Mitsuyo Maeda in England (1907-08)

Of the select group of Japanese judoka and jiujitsuka who pioneered their martial arts in the West at the turn of the 20th century, Mitsuyo Maeda is almost certainly the most famous.  It was Maeda who settled in Brazil, beginning the legacy of Brazilian Jiujitsu that would eventually sweep the world during the 1990s MMA boom.

This article, however, will focus on Maeda’s relatively little-known activities in England, where – very much unlike most of the other Western countries he visited- the art of Japanese unarmed combat was already somewhat established.  E.W. Barton-Wright had begun lecturing on and demonstrating jiujitsu in the English capital nine years before Mitsuyo Maeda arrived there.

In the interim, a number of Japanese jiujitsuka – Kaneo Tani, Seizo Yamamoto, Yukio Tani, Sadakazu “Raku” Uyenishi, Akitaro “Daibutsu” Ono, Taro Miyake and others – had all taught, demonstrated and competed in England.  Instructional manuals such as Uyenishi’s Text-book of Ju-jutsu were widely available.  Thus, English wrestlers, sporting journalists and wrestling fans were largely familiar with the conventions and some of the techniques of jiujitsu, to the extent that jiujitsu matches had lost a measure of their novel sheen by 1907.

Mitsuyo Maeda was born in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture during November of 1878.  By 1904 he had become a seasoned and respected judoka via intensive training at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo.

In early 1905 he followed in the footsteps of Yoshiaki Yamashita, who had introduced Japanese unarmed combat to the United States two years earlier.  Yamashita’s most celebrated student, incidentally, had been none other than President Theodore Roosevelt, who had a great enthusiasm for boxing, wrestling, singlestick fencing and other “manly pastimes”.

Maeda competed in a number of mixed-styles challenge matches in the US and even started a commercial judo school in New York City.  By mid-1907, however, he had left America for London.

Although little is known about the logistics or circumstances of Maeda’s stay in England, it’s evident that he quickly joined forces with former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and their fellow challenge wrestler Taro Miyake, who were then affiliated with the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu.

The first record of Maeda’s activities in England comes from an article in the Cambridge Independent Press of June 14th, 1907, describing a demonstration by Maeda and Tani held in conjunction with the Cambridge University Boxing, Fencing and Jujitsu Club:

Demonstrations of the Japanese art of Ju-Jitsu formed the most fascinating items in an attractive programme, among those assisting being two of the best exponents in this country, Maida (sic) and Yukio Tani, from the Japanese School of Ju-Jitsu, in London.

With the assistance of Mr. G. T. Lemon, Clare, Maida demonstrated the art of disturbing the balance, as practised by the people in the country of the chrysanthemum, and Yukio Tani, with Mr. E. T. Busk, King’s, as a medium, illustrated methods of causing surrender by discomfort, or, in other words, of getting an opponent in such position that he cannot move without giving his rival an opportunity to inflict bodily injury.

Maida and Mr. Z. Horikiri, a Japanese Non-Collegiate student, gave an exhibition of Shobina Kata —the ancient art of disturbing the balance by fancy throws—and there were also exciting Ju-Jitsu encounters between Mr. Z. Horikiri and Mr. E. Morse, King’s ; Yukio Tani and Mr. E. A. MacNee, Clare ; and Maida and Yukio Tani. In the contests between Englishmen and Japanese, the former, although invariably the bigger men, were no match for the Japs in dexterity. The display between the two professionals was especially exhilarating, although it was explained to the company that the men were not putting forth their best endeavours, as, if they did so, they would be likely kill one another.

Two months later, the Dundee Courier offered advance notice of a Highland Gathering to be held in Market Park, Crieff.  The main attraction was advertised as a “Grand Demonstration of Ju-Jitsu”, featuring:

(…) from the Japanese School, Oxford Street, London – Tarro Miyake, Champion of Japan; Yukie (sic) Tani, who has never been Defeated; Professor Maeda, Government Instructor; and Hirano, the Lightest and Cleverest Wrestler in the World.

