Flossie Le Mar, the “World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl” (1913)

Life and Adventures cover 2

Florence “Flossie” Le Mar was a pioneering advocate of jujitsu as feminist self defence.

Hooligan and the Lady playbill

Flossie and her husband, professional wrestler and showman Joe Gardiner, toured vaudeville theatres throughout New Zealand prior to the First World War. Their signature act showed audiences how a Lady might fell an aggressive Hooligan in any number of ways. According to a 1913 poem promoting the vaudeville act:

In ‘The Hooligan and Lady’, they are smart, clean, clever, straight.
No act in this world is better – fast, and strictly up-to-date.
This act[’s] a small-sized drama – constructed round Jitsu
A Japanese discovery, wherein they show to you,
How it’s possible for a lady, when molested by a cad,
Maybe tackled by a robber, in fact, any man that’s bad,
Can hold her own against him and quickly put him through,
When she knows the locks and holds – pertaining to the art Jitsu.

So clever is the lady that when the tough with pistol, knife
And bludgeon tries to rough her and mayhap take her life,
Like lightning-flash she meets him and quickly stays his hand,
By tumbling him hard earthwards – I tell you it is grand –
And proves to me and all here what women folk can do
When attacked, if they but study Miss Le Mar at Ju Jitsu.

These techniques were also explained and illustrated in Flossie’s book, The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence Le Mar, the World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl, which is undoubtedly one of the rarest and strangest self defence manuals ever written.

In addition to jujitsu lessons, Flossie’s book offered a great deal of feminist polemic and a series of very tall tales describing her hair-raising adventures as the “World’s Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl”, taking on desperadoes including opium smugglers in Sydney, crooked gamblers in New York City and an English “lunatic” who believed he was a bear. In each story, Flossie the Jujitsu Girl defends the weak and innocent and punishes villains through her mastery of the martial arts.

Though not without charm, these short stories have the sharp corners and hard edges typical of early 20th century dime novels. They are also undeniably theatrical and, in combination with Flossie’s biography and her fierce feminism, inspired the production of a play, The Hooligan and the Lady, which was a hit at the 2011 New Zealand Fringe Festival.

Flossie’s adventurous “Ju-Jitsu Girl” persona is also among the key characters in the upcoming graphic novel trilogy Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons. In the story, Flossie Le Mar is a member of a secret society of radical suffragettes known as the Amazons, who protect the leaders of their movement from arrest and assault.

Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons is due to be published in early 2014 by Jet City Comics, a new imprint of Amazon Publishing.

Bartitsu sparring

Highlights from several rounds of recreational medium/hard contact sparring at the Bartitsu Club of Chicago.

The object of this type of sparring is to pressure-test one’s skills while (re-)discovering the most combat-efficient blend of the methods that went into E.W. Barton-Wright’s original Bartitsu system, via experimentation.  Thus, the sparring repertoire is deliberately anachronistic; while there is room for spur-of-the-moment improvisation, the techniques are largely restricted to the canonical and lineage material, dating from 1899 into the early 1920s.

Most significantly, these “style points” include:

  • Predominant use of single and double-handed high guard positions in stick fighting.
  • Almost exclusive use of “hanging” or “roof”-style parries, in which the weapon-wielding hand is held higher than the point of impact between the two weapons, rather than the orthodox fencing parries in 3 and 4.
  • Stick fighting tactics are heavily weighted towards invitations (for example,  by lowering and/or widening the guard position to tempt an attack to a specific area), pre-emptive striking/feinting and “guards by distance” (simultaneous evasion and counter-attack)
  • Active integration of armed and unarmed combat
  • Predominant use of linear punches and linear, low kicks; in strictly unarmed combat, fighters employ the classic erect or backward-leaning fisticuffs stance and the “mill” pattern of vertically rotating fists.
  • When coming to grips in jacketed unarmed combat, the posture remains erect.
  • Deliberate exclusion of low-line grappling attacks (double-leg takedowns, etc.)

The minimum protective equipment for this type of sparring consists of fencing masks, hockey or lacrosse gloves and groin cups. The weapons shown are 3/4″ diameter, 36+” rattan sparring canes made by Purpleheart Armory, tipped with standard rubber cane ferrules at one end and with solid rubber “ball” handles at the other, simulating the steel ball handles of classic fighting canes. The asymmetrical balance of the cane is a key factor in this style of stick fighting.

Fighters offer a simple salute with the stick or touch gloves to indicate the commencement and conclusion of a match.

Fighters may acknowledge points verbally and/or gesturally but the emphasis is on continual action. A bout that goes to the ground may feature a successful submission hold/tapout but that does not necessarily represent the end of the match; by mutual accord, the fighters may simply recommence from a standing start if they wish.

Bartitsu stick sparring

A short video showing some technical stick sparring from the 2012 Bartitsu School of Arms.

In this type of sparring, the mask, gloves, forearms, thighs and calves are all legal targets. Stick strikes and thrusts as well as unarmed strikes, weapon traps/disarms and standing grappling may all be employed.

Fighters are encouraged to experiment with variations on the standard high guards, for example by lowering the guards as positions of invitation. They may acknowledge hits verbally and/or gesturally, but the emphasis is on continual action.

The weapons are 3/4″ diameter, 36″ rattan sparring canes from Purpleheart Armory, equipped with solid rubber ball handles to simulate the steel ball handles of real Bartitsu canes. The asymmetrical balance of the cane is a key factor in Bartitsu stick fighting.

Introductory Bartitsu with James Garvey at the Idler Academy (London)

James Garvey will be offering a comprehensive 6-week introductory Bartitsu course via London’s Idler Academy. The course will cover a progression of the Bartitsu skill-sets of jiujitsu, fisticuffs/atemiwaza and cane fighting, finishing with an “applied” session in which trainees’ skills will be put to the test.

Email Roberta@idler.co.uk and quote ‘idle hands’ to receive a 10% discount, applicable to the whole course.

N.B. that the first session is available for just £10 as a taster class.

Place The Idler Academy, 81 Westbourne Park Road, W2 5QH
Starting date 2013-10-23
Course dates Wednesday 23rd October to Wednesday 27th November
Time 7pm – 9pm
Duration 6 weeks
Cost £165 / £148.50 Fellows. Taster session £10.

See this page for all course details and booking.