Self-defence (The Universal Book of Hobbies and Handicrafts, 1935)

SELF-DEFENCE may seem a queer sort of hobby, but it is closely allied with jiu-jitsu, wrestling, boxing and tumbling, and many people practise it merely as a form of athletic recreation. It does happen sometimes, even in this country, that one needs to know what to do against an unprovoked attack, and it is then that the methods of self-defence have real practical value. But even if you seldom or never have occasion to use them, you will find that the study and practice of them will keep you congenially occupied for a long time, and will give you not only interest and health but self-confidence too. Incidentally, self-defence is as worth while a hobby for girls and women as for men.

Very often a threatened attack can be prevented by a sufficient show of courage on the part of the intended victim. Just as a snarling dog is most dangerous if it senses that you are nervous and will probably not attack you if you are not afraid, so if you chance to meet a rough-looking character on a country road and are suspicious of his intentions your safest plan will be to walk boldly towards him. Seeing your self-reliant air he will probably think twice about interfering with you. The same applies if you are cycling.

Should you be walking in the dark and have reason to suspect that you are being followed you will find that your hearing is more sensitive if you open your mouth. And if you are sitting by a camp fire when an unwanted intruder suddenly arrives, spring aside into the shadows, leaving him in the firelight while you are concealed.

What to do if you actually come to grips in the foregoing emergencies will be dealt with later.

Attacking Animals.—The safest way to deal with a charging bull, if you cannot get to a fence or gate in time, is to leap to one side and throw your coat or jacket over his horns so that he is momentarily blinded. An attacking dog can be dealt with by a kick under the jaw if you have previously held a hat or something similar in front of you in which he can first fix his teeth.

Fig 1

A Hold-up.—Should an attacker leap on to the running-board of your car, on the driving side, you can get rid of him, if windows allow, by a strong upward and outward jab of elbow or wrist which will take him in the throat or under the chin.

Even in to hold-up by a revolver you are not necessarily at the mercy of the other man. Suppose you are standing facing his and have obeyed his order to put up your hands. Fix his eyes with yours, talking perhaps as you do so in order to distract him. Your arms will be above your head, but do not keep them together; let them sag and spread sideways as widely as possible. By doing so you will prevent your attacker from keeping his eye on both simultaneously—and that may give you the opportunity to swing down the hand of which he has for the moment lost sight and so to knock aside or seize the weapon.

Fortunately criminals in this country do not often risk shooting or even carrying weapons, if they can possibly avoid doing so. But you must be extremely careful when firearms are concerned.

Fig 2

One useful way of temporarily disabling an attacker is to seize the lapels of his jacket and jerk them outwards and backwards so that the jacket is snatched clear of his shoulders and half down his back and remains hamperingly around his elbows. (Fig. 2.)

There are many more vigorous ways of dealing with an attacker. For example, suppose one is coming towards you with upraised bludgeon or weapon, so that he is upright. A very effective counter is to duck sharply in front of him, going down on one knee so that your head goes between his legs and your shoulders are pressed against his shins. If you now clutch his ankles from behind and tug them sharply, jerking them upwards, at the same time pushing with your shoulders, you will fling him over backwards—probably his head will strike the ground with such force as to stun him. In prac-tising this and similar throws with a friend you must use a mattress and proceed cautiously, as you would for jiu-jitsu work.

An alternative way of getting control is to grab the right wrist of your opponent with your own right hand and to get behind his right arm. If you now thrust your left arm under his right arm-pit and clutch his jacket somewhere near the left lapel, keeping your arm rigid you will find that you can strain his right wrist back and get an arm-breaking pressure on his right elbow which will be run-ning across your own left arm. The front of his wrist should be held to the front, so that the pressure you exert strains his arm in the way in which his elbow cannot possibly bend—without breaking. The least pressure you give will be very painful so be very, very careful if you practise this with a friend.

An ordinary umbrella, properly wielded, can be a most effective weapon against an attacker. Do not try to his with it, for the ribs and cover will mufile the blow, and the stick will most likely break. The point is the effective part. Hold the umbrella, point forward, as if it were a foil. A straight hard jab in face, throat, or stomach will be pretty certain to put any attacker out of action. Fencing, by the way, apart from its own interest and value, is a most excellent exercise from the point of view of self-defence, for it teaches you how to make forceful, well-aimed thrusts with any available weapon.