Open Challenge to Any Wrestler in Great Britain. Military Display by a Detachment of the Scottish Horse. The Usual Athletic and Other Events. The Celebrated Kirkcaldy Trades Band will be in Attendance during the Day.

The Dundee Courier report was mostly notable for being one of the very few to spell Maeda’s name according to the modern conventions of Japanese/English transliteration.

In late January of 1908 Maeda competed in a massive international wrestling tournament held at London’s famed Alhambra music hall.  By that time he had assumed the professional pseudonym “Maida Yamato”, possibly because people who had English as their first language had difficulty pronouncing his real given name.

A Sporting Life journalist commented:

Maida Yamato (Japan) is one of the favourites of the tournament. He is still “alive” in the middles and heavies, and is the most dangerous competitor in the lighter weight. Yamato has been champion of Japan in his native style, which he says is not unlike the catch-as-catch-can method. At any rate, he says a ju-jitsu wrestler can pick the English method quite easily. “I don’t like wrestling black men,” he said.

The unfortunate racial bias displayed here was not uncommon among athletes and promoters at the turn of the 20th century.  Notably, when Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright was promoting his own mixed-styles wrestling contests, he had specifically welcomed all challengers, regardless of race.

In early February, Maeda offered a general challenge via Apollo’s Magazine, which was answered, as was the general custom at the time, by a counter-challenge in the pages of the Sporting Times.  A Private P.W. Brocklehurst of the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, agreed to Maeda’s terms, noting that:

I will wrestle on the same conditions that (Maeda) offered Hewitt – that he forfeits £25 if he does not defeat within fifteen minutes. When will it be convenient to meet me the “Sporting Life” office to make a match?

A classified advertisement in the Sporting Life of 9 April, 1908, announced the Maeda would again be appearing on the same bill as Tani, this time in earnest competition rather than for display purposes.  Tani would be challenging a boxer known as “Young Joseph” to a jiujitsu vs. pugilism contest, while Maeda would take on Alf Hewitt, the English wrestler referred to by Private Brocklehurst, in a jiujitsu match.

As it happened, it was not Hewitt but rather Jack Madden who wrestled with Maeda on Saturday April 11th, and the result of their match does not seem to have been recorded.  The novelty of Tani’s contest with “Young Joseph”, however, did attract some notice from the press.

Shortly thereafter, Mitsuyo Maeda departed for Paris and then set off for Havana, then Mexico City, Cuba and finally Brazil, where his judo skills found much less jaded audiences.

La Savate vs. Boxing in London (The Sportsman, 26 March, 1904)

Given the traditional rivalries between France and England, it’s unsurprising that savate vs. boxing contests around the turn of the 20th century should have attracted considerable interest and generated considerably controversy. The infamous Charlemont vs. Driscoll match of October 19th, 1899 caused outrage among the English sporting press and public and very likely influenced E.W. Barton-Wright’s presentation of the Bartitsu curriculum.

The Charlemont/Driscoll contest had a belated and little-known sequel in late March of 1904, when Thomas “Pedlar” Palmer challenged Louis Anastasie to a public bout on stage at London’s Britannia Theatre:

Ju-Jitsu Girls Learning the Art of Burglar Scaring (Nottingham Evening Post, February 4 1930)

Above: Miss May Whitley demonstrates her jiujitsu self-defence against Budokwai member Charles Cawkell.  Cawkell, who was almost certainly trained by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani, later broke away from the Budokwai and helped to establish the Anglo-Japanese Judo Club in Notting Hill Gate.


Suddenly the man with the pistol his hand sprang at the diminutive, dark-eyed girl. She swayed back, twisted his arm upwards, and then, quick as thought, kicked him clean over head. With a deafening crash he fell full length on the floor. Yet it is all quite true. happened to-day the Budokwai, in Lower Grosvenor-place, London, where number of lithe-limbed maidens are studying the burglar-scaring art of ju-jitsu. On Friday they will take part in a display at the Stadium Club.

