A spectacular jiujitsu moment from the popular 1917 comedy play Wanted, A Husband, in which the protagonist, a young writer named Mabel, mischievously advertises for a husband to spark ideas for her new novel. Mabel’s “strenuous” friend Maud, who is well-versed in boxing and in Japanese wrestling, volunteers to serve as a “chucker-out” – effectively, a bouncer – and has occasion to tie one over-eager “Colonial” suitor into a pretzel.
The use of weighted scarves as improvised and concealed weapons has a pedigree extending at least as far back as the early 19th century, when members of the Indian Thugee and Phansigari cults infamously employed their rumāl scarves to strangle their victims. A heavy coin knotted into the end of the rumāl allowed Thug assassins to swiftly and silently “noose” their prey from behind. This weapon and technique was elaborated by the French popular novelist Eugène Sue, who detailed the art of Thuggee strangulation in his 1884/5 series The Wandering Jew:
(The Strangler) then took a long and thin cord which was encircled round his waist, at one of the extremities of which was a ball of lead, in shape and size like an egg. After having tied the other end of this string round his right wrist, the Strangler again listened, and then disappeared, groping his way along the tall grass in the direction of the Indian, who came on slowly, singing his plaintive and gentle ditty.
At this instant, the sinister visage of the Strangler arose before him; he heard a whistling like that of a sling, and then felt a cord, thrown with equal swiftness and power, encircle his neck with a triple fold, and, at the same moment, the lead with which it was loaded struck him violently on the back of his head.
The assault was so sudden and unexpected, that Djalma’s attendant could not utter one cry — one groan.
He staggered — the Strangler gave a violent twist to his cord — the dark visage of the slave became a black purple, and he fell on his knees, tossing his arms wildly in the air.
The Strangler turned him over, and twisted his cord so violently that the blood rushed through the skin. The victim made a few convulsive struggles, and all was over.
Although the strangler cults were successfully suppressed, the notion of robbers making use of elaborately deceptive tactics – particularly involving strangulation techniques – made its way into the emerging urban folklore of European cities, as in during the “garroting panics” of 1850s and ’60s London. A very similar tactic was employed by Parisian Apache muggers during the early 20th century, as in the notorious coup du pere Francois trick.
Famed “baritsu” practitioner Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) wields an adaptation of the Indian rumāl in the 1979 movie Murder by Decree, which pits Holmes against the arch-fiend Jack the Ripper.
In one scene set in Holmes’ lab, Dr. John Watson (James Mason) advises his comrade to arm himself, and offers Holmes a revolver – but Holmes demonstrates that he is, in fact, already armed, by smashing through a large glass beaker with a roll of coins concealed in a hidden pocket in his long scarf. Holmes then begins to explain the weapon’s origin, but Watson remarks that he already knows about the rumāl from his time serving as an Army doctor in India.
The climactic fight scene represents what may well be the only combat scarf vs. sword-cane encounter in the annals of cinema:
In 2010, American martial artist Jason Gibbs released the BattleScarf – essentially a standard scarf with pockets, but accompanied by a DVD illustrating how to use it as a striking and entangling weapon. Here’s a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) promotional clip, demonstrating the serious striking power that can be generated by this type of weapon under ideal circumstances:
Although the BattleScarf per se is no longer available, winter scarves with pockets at the ends are easily obtained from clothing stores and may be worth the consideration of modern urban adventurers.
The French painter and cartoonist Marius Rossillon (1867-1946), under the pseudonym “O’Galop”, invents a bizarre new hybrid combat sport in this 1895 sketch series, which originally appeared in Le Rire.
“Velo-Boxe” appears to have been a satrical comment on state of the French honour duel during the very late 19th century. With both the law and social sentiment steering sharply away from the tradition of life-risking duels, aggrieved parties who wanted to settled their differences physically developed some creative alternatives. However, as the artist points out, honour can only be satisfied physically at a physical cost – the implicit question being, is it worth it?
Rosillon was also, not incidentally, the creator of the “Michelin Man” character, here illustrated delivering the Coup de la Semelle Michelin (“The Kick of the Michelin Tread”) in a 1905 advertising poster:
Even by September of 1901, with the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue well-established and Bartitsu itself the subject of much media attention, E.W. Barton-Wright suffered ongoing frustrations in persuading European wrestlers to take on his Japanese champions. This article from the Morning Post of September 19th records how one would-be challenge match was called off at the last possible moment.
