Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani in action?

This newsreel clip was shot at a gala day at London’s Kensington Palace Field in the year 1928. The first half features a boxing exhibition by Alf Mancini, who was scheduled to fight Jack Hood at Birmingham for the British Welterweight Championship.

Of particular interest to Bartitsu and British jujitsu/judo history buffs, though, is the second half of the clip, which features an exhibition of judo (described as “advanced ju-jitsu”) as demonstrated by members of the “Bodokwai” (sic – should read Budokwai).

Although it’s impossible to be certain, the tori (executor of the techniques) in the judo demonstration bears a very strong resemblance to former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani, who was the first professional instructor employed by the Budokwai.


Tani aged about 40 (left), about 20 (centre) and executing a restraint technique against Budokwai founder Gunji Koizumi (right). Note the distinctive bald spot on Tani’s head in the latter picture, and compare with that of the tori in the newsreel; the photograph was taken circa 1932.

Eight years before this newsreel was shot, Tani had been formally awarded the second dan black belt rank in Kodokan judo by Professor Jigoro Kano. That recognition built upon Tani’s already vast experience as a jujitsu instructor and challenge wrestler, which dated back to his arrival in London during 1900 at the invitation of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright. Tani would have been about 45 years old when the newsreel was shot.

If this is film footage of Yukio Tani, it represents one of only two such films known to exist, the other being a two-second shot of the then-56 year old Tani that appears at 00.25 in this 1937 newsreel:

Yukio Tani suffered a severe stroke in 1937, but he continued to teach from the sidelines of the Budokwai mats until his death on January 24th, 1950.

The only other film known to depict a former Bartitsu Club instructor in action is this re-animation of cinematographic film frames that were used to illustrate Sadakazu Uyenishi‘s “Textbook of Ju-Jitsu”:

“Deduce, you say!” (Looney Tunes, 1956)

The dimwitted Dorlock Homes (Daffy Duck), assisted by the quiet but able Dr. Watkins (Porky Pig), employs both jiujitsu and boxing in his attempts to arrest the infamous Shropshire Slasher.

Season’s greetings to all!

“Japanese Wrestling” (27 October, 1898)

A report from the Morning Post newspaper on one of E.W. Barton-Wright’s early jiujitsu demonstrations in London.

Mr. Barton-Wright’s demonstration of Japanese wrestling at the St. James’s Hall last evening was a source of much entertainment and scarcely less surprise. This method of self-defence depends entirely on science and very little on strength, and it was Mr. Barton- Wright’s object to show that it enables a man not naturally strong easily to overcome a powerful adversary. He was opposed by Mr. Chipchase, the middle-weight Cumberland and Westmoreland Amateur Champion, whom he threw several times, apparently without much effort.

It was explained that the Japanese method is based on the principle of yielding to the adversary until his muscles are at an unnatural strain, when he is at once at the mercy of an accomplished wrestler. It is evident, however, that if great strength is not necessary, extreme quickness is absolutely essential for the successful practice of the Japanese system, some of Mr. Barton-Wright’s throws having been executed with such rapidity that it was impossible for the eye to follow the movements that brought them about.

Among the most remarkable of his demonstration, was his counter to the Cumberland and Westmoreland overhead throw. Allowing Mr. Chipchase to throw him in this fashion, he caught him by the head while in the air and threw him as he fell.

The counter to the cross-buttock throw was another remarkable achievement, and Mr. Barton-Wright, while lying on the ground, also threw his opponent with his feet. In submitting to the neck throw, though falling first, he pulled his adversary down after him into a position of complete helplessness.

It is noteworthy that in all the throws Mr. Barton-Wright accomplished he placed his opponent in such a position that he was completely at his mercy, and Mr. Chipchase had several times to call out to be released from a painful situation. In these positions Mr. Barton-Wright showed that he could easily strangle his opponent, or break one of his limbs, while he was incapable of resistance.

He demonstrated several ways of meeting an attack and overthrowing the aggressor, and he also exemplified the art of falling without injury and in such a way as to face his antagonist.

That the science of anatomy plays a considerable part in this kind of wrestling was proved by Mr. Barton-Wright, when apparently at his opponent’s mercy, overcoming him by touching a nerve in his arm. Examples of various other styles of wrestling were given, and the entertainment altogether afforded much satisfaction to the audience.

