Today in history – “Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View”

  • Originally published on the site on Thursday, 10th February 2011

One hundred and ten years ago today, E.W. Barton-Wright presented his seminal lecture, Jujitsu and Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defence from the British Athletic Point of View for the Japan Society of London.

Although a significant event in the very early history of jujitsu in the Western world, Barton-Wright’s lecture had at least one precedent. Some ten years earlier, at the inaugural meeting of the Japan Society, the prominent Japanese banker and judoka, Mr. Tetsuro Shidachi, had delivered a similar lecture, entitled Jujitsu: The Ancient Art of Self Defence by Sleight of Body. Mr. Shidachi’s notes were subsequently developed into a popular article and may even have inspired Barton-Wright’s own training in Japan, which took place between 1895-98.

Before introducing Barton-Wright, the chairman, Mr. Arthur Diosy, paid formal homage to the late Queen Victoria, whose recent death was still being mourned throughout the British Commonwealth. He then referred to the previous lecture and noted that while Mr. Shidachi had concentrated especially on the moral and intellectual aspects of Japanese unarmed combat, Barton-Wright proposed to address it from the practical perspective of the British athlete.

The lecturer commenced with one of his most comprehensive descriptions of Bartitsu, explaining first that the word was simply a portmanteau of his own surname and of jujitsu, which he defined, curiously, as meaning “a fight to the last”. Bartitsu, he continued, implied “self defence in every form, and not in one particular branch”. He went on:

Under “Bar-titsu” I comprise boxing, or the use of the fist as a hitting medium, the use of the feet both in an offensive and defensive sense, the use of the walking-stick as a means of self-defence in such a way as to make it practically impossible to be hit upon the fingers. Judo and Ju-jitsu, which are secret styles of Japanese wrestling, I would call close-play as applied to self-defence.

In order to ensure as far as it was possible absolute immunity as against injury in cowardly attacks or quarrels, we must understand boxing in order to thoroughly appreciate the danger and rapidity of a well-directed blow, and the particular parts of the body which were specially liable to bring about absolute collapse if scientifically attacked. The same remarks, of course, apply to the use of the foot or the stick. Ju-do and Ju-jitsu were not designed as primary means of attack and defence against a boxer or a man who kicks you, but are only supposed to be used after coming to close quarters, and in order to get to close quarters it is absolutely necessary to understand boxing and the use of the foot.

He then proceeded into a thorough precis of judo and jujitsu, although it’s evident either that some of his definitions of Japanese terms were eccentric, or that the secretary, who was recording the lecture for posterity, became confused by the technical jargon.

After an accurate summary of judo as having been founded by Professor Kano and consisting of techniques of yielding rather than resisting, Barton-Wright was then recorded as having defined jujitsu as what we, today, would call submission wrestling. It is, perhaps, more likely that he meant to distinguish judo from jujitsu by noting that (circa 1900) the former discipline concentrated on throwing techniques, whereas certain schools of the latter were more focused on ne-waza grappling and restraint methods.

Barton-Wright noted that European wrestling champions, including “the Terrible Greek” (Antonio Pierri), had refused to wrestle with his Bartitsu Club champions, for fear of having their necks broken. This may not have been showman’s hyperbole; the practice of grappling to the point of submission via joint-locks or choke-holds was entirely novel in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and many members of the wrestling establishment criticised it as being barbaric.

The secretary appears to have become confused again in recording Barton-Wright’s definition of kata as “a form of wrestling … in which leverage and balance played the principal parts”. In fact, kata are specifically pre-arranged drills; they do usefully teach the skills of leverage and balance, but they do not comprise a form of wrestling in themselves.

Barton-Wright then noted that one reason for the strength of the Japanese wrestlers was that there was very little “animal power” in Japan, i.e., that horses and cattle were comparatively seldom employed as beasts of burden, so that a great deal of human muscular strength was necessarily developed via manual labour. More specific to his subject, he mentioned that it took three months to train the muscles of the neck to the point where they could resist strangling.

