“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.