“All-in fighting”: jiu-jitsu conquers Australia (1906-9)

Those with an interest in the international expansion of Japanese martial arts during the early 20th century should read this excellent article on the early history of Australian jiujitsu:

According to the ringmaster, it was to be competed under “jiu-jitsu rules”, which according to him, meant that each of the men would be allowed, “To hit, scratch, bite, pull by the hair, kick sideways, gouge, or strangle. Practically the only forbidden action was a straight kick.” There would be no pinfalls and one man yielding to the other would only decide the match. It would be Mr. M. P. Adams of Melbourne’s job to keep the order as referee, which would prove to be no small task.

Pierre Vigny in 1934

A stern portrait of former Bartitsu Club instructor Pierre Vigny, taken circa 1934 when he was the Director of the Academy of Defensive Sports in Geneva. The short source article also offers the interesting detail that Vigny had made the acquaintance of French physical culture guru and entrepreneur Edmond Desbonnet, who was instrumental in introducing jiujitsu to Paris, at the Bartitsu Club.

“Professor Re-Nie’s” school of jiu-jitsu (Paris, 1905)

The pioneer of French jiujitsu was Ernest Regnier, who achieved short-lived fame under the vaguely Japanese nom de guerre of “Professor Re-Nie” when he defeated Georges Dubois in a widely publicised jiujitsu vs. French kickboxing match.

Regnier had been a skilled, but rather down-on-his-luck wrestler in Paris until he was sponsored to learn jiujitsu at the London dojo run by former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and his associate, Taro Miyake. Regnier’s patron was a wealthy French physical culture devotee and entrepreneur named Edmond Desbonnet, who had been impressed by jiujitsu during a visit to the Bartitsu Club several years earlier.

Capitalising on the massive publicity generated by the jiujitsu vs. kickboxing contest, Desbonnet installed an ecole de jiujitsu in his fashionably appointed physical culture studio on the Rue de Ponthieu, just off the Champs Elysee. Jiujitsu proved thereafter to be a profitable, but brief fad amongst the Parisian elite; the colour picture above, taken from the front cover of the December 10, 1905 issue of Le Petit Parisien, shows a demonstration at the school for King Carlos I of Portugal.

These recently discovered photographs offer a good look at the school, including the opulent reception area and the main training hall featuring a large, quilted mat. “Re-Nie’s” classes sometimes featured guest instructors from London, notably Taro Miyake, who would stop by to teach in between wrestling engagements.

The building that housed Desbonnet’s physical culture academy (55 Rue de Ponthieu) is now a Marriott hotel, and the distinctive series of four arched windows shown in these pictures of Regnier’s jiujitsu dojo are still visible from the street outside.

The Bartitsu School of Arms 2012 in text, video and images

The second annual Bartitsu School of Arms and Physical Culture was a three-day conference and training seminar held in Chicago between September 7-9, 2012. The event was hosted by the Bartitsu Club of Chicago and based at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio.

Day 1

Our band of stalwart adventurers met at the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighburhood just before noon, embarking in a small but spirited convoy to La Salle, IL to tour the Hegeler Carus Mansion and its historic gymnasium – normally a two-hour trip. Unfortunately we were delayed by unusually heavy traffic leaving the city, but the Hegeler Carus Mansion staff were kind enough to delay the start of the 2.00 tour to accommodate us. En route, a nascent plan emerged to write a Bartitsu-themed “anthem”, perhaps in the style of a c1900 music hall song. We also met SoA instructor Allen Reed, who lives somewhat near La Salle, at the site.

The mansion tour was fascinating, particularly re. the Hegeler and Carus families’ close connections to events such as the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the spread of Zen Buddhism to the Western world and to the publishing industry via their in-house “Open Court” company. By special permission of the Hegeler Carus Foundation, instructor Tony Wolf was then able to lead an extended, “up close” tour of the famous 1876-vintage gymnasium, which he has been helping to research and re-assemble. Two Bartitsu Club of Chicago members were afterwards inspired to construct their own “teeter ladder” exercise apparatus, which would surely be a unique addition to the Forteza gymuseum; as far as we know, the original teeter ladder in the mansion’s gym is the only surviving example of its type.

Our return to Chicago was significantly delayed by extremely heavy traffic, due in part to a Bruce Springsteen concert, but we were just about able to get everyone fed and at the Lincoln Square Theatre in time for the beginning of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride.

