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.

“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 …