“The Art of Self Defence” (1909)

The following article by N. Tegan Lewis was originally published in the Women’s Freedom League newspaper of April 22, 1909, following the jiujitsu self-defence displays by Edith Garrud at London’s Caxton Hall (shown above).

We’ve offered a few contextual annotations, which are shown in italics.

A novel feature of the Green, White and Gold Fair, at Caxton Hall, was the jiu-jitsu displays given by women. Apart from the fact that it is splendid physical exercise, jiu-jitsu is the most suitable form of self-defence for women, success depending on the dexterous use of the opponent’s strength. The science has three branches: the throws, which require much practice; the art of self-defence exclusively, by which all attacks by violence may be resisted; and the art, when the opponent has been thrown, of wrestling on the ground and rendering him unconscious by neck locks and other means. Happily, measures so stringent as those taught in this third branch are not often necessary, but in an encounter with a desperate burglar or an escaped lunatic the knowledge would be decidedly useful.

Emily Watts, another pioneering jiujitsu instructor of this era, largely dismissed ne-waza (mat grappling) in her 1906 manual The Fine Art of Jujutsu, on grounds of sensibility rather than practicality.

In the course of the last quarter of a century women in this country have developed physically, as mentally, in an amazing way while men have been—well, let us say—at a standstill. The modern healthy girl, backed by a knowledge of some scientific art of defence, could render a very good account of herself when necessary and men “Anti’s” who are so fond of the physical force “argument” would do well to take heed in time lest the day come, and perhaps it is not far distant, when they will not be allowed to let the matter drop.

“Anti’s” refers to those who were against the movement towards women’s suffrage.  The fallacious “argument of physical force” essentially stated that women should not be given political power on the grounds that such power ultimately resolves into the ability to exert physical force.

We are all familiar with Mr. Punch’s famous advice to those about to marry, but, though Mr. Punch “were like to die of it,” we have not yet heard Mrs. Punch’s opinion on the matter. May we suggest, with all due deference to Mr. Punch, that her advice to the girl would be “learn jiu-jitsu”?

During the Edwardian period, the Punch and Judy puppet show preserved Mr. Punch’s ferocious violence against virtually all the other characters, including his wife Judy.

Such a precaution would be, let us hope in the majority of cases, merely a matter of form. At the same time it is idle to ignore the fact that there are men, in all classes of society, who habitually ill-treat their wives. At present the usual advice given to the ill-used wife, when circumstances render it practically impossible for her to leave her husband, is “do not lower yourself by retaliation, at all costs uphold your womanly dignity.” Setting aside the utter impossibility of being dignified under such circumstances this advice is, theoretically, perfectly sound. Practically jiu-jitsu is likely to prove far more effective for it is universally acknowledged that your bully is usually a coward.

The theme of jiujitsu as self-defence against an abusive husband provided the basis of the polemic playlet What Every Woman Ought to Know (1911), which included a spectacular fight scene staged by Edith Garrud.

It has long been the custom to consider women more timid than men, but one has only to scan the newspapers day by day to realize that in cases of great emergency—such as the Messina earthquake—women are every whit as brave as men; and hardly a week goes by but some woman goes to the assistance of the police in a street brawl while a crowd of men—citizens stand idly by, indifferent or amused, oblivious of any responsibility. Moreover, in the days when entrance to the army was an easy affair, many women fought side by side with the men and many instances are on record of women taking part in sea fights. There was Hannah Snell, who enlisted as a marine and saw active service, and Mary Ann Talbot, otherwise John Taylor, who was wounded in the action of the Glorious First of June, both of whom received pensions from a grateful Government. Anne Bonney and Mary Read, after serving in the Navy, turned pirates—to their own profit, doubtless, if not to that of the State.

Public opinion has hitherto been the greatest enemy to the physical development of women; the pioneer women cyclists were covered with scorn, the girls who first declared their preference for hockey over croquet were looked at askance as hoydens. Happily the world soon gets accustomed to new ideas, and to-day the girl who cycles and the girl who plays hockey are taken very much as a matter of course—just as will be the girl of to-morrow who practises jiu-jitsu. In a few years time let us hope that the woman who is not versed in the art of self-defence will be regarded, and rightly regarded, as an anomaly.

Edith Garrud’s demonstrations did, in fact, spark a wide interest in women’s jiujitsu, including a fad for “jiujitsu parties”.  Mrs. Garrud also established an exclusive “Suffragettes Self-Defence Club” and, several years thereafter, became the jiujitsu instructor for the secret Bodyguard Society of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Shooting Fight Scenes for “No Man Shall Protect Us”, the Suffrajitsu Documentary

A London “bobby” (stuntman Cody Evans, left) takes on a member of the WSPU Bodyguard Society (stuntwoman Gabrielle Perrea, right).