Fig 3

A walking-stick is infinitely better than an umbrella, in fact walking-stick defence is quite a study in itself, and if you customarily carry a stick when out walking, you will find the proper handling of your stick a most fascinating study. The same stabs with your ferrule can be depended on to ward off an attack, and if you have an opponent on the ground you can place the point of your stick in the pit of his stomach and hold him helpless. The slightest vertical pressure will convince him of the serious danger of trying to escape, as effectively as if you had a rapier point at his throat.

Blows With a Stick.—It is not merely the point of the stick which is of value. You may hit with the whole length of it too. Be careful where you hit—some portions of the anatomy are much more susceptible than others, and to put your opponent out of action promptly you should aim at such points as the collar-bone near the neck, the tip of a shoulder, inside of a knee, outside of forearm, back of hand, elbow or shin.

Do not make a straight, square stroke with a walking-stick. Not only is this less efficacious but it gives your opponent a chance to grab the stick while it lies dead against his body. Cultivate a stinging, slicing stroke. This is far more painful, and also ensures that the stick comes immediately out of reach, ready for further use.

In making any blows at the head or shoulders of your companion keep your own hand as high as possible, for this will enable you to strike downward over his guard, and will also ensure that at least one of your arms is raised as a protecting guard for yourself should you need it. When you go for a walk with your stick, cultivate the ability to swing it freely, whilst keeping it under firm control. When you can make it whistle through the air in great sweeping circles you will have to defence which the boldest antagonist would hesitate to break into.

Single-sticks.—It is well when practising with a friend that you shall also occasionally let him use a stick against yours —you may follow this up by equipping yourself with proper head guards and weapons and so taking up the old hobby of single-sticks. If your opponent has a stick and you have none, your safest plan will be to get in promptly to close quarters where his stick cannot be used.

Boxing is naturally another excellent method of self-defence, and, even if you do not make a proper study of it, it is worth while at least to acquire the ability to make a few strong punches correctly. Punches with the fist are not always, however, the best way of persuading an assailant to leave you alone.

A clenched fist, arriving flatly and solidly, may have little effect—like the stick which is driven straight and square at the body. Often, a blow given sharply by a smaller edge is much more potent. Clench your right fist for instance, and with the back knuckles give a sharp blow on the back of your left hand. It will be very painful! Now imagine that you are clutched round the body from behind. Your attacker is not likely to retain his hold long if a similar knuckle blow is delivered really hard on the back of his hands.

You may also make very painful blows with the edge of the hand between the little finger and the wrist. If you hold your hand stiff and flat and deliver the his in some vulnerable spot, such as the outer side of the arm between shoulder and elbow, your attacker will not want more.

When at close quarters with an assailant there are a number of methods of dealing with him. A knee jab in the stomach may put him hors de combat. You may stamp on his feet. If you are held from behind, you may give some terribly effective blows in his face with the back of your head. If you have a walking-stick which cannot be used in any other fashion, its crook handle may trip him up or, snatched around his neck, may jerk him to the ground.

When you are actually gripped it is important that you should know how to get free. A grip round the body or throat may be dealt with in one of the various ways already described, or you may seize the little finger of one of your attacker’s hands and tug it backwards. The little finger will have no strength to resist, and unless the rest of the hand yields with it the finger is liable to be broken.

Should you be seized round the neck from in front, hook your left hand round behind the small of the other’s back; bringing your right hand up so that its palm rests under his this while your fingers spread over his face. Now pull with the left hand and push vigorously with the right, and his grip will be broken. Probably he will tumble on his back.

A rather similar method can be used if you are gripped round the body from in front. Get your left hand behind him, your right under his chin, and your right knee high up against his stomach or chest. Then thrust him away with knee and right hand. As his head goes back, of course, he cannot save himself. If the left hand is not needed behind in order to pull at your opponent, then the left too may be this to come up and push against the chin.

In either methods of breaking front holds you may the better ensure that your assailant crashes on to his back by getting one foot behind his to trip him.

A Nose Grip.—At the moment when an attacker is about to encircle you with his arms you may be able to prevent him by seizing his nose and grimly hanging on to it. His disconcerting difficulty in breathing, wilt almost certainly make him abandon his intended clutch in order to tear your hold away.

Fig 4

Sometimes a body hold may be countered by bending forward or backward and pulling the other’s feet from beneath him. If you are seized round the body from behind—assuming that your arms are free—simply spread your legs, and stoop forward till you can seize his ankles and so drag his legs forward between your own. (Fig. 4.) As he falls on his back, you will probably knock the wind out of him if you allow yourself to go down also. You may sometimes use this same method when you are seized from in front—reaching round the backs of your legs in order to seize his ankles, and pushing
forward with your head against his body as you do so.

