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”:

Review: “100 Years of Judo in Great Britain”, Volume 1

This review is specific to Volume 1 of a two-part series of books by the late judoka and historian Richard Bowen (1926-2005), whose extensive private collection of judo/jujitsu books and ephemera now forms the Bowen Collection at Bath University.

The “Reclaiming of its true spirit” subtitle is curious, in that aside from a few scattered editorial comments, the book does not actually address reclaiming judo’s “true spirit”. Rather, Volume 1 of 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain offers a very thorough history of the early 20th century personalities and politics of jujitsu and judo in the UK, with generous asides exploring Japanese martial arts in the USA and elsewhere during the same period.

Bowen was obviously a devoted and very careful scholar, with long-term access to rare archives, diaries etc. in addition to in-depth first-hand knowledge of the subject and many of its principal figures. Specific to Bartitsu, he performed pioneering research into the lives of Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright, music hall challenge wrestlers Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi and strongman/jujitsu promoter William “Apollo” Bankier, amongst many other notables. 100 Years of Judo in Great Britain cites and offers extensive quotes from numerous c1900 newspaper articles, etc. that promise to open new doors for contemporary Bartitsu researchers. Also, students of Brazilian jujitsu/MMA history will be interested to read about Mitsuyo “Conde Koma” Maeda’s early experiences as a challenge wrestler in London.

Perhaps unavoidably, given that the book was published posthumously, some sections are obviously better polished than others. Frustratingly at times, there are no chapter headings, contents pages nor index, though there are almost 100 pages of carefully annotated end-notes. The proof-reading also leaves quite a lot to be desired. Ultimately, though, these are minor quibbles in comparison with the absolute wealth of knowledge and detail to be found in this book. It is a unique and very valuable contribution to martial arts scholarship.

Today in history – “Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View”

One hundred and ten years ago today, E.W. Barton-Wright presented his seminal lecture, Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View for the Japan Society of London.

Although a significant event in the very early history of jujitsu in the Western world, Barton-Wright’s lecture had at least one precedent. Some ten years earlier, at the inaugural meeting of the Japan Society, the prominent Japanese banker and judoka, Mr. Tetsuro Shidachi, had delivered a similar lecture, entitled Jujitsu: The Ancient Art of Self Defence by Sleight of Body. Mr. Shidachi’s notes were subsequently developed into a popular article and may even have inspired Barton-Wright’s own training in Japan, which took place between 1895-98.

Before introducing Barton-Wright, the chairman, Mr. Arthur Diosy, paid formal homage to the late Queen Victoria, whose recent death was still being mourned throughout the British Commonwealth. He then referred to the previous lecture and noted that while Mr. Shidachi had concentrated especially on the moral and intellectual aspects of Japanese unarmed combat, Barton-Wright proposed to address it from the practical perspective of the British athlete.

The lecturer commenced with one of his most comprehensive descriptions of Bartitsu, explaining first that the word was simply a portmanteau of his own surname and of jujitsu, which he defined, curiously, as meaning “a fight to the last”. Bartitsu, he continued, implied “self defence in every form, and not in one particular branch”. He went on:

Under “Bar-titsu” I comprise boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking-stick as a means of self-defence in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Judo and Ju-jitsu, which are secret styles of Japanese wrestling, I would call close-play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible absolute immunity as against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, we must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were specially liable to bring about absolute collapse if scientifically attacked. The same remarks, of course, apply to the use of the foot or the stick. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

He then proceeded into a thorough precis of judo and jujitsu, although it’s evident either that some of his definitions of Japanese terms were eccentric, or that the secretary, who was recording the lecture for posterity, became confused by the technical jargon.

After an accurate summary of judo as having been founded by Professor Kano and consisting of techniques of yielding rather than resisting, Barton-Wright was then recorded as having defined jujitsu as what we, today, would call submission wrestling. It is, perhaps, more likely that he meant to distinguish judo from jujitsu by noting that (circa 1900) the former discipline concentrated on throwing techniques, whereas certain schools of the latter were more focused on ne-waza grappling and restraint methods.

Barton-Wright noted that European wrestling champions, including “the Terrible Greek” (Antonio Pierri), had refused to wrestle with his Bartitsu Club champions, for fear of having their necks broken. This may not have been showman’s hyperbole; the practice of grappling to the point of submission via joint-locks or choke-holds was entirely novel in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and many members of the wrestling establishment criticised it as being barbaric.

The secretary appears to have become confused again in recording Barton-Wright’s definition of kata as “a form of wrestling … in which leverage and balance played the principal parts”. In fact, kata are specifically pre-arranged drills; they do usefully teach the skills of leverage and balance, but they do not comprise a form of wrestling in themselves.