They wear picturesque, loose-fitting jackets, and occasionally came to warm their bare feet at the gas-fire. Round the gymnasium walls are quaint inscriptions in Japanese, such as: “you obey the right way you will have victory.” They can interpreted a moral or a muscular sense.

Crash! The dark-eyed girl (Miss Marjorie Ree) had disarmed the knife-flourisher, and floored him. “I am quite looking forward to the first time I am really attacked the dark,” Miss Ree confessed to a reporter. “No, I find no difficulty in throwing people twice my weight over my head. I have never had the luck to meet a burglar yet—though sometimes I leave my window cpen invitingly.”


Ju-jitsu is mental training as well as physical training. You have to think quickly. Wallop! A demure-faced girl, with coils of fair hair down her back, had just been thinking a little more quickly than her opponent. “Doing that is all a question of balance,” said Miss Ree, approvingly. “The first thing is to learn how to fall without hurting ourselves. When I had learnt that I fell downstairs on purpose, just to see how painless it was, but, unfortunately, they had not padded the stairs like they have this gymnasium floor. All the same, you can fall properly you will not break any bones, and even you were knocked over by a bus the ability to break the fall would probably useful.”

In another corner, an instructor was gripping a young woman by the hair, and telling her how to free herself, while a tall girl was learning how to make a bag-snatcher write in instantaneous repentance.


Such mysteries as the shoulder-push, wrist-grip, arm-hold, and upper-cut were being explained by Professor Yukio Tani, the instructor. “Some throws would kill a man if practiced on him in the street,” said another pupil. “But the mental effect of learning ju-jitsu is to make man or woman much calmer, steadier, and anxious to avoid trouble at all costs. The more a man knows how dangerous he may become, the less likely is to abuse his power.”

Sadly, in 1937 Yukio Tani suffered a debilitating stroke, but he continued to teach from the sidelines of the Budokwai mats until his death in January of 1950.

“No Man Shall Protect Us”: Crowdfunding a Suffrajitsu Documentary

I am here tonight in spite of armies of police.  I am here tonight and not a man is going to protect me, because this is a woman’s fight, and we are going to protect ourselves!  I challenge the government to re-arrest me!

  • Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst

Crowdfunding now via Kickstarter, the documentary No Man Shall Protect Us tells the true story of the secret Bodyguard Society of martial arts-trained women who protected the radical suffragettes circa 1913/14.

The production will make use of rare archival media, narration and theatrical re-enactments, featuring actors playing Emmeline Pankhurst, Canadian Bodyguard leader Gert Harding and jiujitsu trainer Edith Garrud among other notables.

No Man Shall Protect Us will be co-produced by Bartitsu instructor Tony Wolf, the author of Edith Garrud: The Suffragette Who Knew Jujutsu (2008) and the graphic novel trilogy Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons (2015).  Pending a successful funding campaign, production will begin in January of 2018; the completed documentary will later be made freely available online.

Watch this space for updates on No Man Shall Protect Us!

The Athletic Jagendorfer (1905)

According to a report in the Birmingham Daily Gazette of 12 October, 1905, the celebrated wrestler, strongman and club-swinging champion Georg Jagendorfer would shortly begin instructing the Viennese police in the gentle art of jiujitsu.  Jagendorfer, the article noted, had been studying the system with several Japanese experts and had also “discovered several original tricks by which it has been widened in scope”.

Jagendorfer poses with a truly impressive array of Indian clubs and sledgehammers.

Given that Jagendorfer weighed in at a respectable 277 pounds, it’s slightly surprising that he felt any urgent need to pursue jiujitsu training.  It’s also tempting to speculate about what might have happened if Jagendorfer had challenged fellow strongman (and Yukio Tani’s erstwhile manager) William “Apollo” Bankier to a jiujitsu contest.  A match between those two heavyweights, each one attempting to win by yielding to the other’s strength, would have made a diverting spectacle.