The arms may not be free, however, and when you are seized from behind this will completely change your problem, and the method of solving it. You will now aim to throw your attacker completely over your head, by bending forward sharply at the waist, so that his head comes down and forward whilst your legs and his are hurled upwards and over. It will help you considerably if you are able to clutch his coat near the neck or shoulders.

Remember when you fall that it will ease things if all your muscles are relaxed—never fall with any part of the body stiff, except the neck, which may be necessary to prevent the head from bumping, or the limbs which are being used in a jiu-jitsu breakfall movement.

The value of tripping an opponent is considerable, for the trip seeks to catch him off his balance and bring about a violent fall. This type of defence naturally leads into jiu-jitsu—a most fascinating hobby — but without going into that thoroughly you may acquire a few particularly useful tips that will be useful in self-defence.

There is no easier and more effective trip than the ankle throw. As your opponent comes forward at you, you give way, clutching the left lapel of his coat with your right hand and the back of his sleeve just behind his right elbow with your left. Then, just as he is about to put his right foot down in a normal step forward, you push your left foot inwards against the outer side of his right ankle. His right leg will slip across from under him just as his weight is coming over on to it, and if you give a sharp tug he will crash to the ground by the side of you.

An even easier back trip can be used very often in similar circumstances, when an attacker has approached you with one arm and one leg forward—an almost inevitable position. Supposing his right foot and right arm are nearer. You will seize his arm somewhat near the elbow with your left hand, and get your right hand up by his left shoulder. At the same time you must move slightly to the left. From this position you will now be able to pass your own right leg outside and round behind his right leg. If you then do a sharp backward kick with your right foot, you will knock his right foot forward clean off the ground. Simultaneously you must jerk him sideways by an outward tug of his right elbow with your left hand and a push on his left shoulder with your right hand—and he will inevitably crash on to his right side or his back.

The same trip can, of course, be performed from the other side—your left leg hooking behind the left. Throws of this sort need a great deal of practice if they are to be performed with the requisite assurance and speed. So much depends on catching your opponent just at the right instant. Try all these methods over very frequently, therefore, with a companion, until you are proficient. See that he has something soft to fall on!

Different tactics can sometimes be used against an assailant who has one arm up-raised to strike or stab. If you are able to seize his wrist with one or both hands, you may twist round so that your back is to him and so bring the arm down across your near shoulder. Providing the front of his wrist is turned upwards you may get a most painful pressure on his elbow which, supported by your shoulder, cannot bend against the direction of the joint. A violent jerk could quite easily break an arm held in this position, and it is certain that your attacker will not long hold his weapon when he discovers how much he is in your power.

Kicks.—Sometimes an attack may come from the feet instead of the hands; a ruffianly assailant may try to kick his victim. If you see the kick coming, and are far enough away, stretch out your nearest foot and try to receive it on the sole, aiming to catch his shin rather than his foot. With a stiff knee and the hard edge of a shoe sole you may make him regret that kick, for it may almost break his shin. Should his leg come high enough for you to clutch it will be easy to upset his balance by a strong body punch in almost any direction, but prefer-ably hit or push him from the right side if you have seized his left leg or vice versa.

Should it chance that you have seized his foot with both hands you may exert a very painful and effective pressure by twisting it violently—this will certainly bring him to the ground heavily, unless he is holding on to something with his hands.

When you have overcome an attacker and wish to take him along with you, how shall you do it? The most effective “come along with me” method is that in which you walk by his side with his near arm locked in such a position that you might even break his elbow if he compelled you to such extremes. Suppose you are on his right side, you will grip his right wrist with your right hand, so that his palm is facing forward. Your left arm will be passed over the front of his right arm so that your forearm is able to bend back underneath his elbow. Your left hand will then clutch your right wrist. In this position you are able to exert strain on his right elbow by pressing his wrist down with your right hand—you can adjust the painfulness of the pressure to the amount of trouble he gives you.

Frog-marching is familiar to most people, from school-days. By holding both arms of a person, and bending one or both up behind his back, you may cause him to bend forward and walk along helplessly at your direction.

Fig 5

It may be necessary to secure a criminal while you go for help. A chair is convenient if you have enough cord, for arms and legs may be fastened separately to strong spars. A quick, but effective method of service for a very short time — as for instance, whilst telephoning for police – is to is his thumbs together behind (Fig. 7.) his back—a shoe-lace will serve. Lay him face downward on the floor as you do it, and then drag one of his feet backward and hook it through under the tied thumbs. This method can be very painful to the prisoner if he struggles or is left too long, so use it with discretion. (See Fig. 5.)