Barton-Wright then noted that one reason for the strength of the Japanese wrestlers was that there was very little “animal power” in Japan, i.e., that horses and cattle were comparatively seldom employed as beasts of burden, so that a great deal of human muscular strength was necessarily developed via manual labour. More specific to his subject, he mentioned that it took three months to train the muscles of the neck to the point where they could resist strangling.

There followed a series of practical demonstrations of various jujitsu throws – Barton-Wright took care to reassure his audience that the demonstrators, K. Tani and S. Yamamoto, were not hurt in taking their falls – and then joint-locking techniques. Next was an exhibition of the famous “pole trick” in which the prone Yamamoto, with his hands bound behind his back, wriggled out from beneath a bamboo pole pressed across his throat by six men, while two more attempted to pin his legs to the floor and another two stood on him; a feat of jujitsu escapology that was to become a staple of public Bartitsu demonstrations.

For the finale, Barton-Wright himself demonstrated a series of throws and locks upon a volunteer from the audience, the 6’+ Lieutenant Douglas of the 7th Prussian Cuirassiers, who was a visitor to the Japan Club.

Replying to questions from the onlookers, Barton-Wright said that weight was of no consequence in jujitsu, noting that “leading English pugilists” had refused to try their strength with Tani, because they shared the Terrible Greek’s fear of getting their necks broken. In response to a query about catch-as-catch-can wrestling, he replied that it was effective “in uncivilized countries (against) unclothed men”, but that in civilized countries judo and jujitsu were superior means of self-defence. This was almost certainly a reference to the use of the gi jacket in effecting throws and strangling grips. Barton-Wright would later made the same point to wrestlers who complained about his jacketed submission wrestling rules, noting that if a man was attacked in the street, both himself and his assailant were likely to be wearing coats or jackets.

As to how this art of self-defence would avail in a struggle with a violent drunken man requiring six men to hold him down, Mr. Barton-Wright said that a “lock” could easily be put on a drunken man by which he could be escorted. At the Japanese ports, he said, burly sailors had been picked up by small Japanese policemen and thrown into the sea, the sailors saying that the police officers were “demons”. Both question and answer in this case were very likely inspired by an anecdote about an English sailor in a Japanese port town, related in Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 essay “The Edge of the East”. That essay had also been cited in a footnote to Shidachi’s lecture.

… the beauty of life penetrates (the sailor’s) being insensibly till he gets drunk, falls foul of the local policeman, smites him into the nearest canal, and disposes of the question of treaty revision with a hiccup. All the same, Jack says that he has a grievance against the policeman, who is paid a dollar for every strayed seaman he brings up to the Consular Courts for overstaying his leave, and so forth. Jack says that the little fellows deliberately hinder him from getting back to his ship, and then with devilish art and craft of wrestling tricks – “there are about a hundred of ’em, and they can throw you with every qualified one” – carry him to justice.
– Kipling, “The Edge of the East”

Although the details evidently changed in re-telling, the image of the small Japanese police officer manhandling the drunken English sailor seems to have penetrated the popular imagination of the time; the same anecdote would re-appear some six years later during the “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy in Health and Strength Magazine.

There followed a miscellany of questions; was jujitsu commonly taught in Japan? No, there were people who had lived there for thirty years and knew nothing of it. Barton-Wright further reported that the Japanese had been suspicious of him when he expressed an interest in the art, that he could not, initially, persuade anyone to return with him to England and display it in the music halls, and that he, himself, had not been taught its higher forms. It was never taught nor exhibited for money in Japan and Professor Kano taught judo for purely altruistic reasons.

Referring to the ethic of self control among combat athletes, Mr. G.C. Haite commented that forbearance was common among his friends who were boxers and wrestlers, so that the Japanese were not singular in that respect. Barton-Wright replied:

Things are different to this on the Continent. In some countries six or seven men think nothing of attacking one. There is a mental as well as a physical side to this training, which is never acquired without practice. Directly one sees a man, one ought to know whether he is a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in oneself.

The Chairman, Mr. Diosy, then proposed a vote of thanks to the lecturer, saying that “this wonderful art of self-defence, when used as it should be, in defending the weak against the strong, would be of great service in those countries where one would not find fair play.”

Mr. Haite seconded the Vote, which was carried by acclamation.

William E. Steers and the Hilltop dojo

(With thanks to the late Richard Bowen as well as to John Bowen and Joe Svinth.)

William E. Steers is one of the “mystery men” of the early British jiujitsu scene. His name appears in connection with those of many more famous figures – London Budokwai principal Gunji Koizumi, judo founder Jigoro Kano, soldier/author/journalist E.J. Harrison and pioneering challenge wrestlers Mitsuyo Maeda, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi.

Unfortunately, few biographical details are available, and those that are offer a scattershot impression of William Steers. We know that he was born circa 1857. Contemporary sources noted him as having been an auditor for the British Ministry of Munitions; he was also an “extraordinary scholar” and a member of the Society of Arts. By the age of forty he had evidently travelled widely in various capacities throughout the British Empire, possibly as far away as New Zealand.

