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”:

“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.

Captain Alfred Hutton writes about his friends at the London Bartitsu Club

Captain Alfred Hutton was among the instructors who taught various branches of “antagonistics” at E.W. Barton-Wright’s School of Arms in London circa 1900.  One of England’s most prominent and respected swordsmen, Hutton was also the president of the Amateur Fencing Association and a pioneering practitioner of revived Elizabethan era fencing with weapons such as the rapier and dagger.

Although Hutton’s specialties do not appear to have been formally included as aspects of Bartitsu, it’s evident that there a good deal of cross-training took place at the Bartitsu Club; for a complete account, see Ancient Swordplay: the Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London.

In an article for The Press newspaper (8 February 1904, Page 10), Captain Hutton reminisced about some colourful characters and incidents from his long experience of fencing.  He also offered the following remarks upon his Bartitsu Club colleagues and their methods of antagonistics:

Before bringing my passing recollections to a close as regards people I have met, and as having been more especially connected with the use of defensive and offensive weapons, I should like to refer to my friend Monsieur Pierre Vigny, a Swiss gentleman, devoted to all athletic exercises, and certainly master of the art of self defence by means of an ordinary walking-stick, a Malacca cane being preferred.  The exercise is most useful in case of attack by footpads, most interesting as a sport, and most exhilarating in a game. It beats single-stick.  However, it would take far too long for me to give further explanations.

There is another new development of athleticism which I strongly advocate, viz., Ju-jitsu, or Japanese wrestling.  I am too old to go in for regular wrestling as it obtains in Japan, easy as it may look, but my good friends Uyenishi and Tani put me up to about eighty kata, or tricks, which even at my age may one day or another come in useful. In modified form the art might be advantageously practised by a small boy when meeting a great hulking bully; indeed, the successful way in which a twelve-year-old friend of mine who knew some tricks of Japanese wrestling floored his parent in my presence was most instructive in spite of its apparent disrespect.

My Japanese friends tell me it is one of the most amusing sights to watch the little native policemen in Japan throwing and capturing huge, stalwart, European sailors who have supped not wisely but too well.

These anecdotes clearly demonstrate that Hutton took a keen practical interest in the classes offered by his fellow Bartitsu Club “professors”. He occasionally demonstrated the Vigny method of self defence with a walking stick during interviews, and he offered a somewhat more detailed account of the Vigny system in his book The Sword and the Centuries.  It was also in that book that he described the Bartitsu Club as being “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

As it turned out, Hutton did find use for some of the 80 “kata” he learned from Tani and Uyenishi, beginning when he penned a short monograph on Ju Jitsu, or Japanese Wrestling, for Schoolboys. A few years later, Hutton demonstrated a number of jujitsu “tricks” for a panel of doctors working in one of London’s psychiatric hospitals.  This was almost certainly the first time Asian martial arts had been applied towards the problem of humane self defence and restraint in a therapeutic environment.

Yukio Tani by George Cooke (1904)

Former Bartitsu Club instructor Yukio Tani, as caricatured by the artist George Cooke.  Cooke compiled hundreds of renderings of Edwardian-era music hall stars during his affiliation with the Grand Theater of Varieties in Hanley, Worcestershire.  His original albums are now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London.

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.

Society Women Wrestlers: Ladies’ Craze for Japanese Ju-jitsu

From the Daily Mirror, April 4, 1904

Impressed by the success of the Japanese system of wrestling – the Ju-jitsu — President Roosevelt has ordered it to be adapted in the. Naval Academy, where it is to be practised, in addition to the ordinary athletic exercises.

President Roosevelt is said to be devoted to this style of wrestling, and many American society ladies have taken it up as a new diversion.

But Americans are not alone in their enthusiasm for the new sport. I In England women are taking great interest in Ju-jitsu. Yukio Tani, the great Japanese exponent of the art, who is quite confident of beating his English opponent in the great match for £200 a side, puts in several hours a week instructing the dames and damsels of Mayfair in the noble art of (Japanese) self-defence. Lady Clara Vere de Vere has taken up Ju-jitsu , as the science is called, with vigour, and is rapidly making herself competent to tackle the burliest hooligan who ever donned cap and muffler. The writer on Saturday received the testimony of “Apollo,” the Jap’s manager, on the subject.

The strong man was at breakfast when our reporter called at his cozy flat in Shaftesbury avenue, but he readily consented to talk.

Makes Women Graceful

“Ju-jitsu”, said he, “is particularly adapted for ladies for several reasons. In the first place, no muscular strength is required, for it is all a question of ‘knack’ and quickness. In the second the science, apart from its usefulness as a means of self-defence, induces grace of carriage and develops the’ figure. You see, to be a competent ju-jitsuist you must hold yourself upright. Whereas, in other styles of wrestling, one has to adopt a crouching attitude, which contracts the chest and makes the figure ugly.”

The fad, it appears, commenced when Tani began to take engagements to appear at private houses and give exhibitions’ of wrestling in the Japanese style. Fashionable hostesses began to vote Hungarian fiddlers and Polish tenors altogether out-moded after they had seen the lithe and graceful Jap and his manager give a glimpse of ju-jitsu. Sometimes, at dances, the wrestling-mats were spread on the ball-room floor between waltzes, and looking on at a bout of ju-jitsu gave the dancers a rest. The grace, the quickness, and the absence of violence which are the distinguishing marks of
ju-jitsu fascinated Lady Clara Vere de Vere, and from seeing it done to wanting to do it herself was but a step. Now, Tani has his hands full putting fair and aristocratic aspirants up to the various locks and holds which constitute the Japanese art of self-defence.

