“Corps-a-corps fighting” in the French Army (1918)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Friday, 10th August 2012

From The Medical Record: Volume 94, Issues 1-12, Page 31.

When Lieutenant Desouches of the French Mission attached to the American Army, was in Paris last, he expressed surprise that Dr. McCurdy, head physical instructor of the Y. M. C. A. for the American Army, was not aware that jiu-jitsu was taught in both the French and British Armies. He said: “Go to the Ministére de la Guerre and see Commandant, or, as you say, ‘Major,’ Royet, directeur de l’infanterie. He is at the head of the physical instruction.”

Commandant Royet received me courteously and at once spoke of jiu-jitsu in the French Army. “Why, we have had this going on for more than half a year, and all the men in the French Army have to learn jiu-jitsu, adapted to our requirements, and the feature is an enormous success. We encourage the men in every way to perfect themselves in what we call “corps-a-corps fighting,” and this feature is of immense use. Before the war the method of combat was with the bayonet and was simply a system reduced to movements, manual exercises, and fencing. But since the war we have gone into the thing with entirely new motives. We have adopted real hand-to-hand fighting, such as is imposed by the circumstances of this war. We require our men to kill their adversaries in this new corps-a-corps work. The bayonet is all right, but suppose you have no bayonet – which sometimes happens – well, a man can clutch his knife and attack his adversary. But suppose he has no knife, or, for some reason, cannot make use of it, at the psychological moment? What then? Why, he simply relies on his knowledge of jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu is an art which takes time to learn thoroughly, but a soldier can learn enough in a month to give him complete confidence in himself when he has nothing but his hands, head, and feet to help him out, minus his gun, bayonet, grenade, or sword, as the case may be. What we teach enables our men to master their adversaries in almost all circumstances – even when the adversary is armed. He can disarm his adversary. You can see this in our schools. You simply kill a man with this jiu-jitsu properly applied.

“The one thing above all, in this jiu-jitsu work is that a soldier has complete confidence in himself. We have found it a splendid thing for the morale. When they advance at the front they are sure they can grapple with their adversary. Is not this a good thing to learn? The English Army has taken this up and it has found its value, and I can heartily recommend it to all the Allied Armies. The Minister of War is getting out a brochure containing this system of instruction and it will soon appear with illustrations and at the same time our Ministry will issue an English translation.

“Boxing is all right, so is the savate, or French substitute for boxing, so is wrestling, and so is also, of course, the Japanese jiu-jitsu. All come into our system of instruction. Let us take an example: suppose a man boxes his adversary, knocks off his helmet. There is a fraction of a second of surprise. Then is the time to disarm him and finish him off with jiu-jitsu. Our system does not give jiu-jitsu the monopoly to the exclusion of all other means of getting rid of one’s enemy, but it is an adaptation to our requirements. We use bayonet, knife, savate, boxing, and jiu-jitsu, all combined for practical purposes. When I say one month is sufficient for a man to learn our army physical development exercises, I do not mean any one at random; I mean a man who has had some physical development to start with. A man who never had physical development exercises cannot be expected to pick up jiujitsu in a short time. He takes longer to get the required skill. But he gets it. Believe me, our men are delivering the goods all right.”

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