“Jiu Jitsu For Mental Nurses” (1911)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Monday, 6th November 2017

A historical curiosity from the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 4 January, 1911, detailing the self-defence training of psychiatric nurses via the game of “Indian wrestling” and some basic jiujitsu techniques. 

Interestingly, Bartitsu Club fencing instructor Captain Alfred Hutton is believed to have been the first person in the Western world to teach Japanese martial arts as self-defence in a therapeutic environment, passing on some of the “tricks” he had learned from his young colleagues Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi to London doctors.

Also of note is this article, which describes an informal system of “American jiujitsu” devised by psychiatric hospital workers that is said to have pre-dated the introduction of Japanese jiujitsu to the United States.

While the use of “therapeutic holds” and self-defence is still an important aspect of training for workers in psychiatric care, the modern approach completely eschews the type of painful and potentially dangerous holds described in this article, in favour of a system of non-violent, leverage-based team takedown and control techniques.  The modern system is also deeply aware of the danger of positional asphyxia, strictly avoiding any holds that may inadvertently restrict a patient’s ability to breathe.

An American correspondent for the Nursing Mirror says-—I recently had the opportunity of witnessing the usefulness of jiu-jitsu as an aid to the nurses in a private sanatorium. It is included as part of course in hydrotherapy, and falls naturally into place with the study of physical movements and massage.

The nurses, for this purpose, are dressed in strong bathing costumes. They are first taught the holds and throws of Indian wrestling. This gives suppleness, and the application of their strength is new to the girls, many of whom have never since childhood put forth any severe muscular effort demanding agility. Indian wrestling is performed by two opponents holding each other by the corresponding hand and placing the corresponding foot close up to that of the adversary. The loser is the one who first moves either foot from its place or touches the ground with any other part of the body, the hand not excepted. Every muscle in the body is exercised in this way, and great improvement in the ability handle one’s self is quickly attained.

After this preparation, the holds of jiu-jitsu proper taught, and it is with these that the nurses protect from or control the patient. The chief of holds is the “straight arm”, which consists of a hyper-extension of the elbow over the fulcrum provided by either the nurse’s shoulder or forearm, the power being represented by the nurse’s other hand pulling the patient’s wrist. It is impossible withdraw from this position of mechanical disadvantage and any attempt to do so causes intense pain in the elbow, and if this is ignored, the leverage is sufficient to fracture the arm.

Another useful hold is the hammer-lock, consisting of the elevation of the arm behind the back under the shoulder, combined with an internal rotation at the wrist. The mechanical disadvantage and pain of this grip gives easy and perfect control over an obstinate or dangerous patient, and with this hold a frail woman can easily control a strong man.

Another hold is the hyperflexion of the phalanges of the fifth finger. This depends upon its painfulness, but it is a very convenient way of leading patients without attracting attention.

These are the main elements, but the nurse may sometimes find herself in difficulties when unexpectedly attacked, and jiu-jitsu teaches an appropriate way to meet every dangerous position when she is attacked. If she attacked by a patient swinging a dub, stick, or chair, there is an infallible defence, which can injure neither herself nor the patient. It is merely the football tackle – diving under the descending weapon and knocking the patient down by his legs. I venture to say that no woman, and very few men, would spontaneously attempt this until trained.

In a general melee against an active man it may not possible to obtain any of these holds, but the head and neck always offer themselves to the well-known chancery hold. Of course, very few women would even think of such a procedure unless trained, but its usefulness in a desperate situation is beyond question.

The paramount value in acquiring this skill is that the nurse can be sent for long walks with almost any kind of patients without any feeling of danger on the part of those who are responsible for her safety. The importance of this freedom to the patient is quite evident in these days of treatment by work in the open air, and has the additional merit of showing patients that their attendants have no fear of them.

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