“Scientific ragging”: The New Jiu-jitsu (1904)

An anonymous commentary on the potentials of jiujitsu from “The Outing” magazine, dating to 1904:

WHO would have said three years ago that a remote Eastern nation would become an arbiter between the athletic aims of the two extreme nations of the West? But some such relation as this is set up by the Japanese protest against the American exploitation of jiujitsu. Directly the art was discovered it was seized upon in America, advertised, practised and explained in a number of books. The explanations certainly exceeded the art, of which the scope and wonders have been greatly misrepresented, and in giving Jiu-jitsu a flair, which made it the fashionable spectacle in Paris as in New York, abstracted at the same time its chief merit. Jiu-jitsu may be an art, almost a science; but above all it is a game, and the exploiters of it have done the harm to it that they have done to other athletic games in emphasising its spectacular and combative advantages. Jiu-jitsu professionals, skilled after the fashion of ” the magnetic lady” who set silly London gossiping some years ago, will soon be a regular part of music-hall performances. This does not much matter, but it is less endurable that a game which might be a real boon to town-dwellers should be spoiled by sham gymnastic exponents who take themselves more seriously than they deserve.

For an athletic nation we are curiously backward in what may be called palaestral games. Fencing has its eminent devotees. Mr. Egerton Castle, umpiring at a bout in Gray’s Inn Gardens, where a bundle of foils leaned against the leaning catalpa, is a spectacle full of the savour of the Middle Ages. The two straightest backs in the House of Commons were trained on fencing. Captain Hutton has from time to time inspired different schools with his zeal for foils, single-sticks, broad-sword and buckler, quarter-staff, two-handed sword, or case of rapiers. Nevertheless, fencing and the sister games languish in England. They are not popular amusements, and the desire to take them up possesses very few of the many town-immured men and women who lament daily their need of exercise. On the whole, the gymnastic peoples are not the athletic. The Japanese dislike sport on the whole. The Germans prefer to develop chest and arms rather than legs; the English neglect the torso. Perhaps the French are more naturally proficient at both athletics and gymnastics than any people, except the Americans, whose competitive genius is overmastering.

Beyond all question the Japanese are the greatest gymnasts in the world, and have been for years. Two forms of wrestling, Sumo and jiu-jitsu—the first chiefly professional, the second both aristocratic and democratic, have long interested the bulk of the nation. Sumo has been regulated by a Gild of its own which is recognised by Government, used for police purposes, and exempted from taxation. The Gild has schooled its members into the strictest loyalty to the canons of art and etiquette in the same way as the Rugby Union in England, though more precisely and dictatorially, as befits an institution long and officially established, which holds its public examination and publishes its class-lists. Sumo in Japan is the counterpart, with many necessary deductions from the strictness of the analogy, of the Football League in England. It is professional, a spectacular rather than a popular game, and its players need great physical development.

Jiu-jitsu has other qualities, and these seem to me to bring it a long way ahead of any gymnastic game we have in England. And it should be English, for it is no more or less than the science of “ragging,” the exaltation of a rough and tumble, the impromptu wrestling which everyone practices and enjoys from infancy till the age when the sinews creak. It is the only game common to the nursery, the school, the university, the office, and it is greatly improved as a mere amusement by some application of science. The Japanese have especially associated the game, since its emergence in the seventeenth century, with military training, and its superiority to the stiffness of much army gymnastics

does not need argument. But the question now is not whether Woolwich or Osborne should engage a Japanese instructor, but whether many active men who cannot keep their muscles from rusting might not with advantage take their opportunities of scientific ragging in off hours. Its reputation has been spoiled by American over-emphasis. The art includes, of course, instruction in the coup-de-grace, in blows, or rather taps, and falls, and locks, and grips which can incapacitate and break limbs; but its points as a game are quite independent of such violent usage of anatomical knowledge.

The game has the minimum of paraphernalia, can be played in a small space;can be learnt, at least in rudiments sufficient for extracting amusement, from a book. It depends, unlike most gymnastics, on nimbleness more than muscle, and balance, not power, is its key. It is the fashion now to claim moral attributes for games, and the disciples of jiu-jitsu have made the common mistake. But after all “the art of self-defence ” — in England a technical phrase unfortunately restricted to boxing — deserves its constant epithet “noble”; and the jiu-jitsu game, which begins with the art of falling happily and conquering from an inferior position, has a clear symbolic claim to a moral quality. Physical inferiority tends to moral subserviency to the bully; and now no swords are worn and sticks are flimsy, jiu-jitsu is almost the only game which can teach the punier people to flourish in a fight.

“The victory of jiujitsu over French boxing” (1905)

From L’Illustration, No. 3271, November 4th, 1905.

The current fashion is undoubtedly towards Japan and, since the unexpected success that this small nation has won in the Far East, for everything Japanese that has the capacity to excite our interest. Thus, in sport, we discussed recently, and with some vivacity, the burning question of jiu-jitsu. Is jiu-jitsu (pronounced “djioudjitss”) a simple bluff, as once claimed by the most competent people? Or is it, on the contrary, the ideal of self-defence, as proclaimed by the few initiates of this new art?