Boxing as Street Defence Cartoons (La Petit Journal, 12 September, 1925)

A gallery of cartoons from “L’Art de se Defendre dans la Rue si l’on est Attaque par les Apaches”, an article written by French bantamweight boxing champion Charles Ledoux.  The gist of M. Ledoux’s argument was that the sport of boxing, if practiced diligently and with serious intent, was adequate for most exigencies of street self-defence.

Left: The defender’s cane knocks the Apache’s navaja knife from his hand, while the defender lays in a right hook. Right: “Stand, if you can, with your back to the wall.”
Left: Never underestimate the value of a solid left to the nose … Right: … nor to the body, though a helping of luck also goes a long way.

Demolition Derby: A Short History of the Weaponised Bowler Hat

Given that we have already outlined the histories of the weaponised umbrella and hat-pin and have tested the historicity and practicality of the razor-blade cap, it seems fitting to now consider the bowler hat-as-weapon in both fact and fiction.

Perhaps surprisingly, the original bowler hat may have been designed with self-defence somewhat in mind. In 1849, London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler received a commission to create a new type of hat for gamekeepers working on the estate of Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester. Previously, Coke’s gamekeepers had worn top hats, which were inclined to get knocked off by low-hanging branches, and so the bowler was designed to fit snugly to the head.

Another consideration, however, was that the gamekeepers needed some protection against unexpected club-blows to the head delivered by stealthy poachers, so the hats were made from hard felt and built to take a knock.

Plug Uglies as represented in Martin Scorcese’s movie Gangs of New York (2002).

The new style quickly became very popular among the working classes and was also adopted by members of the Plug Uglies street gang, who were rumoured to stuff their bowlers with scraps of wool cloth, felt and leather for extra protection in street fights.

By the turn of the 20th century, the bowler had become popular among middle-class men.  Simultaneously, self-defence authorities began to explore the offensive, as well as defensive, possibilities of the bowler hat. Writing in La Vie au Grand Air of December 8, 1906, Jean Joseph Renaud warned his readers to beware of a “classic trick” employed by “Apache” muggers, who would courteously tip their bowlers while asking for a light for their cigars, only to convert the hat-tip into a surprise attack.

By smacking the innocent party in the face with his hat, the Apache received an instant advantage of initiative, which might then be followed up by grasping the stunned victim around both thighs and head-butting him in the stomach, spilling him backwards onto the pavement.

In L’Art de se Defendre dans la Rue, Emile Andre borrowed a trick from the Apaches, advising readers to use their own bowler hats as surprise weapons. He also recommended the bowler as an improvised hand-held shield if confronted by an attacker wielding a knife, dagger, truncheon or cane, a defensive specialty that may well have been inspired by the Spanish Manual del Baratero (1849). Andre also refers to using the hat to “beat” or strike at an opponents’ weapon, so as to disarm them.

In The Cane as a Weapon (1912), Andrew Chase Cunningham echoed Andre’s advice in recommending the hat as an improvised weapon of both offence and defence:

In case of an assailant with a knife, a very valuable guard can be made by holding the hat in the left hand by the brim. It should be firmly grasped at the side, and can be removed from the head in one motion. The hat can then be used to catch a blow from the knife, and before it can be repeated, it should be possible to deal an effective blow or jab with the cane.

In case of an attack with a pistol, a chance may occur to shy the hat into the opponent’s face and thus secure a chance to strike with the cane.

The use of the hat as a guard is, of course, not confined to the knife, but it may be used against any weapon. The only disadvantage is that it prevents passing the cane from hand to hand.

As bowler hats gradually fell out of fashion during the first half of the 20th century, so did sources treating them as weapons. By the late 1950s the idea seemed positively exotic, which may have been why it appealed to Ian Fleming in arming Oddjob, the fearsome Korean henchman featured in the James Bond novel Goldfinger (1959).

