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.


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 …)

“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?”

John Steed’s Umbrella-Fu

Secret agent John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) wields a mean brolly in this training sequence from The Avengers (1998). Steed’s impeccable umbrella-fu was probably the most entertaining part of the movie, which bombed at the box office.

See here for further information on Steed’s weaponised umbrella as featured in the classic Avengers TV series, starring Patrick Macnee.

The Story of the Jujitsuffragettes, Courtesy of “Drunk History UK”

In these excerpts from a recent episode of “Drunk History UK”, inebriated comedienne Luisa Omielan attempts to relate the history of the jujitsu-trained suffragette Bodyguard team:

Bonus points for the casting of actress and real-life suffragette history enthusiast Jessica Hynes as WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Ms. Omielan also struggled valiantly to recall the name of suffragette jujitsu trainer Edith Garrud, finally settling on “Gertrude” before being gently corrected by an off-screen colleague. She was probably confused by the similarity of names between Garrud and Gertrude Harding, who was, in fact, the main organiser of Mrs. Pankhurst’s security vanguard.

The episode also included a semi-accurate re-enactment of a confrontation between the Bodyguard and the police during one of Mrs. Pankhurst’s public rallies in Camden Square:

The Aerial Wrestling Girls (1905)

By 1905 the novelty of mixed-style wrestling matches was beginning to wear thin for London music hall audiences, so some creative developments were deemed to be in order. Thus, the invention of “aerial wrestling” by some unknown hero of lateral thinking.

The rules of the new sport were simple enough.  Two teams of six female athletes each – at least notionally representing England and the United States, respectively – were to compete in a contest of agility and endurance upon a unique and curious piece of gymnastic equipment.  The “Ladies’ Aerial Wrestling Apparatus” consisted of twelve long poles, suspended vertically from a ladder-like arrangement that was secured high above the stage.  Each pole was studded with a series of three small round wooden platforms, spaced about 3 feet apart, which could be used as (somewhat precarious) hand- and foot-holds.

At the referee’s signal, there commenced a free-for-all scramble to claim the greatest possible height on a pole, at which point the object of the game was to “wrestle” members of the opposing team off their poles.  The favoured and most common technique was to swing one’s legs up and capture the opponent’s head and shoulders in a type of scissor hold, at which stage one could endeavour to force them to slide down and off their pole through sheer body weight.  However, the pole-wrestler caught by the scissor grip might be able to break the hold and escape by swinging to an adjacent pole.

Occasionally, two opposing pole-wrestlers would fall together – one hopes that the stage below was well-padded.  The most exciting scenario, according to one reporter, occurred when a single, agile wrestler who was the last woman of her team to remain undefeated was pursued by several members of the opposing team and still managed to win the day.  Some Aerial Wrestling matches reportedly lasted from fifteen to twenty minutes.

Billed variously as being managed by “Madame Roma”,  “Madame Kotka” and “Madame Denny”, the Aerial Wrestling Girls enjoyed a period of success during 1905, touring the various London music halls and then venturing further afield to the Oxford Town Hall and other provincial venues.  One of them also made the newspapers for reportedly using her wrestling skills in fending off the attentions of an unwelcome admirer,  as recorded in the Derry Journal of 13 September, 1905:


“The Gentle Art of Self-Defence” – a Bartitsu parody

Here follows a biting satire of E.W. Barton-Wright’s first “New Art of Self Defence” article for Pearson’s Magazine.  “The Gentle Art of Self-Defence” was published in the March, 1899 edition of William Dunkerley’s To-Day Magazine:

ONE of the monthly magazines which has been with us for a little time has in its current issue published an article on the “New Art of Self-Defence.”

Practical trial by the writer of the series, which To-DAY now starts, has shown that it is possible for the exponent of the “New Art of Self-Defence” to do everything which he claims his art enables him to do, provided he can always find an opponent who will be good enough to use only one arm in attack or defence, and who will otherwise be amenable to the wishes of the exponent, and do nothing but what the system arranges that he shall do. The article published below, and those to follow, will show how far this system of self-defence will go, and what can be done with an opponent who has properly studied the “New Art of Self Defence,” and is determined to depart in no way from the lines laid down therein.

I am no relation of de Rougemont, but I have learned from him that the up-to-date editor always looks coldly upon that which is probable, commonplace, or easy of explanation; therefore with the view of getting the said editor to use his organ as the medium of supporting me, and placing my writings in the hands of the public, I have prepared a series of articles on Self-Defence, which deal entirely with carefully thought out improbabilities, which are by no means easy of explanation, and which I may at once state I don’t propose to explain.