The play is set during the late Victorian era and actually opens with the title character – a no-nonsense, Mary Poppinsish member of the Society of Lady Detectives – making adroit use of jujitsu and then her parasol to fend off various assailants. Further fight scenes showcased everything from smallsword fencing to pugilism in the context of an ostensible Jack the Ripper mystery, but in fact the mysteries to be solved were of a different and more personal nature. All ended happily for the heroines and the audience was left hoping for further adventures with the S.O.L.D.

Day 2

We began the first full training day with a tour of the Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts studio and then a mini-lecture on Bartitsu history. Warm-ups began by simply walking around the space for orientation, then jogging, then jogging backwards, then jogging while throwing an antique leather medicine ball to and fro (nothing like it for breaking the ice).

We continued the warm-up with a series of synergy exercises stressing efficient whole-body movement, unbalancing tactics and elbow/hip alignment.

Next up was a set of two circuit training sessions in which small groups rotated between short classes taught by three instructors; Allen Reed teaching collar-and-elbow wrestling and jujitsu throws, Tony Wolf teaching fisticuffs and Mark Donnelly teaching cane techniques. These sessions were followed by some “integration” training, making the point that Bartitsu really comes to life when the various skills/styles are tested against each other and combined together.

After lunch we reconvened for longer, specialized classes with each instructor. Mark taught a session on umbrella/parasol defense via the “bayonet” grip; Forteza Fitness instructor Keith Jennings taught some catch wrestling holds, takedowns and reversals; Allen presented several canonical Bartitsu/jujitsu kata, and drills arising from opponent resistance; Tony taught “combat improvisation” based on various canonical unarmed and armed set-plays.

Then each instructor in turn was invited to contribute to a combat scenario beginning with cane fighting, segueing through boxing and throwing and ending up on the ground.

The last session of the day was devoted to informal “breakaway” groups and included some spirited cane sparring, pugilism drills, scenario-based cane techniques, free submission grappling and even some Bowie knife work. Serious points to those young enthusiasts who, after a very full day of Bartitsu training, still had enough energy to squeeze in a kettlebell session.

At 7.00 pm we met in the Victorian-themed side room at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House – all dark green velvet, dark polished wood and maroon trimmings – and spent a very pleasant couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting before retiring gratefully, if not necessarily gracefully, to home and rest.

Day 3

The final day of the School of Arms began with an orientation and quick Bartitsu history lesson for the four new (Sunday only) participants. We started the warm-up with forward and backward jogging and medicine ball tossing, then rotated through whole-group exercises/balance games taught by Mark Donnelly, Allen Reed and Tony Wolf, including iterations of wrist wrestling, stick wrestling, stand-off and finger-fencing.

Next we cycled through two circuit training rounds of small group mini-lessons (roughly 15 minutes each), in which Mark concentrated on cane work, Allen on jujitsu throws and Tony on integrating standing grappling with fisticuffs and low kicking.

After lunch each of the instructors taught a longer, 45 minute class for the whole group. Mark focused on the technical and tactical dynamics of parrying and countering with the cane. Allen taught applications of two canonical jujitsu kata vs multiple opponents and Tony gave a session on spontaneously combining three canonical kata/set-plays (two jujitsu, one cane) in response to opponent resistance.

We then set up for the Antagonisticathlon, which proved to be by far the roughest and wildest rendition of that event yet. The combination of stirring Sherlock Holmes and Steampunk music via the PA system and the presence of an audience fed into a quite extraordinary mixture of hard fighting and surreal Victorianesque humour. It was a sight to see.

After the warm-downs, the School of Arms ended on a high note, with thanks to our hosts at Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts for providing the perfect venue for this event, to the instructors and to the brave souls who volunteered as ruffians in the Antagonisticathlon. We then passed out participation certificates and posed for group photos before retiring to O’Shaughnessy’s for drinks and farewells.

Special thanks to the members of the Bartitsu Club of Chicago who volunteered to host and chauffeur out-of-towners, the staff at the Hegeler Carus Mansion and to all the participants, some of whom had traveled considerable distances for the event.

Onwards to the Bartitsu School of Arms 2013 …

“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.

