“The Ballad of Tarro Myake” (1905)

The following poetic tribute to the skill of jiujitsuka Taro Miyake was first published in Punch Magazine of June 7, 1905.  Miyake’s name was frequently rendered as “Tarro Myake” by Edwardian journalists.


(After Tennyson’s “Ballad of Oriana.”)

You challenged one and all to fight,
I took your challenge up one night,
They advertised it left and right,
Thousands appeared to see the sight,
My prospects were considered bright,

A model I of manly grace,
Yours seemed a pretty hopeless case,
Awhile we danced around the place,
Then closed and struggled for a space,
And you were down upon your face,

Oh, I would make you give me best,
A thrill of pride inspired my breast,
Then you were sitting on my chest,
Your knee into my gullet pressed,
Was this the way to treat a guest,

You’ve got me by the neck, and oh,
There is no rest for me below,
You’re right upon my wind, you know ;
I’m suffocating fast, and so,
You’ve beaten me; now let me go,

O breaking neck that will not break
O yellow face so calm and sleek,
Thou smilest, but thou dost not speak;
I seem to have waited here a week,
What wantest thou? What sign dost seek,

What magic word your victim frees,
What puts the captive at his ease,
‘Touché,” “Enough,” or “If you please,’
I keep on trying you with these,
Alas! I have no Japanese,

I am not feeling very well,
(They should have stopped it when you fell,
Oh, how is it you cannot tell
I am not feeling very well,
What is the Japanese for “H-l”

The blood is rushing to my head,
Think kindly of me when I’m dead,
What was it that your trainer said –
“Pat twice upon the ground instead!”
There . . there . . now help me into bed,

Somewhere beside the Southern sea,
I walk, I dare not think of thee,
All other necks I leave to thee,
My own’s as stiff as stiff can be,
My collar’s one by twenty-three,

“How to Carry a Walking-Stick” (1889)

Words of warning from the Pall Mall Gazette of 2 September, 1889:

THE art of carrying a walking-stick, or even an umbrella, properly, is one that has to be acquired, and does not come by any intuitive sense to the majority of people. To carry a stick in a manner that will not only look graceful, but without danger and annoyance to others, requires both thought and practice.

The primary use of a walking-stick, we may take for granted, is to give assistance in walking, or as a means of assisting our locomotion, and not to poke our neighbour’s eye out, or do other grievous bodily harm. The evolution and development of the modern walking-stick is an interesting subject in itself, but into which we must not digress, beginning with the good old times when the quarterstaff was carried for the purpose of defence, down to the beau’s tasselled cane, and from the “crutch” of the more modern masher, down to the later “tree-trunk” or “clothes-prop” period.

Certainly we have sadly degenerated since the days of Brummel, when every dandy used and carried his walking-cane with as much grace as a lady manipulated her fan. Now, as a rule, it is a mere thing of fashion, being oftener carried for ornament than practical use; but that it is undoubtedly a considerable source of danger, the cause of numerous accidents in the crowded streets of our large cities, mostly due to the thoughtless way in which it is carried, is a matter to which public attention should be drawn.

Having had a front tooth knocked out, and been severely prodded about various parts of the body, we can speak from painful experience as to this danger in our midst. The first of these modern nuisances is the man who carries a gigantic stick with a formidable knob or projection at one end. He usually carries this article by grasping it in the centre, in a horizontal position, and naturally swings his arm backwards and forwards as he walks. He may be unconscious that he forms a sort of perambulating battering ram, but woe betide the individual who may unknowingly approach too near him from behind.

Another man thinks proper to carry his stick under his arm in a similar position, projecting about two or three feet out at the back. Beware of him. If he should happen to stop suddenly, or turn to look into a shop window, as we have often seen him do, he kindly upsets the equilibrium of your hat, or you narrowly escape having your eye cut out; and we may remark in passing, a “Beg pardon ” won’t restore sight to a “blind optic.”

Who has not come across those people who will gesticulate and point at various objects, emphasizing their remarks with their walking-stick or umbrella, to the imminent danger of those in their vicinity; and it is extraordinary to what extent this habit is carried. It was formerly thought peculiar to the Briton, but he is gradually being educated or growing out of it; and the very necessary precautions the custodians of our art galleries were formerly obliged to make, in taking charge of walking sticks and umbrellas, before admitting such visitors, are gradually being relaxed. It is quite impossible for these people to inspect any object, from a valuable picture to a ‘bus conductor, without poking or prodding at it.

