“What To Do When A Thug Attacks You”: Still More on the Latson Method of Self-Defense

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 21st November 2016

The following article dated July 16, 1911 serves as a further explication of the curious “Latson Method of Self Defence”.  Aside from its clear parallels with Bartitsu, as a combination of jiujitsu with savate and umbrella self defence, the Latson method is notable for the bizarre tragedy and scandal that enveloped its only two known practitioners – Dr. William Latson and his apprentice, secretary and lover Ida Rosenthal, also known as Alta Marhevka.

Dr. Latson died, under very mysterious circumstances, about two months before this anonymous article was published.


Last week several methods of self-defense by which any woman may protect yourself against footpads and rowdies were given in this paper. Today we are able to present some further suggestions along the same line.

It was pointed out last week, but the caution may well be repeated, that in these days of rowdy–infested streets, minding one’s “own business” is by no means a guarantee against insult or attack. Nothing short of the power to take the law into one’s own hands and administer summary punishment to the offender really meets the situation.

Every woman of average physical strength, courage and self-control owes it to herself and to her weaker sisters to acquire a few of these serviceable tricks, by the help of which she can put the boldest thug at a disadvantage and discourage others of his calling.

The art of striking a blow with the utmost force and efficiency is to be gained only by years of careful study and training. To describe, however, how a blow should be struck, can be done in a few words.

The first step is to gain thorough ease and freedom by the practice of the simple physical exercises described below. This once gained, all that is needed is to practice the same exercises, increasing the amount of swing used in moving the arms forward and backward in a circular direction. Then, as the arms are moved forward, clench the fist and strike, not forcibly, but easily and lightly at an imagined antagonist. A punching bag will prove of great assistance in practice.

It must always be remembered that the power of the blow depends not upon the strength of the individual scratching it, but on the rapidity with which the fist is moving forward, and upon the weight which is thrown behind it.

The following tricks of defense can be acquired by almost any woman who is willing to devote a little bit of her time to the task. There is no telling when one may be called to put them in to practice:

In defending oneself with the naked hands, as well as in self-defense with walking stick or umbrella, the most important point is the position of the body. As has been said, to stand correctly with arms extended and stick in the hand, will of itself put the body into a position in which it is not easy to be attacked. It is equally true that to take a position, even approximately correct, with the arm outstretched in front, is to put the untrained adversary at a most striking disadvantage.

To one who has gained this simple art of placing the body in the method best adapted for self-defense with the naked hands, it will be very easy matter to learn to strike a blow which will posses many of the characteristics distinguishing the attacks of the trained pugilist. Of course, the average woman will be unable to strike with a force at all comparable to that of the skilled prize fighter, but the ease, freedom and rapidity which are most valuable in fist fighting she can easily acquire.

The illustration above shows how effectively a blow delivered by a footpad either with the bare fist or a weapon may be blocked with an umbrella skillfully handled.

A simple exercise to develop skill in the use of the umbrella as a weapon of defense is as follows:

Hold the umbrella extended straight out in front of you, grasping it about two-thirds from the end. Swing body and umbrella making a wide circle. Then, approaching a pad or pillow placed upon a table or mantelpiece, strike it a hard blow, making this part of the general swing of the body from left to right.

The position which would naturally be taken by a woman in delivering a telling blow is well illustrated in the above photograph, the effectiveness of a blow depends largely upon the manner in which the body is controlled.

Adeptness in this respect will be developed by practicing the following exercise:

Stand with feet about fifteen inches apart, left foot in advance. Head is lowered and turned toward left. Rise upon the balls of the feet; swing easily up and down without touching heels. Swing weight easily back and forth.  Extend arms straight up in front of the body, left hand on a level with face, right a little lower and nearer to body.  Move slowly up and down the room swinging the arms and body with the utmost freedom possible but always return to about the same position.

Kicking as a means of defense is demonstrated most perfectly in the French system known as savate. Skill in kicking may be obtained by any woman by practicing the following exercises.

Exercise one – stand easily. Take weight upon left foot. Swing right easily back and forth, gradually increasing movement.

Exercise two – same as preceding, save that the weight is taken upon right foot and the left leg is swung.

Exercise three – stand easily, take weight upon left foot and swing the right in a circle as far upward, outward and backward as possible. Circles should be made both forward and back.

How to deliver the rapid and effective kick is shown in the illustration directly above.

The French system of kicking is most complex. It consists of various kicks, guards and counters made with both feet.

The system as taught by leading French exponents is one of the most superb methods of exercise known. It provides attacks which are absolutely indefensible even to its own experts.

As a means of defense, it is, of course, most valuable when used against those who are not versed in its tactics.

The Japanese art of jiujitsu in its entirety is far too intricate for the average woman to master.


There are several little tricks in the system, however, which may be readily acquired. The illustration above shows one of them.

The man in the picture advanced towards the woman with his right foot forward and his right arm extended either to strike or grasp her. Grasping the man’s extended hand and wrist, the woman steps forward so that her right foot is behind his right and twists his hand upward and backward.

This trick, effectively executed, will place the assailant at the woman’s mercy.

In the advanced jujitsu there are many tricks by which a woman might render her assailant unconscious or even cause his death.

Such knowledge, and its justifiable use, will be invaluable to women when attacked under atrocious circumstances. Even then it is not necessary to kill, as jujitsu provides many ways in which an assailant may be rendered in sensible, and kept so until help arrives.

But, for ordinary purposes, the simpler tricks will suffice to protect the woman who is obliged to face the perils of city streets unescorted at night.

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