“Corps-a-corps fighting” in the French Army (1918)

From The Medical Record: Volume 94, Issues 1-12, Page 31.

When Lieutenant Desouches of the French Mission attached to the American Army, was in Paris last, he expressed surprise that Dr. McCurdy, head physical instructor of the Y. M. C. A. for the American Army, was not aware that jiu-jitsu was taught in both the French and British Armies. He said: “Go to the Ministére de la Guerre and see Commandant, or, as you say, ‘Major,’ Royet, directeur de l’infanterie. He is at the head of the physical instruction.”

Commandant Royet received me courteously and at once spoke of jiu-jitsu in the French Army. “Why, we have had this going on for more than half a year, and all the men in the French Army have to learn jiu-jitsu, adapted to our requirements, and the feature is an enormous success. We encourage the men in every way to perfect themselves in what we call “corps-a-corps fighting,” and this feature is of immense use. Before the war the method of combat was with the bayonet and was simply a system reduced to movements, manual exercises, and fencing. But since the war we have gone into the thing with entirely new motives. We have adopted real hand-to-hand fighting, such as is imposed by the circumstances of this war. We require our men to kill their adversaries in this new corps-a-corps work. The bayonet is all right, but suppose you have no bayonet – which sometimes happens – well, a man can clutch his knife and attack his adversary. But suppose he has no knife, or, for some reason, cannot make use of it, at the psychological moment? What then? Why, he simply relies on his knowledge of jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu is an art which takes time to learn thoroughly, but a soldier can learn enough in a month to give him complete confidence in himself when he has nothing but his hands, head, and feet to help him out, minus his gun, bayonet, grenade, or sword, as the case may be. What we teach enables our men to master their adversaries in almost all circumstances – even when the adversary is armed. He can disarm his adversary. You can see this in our schools. You simply kill a man with this jiu-jitsu properly applied.

“The one thing above all, in this jiu-jitsu work is that a soldier has complete confidence in himself. We have found it a splendid thing for the morale. When they advance at the front they are sure they can grapple with their adversary. Is not this a good thing to learn? The English Army has taken this up and it has found its value, and I can heartily recommend it to all the Allied Armies. The Minister of War is getting out a brochure containing this system of instruction and it will soon appear with illustrations and at the same time our Ministry will issue an English translation.

“Boxing is all right, so is the savate, or French substitute for boxing, so is wrestling, and so is also, of course, the Japanese jiu-jitsu. All come into our system of instruction. Let us take an example: suppose a man boxes his adversary, knocks off his helmet. There is a fraction of a second of surprise. Then is the time to disarm him and finish him off with jiu-jitsu. Our system does not give jiu-jitsu the monopoly to the exclusion of all other means of getting rid of one’s enemy, but it is an adaptation to our requirements. We use bayonet, knife, savate, boxing, and jiu-jitsu, all combined for practical purposes. When I say one month is sufficient for a man to learn our army physical development exercises, I do not mean any one at random; I mean a man who has had some physical development to start with. A man who never had physical development exercises cannot be expected to pick up jiujitsu in a short time. He takes longer to get the required skill. But he gets it. Believe me, our men are delivering the goods all right.”

The Amazons of Edwardian London; martial arts-trained Suffragette Bodyguards

A familiar street scene in early 20th century London; police constables arrest a Suffragette protestor.

We have not yet made ourselves a match for the police, and we have got to do it. The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men.

Don’t come to meetings without sticks in future, men and women alike. It is worth while really striking. It is no use pretending. We have got to fight.

– Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst, quoted in the New York Times on August 12th, 1913.

By 1913, the sociopolitical battle that was the British women’s suffrage movement had reached a boiling point. Faced with the practice of hunger striking by jailed Suffragette leaders, the government responded with the so-called “Cat and Mouse Act“; an unprecedented amendment to the law that allowed prisons to deal with starving prisoners without resorting to the highly controversial methods of forced feeding. Under the new Act, a starving suffragette could be released from jail, allowed time on the outside to recover her health, and then be re-arrested on the original charge.

To keep their leaders free as long as possible, as well as to protect them against run of the mill assaults by irate defenders of the status quo, the Women’s Social and Political Union created a secret society known as The Bodyguard. Numbering 25 or 30 athletic and dedicated women, the Bodyguard was charged with providing security at Suffragette rallies throughout the UK.