There followed a series of practical demonstrations of various jujitsu throws – Barton-Wright took care to reassure his audience that the demonstrators, K. Tani and S. Yamamoto, were not hurt in taking their falls – and then joint-locking techniques. Next was an exhibition of the famous “pole trick” in which the prone Yamamoto, with his hands bound behind his back, wriggled out from beneath a bamboo pole pressed across his throat by six men, while two more attempted to pin his legs to the floor and another two stood on him; a feat of jujitsu escapology that was to become a staple of public Bartitsu demonstrations.

For the finale, Barton-Wright himself demonstrated a series of throws and locks upon a volunteer from the audience, the 6’+ Lieutenant Douglas of the 7th Prussian Cuirassiers, who was a visitor to the Japan Club.

Replying to questions from the onlookers, Barton-Wright said that weight was of no consequence in jujitsu, noting that “leading English pugilists” had refused to try their strength with Tani, because they shared the Terrible Greek’s fear of getting their necks broken. In response to a query about catch-as-catch-can wrestling, he replied that it was effective “in uncivilized countries (against) unclothed men”, but that in civilized countries judo and jujitsu were superior means of self-defence. This was almost certainly a reference to the use of the gi jacket in effecting throws and strangling grips. Barton-Wright would later made the same point to wrestlers who complained about his jacketed submission wrestling rules, noting that if a man was attacked in the street, both himself and his assailant were likely to be wearing coats or jackets.

As to how this art of self-defence would avail in a struggle with a violent drunken man requiring six men to hold him down, Mr. Barton-Wright said that a “lock” could easily be put on a drunken man by which he could be escorted. At the Japanese ports, he said, burly sailors had been picked up by small Japanese policemen and thrown into the sea, the sailors saying that the police officers were “demons”. Both question and answer in this case were very likely inspired by an anecdote about an English sailor in a Japanese port town, related in Rudyard Kipling’s 1892 essay “The Edge of the East”. That essay had also been cited in a footnote to Shidachi’s lecture.

… the beauty of life penetrates (the sailor’s) being insensibly till he gets drunk, falls foul of the local policeman, smites him into the nearest canal, and disposes of the question of treaty revision with a hiccup. All the same, Jack says that he has a grievance against the policeman, who is paid a dollar for every strayed seaman he brings up to the Consular Courts for overstaying his leave, and so forth. Jack says that the little fellows deliberately hinder him from getting back to his ship, and then with devilish art and craft of wrestling tricks – “there are about a hundred of ’em, and they can throw you with every qualified one” – carry him to justice.
– Kipling, “The Edge of the East”

Although the details evidently changed in re-telling, the image of the small Japanese police officer manhandling the drunken English sailor seems to have penetrated the popular imagination of the time; the same anecdote would re-appear some six years later during the “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy in Health and Strength Magazine.

There followed a miscellany of questions; was jujitsu commonly taught in Japan? No, there were people who had lived there for thirty years and knew nothing of it. Barton-Wright further reported that the Japanese had been suspicious of him when he expressed an interest in the art, that he could not, initially, persuade anyone to return with him to England and display it in the music halls, and that he, himself, had not been taught its higher forms. It was never taught nor exhibited for money in Japan and Professor Kano taught judo for purely altruistic reasons.

Referring to the ethic of self control among combat athletes, Mr. G.C. Haite commented that forbearance was common among his friends who were boxers and wrestlers, so that the Japanese were not singular in that respect. Barton-Wright replied:

Things are different to this on the Continent. In some countries six or seven men think nothing of attacking one. There is a mental as well as a physical side to this training, which is never acquired without practice. Directly one sees a man, one ought to know whether he is a man to go for at once, or whether he should be allowed to have first turn and afterwards come in oneself.

The Chairman, Mr. Diosy, then proposed a vote of thanks to the lecturer, saying that “this wonderful art of self-defence, when used as it should be, in defending the weak against the strong, would be of great service in those countries where one would not find fair play.”

Mr. Haite seconded the Vote, which was carried by acclamation.

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