The Life’s Work of Percy Longhurst

  • Originally published on the site on Saturday, 5th March 2016

Percy William Longhurst (1874-1959) was a lifelong wrestling and antagonistics enthusiast, a prolific writer and a significant figure in the history of Bartitsu.

Unfortunately, comparatively little is known of Longhurst’s biography, especially his early life.  As an adult he served the National Amateur Wrestling Association of Great Britain in various official capacities, including Treasurer, Secretary and President.  In 1899 he won the English Light-Weight Wrestling Competition and, in the same year, became one of the very first European-style wrestlers to challenge E.W. Barton-Wright’s Japanese jiujitsuka.  Losing both experimental matches, Longhurst became an enthusiastic proponent of Japanese unarmed combat for sport and, especially, as a means of self defence.

Longhurst’s 1900 article, A Few Practical Hints On Self-Defence, and his subsequent references to having learned some jiujitsu from Barton-Wright himself, strongly suggest that he was at least a sometime-member of the Bartitsu Club in Shaftesbury Avenue.  He also studied with both Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, but the chronology there is unclear.

Longhurst’s first major contribution to the self defence milieu was his seminal book Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self Defence, originally published in 1906 and in print, via at least ten subsequent editions, for many decades thereafter.  This book is, for most practical purposes, the closest thing to a “Bartitsu manual” published in English, covering Longhurst’s idiosyncratic blend of various British regional wrestling styles with Japanese jiujitsu and also including some techniques of boxing and walking stick self defence.  It remains a valuable resource towards the development of neo-Bartitsu styles.

During the heated “boxing vs. jiujitsu” debate that played out in the pages of Health and Strength magazine during 1906, Longhurst produced a notably balanced and realistic illustrated article on the subject.  Despite “mixed” boxing vs. wrestling or jiujitsu contests being at least theoretically illegal under the then-current law, which would have defined such contests as “brawling in a public place”, Longhurst had clearly participated in these types of matches “behind closed doors”.

Unlike several of his contemporaries, notably including William and Edith Garrud and W. Bruce Sutherland, Longhurst does not appear to have ever set up his own school, nor even to have taught public self defence classes.  However, it is clear from his writings on the subjects of jiujitsu and “combined” self defence that he was both  knowledgeable and practically experienced, so it’s not unlikely that he trained informally, albeit over a long period, probably with his colleagues in the wrestling community.

He was, however, along with Garrud, Sutherland and Percy Bickerdike, among the founding members of the British Ju Jitsu Society, which formed in 1920.  The BJJS may have been established somewhat in reaction to the London Budokwai, which represented a shift away from the “old guard” of eclectic British jiujitsu and towards the new model of Kodokan judo.  The Society produced a newsletter and several detailed monographs on subjects such as atemi-waza (pressure-point techniques) and ne-waza (ground-fighting techniques).

Percy Longhurst continued to write prolifically throughout the early and mid-20th century, producing dozens of books and articles mostly on the subjects of athletics, wrestling and self-defence.  In writing for “Boy’s Own” magazines he occasionally used the pen-name Brian Kingston.  His output included juvenile adventure stories (such as “The Secret Lock“, written in 1911, which reads very much like a jiujitsu-themed prototype for the Karate Kid movies) as well as histories and expositions of various British wrestling styles.  His essay “The Hunt for the Man Monkey”, a purportedly true cryptozoological adventure describing a tragic encounter with an unknown, ferocious ape-like creature in the wild jungles of Borneo, was especially popular.

During the 1930s Longhurst was involved in an interesting project to create a new calisthenic wrestling style referred to as “standing catch-as-catch-can”, in which the object was to lift opponents off the floor rather than to throw them to the floor.  He also produced introductions for reprints and revisions of a number of books that had been written by his Edwardian-era colleagues, including Sadakazu Uyenishi’s Text-Book of Jujitsu, W.H. Collingridge’s Tricks of Self Defence and William Garrud’s The Complete Jujitsuan.

Percy Longhurst passed away at the respectable age of 85, having made a number of unique and valuable contributions to his chosen field.

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