The debate, which until now remained undecided, has finally been resolved. This is, at least, what seems to result of the match in Courbevoie on Thursday, Oct. 23, between Professor Re-Nie, jiu-jitsu instructor at the school in the Rue de Ponthieu, and master Dubois, representing the French antagonistic sports, who had issued a challenge to Re-Nie.

Master Dubois, who was once a sculptor not without talent, is also both a dangerous swordsman, a formidable boxer and a weightlifter of the first order: he is, in a word, the archetype of the athlete. His height is 1.68 m., weight 175 pounds. He was born in 1865.

Re-Nie, who is thirty-six years old, measures 1.65 m. and weighs 163 pounds. He learned jiu-jitsu in London under the Japanese masters Miyake and Kanaya. Although robust, he is significantly less vigorous than his opponent.

It was agreed that their combat, in which every action was allowed, should stop when one of the antagonists acknowledged defeat. It was quickly ended with the victory of jiu-jitsuan. Here is the summary report:

At the command “Come on!”, the two adversaries moved rapidly towards each other, stopping at a distance of about 2 meters apart and pausing for three or four seconds.

Dubois feinted a low kick with his right leg, which Re-Nie dodged. Dubois then executed a side kick with the same leg, but at the same time, with extraordinary agility, Re-Nie performed a cat-like leap towards Dubois and grabbed him round the waist. Dubois tried a hip check: Re-Nie, moving to the right of his opponent, placed his right hand on the abdomen of the latter, simultaneously compressing the lumbar muscles with the left hand and swinging a knee to Dubois’ right thigh.

Dubois reeled and fell back onto his shoulders; nevertheless Re-Nie stayed in contact, taking a grip that allowed him to seize Dubois’ right wrist. Re-Nie immediately dropped onto his back, to the left of Dubois, passing his left leg across Dubois’ throat; Re-Nie was now gripping Dubois’ forearm with both hands, Dubois’ arm passing between his two legs. A strong pressure exerted upon the wrist of Dubois threatened to dislocate his arm at the elbow, which was now cantilevered. Dubois resisted for a second, then cried for mercy.

The fight had lasted just 26 seconds, including 6 seconds for the engagement itself.

Things happened exactly as they would have in an unpremeditated encounter. The two adversaries were wearing street clothes with ordinary shoes; Georges Dubois had even kept on his hat and gloves. The ground, covered with gravel, was only slightly less hard than tarmac or asphalt would have been. Finally, the game was played outdoors, on the terrace of the new factory facilities at Védrine.

The result was perfectly clear. The representative of the French method did not exist before the representative of jiu-jitsu.

Well, we think that no event of this kind could be allowed without protest from the adherents of French and English boxing. To hear them talk afterwards, master Dubois was not qualified to represent the sport of self-defence. We will not try to discuss this view; we will simply say that jiu-jitsu, which is already officially practiced by the students of West Point (the U.S. Saint-Cyr), the policemen of New York and London, etc., will, on the initiative of Mr. Lépine, be taught from next week to the inspectors of the Sûreté and officers of the research brigade. The extremely rapid defeat of a very strong, fit athlete by a man whose physical means were visibly less than his own demonstrated to the Prefect of Police that this jiu-jitsu is an interesting means of self-defense.

The term sport de voyou (“hooligan sport”) has been bandied about regarding both the encounter at Courbevoie and jiu-jitsu in general. This term, already excessive in the mouths of those who condemn boxing as being too brutal, is somewhat laughable when it is pronounced by the supporters of English or French boxing. Is it believed to be much more elegant to crush an opponent’s nose with a punch than to force submission by a clever arm-twist, you ask? Nothing is less certain. We would willingly share the same opinion as the two senior officers of artillery, who published in Berger-Levrault a translation of the book by Mr. Irving Hancock on jiu-jitsu and who consider the sport, as an art, extremely interesting.

Does this mean that we should ignore our old French boxing or even the classic wrestling so dear to our people in the South? By no means. If jiu-jitsu seems decidedly superior from the self-defence perspective, boxing and wrestling are nonetheless excellent for the development of athletic skill, strength and courage. Jiu-jitsu itself can not completely neglect boxing and must, in fact, know the capacity of the power of the boxer, whose tactic is to maintain a greater distance.

Let us add that jiu-jitsu is not, as it is generally believed (on the basis of erroneous information) to be incomplete, a mere collection of combat tricks. This method is actually a very original and comprehensive means of physical culture that begins with the education of children and continues into adolescence and manhood, without losing sight of the physical education of women. It was largely the teachings of jiu-jitsu that gave Japanese troops their wonderful endurance and admirable sobriety, and it can be said, without being accused of exaggeration, that jiu-jitsu has had its share in the triumph, so disturbing to Europeans, of the Far Eastern race.