My first interview with the editor, who accepted this series, will give some inkling of the methods of my system of self-defence.

I had sent up my card and, as I expected, the editor, not knowing me, told the messenger to say he was out. I was prepared for this, and had taken the precaution of following the messenger into the room.

I heard the editor’s statement, which he made without looking up.

“That remark, sir,” said I, “is a d-d lie” I reckoned on the man’s temper, and knew that I would immediately have an opportunity of exhibiting my art of self-defence, and so get right to the core of my business at once.

I was not wrong in my calculations. He replied with a heavy metal ink-pot; I countered with the messenger, who received it full in the forehead. The ink-pot made a nasty hole in his head, and his face was splashed with ink. I would have wiped away the ink, but found that he was dead, so it did not matter.

“That,” said I to the Editor, “brings us to business.”

“Your business?” he queried, as he hurled a solid ebony ruler at my head.

“Self-defence, a new system,” I replied, and I swung him in front of me with such lightning speed that he warded off the ruler. It caught him in the wind, but he recovered in about half an hour.

I waited for him to speak, or to make some move. He seated himself, and pressed a button in his desk. A bell rang without, and another messenger entered.

“Put that in the waste paper basket”—he pointed to the corpse—“and fill my ink-pot.”

I took a seat while his instructions were being carried out, and when the messenger had retired we discussed my business, and came to terms.

Before I give any particulars (I refuse explanations) of my art of self-defence, perhaps it will not be amiss to make a few introductory remarks as to the general conception of self-defence.

In foreign countries, when a foreigner fights, he has only one goal, and that is to get the better of his adversary, and any means is considered justifiable to obtain this end. Of course his idea of honour differs from ours, so that, whereas with us Nature’s weapons are considered the only honourable method of settling a dispute, a foreigner will not hesitate to use a wardrobe, a beer barrel, a knife and fork, or, in fact, anything that comes handy. It is to meet eventualities of this kind that my system has been devised. The general principles may be thus summed up. (1) To get an opponent whom you can trust to do as you wish; (2) to surprise your opponent by the strangeness of your movement, and their infinite variety.

Some of the feats which 1 shall now describe may, perhaps, seem difficult, but if my instructions are carefully followed, and everything requisite is kept conveniently at hand, I feel sure that steady practice will make them quite easy of performance.

Feat No. 1. I will suppose now that you are walking along a silent street at night and you are attacked by a man with a knife and fork. It is always well at night to wear your overcoat hung on your shoulders without passing your arms through the sleeves. This will facilitate the mode of defence needed for the knife and fork attack.

When the man approaches you throw off your coat and give it to him, mention that you will return, and hurry off to the nearest butcher’s shop. (If all the shops are closed, have no compunction in knocking up a butcher, seize the toughest steak you can find and return to the scene of action.)

If the man is gone, you have lost your overcoat, but your defence has been successful, and you are a steak, albeit a tough one, to the good.

If the ruffian is still there, approach him swiftly and impale the steak on his fork. While he is wrestling with the steak, take hold of him by the right leg, jerk it quickly forward, push your head into the pit of his stomach and he will lie down. Then you can recover the steak and your overcoat, and if you feel so inclined you will be able to take the knife and fork and any valuables he may have.

This feat needs only a little practice to be always successful.

Feat No. 2. Here is an excellent method of forcing an undesirable person to leave a room. Say, for instance, he is a big man and overawes the policeman you may feel it necessary to call in, the best thing to do then is to immediately hire or buy a windlass, have it firmly fixed somewhere outside the room, test the chain, procure a padlock with a Yale lock and then enter the room again with the end of the chain and the padlock held in the left hand, which it will be as well to conceal behind your back.

Walk straight up to the undesirable person, seize him by the left leg, bring forward your chain, and, without telling him what you are going to do, lock the chain carefully round his ankle. Return then without loss of time to the windlass, turn the handle quickly but firmly, and in a very short time the undesirable person will leave the room. While performing this feat it will be well to keep so far out of your opponent’s reach as to make it impossible for him to hit you or retaliate in any way.

In case any one should fight shy of the practical use of this trick, it may be added that the person thus treated would, should he resist the action of the chain, feel such pain as to compel him to submit meekly long before any serious injury could be done to him.

It will not be necessary to impress upon the reader the importance of knowing how any undesirable person may be promptly ejected from a room. Thousands of cases have occurred in which a knowledge of this method would have been of inestimable service. No one could resist the treatment I have suggested, as the reader will be able to understand for himself by testing it on his friends.