“The sting of a hornet”; Edwardian hat-pin self defence

The popular trend towards enormous, flamboyant hats reached its zenith during the Edwardian era. Circa 1901, fashionable ladies’ headwear featured elaborate assemblies of taffeta, silk bows, coloured ostrich feathers, flowers and even artificial fruit.

The mainstay of the Edwardian hat was the artfully concealed hatpin, and as the hats themselves grew ever larger, so too did the pins. Some antique examples are thirteen inches long and resemble nothing so much as unbated, miniature fencing foils.

A wealth of evidence from the period demonstrates that hatpins were popularly regarded as secret weapons, and indeed as “every woman’s weapon” against the depredations of hooligans and ill-mannered brutes. Laws against hatpins of “excessive length”, or the wearing of hatpins without protective stoppers, were proposed in Hamburg, Berlin and New York among other cities. At least ostensibly, these laws were intended not so much to ban the use of hatpins in self-defence as to mitigate the incidence of accidental hatpin related injuries inflicted upon blameless fellow passengers in crowded tram-cars.

Certainly, though, the hatpin was the weapon of choice for Edwardian novelists and playwrights who had to extricate their heroines from tight spots.

From Harold MacGrath’s novel “Parrot & Co”, 1914:

Craig stepped in front of them, smiling as he raised his helmet. “This is an unexpected pleasure.”

Elsa, looking coldly beyond him, attempted to pass.

“Surely you remember me?”

“I remember an insolent cad,” replied Elsa, her eyes beginning to burn dangerously. “Will you stand aside?”

He threw a swift glance about. He saw with satisfaction that none but natives was in evidence.

Elsa’s glance roved, too, with a little chill of despair. In stories Warrington would have appeared about this time and soundly trounced this impudent scoundrel. She realized that she must settle this affair alone. She was not a soldier’s daughter for nothing.

“Stand aside!”

“Hoity-toity!” he laughed. He had been drinking liberally and was a shade reckless. “Why not be a good fellow? Over here nobody minds. I know a neat little restaurant. Bring the old lady along,” with a genial nod toward the quaking Martha.

Resolutely Elsa’s hand went up to her helmet, and with a flourish drew out one of the long steel pins.

“Oh, Elsa!” warned Martha.

“Be still! This fellow needs a lesson. Once more, Mr. Craig, will you stand aside? ”

Had he been sober he would have seen the real danger in the young woman’s eyes.

“Cruel!” he said. ” At least, one kiss,” putting out his arms.

Elsa, merciless in her fury, plunged the pin into his wrist. It stung like a hornet; and with a gasp of pain, Craig leaped back out of range, sobered.

“Why, you she-cat!”

“I warned you,” she replied, her voice steady but low. “The second stab will be serious. Stand aside.”

He stepped into the gutter, biting his lips and straining his uninjured hand over the hurting throb in his wrist. The hat-pin as a weapon of defense he had hitherto accepted as reporters’ yarns. He was now thoroughly convinced of the truth. He had had wide experience with women. His advantage had always been in the fact that the general run of them will submit to insult rather than create a scene. This dark-eyed Judith was distinctly an exception to the rule. Gad! She might have missed his wrist and jabbed him in the throat. He swore, and walked off down the street.

Elsa set a pace which Martha, with her wabbling knees, found difficult to maintain.

“You might have killed him!” she cried breathlessly.

“You can’t kill that kind of a snake with a hat-pin; you have to stamp on its head. But I rather believe it will be some time before Mr. Craig will again make the mistake of insulting a woman because she appears to be defenseless.” Elsa’s chin was in the air. The choking sensation in her throat began to subside. “The deadly hat-pin; can’t you see the story in the newspapers? Well, I for one am not afraid to use it.”

Perhaps less frequently than in popular fiction, but still present in newspaper articles and medical journals of the time, we find reports of women wounding male attackers via well-placed jabs with their hatpins. For example, according to a story in the New York Times of January 10, 1898, a Miss Sadie Williams assisted a Chicago tram-car conductor named Symington in fending off two determined would-be robbers by stabbing them both repeatedly in the arms and legs with her hatpin, causing the aggressors so much grief that they jumped off the moving tram to escape the onslaught.