A satirical cartoon from Punch Magazine.

The Bodyguard took their duties seriously and, following Sylvia Pankhurst’s advice, started training in the Japanese martial art of jujitsu, which had been introduced to London some 15 years previously by Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of the eccentric and eclectic self defence art of Bartitsu. They were trained in a succession of secret locations by Edith Garrud, who was among the very first professional jujitsu instructors in the Western world. Journalists, delighted by this colourful wrinkle in an already juicy story, quickly dubbed the Bodyguard the “jujitsuffragettes”.

Along with their practical duties, the Bodyguard also became something of a symbolic rallying point as the Suffrage movement became ever more radical. They served an important role as agents of propaganda, ensuring that women’s suffrage stories stayed in the newspaper headlines; a necessary and valuable tactic towards winning over hearts and minds.

Edith Garrud demonstrates a jujitsu armlock.

Many colourful stories are told of the adventures of the Bodyguard. After one window-smashing protest, Edith Garrud reminisced, she led a group of suffragettes fleeing the police through the back-alleys of London to her dojo (martial arts school), where the fugitives hid their weapons in trapdoors hidden under the mats. By the time the “bobbies” came knocking at the door, they found only a group of young women innocently practicing jujitsu.

Although vastly outnumbered by the police, the Bodyguard accomplished several truly impressive victories. On the night of February 10th, 1914, Suffragette leader Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst (Sylvia’s mother and a fugitive under the Cat and Mouse Act) was scheduled to give a speech to the public in Camden Square. By 8.00 that evening, the Square was filled with both pro- and anti-suffrage citizens and with a large contingent of police constables. Mrs. Pankhurst appeared on a balcony high above the Square and, pulling up the veil of her hat, delivered a rousing address, finishing by taunting the police and the government:

I have reached London tonight in spite of armies of police. I am here tonight, and not a man is going to protect me, because this is a woman’s fight, and we are going to protect ourselves! I am coming out amongst you in a few minutes and I challenge the government to re-arrest me!

When the tiny, veiled woman did emerge at street level, escorted by members of the Bodyguard, the police quickly swept in. Bodyguard Katharine Willoughby Marshall rallied the crowd: “It’s Mrs. Pankhurst, friends! Don’t let her be arrested!” The crowd surged forward but the police pounced first. When the constables pulled out their truncheons, the Bodyguard responded in kind, drawing hardwood Indian clubs (bowling-pin shaped clubs intended for exercise classes) from the bustles of their long dresses.  There was a short, bloody fight, but the police managed to seize their target. She was struck on the head and thrown to the ground, where several men held her down with their full body weight, causing her to pass out due to asphyxiation. Six policemen then lifted her unconscious body to shoulder height and began to push their way through the roiling crowd, as Katherine Marshall called out again, “Help Mrs. Pankhurst!”

The Bodyguard continued to batter the police as they made their way towards the nearby Ladbroke Grove station, at which point, bruised and exhausted, they discovered that the veiled women they had captured was a decoy; the real Mrs. Pankhurst was long gone, having simply waited out the excitement in the balconied house at Camden Square before being spirited away by the Bodyguard and a “smart woman driver”.

By far the most dramatic event in the history of the Bodyguard, though, took place about a month later. The “Battle of Glasgow” occurred at a Suffragette meeting at St. Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow, Scotland. As Mrs. Pankhurst had written in a letter to her friend Ethel Smyth:

Whatever happens will hit the Government. If I get away they will again be laughed at, and if I am taken the people will be roused. The fools hurt themselves every time.

The Bodyguard had travelled up from London by train, spending an uncomfortable night in a third-class carriage before booking into a local hotel under the guise of a theatrical troupe.

On the evening of March 9th, St Andrew’s Hall was packed to capacity with a crowd largely sympathetic to the Suffragettes’ cause. The Bodyguard carefully surveyed the crowd from their vantage point, a semi-circle of chairs set up on the stage directly behind the speaker’s podium. Garlands of white and purple flowers decorated the edge of the stage and banners bearing the Suffragette mottoes, “Deeds Not Words” and “Votes for Women” were strung high above them.

