“Tani, the Japanese Wrestler” (1905)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Tuesday, 11th July 2017

From the 1905 omnibus edition of Mind and Body: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Physical Education:


TANI, the Japanese wrestler, was in the midst of a bout with an alert, muscular young Englishman from the Mile End Road. The Englishman was doing very well and the audience at the Royal, Holborn, were enthusiastically on his side, urging him with shouts of encouragement, native to East End, to hold on like death.

The odds seemed to be in his favour. He was the bigger man of the two, and apparently the stronger. He had good, stout limbs, yet he was lithe and quick. It seemed absurd to set him against the short, slight, wiry Japanese, who looked even less than his eight stone ten.

And the Japanese was down on his back, and the Englishman held him with a grip of irbn, and the Mile End Road thought he could do it for the five minutes that remained of the stipulated fifteen, and thus win the prize.

Suddenly there was a change. The Japanese wriggled out of trouble like a cat. He stepped around his opponent as lightly as if he were waltzing, seized a wrist, hitched the man down with a leg trip, and at once, sinking on his back at right angles to the Englishman, threw his leg across the man’s neck and held him there like a log until Mile End Road tapped the mat in signal of defeat.

There were some murmurings among the audience. It looked suspiciously as if the Japanese had half strangled his opponent, and the Englishman’s admission from the stage that he had nothing to complain of scarcely removed the impression. I went behind the scenes afterward and Tani showed me this particular fall.

“Well,” said he, “you are in the street and you desire my life. You have a heavy dagger and I have none. You make a downward plunge — so; and see what happens.”

I made the downward plunge in a double sense. Quick as lightning Tani had me by the wrist, his other hand pressed hard on my shoulder, the back of his leg pressing inward on the back of mine.

I went sprawling on my back, Tani slipped down on his and his leg was curled over my throat. But,that was the least part of the operation, only designed to keep my head in position. Tani had retained his hold on my wrist and now held it with both hands. The slightest struggle on my part exerted a pressure on the elbow which went near to breaking the arm. With my disengaged hand I beat a violent tattoo on the mat to indicate that I was convinced.

“That’s all very well with me, being no lion in strength,” I said. “But what would happen with Hackenschmidt? You couldn’t get his arm down for that lock.”

“This,” said the Japanese—and he quickly turned the arm the other way, fixing the lock of exquisite agony. “In fact,” he pursued, “the bigger the man the better I like him. It is his strength, not mine, that does the mischief. That stands to reason. If I put on a lock he cannot break, the harder he may struggle against it the greater the damage he enjoys.”

To correctly appreciate jiu-jitsu, it is necessary to understand that it is more than a sport, designed to teach the student to meet every form of attack that may be made upon him.

It was developed by men who had made a profound study of anatomy and the laws of leverage and force; and it was perfected by generation after generation of clever men. Every boy of the samurai or warrior class was taught it, and it was their favorite form of competitive sport.

There is one deadly grip which always offends English notions of fair play. That is what Apollo, Tani’s manager, christened the knockout blow.

Tani grips both sides of your collar, hands crossed, palms outward, puts one foot on your thigh, and falls backward. You fall with him. Retaining his double grip on the collar and his leg on the thigh, he rolls over and you roll over with him. Then, like a cat, he is sitting astride your chest, and you are done.

This grip is generally regarded by British audiences as a strangle, and it has been known to provoke howls of protest. But it is not a strangle, as I can testify by personal experience. The pressure is all at the sides and back of the neck, the windpipe not being touched.

Appollo tried it and found the sensation that of “floating among clouds in a perfectly happy state.” He wondered how it was done, and Tani could not explain.

Then he read that a Dutch physician, while sojourning among the Japanese, found that the native doctors, when performing slight operations, used no anaesthetics, but simply applied pressure to the carotid artery, by which means the patient was rendered unconscious.

That was the explanation of the Japanese knock-out grip. Pressure on the two carotid arteries arrested the flow of blood to the brain, and the victim, if he was too proud to give the signal, drifted out of conscious existence.

I asked Tani to show me his reply to a kick. He allowed me to kick him, but he caught the foot, twisted the toe around, and on the instant had me sprawling on the mat, tied up in a contorted knot, from which I was uncommonly glad to be released.

One thing which I particularly noticed in these falls was that Tani left me to do the hard work. He cajoled me off my balancc, I fell, as he wanted me to fall, and he then had me in a lock wherein, if I was anxious for a broken bone, the breaking had to come from me. He wrestles as if he were playing chess, and while you are still standing, he makes the hold which he exercises when you are thrown.

Apollo admits that after two years’ constant practice with Tani he began to “rather fancy himself” at the art. So one day he made a wager with Tani that he could withstand him for 15 minutes. And in exactly three minutes Apollo was beaten by a hold that he had never seen before. It is asserted that there are some 300 moves in the game, with which a wrestler must be familiar before he is regarded as a master.

But, as Tani says, why use more variations than you need? “There were two of us, and we used to show the art of defense against a street attack. My comrade, he attack me, and I throw him out. But what use is that? We do it so quickly that the people think it is a made-up job, some juggling, or something, and they only laugh. It is the same when two Japanese wrestle on the stage. If you do not know the fine points of the game, how can you see they are good?

“And so it is better for me to wrestle with your Englishmen, so that you can see how we combat their attacks. And how I should love to try it on one of your biggest champions! But they want me to play their game, which I do not know: and if it is a game merely of strength, how shall a man of nine stone beat a man of fourteen?”

This entry was posted in Jiujitsu. Bookmark the permalink.