In 1903 Steers set sail for Japan, where he befriended E.J. Harrison and began training in jiujitsu. Returning to London the following year, Steers joined the Golden Square dojo of former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi. There he made the acquaintance of Gunji Koizumi, who had recently arrived from Liverpool where he had been briefly affiliated with the highly dubious Kara Ashikaga School of Jiujitsu. During this period Steers may also have studied with Mitsuyo Maeda, a prominent competitor on the professional wrestling circuit.

Circa 1909, Steers commissioned the design and construction of an extraordinary house in the Surrey Downs. As it was built atop one of the highest hills in the Tandridge district, near the town of Caterham, Steers named his new home “Hilltop”.

Created by the architectural firm of Parker and Unwin, Hilltop featured a unique blending of Japanese aesthetics with those of the then-burgeoning English Arts and Crafts movement. According to an article in The Craftsman journal of 1910:

By a life spent in close study of the characters and customs of many nations, perhaps more especially of the Japanese, he has gained that breadth of outlook which much travel alone can give, and has come to feel that we have much to learn from the older civilizations of the East, civilizations which on the other hand, we of the West are beginning to mar.

It’s likely that the gi-wearing figure standing in the doorway in the following picture is Steers himself:

The interior of the house featured a graceful combination of Asian and European motifs:


However, by far the most unusual feature of Hilltop was its gymnasium, which melded the typical features of an Edwardian physical culture studio with those of a Japanese martial arts dojo.

Quoting the architect:

… when Mr. Steers came to settle in England it was his wish to do this in a home and among surroundings which would make it possible for him to practice and demonstrate to others what he had come to believe in. His position being as follows:—that it is everyone’s first duty to society and to himself or herself to be always in the most perfect health possible. He even goes so far as to say that few of us are justified in being ill, and would put no duty before that of keeping in perfect health, claiming that only when this has been accomplished are we capable of our best in any sphere, and that it is our duty never to give anything short of our best.

Believing in the physical and perhaps even greater mental alertness and agility resulting from the practice of the Japanese art of self-defense, jiujitsu, he would have it taught in our schools and colleges, to our military, naval and police forces. He holds that its practice gives a physical, mental and moral self-reliance which nothing else can.

One of the principal rooms of his house had therefore to be so planned as to give ample facilities for the practice of this art, while at the same time it was not to be spoiled for the many other uses to which it might be put. On the accompanying plans this room is called the gymnasium. It is worthy of careful study from both decorator and athlete.

It was not possible to secure quite as much sunshine in this room as could have been wished, partly owing to considerations for its privacy and partly to the necessary position for the living room. The gymnasium, however, gets all the northeast, east and southeast sun there may be, that is the morning sun, and its use as a gymnasium is almost entirely in the morning. The front of this room being composed of rolling shutters and large opening windows through which one enters onto an exercising lawn, terminating in an open-air swimming bath, necessitated extreme privacy and therefore an aspect away from the road which runs by the south end of the house. The room is carried to the full height of the house—that is, two stories—so, when the rolling shutters, together with the French windows on either side of them and the row of windows above are all open, as is almost always the case, the room is a very high one with practically one side open; in fact, it becomes a three-walled room. This sense of openness and airiness may be experienced which would be unobtainable in a less lofty room, even though as open in front. The floor, like a dancing floor, is carried on springs, and is covered with Japanese reed mats two inches thick. A dressing room and bath are connected with the gymnasium.

In summer, with mattresses thrown down at night upon the reed mats and the front thrown open, this room becomes one of the most delightful sleeping apartments imaginable. The Japanese custom of having no apartments set aside exclusively for sleeping in is one that Mr. Steers holds we might well adopt. Is it not possible that in some of our smaller houses we could frequently with advantage so adapt the furniture in some of the rooms in which part of our daily occupations are performed, that by simply throwing down mattresses and bedclothes when night comes we could sleep quite comfortably? Some claim that it is unhealthy to sleep at night in a room used in the daytime; surely this idea belongs to the days when it was customary to keep all windows closed. In these days when we all appreciate the hygienic value of fresh air and no longer open windows merely to “air the room,” but live with the windows open day and night, this claim can have no significance.

The decoration of the gymnasium was undertaken by Mr. Hugh Wallis of Altrincham. He was asked to go to Caterham, to stand in the middle of the room and imagine he was standing in a green glade or clearing in a forest, then to paint on the rough plaster of the walls the vistas among the trees, their foliage, boles, stems and branches, glimpses of sky and distant landscape, and in the foreground, characteristic woodland flowers in the grass. When the artist reached Caterham, however, the spirit of the delightful Surrey scenery surrounding him took so great a hold of the imagination that he had perforce to reproduce it in his delightfully decorative style. The vistas between the trees widened out and became filled with glimpses of distant country, broadening finally into wide peaceful scenes in the luxuriant Surrey countryside.

