A “New Art of Self Defence” in Ballarat, Australia (1902-09)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 12th May 2017

Aside from the curious demonstrations of “baritzu” by Australian soldiers circa 1906, E.W. Barton-Wright’s martial art may have inspired at least one other Aussie enthusiast during the early 20th century – although the latter took pains to deny any such influence.

Above: calisthenics at the Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club (1904)

Starting in May of 1902, members of the then-newly formed Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club began to perform exhibitions of a “new art of self defence” that was claimed to have been devised by the Club president, Mr. John Trekardo.  During a packed and diverse athletic display that included gladiatorial tableaux and interludes of song alongside the more standard boxing, fencing and wrestling bouts, Mr. Trekardo and his assistant took the stage to demonstrate:

(…) first, “a new way to cope with a footpad” and, second, “a new art of self-defence.” In the first it was demonstrated how easily the staid citizen, who is accosted by a garrotter or rough on his way home, might by the exercise of a little ingenuity and physical force capsize his would-be assailant before the latter could attack him, while in the second part an entirely new method of stopping the rush of an assailant in the street was cleverly demonstrated.

Mr. Trekardo performed several similar displays throughout the remainder of 1902, always to extravagant praise if the newspaper reviews are to be believed.  During a demonstration in August, the Trekardo system was introduced by his student Captain Olden, who claimed that:

(…) the system had been invented by Mr. Trekardo before the introduction of the Barton-Wright system in London.

Records indicate similar self-defence exhibitions in connection with the Ballarat Amateur Athletic Club’s annual displays between 1903-09.  There do not, however, appear to be any records of Trekardo actually teaching the “new art”.

The last records of exhibitions of Trekardo’s system are from 1909, during which his associate, a Mr. Lazarus, remarked that Mr. Trekardo had “instituted the teaching of grips in 1899, long before the jiu-jitsu of the Japanese was spoken about here”.

It’s probably true that jiujitsu per se was not known in Australia during 1899; in fact, that word appears in Aussie newsprint for the first time in February of 1904.  Granting that it’s possible that Trekardo invented his own system independently, it does, however, seem highly likely that it was inspired by, if not actually copied from, Barton-Wright’s first series of articles for Pearson’s Magazine.  Those articles were published in England during March and April of 1899 and were widely available in Australia during that year.

A takedown from Barton-Wright’s second article for Pearson’s.

Notably, Barton-Wright’s articles did not refer to jiujitsu by name, but clearly do describe and illustrate Japanese unarmed combat – under the title “The New Art of Self Defence”.

It should be noted that, during this period, it was quite common for “colonial” entertainers and athletes to jump on the bandwagon of novel, popular trends originating in Europe and the United States.  Vaudeville acts and so-on were regularly undertaken by performers who had no actual connection to the “real thing” but whose experience allowed them to pull off a more-or-less convincing imitation.

By 1909, of course, jiujitsu had become internationally famous, and Australians were even able to witness the art performed by an expert in earnest.  The jiujitsuka Ryugoro Shima (1885-1958) had arrived in the Land Downunder during 1905, and four years later he was well-established on the wrestling challenge circuit.  Possibly Mr. Trekardo took that opportunity to retire his own system;  in any case, he went on to some success in local politics, serving as the mayor of Ballarat between 1937-38.

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