Hatpins were also apparently among the covert weapons used by Suffragettes in their struggles against the London bobbies, augmenting their judicious use of Indian clubs and jiujitsu.

Unfortunately there is a paucity of technical instruction on the hatpin as a weapon. The picture emerges, though, of a two-phase counter-strategy against over-confident ruffians who seized their intended victims by the shoulders or arms. First, the defender would feign shock and indignation, her hand flying up apparently to steady her enormous hat, but in reality to pluck out a hatpin. Then, in one movement, she would jab the weapon forcefully into the offending hand or wrist; Mr. MacGrath was not the only writer to compare the resulting pain to “the sting of a hornet”. This might well suffice to discourage any further offence. If not, the consensus on following-up was to stab the assailant in the face or, if more conveniently accessible, “the place where it hurts the most”.

Hatpin tactics are illustrated in these photographs excerpted from a 1904 self defence article that was featured in the San Francisco Sunday Call newspaper:


“When attacked from behind, she grasps a hatpin. Turning quickly, she is able to strike a fatal blow in the face.”

… and described in the risque music hall ballad, “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin”:

My Granny was a very shrewd old lady,
The smartest woman that I ever met.
She used to say, “Now listen to me, Sadie,
There’s one thing that you never must forget.”

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
The law won’t let you carry more than that.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may lose your head as well as lose your hat.”

My Granny said men never could be trusted.
No matter how refined they might appear.
She said that many maidens’ hearts got busted
Because men never had but one idea.

I’ve heard that Grandpa really was a mess,
So Grandma knew whereof she spoke, I guess.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
Not even to some very classy joints.
For when a fellow sees you’ve got a hat pin
He’s very much more apt to get the point.

My Mama, too, set quite a bad example.
She never heeded Grandmama’s advice.
She found that if you give a man a sample,
The sample somehow never does suffice.

In fact, it’s rumored I might not have been
If Mum had not gone out without her pin.

Never go walking out without your hat pin.
It’s about the best protection you have got.
For if you go walking out without your hat pin,

You may come home without your you-know-what!

Finger Weapons of the Parisian Apaches

(From the June 1911 issue of “Popular Mechanics” magazine)

All the weapons used by the Apaches in Paris are unique, but none are more ingenious than these curious rings and the device known as the “thorn punch”. The latter, held as shown in the illustration and delivered with a hard, straight blow, would drop a man as if hit by a sledge. The rings, however, are more subtle, as they appear to be nothing more than ordinary finger adornments with the exaggerated settings or heads often worn by fad extremists, but hidden within the hand is an extension. This rests against the palm when the fist is doubled and adds much force to the blow.

Yukio Tani’s flying armbar

A promotional postcard (circa 1905) showing former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani demonstrating a flying armbar (juji gatame) on his manager, the strongman William “Apollo” Bankier:

… and the same technique executed by Rumina Sato against Charles Diaz for a six-second victory by submission during their Shooto match in 1999:

“Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” republished

Announcing Kirk Lawson‘s re-publication of Percy Longhurst’s “Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” (1906) from a copy of the original located by Dr. Milo Thurston of the Linacre School of Defence. The re-published book is available in hard copy for US$9.28 or as a free PDF download from this site.

An early promoter of Japanese “Jiu-Jitsu” in the first decade of the 20th Century in England, Percy Longhurst studied under both Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi. He was familiar with, and possibly studied Bartitsu under E.W. Barton-Wright and stick-fighting under Pierre Vigny.

A prolific writer and accomplished amateur athlete, Longhurst quickly turned his skills to Self Defense and the “new,” mysterious, and glamorous foreign martial art of Jiu-Jitsu.

In 1906 he published the first edition of what was to become a celebrated and frequently reprinted manual: Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defense.

