“The victory of jiujitsu over French boxing” (1905)

From L’Illustration, No. 3271, November 4th, 1905.

The current fashion is undoubtedly towards Japan and, since the unexpected success that this small nation has won in the Far East, for everything Japanese that has the capacity to excite our interest. Thus, in sport, we discussed recently, and with some vivacity, the burning question of jiu-jitsu. Is jiu-jitsu (pronounced “djioudjitss”) a simple bluff, as once claimed by the most competent people? Or is it, on the contrary, the ideal of self-defence, as proclaimed by the few initiates of this new art?

The debate, which until now remained undecided, has finally been resolved. This is, at least, what seems to result of the match in Courbevoie on Thursday, Oct. 23, between Professor Re-Nie, jiu-jitsu instructor at the school in the Rue de Ponthieu, and master Dubois, representing the French antagonistic sports, who had issued a challenge to Re-Nie.

Master Dubois, who was once a sculptor not without talent, is also both a dangerous swordsman, a formidable boxer and a weightlifter of the first order: he is, in a word, the archetype of the athlete. His height is 1.68 m., weight 175 pounds. He was born in 1865.

Re-Nie, who is thirty-six years old, measures 1.65 m. and weighs 163 pounds. He learned jiu-jitsu in London under the Japanese masters Miyake and Kanaya. Although robust, he is significantly less vigorous than his opponent.

It was agreed that their combat, in which every action was allowed, should stop when one of the antagonists acknowledged defeat. It was quickly ended with the victory of jiu-jitsuan. Here is the summary report:

At the command “Come on!”, the two adversaries moved rapidly towards each other, stopping at a distance of about 2 meters apart and pausing for three or four seconds.

Dubois feinted a low kick with his right leg, which Re-Nie dodged. Dubois then executed a side kick with the same leg, but at the same time, with extraordinary agility, Re-Nie performed a cat-like leap towards Dubois and grabbed him round the waist. Dubois tried a hip check: Re-Nie, moving to the right of his opponent, placed his right hand on the abdomen of the latter, simultaneously compressing the lumbar muscles with the left hand and swinging a knee to Dubois’ right thigh.

Dubois reeled and fell back onto his shoulders; nevertheless Re-Nie stayed in contact, taking a grip that allowed him to seize Dubois’ right wrist. Re-Nie immediately dropped onto his back, to the left of Dubois, passing his left leg across Dubois’ throat; Re-Nie was now gripping Dubois’ forearm with both hands, Dubois’ arm passing between his two legs. A strong pressure exerted upon the wrist of Dubois threatened to dislocate his arm at the elbow, which was now cantilevered. Dubois resisted for a second, then cried for mercy.

The fight had lasted just 26 seconds, including 6 seconds for the engagement itself.

Things happened exactly as they would have in an unpremeditated encounter. The two adversaries were wearing street clothes with ordinary shoes; Georges Dubois had even kept on his hat and gloves. The ground, covered with gravel, was only slightly less hard than tarmac or asphalt would have been. Finally, the game was played outdoors, on the terrace of the new factory facilities at Védrine.

The result was perfectly clear. The representative of the French method did not exist before the representative of jiu-jitsu.

Well, we think that no event of this kind could be allowed without protest from the adherents of French and English boxing. To hear them talk afterwards, master Dubois was not qualified to represent the sport of self-defence. We will not try to discuss this view; we will simply say that jiu-jitsu, which is already officially practiced by the students of West Point (the U.S. Saint-Cyr), the policemen of New York and London, etc., will, on the initiative of Mr. Lépine, be taught from next week to the inspectors of the Sûreté and officers of the research brigade. The extremely rapid defeat of a very strong, fit athlete by a man whose physical means were visibly less than his own demonstrated to the Prefect of Police that this jiu-jitsu is an interesting means of self-defense.

The term sport de voyou (“hooligan sport”) has been bandied about regarding both the encounter at Courbevoie and jiu-jitsu in general. This term, already excessive in the mouths of those who condemn boxing as being too brutal, is somewhat laughable when it is pronounced by the supporters of English or French boxing. Is it believed to be much more elegant to crush an opponent’s nose with a punch than to force submission by a clever arm-twist, you ask? Nothing is less certain. We would willingly share the same opinion as the two senior officers of artillery, who published in Berger-Levrault a translation of the book by Mr. Irving Hancock on jiu-jitsu and who consider the sport, as an art, extremely interesting.

Does this mean that we should ignore our old French boxing or even the classic wrestling so dear to our people in the South? By no means. If jiu-jitsu seems decidedly superior from the self-defence perspective, boxing and wrestling are nonetheless excellent for the development of athletic skill, strength and courage. Jiu-jitsu itself can not completely neglect boxing and must, in fact, know the capacity of the power of the boxer, whose tactic is to maintain a greater distance.

Let us add that jiu-jitsu is not, as it is generally believed (on the basis of erroneous information) to be incomplete, a mere collection of combat tricks. This method is actually a very original and comprehensive means of physical culture that begins with the education of children and continues into adolescence and manhood, without losing sight of the physical education of women. It was largely the teachings of jiu-jitsu that gave Japanese troops their wonderful endurance and admirable sobriety, and it can be said, without being accused of exaggeration, that jiu-jitsu has had its share in the triumph, so disturbing to Europeans, of the Far Eastern race.

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