Following Oddjob’s spectacular karate demonstration, Bond asks Goldfinger why his bodyguard always wears a bowler hat:

Oddjob turned and walked stolidly back towards them. When he was half way across the floor, and without pausing or taking aim, he reached up to his hat, took it by the rim and flung it sideways with all his force. There was a loud clang. For an instant the rim of the bowler hat stuck an inch deep in the panel Goldfinger had indicated, then it fell and clattered on the floor.

Goldfinger smiled politely at Bond. ‘A light but very strong alloy, Mr Bond. I fear that will have damaged the felt covering, but Oddjob will put on another. He’s surprisingly quick with a needle and thread. As you can imagine, that blow would have smashed a man’s skull or half severed his neck. A homely and a most ingeniously concealed weapon, I’m sure you’ll agree.’

‘Yes, indeed.’ Bond smiled with equal politeness. ‘Useful chap to have around.’

As played by professional wrestler Harold Sakata in the 1964 film adaptation, Oddjob actually wore and wielded a Sandringham hat rather than a bowler, but that minor change didn’t seem to affect his aim:

The enormous popular success of the Goldfinger movie also served to reintroduce the idea of the bowler hat-as-weapon into pop-culture, perhaps most notably as used by the dapper British secret agent John Steed (Patrick MacNee) of The Avengers TV series.  Steed’s primary weapon was always his reinforced umbrella, but he was occasionally seen to use his (presumably also reinforced) bowler hat to execute a surprise disarm or knock-out blow, accompanied by a hollow, metallic “bonk!” sound effect.

The very picture of suave courtesy (but do watch out for that bowler …)

“A Jiu-Jitsu Battle Royale in Paris”: Tani vs. Higashi (1905)

Above: Katsukuma Higashi (left) and Yukio Tani.

The following two accounts offer a fairly complete record of the controversial 29 November, 1905 jiujitsu match between former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Tsutsumi Hōzan-ryū stylist Katsukuma Higashi. Taking place in Paris shortly after the famous jiujitsu vs. savate contest between “Re-Nie” (Ernest Regnier) and Georges Dubois, the Tani/Higashi match ended in a near-riot, leading to talk of French authorities banning similar contests in the future.

Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) – 2nd December 1905

Sporting Life – 6th December 1905

“How Sir Hiram Maxim Met the Hooligan” (St James’s Gazette, 24 June 1902)

In which the estimable inventor Hiram Maxim, best-remembered today for devising the world’s first portable machine gun, tells of how he fended off a London hooligan with his fists and trusty umbrella.

Sir Hiram S. Maxim, who says he has had three encounters with hooligans, writes to say that when walking from Southfields Station to attend a garden party at Wimbledon on Saturday afternoon last, he was struck several times with a ball flung by boys. Lady Maxim took the ball, and Sir Hiram later returned it to the boys.

“I thought no more of the matter” (says Sir Hiram) “until I saw a large and powerful man come running after us. He approached me, exclaiming something about “boys and cad,” which I didn’t exactly understand, and at once made a rush at me, aiming a very heavy blow at my face.

Fortunately I had, in my younger days, been a good boxer, and I warded off his blow, at the same time giving him a sharp blow across the face with a strong and closely-folded umbrella that I happened to have in my right hand.

He made several more rushes, each time only to receive a stinging blow in the face. Although I had successfully warded off all his mad rushes, and he had not succeeded in touching me, still I was soon very short of breath, and thought of what the doctor had said.

At this time he was standing some 12 feet away, and then gathering himself together, he made one more desperate lunge. This time I brought my umbrella to the charge as soldier does his gun, and summoning all my remaining strength I gave him a powerful thrust in the pit of his stomach. The umbrella, which had stood the racket up to this point, collapsed, the staff being broken in three pieces and the frame smashed, but it knocked the wind out of the ruffian, and I left him doubled and trying to get his breath.

In looking over the wreck of the umbrella I find that the tip of it is gone, and Lady Maxim suggests that the man may have carried it off, and that there is still a possibility of my being arrested for manslaughter!”

Sir Hiram says he has been told that, as a good citizen, he ought to report to the police, but Lady Maxim says the man has received quite punishment enough.

“What ought I to do?”