Combining Western and Japanese wrestling and self-defense methods, Longhurst’s manual was groundbreaking. Another innovation of this manual is a section specifically intended for ladies. This book is so dense with material, yet so easily understood and well put together, that it was revised and reprinted for decades, at least until the early 1950’s, and at least 11 editions.

This is one of the most important of the early Western self defense manuals due not only to its heavy emphasis on Jiu-Jitsu but its combination with other Western methods. It’s sure to please Western martial artist and early Jiu-Jitsu researchers alike.

Of all the early 20th century British self-defence instructors, Longhurst was the most sympathetic to E.W. Barton-Wright. “Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence” is truly the closest thing to a Bartitsu manual produced during the pre-War period and is an excellent supplementary resource to the Bartitsu Compendium, Volume II. Kirk Lawson’s re-publication is highly recommended to neo-Bartitsu enthusiasts.

Self Defence for Bicyclists (1901)

Longtime Bartitsu aficionados are well aware of Marcus Tindal’s eccentric and amusing article Self Protection on a Cycle, which was published in Pearson’s Magazine in 1901. There has been speculation as to whether Tindal was inspired by, or parodying E.W. Barton-Wright’s articles on self defence with a walking stick, which had also appeared in Pearson’s.

Tindal may also have been inspired by the following letter from a Mr. H. Graves to the editor of the London Bicycle Club Gazette (vol. 23, 1900):

Self-defence For Bicyclists.

The other day I was informed by a lady of my acquaintance that, bicycling about sunset along the towing path from Hampton Court to Kingston, she and a friend were much annoyed by a couple of particularly ill-conditioned cads also riding bicycles. They followed the ladies from Hampton Court, and, finding the towing path otherwise empty of traffic, they hung on to their back wheels, and pursued them with a running fire of vulgarities. At last my friends, with their unwelcome escort, overtook another party of bicyclists, whereupon the two cads discreetly put down their heads and scorched off. I told the lady that her proper course in the circumstances was to sit up suddenly with all her power of back-pedalling and braking, whereupon her persecutor would have bumped her back wheel, and almost inevitably come a bad cropper.

To anyone acquainted with bicycle racing it is, of course, axiomatic that the result of a bump is to send the bumper to swift destruction, the person bumped escaping uninjured. My friend, however, was incredulous, and feared lest, like Samson, she should be overwhelmed in the destruction of her enemies. Such a result could only happen if the difference in the velocity of the two bicycles concerned was so great that the violence of the impact sufficed actually to smash the leading machine; for example, if a scorcher ran into a practically stationary bicyclist, the results, though worse for the former, would hardly leave the latter unscathed. But when, as in the case under notice, the speed of the two parties is nearly the same, the effect of the collision is nothing more than mere thrill in the machine of the person bumped, who, of course, immediately resumes pedalling, while the bumper, after two or three wild swerves, usually comes to the ground.

Apart from an elementary fact like this, which I should have imagined was better known, there are many points in bicycling strategy worthy of attention and practice, such, for instance, as how to get past a menacing tramp. The right method is sufficiently simple, though it requires not a little nerve. It consists in riding point blank at the aggressor, and at the last moment throwing the whole weight of the body to the right or left, as the case may be, thus making a rapid tack. Not one man in a hundred will stand up to a bicycle approaching at speed; the instinct to shrink back, especially in a person unprepared for such a manoeuvre, is irresistible, and according as he steps to the right or left, so the bicyclists swerves swiftly in the opposite direction. Another point worthy of consideration is the utilisation of the momentum of the bicycle in disabling an opponent. Most of us have at some time or other ventured a passing stroke at the head of a cap-throwing boy, and been surprised how overpowering to him is the result of a forward blow, and how ludicrously inadequate the effect of a back-hander. To bring into subjection this blind force should be difficult. Of course, the reaction from a hard blow dealt at a sturdy tramp might be disastrous to the bicyclist; but, by swerving and so throwing the balance of the machine well to the side of the person to be demolished, the recoil from the shock might be made to run concurrently with the natural recovery from the inclined position in which the blow was delivered.

