“I’m Teaching the Police to Fight” (1911)

The following article describing a Bartitsu-like method of self-defence was first published in Pearson’s Weekly of January 26, 1911. The author’s name is given as Baron Albrecht von Knobelsdorff-Brenkenhoff, but archive searches have failed to bring up any further reference to that name, let alone in connection with teaching self-defence to the London police.

By Baron ALBRECHT VON KNOBELSDORFF-BRENKENHOFF, Who has been Appointed Official Instructor to the London City Police in Wrestling and Self-Defence.

Wehn I was quite a boy my father, an officer himself, once remarked that I would never he a horseman. I made up my mind to prove the contrary, and when I was nineteen I joined a cavalry regiment, and during my ten years’ service in the German Army I became rather well known as a steeplechase rider.

A similar determination influenced me when I took up wrestling. At that time I was not very strong, and once I overheard Peter Gotz, the well-known wrestler, make the remark that I would never he a good wrestler. I determined to study not only wrestling, but also boxing and jiu-jitsu and the science of self-defence generally, and I planned a course of work and exercise to that end. I made such good progress that I was soon able to begin teaching my system to others, and it is this system of self-defence—a combination of wrestling, boxing, and jiu-jitsu—that I am teaching to the police in London.

One Policeman to Six Ruffians

Perhaps I might recall my first contact with the Metropolitan Police.

Some years ago I was over here on business, and one night I found myself in the neighbourhood of Spa Road, Bermondsey.  As I turned a corner I came suddenly upon a struggling group; a policeman trying to beat off the attack of six men.

How the trouble had arisen, I do not know; probably the policeman had been arresting one of the men, and his friends had attempted to rescue him, and when I arrived on the scene things were looking very bad for the unfortunate constable. The men had knocked his truncheon out of his hand, and were pressing him so hard that he had no opportunity of blowing his whistle for assistance.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the matter, six to one seemed to be unfair, so I took a hand in the matter myself. I succeeded in restoring his truncheon to the constable, and after a few minutes’ active “self-defence” we had half-a-dozen surprised and rather dazed ruffians spread out in the street. Other assistance arrived soon, and as I did not wish to be called as a witness I slipped away.

My system of resisting and overcoming attack is, to a certain extent, based on boxing and wrestling, but these two forms of exercise depend so much on the height and weight of a man that a short, light man has little or no chance in the ordinary way against a heavy opponent. It is obvious, then, that something more is needed than the mere ability to strike hard.

Swiftness is Everything

A straight, powerful blow with the left fist is an excellent thing, but often it is easier and quicker to put an adversary on his back by some swift, unexpected grip that at once disarms him and puts him at your mercy. This may seem difficult, but it can be done, and my policeman pupils are making excellent progress.

No great expenditure of strength is necessary. In fact, one of my first troubles in training a man is to get him not to exercise his utmost strength as he is usually inclined to do. The whole thing can be learned very easily if one makes up one’s mind to discard strength for swiftness. The blows of a man who trusts to his strength and weight are almost certain to be too slow in a fight against a swift, agile adversary, as shown many times in “the ring.”

Here are one or two hints on self-defence. If you are attacked by a taller man, get down instantly and grasp his legs. Then you can either jerk his legs towards you and throw him on his back, or lift him straight up and throw him over your head. If you are attacked by a smaller man, get hold of him and pull him up so that he has no chance to get hold of your legs.

When thrown on the ground, never let your feet get out of contact with the other man’s feet and legs. In this position even a light man can throw a heavy man. Leverage, not weight, counts here, and if the standing man should resit he runs the risk of getting his leg broken.

In all cases let your opponent get a firm hold. This may sound strange advice, but you will find that you have a bettor chance then to throw him because he cannot break away quickly enough, and is mostly at your mercy.

A Lesson from Houndsditch

My pupils in the Metropolitan Police are all powerful men, but, as has unfortunately been proved lately, something more than strength and weight are required if policemen are to carry out their duties with any degree of safety in the rougher quarters of the East End of London.

By an extraordinary coincidence, on the night of the recent Houndsditch murders I happened to be at the police gymnasium, and my pupils were discussing how a man could defend himself against another with a revolver. One of them asked me: ” Supposing I were going to shoot you at fairly close quarters, what would you do?”

“Fall down at once,” I replied, “as though dead.” He laughed, and raising his arm, pretended to fire at me. But before he had got his aim I was down on the floor; then, in a flash, I twisted round, seized his ankles, and tipped him over. He was prostrate on the floor with myself on top of him before he knew what was happening.

I would strongly advise the authorities to arm the police with revolvers–and the sooner the better –if it is only to frighten those dastardly scoundrels who will never dare to fight an even match.

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