The Bamboo Pole Trick

  • Originally published on the site on Monday, 12th March 2018

This photo published in the Italian journal La Stampa Sportiva (November, 1903) shows former Bartitsu Club instructor Sadakazu Uyenishi wheeling out an old favourite.  The “bamboo pole trick” had been a feature of some of the earliest exhibitions of jiujitsu in London, and a prone variation on the same principle was even mentioned in the memoir of Dutch anthropologist Herman ten Kate, who had trained in the same Shinden Fudo Ryu dojo in Kobe as had Bartitsu founder E.W. Barton-Wright.

Above; Yukio Tani pulls off the “bamboo pole trick” at a Bartitsu Club event during March of 1899.

As a test/demonstration, the “bamboo pole trick” legitimately does show off the performer’s ability to withstand pain and discomfort and to manage the direction of pressure against their throat.  Subtle shifts of position change the angle of pressure from “straight into the trachea” to “downward against the collar-bones”, which, though still uncomfortable and somewhat risky, is a less actively dangerous than trying to resist a pole shoved directly into the sensitive throat area.

That said, it’s really more of a carnival sideshow stunt than an exhibition of martial arts skill, and that point was not lost on some early observers of the trick in London.  According to a report published in the Sporting Times of October 20, 1900:

Then the talking began, for a gentleman of ripe years, alluded to affectionately by most of the audience as “Charley,” was not quite satisfied with the pushing experiment of arm against throat, and had something to say as to leverage and the Georgia Magnet. Whether he wanted make a match between the little American lady and the big Jap, we in the stalls could not quite catch; but when the discussion was at its height, Mr. Barton Wright appeared from behind the scenes with a message from the big Jap*. He (the big Jap) would stand against the wall, and let the doubting gentleman push with the pole as hard as be could against his throat, if afterwards the doubler would wrestle a fall with him.

It’s a little ironic that “Charley” should have cited the Georgia Magnet in his objection to the bamboo pole trick, given that E.W. Barton-Wright himself had published an expose of Georgia Magnet-style leverage tricks presented as feats of “supernatural” strength.

  • The big man cited here was probably Seizo Yamamoto, who was among the original party of three jiujitsuka imported by Barton-Wright to exhibit and teach their art to curious Londoners.  Yamamoto, along with Yukio Tani’s older brother Kaneo, only remained in London for a few months before returning to Japan.
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