Another useful way of dealing with an assailant is to ride at his side, and, throwing your arms round his neck, to leap on to him, leaving the bicycle to take its chance. The odds are that you, with your momentum, will overbear him and fall on him heavily, while the bicycle, relieved of your weight, has a reasonable chance of emerging unharmed. This is a far more desperate plan than the last-mentioned, and one to be employed only upon very narrow roads, but it ought to give a very great advantage to the bicyclist. Adopting either of these plans, you are far safer than if you followed your natural instinct of slipping past on the far side of the road, thus running the gauntlet of your adversary, who, undisturbed, can choose the psychological moment for putting his stick into your spokes. By closing with him you take the initiative, and the choice of moment rests with you; at close quarters, too, his stick is less likely to be effective, to say nothing of the specific advantages which have already been described. There seems, at all events, ample scope for our mathematicians to work out the dynamics of the moving bicyclist.

The editor replied:

Ladies will, no doubt, be very grateful for the hint. It is all so simple. But would it not be rather embarrassing if the odds did not work out properly, and the lady was left hanging round the tramp’s neck, while her bicycle careered on alone?

E.J. Harrison on E.W. Barton-Wright

A passage from E. J. Harrison‘s classic book The Fighting Spirit of Japan, originally published in 1912. This section is taken from a reprint dating to the early 1950s.

Perhaps a pioneer of the Japanese art (of self defence) or a certain version of it was the late Barton-Wright, who studied for some time in Japan, afterwards proceeding to London where he opened an academy and taught what he knew under the name of Bartitsu. He claimed that he had grafted on to the parent stem various shoots of his own invention or culled from other schools in different parts of the world. Without doubt Mr. Barton-Wright was a colourful personality in his day and generation and could give a very good account of himself against all and sundry lacking knowledge of either jujutsu or judo. This splendid veteran passed away only a few years ago, on the threshold of his tenth decade.

Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation

A Bartitsu essay by Tony Wolf is featured in this new two-volume encyclopedia from ABC-CLIO publishing.

You can click this link to visit Martial Arts of the World at Amazon.com. At US$144.00, the encyclopedia is primarily intended for libraries, but serious collectors of quality martial arts literature will want their own copies.

Films from Hollywood to Hong Kong and such competitions as MMA and Ultimate Fighting give us vivid, if oversimplified, images of martial arts in action. But the realities of the world’s martial arts traditions—their histories, philosophies, codes of honor, and methods—are richer than any pop culture portrayal can suggest, with centuries-old combat disciplines practiced in virtually every corner of the globe.

ABC-CLIO’s Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation is the most authoritative reference ever published on combat disciplines from around the world and across history. Coverage includes Shaolin monks, jousting knights, Roman gladiators, Westerner gunfighters, samurai warriors, and heavyweight boxers. These iconic figures and many more are featured in this title, as well as representatives of less well known but no less fascinating systems, all vividly characterized by expert contributors from around the world who are themselves martial arts practitioners.

Martial Arts of the World comprises 120 entries in two volumes. The first volume is organized geographically to explore the historic development of martial arts styles in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The second volume looks at martial arts thematically, with coverage of belief systems, modern martial arts competitions, and a wide range of such topics as folklore, women in martial arts, martial arts and the military, and martial arts and the media.

The encyclopedia offers notably in-depth coverage of areas that have often been neglected in similar works, including martial arts of European, African, South American and Oceanean origins. Another real strength is the emphasis on “Themes” in the second volume, likewise offering truly insightful coverage of the relationship between martial arts training and belief systems, folklore, media, military and paramilitary cultures, performing arts and politics, among other topics.

The four-page Bartitsu entry is featured in the second volume as a case-study of the globalisation of the martial arts. It covers the origins, creation, slide into obscurity, rediscovery and modern-day revival of E.W. Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”.

Bartitsu is also referenced in entries on the Jujitsuffragettes, the international spread of jiujitsu, French canne fencing etc.