According to British judo historian Richard Bowen, Steers shared Hilltop with fellow jujitsuka E. H. Nelson, who had helped to organise their teacher Sadakazu Uyenishi’s “Text-Book of Ju-Jitsu”. Strangely, however, Steers was only to occupy Hilltop for a few years. In 1911 he sold the property and the following year he returned to Japan, where he enrolled at the Kodokan in Tokyo and became a student of Jigoro Kano’s. Kano later described Steers as having been the most earnest foreign student he had ever taught. At the age of fifty-five Steers was awarded the black belt rank in Kodokan judo, being only the second Westerner ever to achieve that rank.

Re-settling in London, Steers continued to display an almost evangelical zeal for judo, most especially for its emphasis on both moral and physical fitness. In 1918, at the age of sixty-one, he gave a speech entitled “A Perfect Manhood, or, Judo of the Kodokwan”. During the lecture he advocated free tuition in judo for almost every English citizen and performed a demonstration of “hand-throws, waist-throws, leg-throws, and lateral and frontal sutemi – a sacrifice for a gain.” This event aroused huge enthusiasm within the newly-founded London Budokwai, whose members sent copies of the text to many hundreds of politicians and educational institutions. Unfortunately, nothing came of their efforts.

Steers became Budokwai member number 52 and went on to become the clubs’ first honourary secretary. He was responsible for introducing his friend E.J. Harrison to the club, and later, the prominent American martial artist and scholar Robert W. Smith.

Steers’ most historically significant accomplishment, though, was that he was instrumental in forging ties between the London Budokwai and the Kodokan. In 1920 the Budokwai hosted a visit by Professor Kano and 4th-dan instructor Aida Hikochi, and thereafter the club officially took up the study of judo. Both former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani and Gunji Koizumi were accredited Kodokan 2nd-dan black belts, with Tani becoming the Budokwai’s first professional teacher. This shift marked the end of the era of eclectic “British jiujitsu” begun in 1898 by E.W. Barton-Wright, and the beginning of the formal development of judo in the UK.

William E. Steers died in his early 70s during the year 1930.

The case of the imaginary sensei

Eager would-be students of jiujitsu in early Edwardian England had limited options to learn the mysterious Japanese art of self defence. During the period 1899-1902 the Bartitsu Club in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue was literally the only jiujitsu school in England. By 1906, however, there were several more dojo operating in the UK, with greater or lesser degrees of legitimacy.

Some seekers (there’s one born every minute) sent away for the correspondence course advertised above, which purported to represent the Kara Ashikaga School of Jiu-jitsu in Liverpool. Not only did this course offer an infallible method of self defence “as taught at the Yoshimosa School in Japan”, but other advertisements promised that the practice of jiujitsu would cure all manner of ailments, including constipation.

The best current evidence suggests that Kara Ashikaga, the stern-looking sensei depicted in the Liverpool school’s magazine ads, did not actually exist. Rather, he was a promotional gimmick devised by the actual proprietor of the correspondence course, an Englishman named Thomas.

There appears to be no evidence that the Yoshimosa School of Jiujitsu ever existed either. The name “Yoshimasa Ashikaga” was, however, featured prominently in Lafcadio Hearn‘s book, “In Ghostly Japan”, first published in England in 1904. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Thomas simply picked out a few names that he liked the sound of and proceeded to sell his customers a bill of goods. Adding insult to injury, the four-volume correspondence course, “Jiu-jitsu the Japanese Method of Attack and Self Defence by the Kara Ashikaga School” was, in fact, a direct plagiarism of “Jiu-Jitsu the Japanese Method of Attack and Self Defense” by Captain H. H. Skinner.

By a strange twist of fate, for a brief time in early 1906, the Ashikaga School did feature instruction by a genuine jiujitsu sensei. Liverpool was the first British port of call of the famous Gunji Koizumi. In Koizumi’s “My Study of Judo” (1960) he mentions having taught jiujitsu at the Kara Ashikaga School.

It’s tempting to imagine a Remington Steele scenario in which Mr. Thomas, having invented a Japanese martial arts master as a figurehead, suddenly and unexpectedly found himself in the position to employ a real one. Sadly, the historical record does not reveal whether Koizumi played along with the charade (although it seems unlikely), nor whether Thomas had to scramble to create an actual dojo at his Electric Building address to accommodate his new instructor and, presumably, paying students. Koizumi, sensibly enough, spent only a short time at the Liverpool school before before travelling south to London, where he collaborated with former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi at his Piccadilly Square dojo.

Caveat emptor