“Wrestlers in Court: Labourer who Wanted to Use his Fists” (1905)

Yukio Tani (right) circa 1903.

This article from the  Leicester Daily Post of October 7, 1905, details a court case involving former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani.  Partly at issue was the practice of pre-arranging the results of apparently spontaneous challenge matches, which was known in Edwardian-era wrestling slang as “swanking” – i.e., contrived showmanship rather than “straight” or “shoot” competition.   

Yukio Tani, the famous exponent of jiu-jitsu methods of wrestling, and John Madden, a tall, lean Bermondsey labourer, met as opponents on Thursday; not on the mat and in the full glare of the footlights, but in the Westminster County Court, before Judge Woodfall.

The trouble centred round an unrehearsed incident in June at the Lyceum, when Madden, a labourer at Tower Bridge Wharf, challenged Tani. The Bermondsey man said that after the wrestling bout, in which he was thrown, the Jap severely mauled him outside the dressing-room.  He claimed £8 for physical pain, incapacitation from work through injured legs, and damage to his trousers, which he now brought with him to show the judge.

Madden was cross-examined by Mr. Whiteley, on behalf of Tani.

“You are one of those men who are always coming forward with challenges?” Mr. Whiteley asked.

“Provided I am paid for it,” was the answer.

“Is it not always an arrangement that you shall be thrown in a certain way?”

“Yes.”

“Of course you know you are going to be thrown?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Is it not a fact that you asked Tani to give you a seven minutes’ show, so as to make a good display?”

“I never asked him at all. It’s like this. I am supposed to be one of those who makes the best show, and excites the audience. There is a ‘dud’ – he gets thrown in two minutes. When I tapped the floor three times he (Tani) was to release me.  He put the lock on me in five minutes. I resisted, and got away; and then when I tapped the floor three times he would not leave off. He put pressure on me and hurt me. I had to shout; and when he did let go I wanted to have it out in my own style.”

“You offered to fight him on the stage with your fists?”

“Yes.”

William Bankier, known as Apollo, the strong man, said that Madden came to the stage-door, said he was hard up, and asked to be showed to try what he could do against Tani. Seeing one of his friends in the front row, and being anxious to impress him, Madden asked to be allowed to stand against the Jap for eight or nine minutes. Four or five minutes was all Tani took to throw his opponents and he would not allow any man to play about longer than necessary.

As timekeeper, Apollo saw that Tani had got Madden fixed in about four minutes, and seeing that the Bermondsey man would not accept the inevitable and that there was a likelihood of his getting hurt, the wrestle was stopped. Madden was very angry at the abrupt end of the bout and struck Tani on the side of the head. Afterwards they were induced to shake hands before the audience, but on leaving the stage Madden called Tani all sorts of names, including “a Japanese swindler” … and Tani, rushing out from his dressing-room, got Madden on the floor in quick time.

Without calling Tani, Judge Woodfall said that the plaintiff had evidently invited all he got, and there would be judgment for the defendant, each side to pay his own costs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *