“I Charged Like a Bull” – Australian Writer/Composer Kenneth Duffield Recalls Wrestling with Yukio Tani

During early-mid 1902 the Bartitsu Club instructors embarked on a largely successful exhibition tour that was to prove to be their “last hurrah” as a collective unit. Their venues included the Oxford Town Hall, Cambridge University, the Shoreditch Army Camp, the Adelphi Theatre in Liverpool and the Mechanic’s Institute Hall in Nottingham.

Australian-born writer/composer Kenneth Duffield was, at that time, a student at Cambridge. According to his memoir Savages and Kings (1946), Duffield was among the volunteers who braved a close encounter with Bartitsu Club jiujitsu expert Yukio Tani when the “Anglo-Japanese Tournament” exhibition visited his alma mater:


“I’m Twenty-One Today”

Yukio Tani, the famous Japanese Jiu-Jitsu champion, gave an historic – as far as I was concerned – exhibition of his strange (but mostly non-utilitarian) prowess during my fourth year at Cambridge. I shall never forget the occasion, because it happened on my 21st birthday, 31st May, which date more or less coincides with the end of the term and the final exams.

The Corn Exchange was packed, mostly with noisy undergraduates, and I must admit that our twelve-fold front-row contribution to the din could not be denied. After a long day of gaiety and only one lecture, we had dined most sumptuously-well off a dish or two of those notoriously good Trinity College kitchen products, to say nothing (at the moment) of a flagon or so of the famous “Audit Ale” from out those labyrinthine King Henry VIII cellars.

Towards the end of the remarkable Jiu-Jitsu performance – which consisted of chiefly of “11th Hour” escapes from murdererous Japanese clutches, grips and strangulations – Representative members of the audience were invited to go on the stage to prove for themselves how very innocuous were the demonstrations.

Of course there was no difficulty in persuading a young man who had just celebrated his majority to volunteer, and I clambered onto the platform to the accompaniment of cheers and hoots from my friends. I was given a heavy canvas jacket and a pair of shorts in place of my evening dress, and when I had donned these the “fun” began.

I was shot into the air – “with the greatest of ease” – ricocheted back into Yukio Tani’s massive arms, hurled sideways between and assistant’s open legs, and, by the infamous “scissors movement”, thrown violently to the floor upon my right ear. I should have been quite dead by this time had the stage not been well padded, and I began to take a dislike of the entire procedure, and by no means a very good view of the audience, who were by now convulsed with laughter.

So I determined on revenge – a worthy but forlorn resolution. Again I found myself flying up into the “flies”, kicked in the stomach by Yukio, who, gripping my arms, hurled me over his head and so to the stage, flat on my back …

I think the Audit Ale, which, like rum, gives one extra courage, then began to take effect, for I got on my feet, charged Yukio like a bull, straddled his body between my legs, and seized him tightly by the ears with my strong, wiry fingers.

If you have ever seen a rodeo bronco-busting show, you can visualize the buck-jumping performance that I gave as I clung like grim death to his massive body and rode him by the ears. He shook me, bounced me, rolled me on the floor (which hurt me considerably), nosedived me but failed to dislodge this Australian-born bushman.

Finally, having drawn blood – and a good deal of it, too – from his ears, I forced him to his knees and made him tap twice on the floor (the signal for surrender), to the discomfort of his attendance satellites but to the vociferous approval of my friends in the front row.


In writing nearly five decades after the fact, Mr. Duffield clearly allowed himself some artistic licence, such as his repeated descriptions of the diminutive Yukio Tani as “massive”, let alone the above illustration portraying Tani as if he was built like a sumo wrestler.

Still, there’s enough detail here to strongly suggest that Duffield actually did grapple with Tani during the Cambridge exhibition. Did he win as described in this anecdote? Alas, that vital point has been lost to history …

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