The past week of production on No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards has included black-screen studio action scenes performed by a very talented pair of stuntpeople.  Rather than shooting long, elaborate fights, the aim was to create about twenty short, diverse sequences that will be edited together to illustrate key moments of the suffragette Bodyguards’ story.

Both the Bodyguards and the London police were streetwise, experienced tusslers, but – jiujutsu lessons notwithstanding – few of them were experts in a formal fighting style.  Therefore, the challenge was to keep the action within the bounds of plausibility, while still ensuring that each “fight” told its own story.  That meant that the fights had to look scrappy and relatively realistic, with the Bodyguard and the constable occasionally staggering off-balance in the heat of the action or succeeding as much through luck as through skill.

Likewise, unusually for fight scenes, the characters were not necessarily trying to hurt each other.  The suffragette’s objective was more often simply to get past or escape from the constable, whereas the constable was attempting to block or arrest the suffragette.

When clubs and truncheons were drawn, though, most bets were off …

The production has now also filmed a number of prop inserts, including demonstrations of the circa 1909 boardgame Suffragetto, to help illustrate the complex tactics of suffragette vs. police street skirmishes:

No Man Shall Protect Us is now entering the final stages of production. Once the documentary is edited, it will be made freely available as an educational resource via Vimeo.

“Drunk History” (US) Tells the Story of the Suffragette Bodyguards

The Comedy Channel’s hit series Drunk History, in which interesting past events are related by inebriated comedians, has followed in the footsteps of the UK version of the show by featuring the jujitsuffragettes of the Edwardian English women’s rights movement.  “Civil Rights” was the title and theme of Drunk History’s episode 5, season 5 show, which screened in the US on Feb. 20, 2018.

The suffrajitsu segment is narrated by Kirby Howell-Baptiste and stars Tatiana Maslany as Emmeline Pankhurst, who is introduced leading the ill-fated “raid on Parliament” on November 10, 1910. This raid was the fourteenth attempt by the Women’s Social and Political Union to present a petition to Parliament and developed into a near riot in which many protestors complained of police brutality; the event later became known as “Black Friday”.

The Drunk History episode exerts some dramatic licence in stating that Mrs. Pankhurst’s sister was killed during the protest.  In reality, she died about a month later (possibly as the result of an accident while she was being force-fed in prison).

Actress Maria Blasucci plays martial arts instructor Edith Garrud and several scenes are set in her opulent dojo, where she is shown training the new suffragette Bodyguard team in the womanly art of jiujitsu. Gert Harding, played by Kat Dennings, is portrayed as Mrs. Garrud’s star pupil; in reality, Harding did study martial arts with Garrud and also led the Bodyguard team.

The show also offers fairly accurate representations of two key WSPU rallies in which the Bodyguard clashed with the police. The Campden Hill (Camden) rally, which was also portrayed in the Drunk History UK episode on the same theme as well as the 2015 feature film Suffragette, shows how the Bodyguard tricked the police into arresting a body double while the real Mrs. Pankhurst made her escape.

The second re-enactment is of the famous “Battle of Glasgow”, when the Bodyguard openly confronted and fought with the police on the stage of St. Andrew’s Hall, in front of some 4500 shocked witnesses. Although the show implies that this event turned the tide of the radical suffrage movement and led directly to the enfranchisement of women, the real history is (of course) vastly more complicated.

In reality, the First World War broke out shortly after the Glasgow brawl, at which point Mrs. Pankhurst suspended all militant suffrage activities and supported the government throughout the crisis, especially by organising and encouraging women to “do men’s work” while their husbands, sons and brothers were fighting overseas. It’s generally conceded that the suspension of WSPU militancy, in combination with the work done by women during wartime, tipped the balance in favour of “votes for women” as the conflict drew to a close.

The “Civil Rights” episode of Drunk History also includes interesting segments on the Birmingham Children’s March and the disability rights activists who organized America’s longest sit-in of a federal building. It is currently available to view for free via the Comedy Channel website (some conditions apply) or to purchase via Youtube or via Amazon.  Note that the dialogue does include some swearing and mildly raunchy slang and so may not be safe for work.

If you enjoy Drunk History’s take on the suffragette Bodyguard story, keep an eye out for the upcoming full-length documentary No Man Shall Protect Us, which will cover the same subject in much greater depth, albeit with much less drunken hilarity.

An Update on “No Man Shall Protect Us”, the Suffrajitsu Documentary

Production is now well under way on No Man Shall Protect Us, a documentary on the secret society of martial arts-trained women who protected the radical suffragettes of England just prior to the First World War.

Re-enactment scenes have been shot in collaboration with the Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s production of The Good Fight, a suffragette play by Anne Bertram.  Further re-enactments as well as “interviews” with actors portraying historical figures including WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst and martial arts instructor Edith Garrud will be shot over the next several weeks.

The production will also feature fight scenes between a London police constable and a member of the WSPU Bodyguard team, a demonstration of the rare circa 1908 board game Suffragetto and the use of archival media to tell the fascinating story of the “jiujitsuffragettes”.

