man, unversed in self-defence, to do when tackled, and he said “Whip off your hat, or pull out your handkerchief, dash it in the face of the man, and quickly follow it up with a left hand blow on the solar plexus.’ Now, this is all right, but how many men not accustomed to the gloves or the punching bag can hit a blow worth bothering about with the left hand? Let some of them try it, and they will be astonished. Bob’s idea is all right, however.”

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