An interview with Kirk Lawson

A revised and updated edition of Kirk Lawson‘s book Banned from Boxing: The Forgotten Grappling Techniques of Classic Pugilism is now available from this site.

What was your original motivation to write “Banned from Boxing”?

More than a decade ago I started working with Ken Pfrenger, a noted martial researcher in his own right, and he introduced me to old school boxing. He called it “Classic Pugilism” to differentiate it from modern boxing. Ken introduced me to strikes that aren’t used any longer in modern boxing and other elements including, surprisingly enough to me, grappling. Oh, I was familiar with blending boxing and grappling; MMA was in full swing by then, but the idea that grappling had been included, then was removed, and now was making its way back in captivated me. What’s more, so few people knew that grappling had been such an important part of boxing. Sure, there were a few people who had read some of the antique manuals, but the vast majority of both boxers and more traditional martial artists (read: “Asian stylists”) had no idea and, indeed, would sometimes scoff at the suggestion.

I recall similar reactions when awareness of historical fencing first started to penetrate into other martial spheres.

As I became more familiar with the work of bygone pugilists I became more and more convinced that their style of boxing needed to be remembered in the modern era. In particular the grappling, because, well, to be honest, that is what held my attention. Though I suppose I justified it by telling myself that the grappling was the largest, perhaps the most important, chunk of what had been forgotten. While true, I just simply had developed a minor obsession with the material.

Additionally, I hoped to address the lack of a solid naming convention for these old techniques. One of the advantages of doing modern Judo, for instance, is that a given technique has the same name in Ohio, California, Germany, and Japan and has for the last century. Not so with the old pugilistic grappling. Often I would find 2 or 3 old authors agree on a name, but then there would be 1 or 2 others who would show the same technique in the illustrations but call it something else. So I hoped to be able to apply common, consistent names.

How have your readers responded to the first edition?

The response has been far greater and more positive than I ever could have guessed. I always knew that antique boxing techniques would be somewhat niche but the interest seems to have broken stylistic boundaries.

That’s usually a good thing.

Many readers look on the material as a historic curiosity but, because they love historic curiosities, they read the material anyway, even though they don’t believe the “antiquated” material to have much modern application. On the other hand there are a whole series of different modern martial artists who have interest and express that they feel the material is applicable, either directly or indirectly, to their studies. These range from modern boxers interested in expanding their repertoire, MMA fans looking for something a bit different from the other guys, Asian stylist interested in martial arts in general, and the growing Western Martial Arts community looking for historic accuracy.

Have you seen interest from any unexpected quarters?

Quite surprising to me is interest coming from the direction of Steampunk enthusiasts who are also looking for historically accurate material to give their hobby an additional dimension and new flavor.

What is new in the second edition?

While the second edition is an evolution of the first, it’s not just a series of spelling corrections and slightly updated photographs. Since I published the first edition, I have continued to read and republish other antique boxing manuals and kept coming across great new material and illustrations which I was dying to add to the book. After collecting and organizing the new material, I ended up with 60 or 70 individual notes ranging from “re-write this paragraph” to specific authors’ advice on specific techniques like Owen Swift’s advice on the Cross-Buttock or Shaw’s break for Front Chancery. In the end I had updated 11 of the chapters, added 19 completely new historic illustrations, and a half dozen or so new sources.

Freshest in my mind, and perhaps most intriguing to some, is new material in the chapter “Pull the Hair, Poke the Eye, Oh My!” Here I added material which is best termed “Pressure Point Attacks” in historic boxing. It kind of surprised me the first time I saw these sort of attacks in the antique manuals, but there they were. It’s not a large section but I expect it to be the most attention grabbing.

Finally, as a Bartitsu instructor yourself, how would you say the material in “Banned from Boxing” can be relevant to Bartitsu, or neo-Bartitsu?

Well, it’s obviously all speculation and informed guesswork. However, this material blends historic boxing and grappling in a way similar to what we think Barton-Wright was teaching. With that in mind, the material in “Banned from Boxing” can easily act as a bridge between the historic “striking” material and grappling. The old boxers had a specific skill set and a long tradition of mixing the two within the confines of their sport so I think there’s a lot that we can glean from what they were doing and move it forward into the speculative neo-Bartitsu context.

“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.