We must not forget to mention the man, probably of buoyant spirits, whom you may notice walking on his stick in a proper and sedate manner, suddenly commences swinging it round and round like a wheel, describing circles with the greatest velocity, to the risk of any unconscious person who may be close behind.

On the flights of steps running up from our undergound railway stations, the walking-stick demon is very much in evidence (what a pity Mr. Gilbert didn’t “have him on his list”); with his stick thrust under his arm, he is a frightful source of danger to women and children. Notice how he will perform progressive gyrations up the flight of steps, dodging from one side to the other, in order to get up quickly; and when he is suddenly brought to a standstill by a block in front, those who are behind him run the risk of having their front teeth knocked down their throat, or other serious injury.

We must confess the male sex are usually the greatest delinquents, although the ladies are not always faultless. How many long-suffering creatures of the male sex have not been prodded on the toe, or had the lower part of the trousers marked and torn, when walking beside a lady, who is carrying one of those atrocious long-sticked sunshades or parasols, and all owing to the manner in which it is carried. Then the lady who rushes blindly down the street during a shower of rain, with umbrella unfurled and lowered to the charge, is a thing of absolute danger, and should be avoided as a mad bull; especially if you happen to be of somewhat corpulent proportions and not very agile. She makes straight for you, and the result of such a collision is decidedly unpleasant.

Now, as to the carrying of a stick or umbrella from an artistic or graceful point of view very little can be said, as neither of those articles can be called artistic objects in themselves. Perhaps the most natural and easy mode is either to use it as an aid to walk with, as the walking-stick was intended to be, or, if carried, it should be held in a sloping position, with the handle lowered towards the ground. In adopting either of these positions we shall not prove a source of danger to others. If every one would only give a little thought to this matter, it would prevent many accidents which occur daily, and do away with an increasing danger which besets our crowded streets and thoroughfares.

“Hot, towzled, and flabbergasted” (1901)

An amusing account of a Bartitsu challenge contest from the Sporting Times of 7 September, 1901:

Amongst those who went on the stage the Tivoli the other evening to try a fall with the ’Jitsu Japs was certain well-dressed but notoriously impecunious actor. His turn-out was, truly, within a few curves of the immaculate; but—heigho! By the time Uyenishi of Osaka and Tani of Tokio had had their arms round his neck and their knees in his waistcoat, he was Rumpled Robin at 5st 7lb.

Hot, towzled, and flabbergasted, and with his upper garments in a bunch about his shoulders, he stood by the footlights and felt for his eyeglass.

“Will you try again, sir?” asked Barton-Wright, bringing Uyenishi forward.

“For Gawd’s sake don’t, Jack,” cried a seemingly friendly voice from the unreserved fatoils; “if Mo Angel could see those clothes now he’d cancel yet hire-agreement for ever!”

Then Jack retired discreetly; for, be it added, the fine old backsliding potentates of Scripture History are not the only ones who “rent” their garments. There are others.

Sunday in Jurassic Park with George

Jurassic HEMA

BWAHAHAHA, The Lonin Victorian Group, takes its commitment to historical accuracy very seriously, as this short instructional film demonstrates. Join us for Victorian martial arts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays!

Geplaatst door Lonin League op donderdag 13 april 2017

The Mysteries of the Embok Kwai (1900-1902)

… he was initiated into the Order of the Embok Kwai, the sole purpose of which is to teach, perpetuate and protect the secrets of jiu-jitsu.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1st June 1902

Although misfortunes had punctuated E.W. Barton-Wright’s early efforts to establish Bartitsu in London, his lectures and demonstrations had successfully conjured a general curiousity about the Japanese martial arts. By the time his three Japanese “champions” stepped off the steamer in September of the year 1900, the British press and public were eager to witness jiujitsu as performed in earnest and by experts.

After a short series of academic displays, the stage was set for their grand debut at the Alhambra music hall, which was scheduled for the last week of October.  At the eleventh hour, however, misfortune struck again, as the two most senior jiujitsuka – Kaneo Tani and Seizo Yamamoto – abruptly refused to take part.  This decision left their eager would-be audiences disappointed and confused, also causing no small amount of public embarrassment to Barton-Wright and Alhambra manager C. Dundas Slater.

Primed by over a year’s worth of Barton-Wright’s hinting about the wizardry of Japanese close-combat, London’s sporting journalists succumbed to a fever of speculation as to why the promised show had not taken place.  Barton-Wright was prevailed upon to explain, and so he did, to the effect that the jiujitsu men belonged to a society whose code of honour forbade the public performance of their art for commercial gain.