Keenness of the Ladies

“A girl,” says the authority, “will learn ju-jitsu in one-third of the time, and with one-half the trouble, compared with a man. For one thing, they are keener about it; and for another, we cannot get the men to take it seriously enough to moderate their drinking, smoking and late hours – all of which are not conducive to excellence in ju-jitsu.

“Again, a girl is more anxious to improve her general physique than the male thing – and there is no doubt that this style of wrestling is a first-class thing for health and beauty.

An ever-present terror to women living in the country is the prowling tramp. But, armed with a knowledge of ju-jitsu, madame or mademoiselle may take her unattended walks abroad, and in the event of an encounter with the ‘hobo,’ may give him the alternative of crying quarter or having an arm broken.”

So fashionable is the new craze becoming that some West End stationers are printing invitation cards with “Wrestling” in the corner where “Dancing” or “Music” was wont to stand.

Defence Against “Hooligans”: Bartitsu Methods in London (1901)

An article by “S.L.B.” from “The Sketch”, April 10, 1901:

Last year, a very interesting exhibition of self defence was given at St. James’s Hall, and was the subject of prolonged discussion by many of the people present. Mr. Edward Barton-Wright, who gave the demonstration, was honoured with an invitation to repeat it before the Prince of Wales, but he met with a bicycle accident and the exhibition became impossible. It may be that the style of self-defence introduced to public notice would have failed to attract attention by reason of its novelty alone, but Mr. Barton-Wright had not mastered it without the firm intent to give it a fair chance before the public. He proceeded to found a Club at 67b, Shaftesbury Avenue, where physical culture may be studied under Professors of all nationalities, some of the best of the world’s athletes and sportsmen being engaged as instructors. To-day the work is in full swing, stimulated by the uprising of the “hooligan”.

In his early days, Mr. Barton-Wright was an engineer, and his duties took him into strange lands and among ill-disposed people. He had to go slowly, and to learn that the knowledge of boxing under the Queensberry rules, his sole accomplishment then among the arts of self-defence, is of little or no use against men who attack their opponents with feet as well as hands, from below the belt as well as above it, from the back as well as face-to-face, and with bludgeons, life-preservers, knives and other persuasive weapons. The straightforward stroke that, catching the ruffian upon the “point” or “mark”, disables him from further attempts, is of little or no good when it cannot be delivered, and in every city he visited the young engineer found more and more to learn.

Soon he was seized with the bright idea of combining the self-defence of all nations into a system that, when properly acquired, should enable a man to defy anything but firearms or a sudden stab in the dark.

The chief point to bear in mind was that an adequate system of defence must be able to meet any form of attack; the man who endeavours to disable you by kicking you in the stomach is entitled to as much respect and consideration as he who strives to garrote you, or to try the relative resisting powers of a loaded stick and your skull.

The Bartitsu Club, through its Professors, over whom Mr. Barton-Wright keeps an admonishing eye, guarantees you against all danger. In one corner is M. Vigny, the World’s Champion with the single-stick: the Champion who is the acknowledged master of savate trains his pupils in another. He could kill you and twenty like
you if he so desired in the interval between breakfast and lunch – but, as a matter of fact, he never does. He leads you gently on with gloves and single-stick, through the mazes of the arts, until, at last, with your trained eye and supple muscles, no unskilled brute force can put you out, literally or metaphorically.

In another part of the Club are more Champions, this time from far Japan, where self-defence is taken far more seriously than here. The Champion Wrestler of Osaka, or one of the shining lights among the trainers for the Tokio police, dressed in the picturesque garb of his corner of the Far East, will teach you once more of how little you know of the muscles that keep you perpendicular, and of the startling effects of sudden leverage properly applied. The Japanese Champions are terribly strong and powerful; at a private rehearsal of their work, given some two months ago on the Alhambra stage, I saw a little Jap. who is about five feet nothing in height and eight stone in weight, do just what he liked with a strong North of England wrestler more than six feet high, broad, muscular and confident. The little one ended by putting his opponent gently on his back, and the big one looked as if he did not know how it was done.

There is no form of grip that the Japanese jujitsu work does not meet and foil, and in Japan a policeman learns the jujitsu wrestling as part of his equipment for active service. One of the Club trainers was professionally engaged to teach the police in Japan before he came to England to serve under Mr. Barton-Wright.

When you have mastered the various branches of the work done at the Club, which includes a system of physical drill taught by another Champion, this time from Switzerland, the world is before you, even though a “Hooligan” be behind you. You are not only safe from attack, you can do just what you like with the attacking party. He is as helpless in your well-trained hands as a railway-engine in the hands of its driver. The “Hooligan” does not understand the principles on which he works; you do, and, if it pleases you to make his machinery ineffective for further assaults upon unoffending citizens, you can do so in a way that cannot be believed until it is seen. No part of South London need have terrors for you; Menilmontant, La Vilette and the shadier side of the Bois are as safe for you in Paris as the Place de l’Opera. I find myself wishing that the Bartitsu Club had been in Shaftesbury Avenue as recently as some five or six years ago, when shortly after midnight the slums of Soho would send forth ruffians at whose approach wise men sought the light.

The work of the Club makes a strong appeal to Englishmen, because they are naturally of an adventurous disposition and have a great aversion to the use of any but natural weapons of defence in the brawls that they are bound to encounter now and again. There is a keen pleasure in being able to turn the tables on a man who tries to assault us suddenly and by means that he relies upon to give him an unfair advantage. I am well assured that a few of Mr. Barton-Wright’s pupils sent into a district infested by “Hooligans” would do more to bring about law and order than a dozen casual arrests followed by committal with hard labour, with or without the “cat”. And there is an element of sport in the Bartitsu method that should appeal to any “Hooligan” with a sense of humour.

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.