Mr. Barton-Wright’s “Another way of breaking the same fall” was the first thing one heard last night on entering the Tivoli. One might have thought, to look at it, that it was another way of breaking the same bone. An enormous audience had assembled to see a Russian light-weight wrestler try conclusions with one of Mr. Barton-Wright’s Japanese exponents of Bartitsu.
However, no collision between Russia and Japan was forthcoming on this occasion. Mr. Barton-Wright informed the audience that the challenger was in the house, was indeed in the wings, but had thought better his challenge. This led to some interruption: there were clearly two parties in the house. Mr. Barton-Wright proceeded say that had vainly offered the challenger £lOO, not by way of wager but as a gift, if he scored a single throw.
Then, after more interruption, Mr. Dowsett, the manager, came forward and confirmed Mr. Barton-Wright’s statement. £lOO had been deposited with him; he had Mr. Barton- Wright’s bank-note in his pocket.
And so the exhibition ran its usual course. One cannot blame anybody for keeping out the clutches of the Japanese wrestlers, whose art includes much that in England, and probably Russia, is looked on as foul play. But one should think of that before issuing a challenge, and not at the last moment, when others have gone to inconvenience in order to see the promise kept. In any case, the challenger might have responded to the cry, “Let’s see him” by endeavouring to hold the Japanese wrestler down.
It seems that the Japanese are to find no opponents, unless, indeed, a meeting can be arranged (it might be out and home) with the lions at the Hippodrome. Meanwhile, one would much like to know of what material the Japanese wrestlers’ dresses are made. It seems durable.
A report from the Music Hall Gossip newspaper of September 21st offered the tantalising further detail that the would-be challenger had offered to fight Tani or Uyenishi in his own (presumably Russian) style, while the champions employed their jiujitsu. Alas, it was not to be.
The popular TodayIFoundOut.com site offers this in-depth, entertaining and mostly-accurate explanation of the generic late-19th century pugilism fighting stance.
The sweeping claim that Victorian boxers held their guards “low” (relative to the modern style) because they preferred to target the body over the face is mildly controversial. Manuals of boxing and written reports on boxing matches during the bare knuckle era consistently demonstrate punches to all legal targets. It’s worth noting that the way pugilists posed for portrait paintings and photographs did not necessarily reflect their actual fighting stances, which in turn depended very much on individual styles, measure and the stances and tactics adopted by their opponents. Also, for the record, “pugilism” should be pronounced with a soft “g”, as in “pew-jill-ism”.
The popular TV comedy series Drunk History offers its inebriated (and somewhat NSFW) take on the suffrajitsu saga, starring Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) as Emmeline Pankhurst, Maria Blasucci (Ghost Girls) as Edith Garrud and Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls) as Gert Harding.
Actress Doris Lytton puts up her dukes as Maude Bray, a supporting character in the 1917 theatrical farce Wanted: a Husband. Hilarity ensues when one of Maude’s friends advertises for a husband to spark some ideas for her new novel.
Maude – a “strenuous woman” who is well-trained in boxing and jiujitsu – volunteers her services as a “chucker-out” (Edwardian-vintage slang for a bouncer). At one point in the play she deals handily with a “colonial” would-be suitor who is making a pest of himself:
This was not the first time that the Japanese art of unarmed combat had been associated with “chuckers-out”. Some reviewers of E.W. Barton-Wright’s early jiujitsu displays commented that they could conceive of no other lawful use of the art, much to Barton-Wright’s indignation.
Readers of a certain vintage may fondly recall the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer buddy comedies of the 1970s, which were best known for their paper-thin plots and gleefully inventive fight scenes. In this scene, the hulking brawler Spencer does what he does best, while the agile, fast-talking Hill discovers a new slapstick weapon in the form of the gentlemanly cane.
Here’s an edited recap of the main lessons from Marcus Tindal’s article “Self-Protection on a Cycle”, as brought to life at the 2017 Dreynevent Western martial arts conference. The full presentation is available here.
Tindal’s article was published by Pearson’s Magazine at about the same time as E.W. Barton-Wright’s Bartitsu articles, leading to the common mistaken assumption that bicycle self-defence was part of Bartitsu per se. It does, however, come under the heading of fun adjunct studies and is occasionally revived, as previously seen at the ISMAC event in Michigan.