Barton-Wright insisted that he had instructed his agent in Japan to explain his expectations to the jiujitsuka before they set sail, but apparently the agent had not done so.  The two senior wrestlers had, therefore, not realised what a London music hall performance would entail until they’d arrived at the Alhambra.

Worse still, they had now decided to leave England altogether.  The only silver lining was that the youngest wrestler – 19 year old Yukio Tani, Kaneo’s kid brother – had confirmed that he’d be happy to remain and to compete on the stage as required.  The promised display, therefore, would have to be delayed again until a suitably skilled and amenable sparring partner could be imported from the Land of the Rising Sun.

This was the “official” story as published in various newspapers.  An anonymous journalist from the London Daily Mail, however, had a slightly more colourful take on the situation.  His report included several unique details, most notably references to a mysterious organisation called the “Embok Kwai”:

So – what was this Embok Kwai?

The phrase is as meaningless in Japanese as it is in English, but to be fair, there was no standard system of spelling Japanese words via European alphabets circa 1900, so writers were left to do as best as they could with phonetics. The context, however, clearly indicates that the journalist believed Embok Kwai to be the name of the honour-bound martial arts society that Barton-Wright had alluded to.

It is known that Professor Jigoro Kano’s martial arts institute, the Kodokan – which may well have had some hand in choosing the Japanese fighters and in arranging their travel to England – disapproved of professionalism in sports.  A large part of Professor Kano’s mission was to refine traditional Japanese martial arts into a respectable, codified method of physical and spiritual education.  Although he would have had no direct experience of London music halls, it’s very unlikely that he would have considered the rowdy, rough-and-tumble Alhambra to be a suitable venue for jiujitsu contests.

There seems to be no record of Barton-Wright referring to Kano’s institute by any name during this period.  Allowing that he may have spoken it in passing, though, it’s possible that the Daily Mail reporter garbled “Kodokan” into “Embok Kwai”; similarly, several papers had rendered Kano’s first name as “Jiyataro” rather than “Jigoro” and mispellings of “Bartitsu” were very common. It’s also conceivable that Barton-Wright or one of the jiujitsuka had used the Japanese word embukai, which means a public demonstration – that word is still used to describe displays of jiujitsu and other martial arts – and that the journalist confused the meanings of two different terms.

A few months after the Daily Mail ran its Embok Kwai article, 20 year old Sadakazu Uyenishi arrived in London from Japan.  Together with Tani, Barton-Wright, savate and canne master Pierre Vigny and wrestler Armand Cherpillod, they put Bartitsu firmly on the cultural map, and thereafter no more was heard in England of Embok Kwai.

In the United States, on the other hand …

During April of 1901, an anonymous short story variously titled “Did He Kiss Her?” and “A Fight Over Catullus” was published in several American newspapers.  The tale concerns the escalating rivalry between two men – the studious Norton and the strenuous Sterling – who first come to blows as university students, over a disagreement about the affections of a young lady and (ostensibly) about the value of the writings of the Roman poet Catullus.

Over the course of the next five decades, Norton and Sterling obsessively train in increasingly diverse and exotic fighting skills in order to get the better of each other via a series of ferocious unarmed combats that take place whenever and wherever they meet.  Incidentally, if this premise sounds familiar, you may well be thinking of Ridley Scott’s 1977 cinematic masterpiece “The Duellists”, which was itself based on Joseph Conrad’s 1908 novel “The Duel: A Military Story”.  It’s tempting to speculate that Conrad may even have been inspired by the fictional rivalry between Norton and Sterling.

At one point we learn that Norton (by then a physician of some reknown as well as a highly trained and seasoned brawler) has ended up in “Yeddo” (Edo, i.e. Tokyo), Japan:

Clearly, the unknown author of “Did He Kiss Her?”/”A Fight Over Catullus” had chanced to read the London Daily Mail article from the previous year and incorporated the Embok Kwai motif into his story verbatim.

About a year later, during March of 1902, the short story received a second round of publications via US newspapers.  Very shortly thereafter, the Embok Kwai saga took another strange turn, this time involving none other than President Theodore Roosevelt:

We may never know how the Embok Kwai became embroidered into John J. O’Brien’s personal myth, though it’s entirely possible that a mischievous journalist or promoter may have simply decided to spice the story.  The best evidence is that O’Brien actually did learn jiujitsu from officers of the Nagasaki police force, but they most definitely weren’t members of the Embok Kwai Society, whose progression from garbled Japanese/English transliteration into outright fiction and then back into reported “truth” serves as an object lesson in misinformation.

In any case, O’Brien’s association with the President gained him some degree of notoriety via the newspapers, ensuring that the legend of the Embok Kwai would be passed down to the present generation.