Handcuffs. — If you wish to fasten a man’s hands behind his back see that they are in such a position that the fingers cannot get at the cord. The best plan is to fold the arms across the small of the back so that the forearms are lying against each other. The wrists can then be knotted together, and the  hands will be spread in opposite directions,  unable to reach each other or the cords.

Fig 7

Jiu-jitsu Holds.—There are a number of important jiu-jitsu holds. One of the most effective is the arm lock with foot on chest. Be cautious how you apply this, as you may quite easily injure your opponent. When your opponent is on his back grip his right arm, holding it upwards, with the palm of your hand passing over the front of his wrist. Stand at his side, by his shoulder, and place your right foot on his chest just at the right armpit. You will thus hold his right arm extended across your shin, and will be able to exert very severe and painful pressure on his elbow. For extra control you may grip his wrist with both hands; the important thing is to have his arm so turned that the back of the elbow is against your leg.

Fig 6

The Arm and Head Hold.—A similar method is used, but with the complication of a special head position. (Fig. 6.) Your opponent must be on his back as before, and you will kneel or crouch at his right side. Your right foot must be near his right hip, and your right knee passed up behind his armpit. You will thus be able to grip his right wrist with your left hand and hold his right arm fully extended over your right knee. Your right hand will be stretched across so that you are able to grip his chin, and by pushing on this you may force his head down so that it lies with the left cheek on the floor and cannot move. Your opponent will be exceedingly uncomfortable, so do not be too harsh, either with his head or his right arm.

“Are You In Danger?” – a curious article on umbrella self-defence (1900)

This short article on umbrella self defence was originally published in the Dundee Evening Post on April 3, 1900.

It’s diverting to speculate on the identity of the anonymous inventor of “umbrella fighting”, who is described in the article as “a captain in the British Army in India”. Taking that description at face value, the temptation is to identify the “inventor” as Captain F.C. Laing, who did, indeed, hold that rank and who was, circa 1900, serving with the 12th Bengal Infantry. Laing had also studied both stick fighting and jiujitsu at the Bartitsu Club.

In 1903 Captain Laing produced an interesting article titled “The ‘Bartitsu’ Method of Self Defence” for the Journal of the United Service Institution of India. A year later he followed up with a second article, proposing a design for a radically new type of cavalry sword, again recommending the Bartitsu stick fighting method.

There are, however, some discrepancies that prevent a positive identification. Most problematic is that the Dundee Post article is dated April 3rd, 1900, whereas by Laing’s own account, he studied at the Bartitsu Club while on furlough in London for several months during 1901. Allowing that the exact dates might have simply slipped his mind, the Dundee Post article is adamant that its subject was the inventor of “umbrella fighting”, whereas in Laing’s own articles he was fulsome in his praise and credit to his Bartitsu Club instructors, including E.W. Barton-Wright and Pierre Vigny.

Vigny, meanwhile, had been demonstrating his idiosyncratic method of cane self-defence in London since at least May of 1899, and by 1900 he was on staff at the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.

It’s possible that there lived another British Army captain with an interest in eccentric self-defence methods, who developed his own umbrella system independently of Laing or Vigny. Alternatively, Laing may have been experimenting with a system of his own prior to training with Vigny. In any case, the system sketched in the Dundee Post article is reminiscent, in some ways, of the Vigny/Bartitsu style …


How To Use Your Umbrella in Self Defence.

If you were about to undergo some experience in which you were likely to incur personal danger, you would certainly provide yourself with, a revolver, or life preserver, as a weapon of defence. Would you not?

The possibilities of the umbrella in this direction have been quite overlooked except by a very few people. Nevertheless, “umbrella fighting” is, in the hands or an expert, a very dangerous form of attack or defence. A captain in the British army in India has made a special study of this, and, as a hobby, has made varied experiments dealing with the power of the ordinary umbrella, which everyone carries, to seriously injure, if not to kill, an adversary.

To be thoroughly effective, the umbrella must be one of the modern type, with a thin rod of steel for the stick. A handle of wangee or some other flexible cane is also more useful for purposes of defence than a handle which is stiff and will not bend.

Although it would appear at first glance that, the heavier the weapon, the greater its value, yet experience has proved just the contrary.

