“Ju-Jitsu Corps”: A Novel Venture Which Has The Official Sanction (1914)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Sunday, 19th November 2017

This little-known initiative was widely publicised during December of 1914 and January of 1915:

A new corps has just been formed with the unusual title of the “Ju-Jitsu Corps.” It is directly connected with the approved regulations of the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps, and will teach the art of self-defence without weapons. All can join except those exempted from war service. A distinctive uniform, with badge, will worn, and lessons will be given by Sabri-Mahir, late Ju-Jitsu champion and instructor to the Paris police. No charges will be made, and there will be no interference with members’ daily occupation. Perfect freedom of action is allowed as regards voluntary active’ service at the front. No pay will granted, and no entrance fee or subscription is required, unless given voluntarily. The corps has been formed primarily for defence of home and country, and active members must pass the doctor. The new venture has the approval War Office, Admiralty, and Scotland Yard, and its headquarters will be at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. All inquiries should be addressed to the secretary, 509, Salisbury House, London Wall, E.C.

Sabri Mahir was, in fact, a Turkish painter and middleweight boxer who was then resident in England, but I’ve found nothing in any English nor French media supporting the claim that he was a jujitsu champion who had trained the Parisian police.

The formation of the new Corps, with its emphasis on learning “self-defence without weapons”, prompted an anonymous columnist for The Sphere to recall when:

(…) once I met a very famous Japanese exponent of ju-jitsu in the early days of the cult of this remarkable art; a giant for strength and a tiger for nimbleness. He showed me a dagger hidden in his clothes. On my asking him why he carried it, he replied that he did not consider London a safe place to be unarmed in.

It may be noteworthy that former Bartitsu Club president William Grenfell, the 1st Baron Desborough was also the president of the Volunteer Training Corps, to which the proposed Jujitsu Corps was to be affiliated. For all of this, however, there seem to be no newspaper records of any activity by the Jujitsu Corps, so it’s possible that the idea died upon the vine.

N.B. that the Scottish jujitsu instructor W. Bruce Sutherland actually did teach unarmed combat to trainee soldiers during the Great War, and that his contemporary William Garrud performed demonstrations of the art for volunteers of the London Special Constabulary.

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