What we may choose to do with it, only time can tell …

“How the East Entertains Us” (The Tatler, October 16, 1901)

If India has not charmed us histrionically, we have to thank Japan for Sada Yacco and several eastern countries for all sorts of entertaining varieties. The Japanese wrestlers now appearing at the Empire are not only illustrating Japanese arts of self-defence, but exhibit a scheme of self-defence designed by Mr. Barton-Wright, who presents and organised the performance. This defence is said to secure immunity from every form of attack to which the unsuspecting traveller in strange or familiar lands may be subjected.

Armed with the necessary knowledge he may go at his ease through streets where the Hooligan flourishes in the outskirts of London, through Montmartre and La Villette in Paris, through the Delicias of Madrid, and the slums where-from Rome looks out towards the Campagna and Stamboul sees the Golden Horn. Mr. Barton-Wright, himself a traveller in many lands, has picked up what he deemed best of every method of self-defence and worked his collection into a comprehensive system that he explains to members of his own club in Shaftesbury Avenue.

In Japan, whence the wrestlers now appearing at the Empire come, all the police are trained in the arts of self-defence and wrestling so that they can deal in short, sharp, effective manner with disturbers of the peace. I have seen a trained wrestler, who knows all that the West of England can teach him, a man standing six feet and two or three inches in his stockings and muscular as Goliath of Gath, floored by a little Japanese instructor of police who came up to his chest. The big man had no chance.

Mr. Barton Wright’s scheme of defence provides against an attack by a man with a knife, and the only way to get rid of a master of the scheme is to shoot him at long range with a rifle. I don’t think the system protects him against that. For the rest, it is an ingenious and genuine method and comes at a fortunate hour when people want to improve their physique.

“Why not invent an English art of Ju-jitsu?” (1905)

The following anonymous letter to the editor was originally published in the St. James’s Gazette of March 9th, 1905.

Sir, —Jujitsu seems to be the fashionable graven image of the moment before which the whole athletic world is bowing down. English wrestling is abasing itself before this foreign god nightly at the Lyceum Theatre, where the best of our English wrestlers are being used for dusting scenery and wiping the floor.

Is it, or is it not, a fact, that all the holds and tricks which the Ju-jitsu experts beat our wrestlers, and compel them to hammer the floor in agonised token of defeat, should properly be called “fouls”? English wrestling knows nothing of these tricks; but it is not hard to imagine that English wrestlers could invent a few that would have the same effect on Japanese wrestlers as Ju-jitsu has on English experts.

The Jap gets a twist on the Englishman’s arm of a sort that gives intense pain, and would result in a fracture if the victim did not at once give in. Why not invent an English art of Ju-jitsu which might include such holds as, say, seizing the opponent’s ear in the teeth, or thrusting the fist in his mouth and retaining it there; sitting firmly on the face, or pressing tightly on the wind-pipe with the knee? A little imagination will supply no end of victory-compelling holds.

I don’t know, but a sort of patriotic pride makes me wonder how the Ju-jitsu experts would shine in a wrestling contest according to English rules— all “fouls,” English or foreign, barred.

Defence a la Walking Stick (The Tatler, December 4 1901)

The president of the Bartitsu Club (that most interesting school of self-defence in all its forms, which is located in Shaftesbury Avenue) has taken up the cudgels in favour of Professor Vigny, who teaches the beautiful and useful mysteries of la canne, or walking-stick, defence and la savate at the club in question.

Professor Vigny has already challenged his Parisian rival, Professor Charlemont, several times but without result. Charlemont refuses to fight anywhere but in Paris, no doubt not wishing to add the horrors of a Channel crossing to the possibilities of defeat.

Mr. Barton-Wright, the president and founder of the Bartitsu Club, has now thrown down the glove for Vigny and challenges Charlemont in his name to an encounter of la boxe francaise (a combination of English boxing and savate for the title of world’s champion and the stakes he may choose to name, the match to take place either in England or in some neutral country.

It would be an extremely interesting event could it be brought off but it is thought probable that Charlemont will still prefer his role of “masterly inactivity.” One is irresistibly reminded of the lions in Bombastes Furioso: “And the last lion thought the first a Bore!”

“Self-Defence with a Bicycle” video from the 2017 Dreynevent

A humourous and enlightening demonstration of Self-Defence with a Bicycle, animating the lessons of Marcus Tindal’s eccentric 1901 Pearson’s Magazine article. The demo took place at the recent Dreynevent historical European martial arts workshops in Vienna.