No Man Shall Protect Us was fully funded via Kickstarter and it will be made freely available online as an educational resource.

Suffrajitsu at the Royal Armouries Museum

Images from the upcoming “suffrajitsu” display (courtesy of Charlotte Graham Photography) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, and their Edwardian-era antecedents:

A street-fighting suffragette executes a kote gaeshi wristlock against a police constable.
Bodyguard trainer Edith Garrud demonstrates a kote gaeshi lock and takedown.
The suffragette Bodyguards were often armed with concealed Indian clubs.
Indian clubs are prominent in this photograph taken during a suffragettes vs. police brawl near Buckingham Palace, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

“Suffrajitsu” Back in the News as UK Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage

February 6, 2108 marks the centennial anniversary of (limited) women’s suffrage in the UK.  As numerous cultural and media organisations mark the anniversary, here are some current and upcoming projects that focus particularly on “suffrajitsu” – the use of jiujitsu by radical suffagette Bodyguards, circa 1913-14.

The Good Fight

Chicago’s Babes With Blades Theatre Company is currently staging Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, which details the history and missions of the suffragette Bodyguard team.  Women’s jiujitsu pioneer and Bodyguard trainer Edith Garrud appears as a character in the play.

Suffrajitsu by Horse + Bamboo Theatre

England’s Horse + Bamboo Theatre Company is currently developing Suffrajitsu, an original play celebrating the suffragette Bodyguard through puppetry, music and film.  Aimed at young audiences, the play will begin touring the UK in Autumn 2018; you can learn more about, and support the project via this Crowdfunder site.

“The Awesome Art of Suffrajitsu”

The UK fashion and lifestyle magazine Stylist has featured suffrajitsu, including some great original illustrations, in its suffragette centennial issue.

No Man Shall Protect Us

Currently in production, the documentary No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards will make use of narration, rare archival media and dramatic re-enactments.  Successfully crowdfunded in late 2017 and co-produced by Tony Wolf, author of the Suffrajitsu graphic novel trilogy, the completed documentary will be made freely available online later this year.

Suffrajitsu at the Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England will be showcasing Edith Garrud’s suffrajitsu as part of the Warrior Women exhibition during mid-late February.

Kitty Marshall: Suffragette Bodyguard at the Museum of London

The Museum of London’s year-long Votes for Women exhibition includes a showcase for Katherine “Kitty” Marshall, who was an active member of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Bodyguard team.  Marshall also wrote the memoir Suffragette Escapes and Adventures, which currently exists in manuscript form as part of the Museum’s suffragette collection.

Kitty and the Cats: Mrs. Pankhurst’s Suffragette Bodyguard and the London Police

Author Emelyne Godfrey’s book on Kitty Marshall and the Bodyguard will be released later in 2018.

Suffragette City

Suffrajitsu martial arts lessons will be part of the UK National Trust’s Suffragette City, an immersive, interactive experience that will recreate the headquarters of the Women’s Social and Political Union circa 1913.

Jiujitsuffragettes Fight “The Good Fight” in Chicago

Suffragette Bodyguard leader Gert Harding (played by actress Scottie Caldwell) executes a jiujitsu arm-bar against a hapless police constable (Richard Traub) in an action scene from Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight.

Closely based on the real history of the all-women security team who protected the leaders of the radical suffragette movement in England just before WW1, The Good Fight will open at Chicago’s City Lit theatre on January 15.  The play is being produced by the Babes With Blades Theatre Company and is directed by Elizabeth Lovelady, with fight choreography by Gaby Labotka.

“The Good Fight” in Chicago

Chicago’s Babes With Blades Theatre Company announce their production of Anne Bertram’s play The Good Fight, telling the story of the jiujitsu-trained Bodyguard team who protected the leaders of the radical suffragette movement in England just before the First World War.  Suffragette jiujitsu instructress Edith Garrud is featured as a character in the play, alongside other historical figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Bodyguard leader Gert Harding.

Footage from the stage production will also be featured during re-enactment scenes in the forthcoming documentary No Man Shall Protect Us.

Jujitsuffragette Documentary “No Man Shall Protect Us” Funded

The documentary No Man Shall Protect Us, detailing the history of the secret society of jiujitsu-trained bodyguards who defended the radical suffragettes during 1913-14, has now been fully funded via Kickstarter.

Members of the “Jujitsuffragette” Bodyguard team were trained by Edith Garrud, who had studied Japanese martial arts with former Bartitsu Club instructors Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi as well as Akitaro “Daibutsu” Ono, Taro Miyake, Mitsuyo Maeda and other notable sensei who were active in Edwardian London.  Mrs. Garrud will be portrayed in re-enactment sequences in No Man Shall Protect Us, which will document the origins, training, tactics and missions of the Bodyguard.

Production will continue through early January of 2018 and the full documentary will be made freely available online upon completion.