The Glasgow police had taken no chances, surrounding the entire hall with a cordon and also stationing 50 constables in the basement. The atmosphere was tense, even more so when the appointed hour of 8.00 came and went with no sign of Mrs. Pankhurst. Many members of the audience doubted that she could possibly break through the cordon, no matter how many Bodyguards she might have to help her. Thus, when she suddenly appeared on the stage, the effect was like magic; though, as with the most apparently sophisticated illusions, the principle was simple misdirection. After spreading a rumour that she would attempt to breach the cordon, she had in fact arrived at the hall early and in disguise, paid for her ticket like any other member of the public, and taken a seat close to the platform.

I have kept my promise and in spite of his Majesty’s Government I am here tonight.

Very few people in this audience, very few people in this country, know how much of the nation’s money is being spent to silence women. But the wit and ingenuity of women is overcoming the power and money of the Government!

My text is – equal justice for men and women, equal political justice, equal legal justice, equal industrial justice and equal social justice!

That was as far as she got before being interrupted by the heavy tread of police boots, as the squadron in the basement made their way upstairs to the hall. Just as the helmeted head of the lead constable, a giant of a man, appeared in the doorway, Janie Allen, a Scottish Bodyguard who was wearing an elegant black evening gown, stood up from her seat, drew a pistol and fired it straight at his chest. There was a deafening blast and the constable fell back into his colleagues, believing that he had been shot – but in fact, the pistol was loaded with blanks.

As the startled and angry police struggled to climb past the panicked giant in the doorway, the Bodyguard pulled out their Indian clubs and took up a defensive formation around Mrs. Pankhurst, who continued to speak over the commotion. The police finally broke through onto the stage and a fearsome fight took place; 25 women armed with Indian clubs and jujitsu vs. 50 truncheon-wielding police constables. The audience began to jeer and boo at the police, drowning out the speech they had come to hear.

Pandemonium now reigned in the hall. Several plain-clothes detectives, who had been hiding in the crowd, attempted to blindside the Bodyguard by climbing onto the platform, but were repelled by a barrier of barbed wire that had been hidden in the floral garlands decorating the edge of the stage. Old ladies then stood up and belaboured the detectives with their umbrellas. Chairs and tables were overturned as the combatants on the stage swung and jabbed, grappled and fell. Gert Harding, the Canadian woman who was the tactical leader of the Bodyguard, was not allowed to risk arrest by being caught with a weapon and was therefore unarmed when a constable raised his truncheon at her. She later recalled being surprised when he seemed to change his mind at the last instant and, instead, threw her into a pile of toppled chairs.

Eventually, the constables overwhelmed the Bodyguard resistance and hauled Mrs. Pankhurst off to a waiting police cab, her clothes torn to shreds during the struggle. The audience was outraged, particularly when the detectives attempted to break up the meeting, and angrily shouted them down; the meeting was, in fact, legal and they carried on with it, hearing speeches by other Suffragette leaders. Afterwards the crowd marched to the Central Police Station in St. Andrew’s Square, forming a mob of protestors that was estimated to include some 4,000 people, chanting their support for Mrs. Pankhurst until they were dispersed by police on foot and horseback.

The “Battle of Glasgow” changed the course of the Suffrage movement. As Mrs. Pankhurst had predicted, her arrest at St. Andrew’s Hall roused her supporters to a new pitch. The next day, a Suffragette named Mary Richardson protested the arrest by taking a meat cleaver to the Rokeby Venus, a famous and very valuable painting hanging in London’s National Art Gallery, later saying:

I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history.

Thereafter, the Suffragettes’ protests by arson and vandalism became more frequent and much more destructive, provoking a backlash both from within the WSPU and from the general public as well. The Bodyguard continued their duties, however, including an infamous street fight with the police outside Buckingham Palace on May 21 that left one constable knocked unconscious and many people injured.

The outbreak of the First World War, though, put an end to the Bodyguard and to most radical Suffragette activity, as Mrs. Pankhurst decided that “votes for women” would be meaningless if England was conquered by Germany. Instead, she urged her supporters to throw their strengths and skills into supporting the government for the duration of the crisis, including many activities that were formerly considered to be strictly “men’s work”.

In March of 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, granting voting rights to some eight million British women.

Edith Garrud (aged 94, in the year 1966) demonstrates a jujitsu wrist lock on reporter Godfrey Winn.

 

Further reading:


Edith Garrud: the Suffragette who knew jujutsu


With All Her Might: The Life of Gertrude Harding, Militant Suffragette