“Jiu-jitsu Against Boxing” (1906)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Tuesday, 2nd October 2018

Victor Breyer’s rather intricate article from La Vie au Grand Air of January 12, 1906 illustrates some of the puzzles faced by European fighters in adapting to Japanese jiujitsu.  

Breyer was writing in the midst of Paris’ brief but intense “jiujitsu vogue”, which began on November 3rd of the previous year.  When jiujitsuka Ernest Regnier, fighting under the quasi-Japanese nom de guerre “Professor Re-Nie”, defeated savateur Georges Dubois in mere seconds, the victory of jiujitsu sent shock-waves through French sporting society.  Very quickly, Regnier found himself teaching overflowing classes in his sponsor Edmond Desbonnet’s fashionable gymnasium.  He was also asked to train the Parisian police, and jiujitsu rapidly entered the pop-culture lexicon as the subject of newspaper cartoons, music hall songs and popular novels.

Meanwhile, in both France and England, fighters representing traditional European styles were forced to contend with the novelty of submission grappling.  As Breyer points out, unless a striker is able to deal an unusually conclusive knock-out blow early in the fight, the odds favoured the grappler; and as wrestlers discovered, simply lifting, thowing or even pinning their opponent was no guarantee of success under jiujitsu rules.  With tongue somewhat in cheek, Breyer also hints at some of the extreme tactics that an “orthodox” combatant might have to resort to in order to win under these unusual circumstances.

The translation of M. Breyer’s article begins:

(…) It is very difficult to draw rigorous conclusions from the avalanche of bizarre and more or less sporting encounters (in general rather less than more) provided by the recent the introduction of jiu-jitsu. There is no doubt that the measure has been surpassed, in that the truly sporting side has been neglected for the benefit of show business, and that the music hall has played too large of a role in the organization of these encounters, many of which really smelt of the “collusion” dear to our “fairground athletes”.

Also, the importers of the Japanese method desired to prove too much, instead of presenting reasonable demonstrations of their evidence to the press.

All this, I repeat, is unfortunate, but does not detract from the high value of jiu-jitsu as a method of combat. I remain convinced (and am certain that the future will demonstrate it to us) that this method is of the first order.

Both opponents are on guard. The boxer’s tactic is to hold the jiu-jitsuan at a certain distance.

It involves putting into practice some techniques based on a much more perfect knowledge of human anatomy than our athletes had hitherto worried about.  Also, there is no doubt that a small and light fighter, knowing jiu-jitsu, will be able to defend himself against an opponent of greater height, weight and muscular strength. Simply using our boxing and French wrestling, he would not last for a moment.

This is especially the case since the Japanese method, when applied to a real fight, does not prohibit any strike or grip. It is perfectly permissible for the jiu-jitsuan to punch with his fist, if the opportunity arises. That is why it is, in my opinion, utterly absurd to insist that a man, using all the weapons that nature has put at his disposal, will be defeated by a man who has foresworn in advance the use of three quarters of these weapons.

But this is what they would make us believe, those who defy jiu-jitsu champions with boxing.

The best boxer in the world will not put a man out of action with one punch.

I can assure you that I have, for the “noble art” of the Marquis of Queensberry, the most ardent admiration.  It’s a superb fighting sport, but it is ridiculous to consider an athlete invincible simply because he has a background as a boxer. I have already, by the way, had the opportunity to test this theory that in a fight between a jiu-jitsuan which every trick would be allowed and a boxer knowing English boxing, and nothing more, the “Japanese” victory is assured.  And I intend to prove it very clearly.

First defence: dodge and then seek to close in.

But first, you have to admit that, except for excessively rare cases, a trained athlete will never be put out of action by one punch, even if delivered by Jeffries.  If you are doubtful, I will remind you that the world champion, even when contending with “second-raters”, never vanquished an opponent with less than fifty puches, let alone one single punch.  And if you object to me that these matches involve the use of gloves, I will remind you of that time long-past when we fought with bare fists.  Those fights lasted even longer, the bare hand being less potent than the leather of the boxing glove.

Now, going back to Jeffries, you’ll admit that during the six months in question, his opponents were often able to clinch – especially if their only tactic was to close in – as will the jiu-jitsuan, of course.  Well, that is the moment when the boxer will be caught; it being specified, I repeat again, that boxing per se is his only resource.  Here he is absolutely at the mercy of one of these terrible tricks of Japanese wrestling – or free-style wrestling,  if you prefer – which will fell in a few seconds a man ignorant of this method.

After dodging, parrying or even receiving a punch, the jiu-jitsuan will surely reply to the boxer.

Note, moreover, that the “Japanese” fighter, especially if he has studied a little bit of boxing, is not even sure to receive a stopping blow.

Second defence – parry the blow, closing in to counterattack.

Three options are available to him; dodging, parrying and “smothering”, to use a term of the most expressively sporty slang.

The third, and clearly the worst, option!

And what of the boxer?  The first two options – and especially on the first, which brings the two adversaries “belt to belt”, will be accompanied by a quick trip that will imbalance you before you can say “Phew!”  He is almost safe, if not on the first try, at least in the second or the third.  As for the third solution – to absorb the blow – I have just shown that it will hardly protect the boxer from the famous counters of jiu-jitsu.

What is the boxer to do now that the iiu-jitsuan has dodged, parried or absorbed his strike?

It is the same when the jiu-jitsuan is opposed by a fighter who it is forbidden to use his feet and his fists, and who cannot call to service those strikes which might prevent his opponent from closing.

This is what happened when Chemialkine met recently with Yukio Tani at the Hippodrome.  The giant Russian wrestler twirled the little Japanese man around his head in vain, as if Goliath had transformed David into the sling.  The Jiu-jitsuan was content to “play dead”, knowing although he was going to secure one of his favourite holds as soon as he was returned to the mat.

But if Chemialkine had been able to punch the man already stupefied by this unusual exercise, the outcome of their fight would have been quite different.

It would also have been quite different if, instead of trying to squeeze Tani’s throat as if trying to strangle him, the Russian could have done to his adversary what our good Apaches call the “trick of the postage stamp”, an energetic expression implying to stomp on the opponent’s head once he has fallen to the ground.  This is the trick that Charlemont would prefer in such an encounter, he told us recently.

Unless, of course, all of this has been done in advance, which would certainly secure the outcome!

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