“Observations on Practical Self-Defence”

The anonymous author of this short article from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 5 January, 1924, lands squarely on the side of pragmatism as a guiding tactic of self-defence.

As a matter of pure curiosity one likes to know the various methods of self-defence employed by various individuals. Many years ago, in the West Indies, I met a peculiarly “hard case”; a man, covered with scars, who had followed all the more reprehensible avocations, and one or two reputable ones as well; not a big man, not an especially strong man, but wiry and small-eyed and broken-toothed and leering, the sort of man one would not like to meet unexpectedly in a dark place. He talked well. His reminiscences were mostly quite dreadful, but in telling them he curiously lacked braggadocio.

“Boxing?” he said. “No; what’s the good of that? I’ll tell you what I can do, though. I can throw a bottle.”

And as there were commonly a good many weapons of that nature within his easy reach I felt that, although interesting, he was a man to keep close behind.

A stout walking stick is a useful weapon if you thrust with it, and a ship’s engineer has before now used a spanner in the same way, but in default of arms, lethal or otherwise, a knowledge of ju-jitsu is undoubtedly the most useful accomplishment. But whereas boxing can occasionally be useful in practice (though over rated), and is a first-rate sport, ju-jitsu at its best can never be a true sport in the European sense, for it entails breaking bones and the infliction of all sorts of more or less serious injuries.

In the robuster age of the prize ring, perhaps, judging from romances, fists were more generally used in anger than they are to-day but I cannot believe that the ruffian of 1823 with a heavy boot would withhold that boot (to say nothing of the loaded stick which he probably kept in his sleeve) when chance or rascality set him in personal conflict with a real fighting man. Indeed, too much altogether has been made of the noble art as a means of self-defence.

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