“Miyake, the Champion of Japan: an Interesting Interview” (1907)

This interview from the Midland Daily Telegraph of  August 1,  1907 offers some further details on the life and career of Taro Miyake.  A prominent member of the “second generation” of Japanese jiujitsu champions to travel to England, Miyake enjoyed great success as a challenge wrestler. 

Miyake also partnered with former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani in opening London’s Japanese School of Jujitsu and, in 1906, in co-producing “The Game of Jujitsu”.  This book was an unusually advanced and detailed training manual for its time, especially notable for its instruction in ne-waza (mat grappling) techniques, which were a particular specialty of Miyake’s instructors, Mataemon Tanabe and Yataro Handa.  The Tanabe/Handa lineage was also a significant influence on the jiujitsu aspect of Bartitsu, as both Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi were likewise highly trained in that specialty.

Miyake  later travelled throughout Europe, again competing successfully in numerous wrestling challenge contests, before settling in Seattle, USA where he ran a jiujitsu dojo.  Later in life he became interested in professional wrestling and attempted to introduce it to Japan, without great success.  Miyake died in New York City in 1935.

Noting for the sake of clarity and interest that:

  • Taro Miyake’s name was frequently rendered as “Tarro Miyake”, “Tarro Myake” and similar variants by Edwardian journalists.
  • The term “Jap” carried no pejorative meaning at this time, being in the nature of a simple abbreviation like “Brit” for “British”.
  • This is the first reference that we have come across to W.H. Collingridge serving as Miyake’s translator.  Collingridge had been a student at the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu and later wrote a manual of his own, titled “Simple Tricks of Self-Defence”.

It is no exaggeration to say that the most-talked-of man in Coventry to-day is Tarro Miyake, champion ju-jitsu wrestler of Japan—and of the world for that matter. His exhibitions at the Hippodrome have aroused a degree of interest in the city that has seldom been equalled. Miyake ‘s fearless challenges to all comers have met with a ready response in Coventry; but the challengers, it must not be forgotten, have all received an equally ready defeat.

A “Midland Daily Telegraph” reporter had a chat with Miyake on Wednesday night before he went on to the stage to give his second performance of the evening. He was accompanied by his manager, Mr. W. H. Collingridge, and as he does not converse fluently in English — although he understands it perfectly — the conversation was carried on chiefly by the aid of Mr. Collingridge, who acted as interpreter.

Miyake, like many another champion, bears his honours lightly; and it was only after a little persuasion that he could be got to talk of his many victories. Bit by bit, however, he gave the reporter an outline of the story of hie life. It is simply a record of success. In brief, it is as follows.

He was born at Osaka about 25 years ago, and after leaving school first began to take an interest in jujitsu at the age of 18. He attended the school of Tanuba and Hauda (sic – Tanabe and Handa)- two well-known Japanese teachers—and soon he became exceedingly proficient in wrestling. He visited various small tournaments with signal success, and then tried his luck at the large ju-jitsu competition at Kioto (sic – Kyoto). Here be quickly proved his wonderful skill and succeeded in defeating 24 men in succession. Tarro accomplished this feat in the presence of Prince Komats (sic – Komatsu) and other Japanese grandees.

But his great triumph still lay before him. He celebrated it—appropriately enough—at Osaka. At the great tournament there in 1904, Miyake defeated five of the best wrestlers in Japan, and won for himself the championship of wrestling in the jujitsu style of that or any other country. For this success he received a gold medal, presented to him by the Crown Prince of Japan.

On another occasion Tarro received as the reward of his remarkable prowess a sword of honour from Prince Komatsu, President of the Buto Kukai. It was not till two and a half years ago that he came to England. Here he found another expert in ju-jitsu already installed in the person of Yukio Tani. Miyake at once challenged Yukio, and the match took place at the Tivoli Music Halt in London. The result was that Yukio met his Waterloo in seven minutes, and Tarro held his title of champion stronger than ever. In passing, it might be mentioned that one result of the encounter between Yukio and Tarro was that they became fast friends quickly after, and are now at the present moment conducting school together for the teaching of ju-jitsu at 305, Oxford Street, London, where over 350 pupils attend regularly and are taught this simple yet all powerful art of self-defence.

Above: Taro Miyake (seated, second from left) with some colleagues in Paris.

To describe Tarro Miyake is not a difficult task. He is taller than most of his countrymen, standing 5ft. 8in.—the avenge height of an Englishman, in fact.  He is built in proportion and weighs eleven stones and a half. Altogether Tarro Miyake, when dressed in the orthodox English garb, appears very little different from an ordinary Englishman—but whether he will take this remark as a compliment or otherwise the writer is not quite sure.

He is seen at his best on the stage, however. Dressed for wrestling he wears a pair of short white cotton pants and a shirt, through the open neck of which can be seen his sun-browned skin and fine chest. With his curly hair disarranged, his fine figure and happy confident smile, Tarro presents a very pleasant picture when seen “on the boards.”

And he has good reason to have confidence in himself, for he confided last night that on only four occasions has he had to pay out the sovereign which he offers to all who stand more then seven minutes against him.

“Tarro,  Yukio and I,” said Mr. Collingridge, “are trying to introduce ju-jitsu into England as a pastime. Its three great objects are moral culture, physical culture, and self-defence. It is a game which can be played equally well by the weak u by the strong.”

Asked if any of his family were wrestlers, Miyake replied in the negative. “How do you like England?” asked the reporter.

“Oh, very much, very much indeed,” replied Tarro with enthusiasm.

“He doesn’t want to go back to Japan any more,” interjected Mr. Collingridge. But though Miyake said nothing, there crept into his eyes a far-away look which told another story.

“And English wrestlers,” queried the reporter, “Do you find them easy to beat?”

“Oh, very,” was Tarro’s still smiling but rather disconcerting reply. ” Very easy,” be repeated and then explained that Englishmen when wrestling relied on their strength, while he simply depended on his skill. And his prowess has always stood him in good stead so far.

But Miyake has not only wrestled and defeated Englishmen. He has continued his success on the Continent. He was at the Athletic Tournament at Paris last year, when he succeeded in defeating all comers, including some of the best European wrestlers, and in each case his man was beaten in less than a minute. Since then Miyake has challenged Hackenschmidt, Munro, Madrali—the world of wrestlers, in fact—but has not yet succeeded in finding anyone to take him up.

A short time ago Miyake had an accident, which necessitated his undergoing a serious operation. While in the Tottenham Hospital a visit was paid to his ward by the Prince of Wales, to whom he was pointed out. His Highness admired Miyake’s fine physique, and shook him cordially by the hand—an honour of which Miyake is quite justifiably proud.

Although Miyake’s temper on the stage is imperturbable, his opponents do not always manage to keep theirs. This was illustrated a little while ago, Mr. Collingridge explained. Miyake was appearing in a northern town, when a huge black fellow, of towering height, accepted his challenge. Miyake defeated the black, but when the latter was allowed to get on his feet he “went for” the Jap, who, however, dodged the blow, and, getting the arm lock on, in his own expressive words, “sent him to sleep,” or in plain language rendered him unconscious.

“Miyake thinks a lot of Coventry,” said Mr. Collingridge. “Is that so?” asked the reporter. “Yes,” replied the Jap, “I think it is a very clean town indeed.”

Pansy Montague, a.k.a. “La Milo”, a tableau vivant performer, processes through Coventry as Lady Godiva.

“Wouldn’t you like to stay and see La Milo as Godiva?” persisted the interviewer.

Miyake laughed, “I would like to see the procession” he said,  “but can’t possibly stop as I have particular business in London next week.” He explained that he had come to Coventry as a personal favour to Mr. Barry, who is an old friend. During his stay in Coventry he has admired all the beauties of the ancient city, and hopes to renew his acquaintance with them when he returns to fulfill another engagement at the Hippodrome early next year.

The national flag of Japan may be seen flying on the Hippodrome below the Union Jack. This Miyake takes as a great compliment. He has also been very much gratified by the number of people who have stopped him in the street and shaken bands with him. This morning, at the invitation of Mr. Lennox Barry, the manager of the Hippodrome, a private exposition of ju-jitsu was given by Tarro Miyake and Mr. Collingridge, to a large number of the members of the City Police. Several of the officers tried conclusions with the redoubtable Jap, but were quickly glad to cry, “hold ! enough.” He also very carefully described, by ocular demonstration, how the various “locks” were brought about.

At the conclusion of the exhibition Mr. Charsley, the Chief Constable, thanked Mr. Barry on behalf of his men, for inviting them to the exhibition, and Miyake and Mr. Collingridge for having so kindly demonstrated the wonderful capabilities of ju-jitsu. It was, said the Chief Constable, a wonderful science and capable of great possibilities. He thought his men would have to try the locks on each other before they began practicing them on refractory offenders in the street. (“Hear, hear,” and laughter).

There was again a crowded house at the Hippodrome last night, when Jack Madden, a focal wrestler, took up the challenge of Tarro Miyake, the Japanese wrestler. Madden succeeded in holding the Jap at bay for 7mins. 45secs. and was awarded a sovereign for his splendid effort.

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