A light umbrellaof the afore-mentioned type is the ideal for the civilian’s sword. One of the most dangerous and also one of the most difficult methods of attack with an umbrella is the stab. The umbrella is held about a foot from the handle and poised, lightly, behind the head. The force of a stab which has the whole poised weight of the arm and shoulder behind it is tremendous – if it be well delivered. The almost needle-like steel point of the modern umbrella will penetrate nearly anything.

The difficulty of this method lies in the taking of your aim. A man’s head is not an easy thing to hit, and an umbrella would hardly stop a big man in a rush if it stabbed him in any other part. Clothes are not easily penetrated by a blunt point.

The inventor of umbrella fighting suggests that anyone who wishes to become expert at it should practice at a paper target the size of a man’s head, fixed upon the wall.

After a stab has been delivered, and if it does not atop the rush of your adversary, a quick fall on to one knee will result in his tripping over you and coming down. Meanwhile, the stab will have done its work and, in all probability, the contest will be over.

To Deliver a Blow with an umbrella it should be held almost at the end, as close to the ferrule as it consistent with a good grip. By this means the whole flexibility of the steel rod and cane handle is able to contribute to the force and precision of the blow.

It is absolutely surprising, to one who has never tried it, to find what force and weight an umbrella has when used in this way. A blow like a sledge-hammer can be delivered with it.

The umbrella forms an excellent weapon used in combination with the fist. Held in the centre, a little obliquely in front of the body, it very greatly aids the force of a blow with the clenched hand. Moreover, it forms is bar all along the body of an adversary and is a great obstacle to his advance.

There are hundreds of different ways of using the umbrella and the inventor of the new hobby has at least twenty exercises which he recommends for practice. The ones mentioned above are the most important. Anyone can easily amplify them for himself.

Solved – the mystery of “Miss Sanderson’s” first name

Although “Miss Sanderson’s” system of umbrella and parasol self-defence was quite famous in its day, the lady herself has remained elusive. For many years we have known little of her biography except that she was married to Bartitsu Club stickfighting and savate instructor Pierre Vigny; that she seems to have used the name “Miss Sanderson” for professional purposes (but she was sometimes referred to as Madame Vigny); and that she was described as being a fencing instructor and “champion lady fencer”.

Circa 1908, her unique self-defence system was featured in several newspaper and magazine articles, receiving widespread attention. Journalists were also effusive in their praise of her skill-at-arms:

Then Miss Sanderson came to the attack, and the demonstration showed her to be as capable with the stick as the sword. She passed it from hand to hand so quickly that the eye could scarcely follow the movements, and all the while her blows fell thick and fast. Down slashes, upper cuts, side swings, jabs and thrusts followed in quick succession, and the thought arose, how would a ruffian come off if he attacked this accomplished lady, supposing she had either walking-stick, umbrella, or parasol at the time? In tests, she has faced more than one Hooligan, who was paid to attack her, and each time he has earned his money well.

The contest between the Professor and Madame (Vigny, i.e. Miss Sanderson), which mingled the English art of Fisticuffs with the French Savate, was also intensely interesting, as proving the quickness, endurance and hitting power which can be developed as readily by members of the fair sex, as by those of the male persuasion, provided only that they be suitably trained.

– J. St. A. Jewell, “The Gymnasiums of London: Part X. — Pierre Vigny’s” Health and Strength, May 1904, pages 173-177.

Pierre and Marguerite Vigny, circa 1910.

The historical record has, up until very recently, been curiously silent as to Miss Sanderson’s given name, with no published source offering even so much as a given initial.

Now, however, thanks to Rachel Klingberg’s genealogical detective work, we finally know that Miss Sanderson/Madame Vigny’s first name was Marguerite. A 1901 British census lists her as being aged 27 and living with Pierre Vigny (then aged 35) and their 2-year-old daughter Yvonne, plus an 18-year-old servant, Antoinette Duchene, at an address on Chesilton Road in Middlesex, about 19 miles from the Bartitsu Club where Pierre, and possibly Marguerite, would have been employed in 1901. Marguerite was listed as having been a French national who was born in Switzerland.

Vigny family census record final

Click on the above image to see detail.

Although searches for the names “Marguerite Sanderson” and “Marguerite Vigny” do not offer much further information, we know that she taught umbrella and parasol self-defence at her husband’s school during the period circa 1910 and continued to teach self-defence, fencing and physical culture classes for many years after the family returned to Switzerland, settling in Geneva.

In early 2015 “Miss Sanderson” was commemorated as a character in the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, in which she wields her “Sanderson special” umbrella in defence of the fugitive leaders of the radical suffragette movement during 1914.