How to Form a Physical Culture Club

Seeing as I have bartitsu on the brain lately after the Chicago seminar, I thought that modern-day bartitsukas, who generally must start their own club in order to practice the art, may want a look at this 1902 Health and Strength article about starting a physical culture club. The advice is probably still mostly relevant, and could apply to any gym, martial arts club, or other society.

It may even offer insight to some of the decisions made when Barton-Wright formed his own club (“most landlords will require a person to guarantee the rent, but you will surely come across some good-natured friend to do this, and as a slight return you can make him president or vice-president of the Club”). For specific advice about starting a local Bartitsu Club, see the Bartitsu Society page.


How to Form a Physical Culture Club



(Late Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treas. of the London Central Weight-Lifting Club.)

ONLY those who have been connected financially with clubs or schools of this kind, or succeeded in starting one themselves, can ever be in a position to discuss this subject with any degree of experience; a great deal of thought, time, and persistence is needed, accompanied with a certain amount of cold cash. Then, if one has sufficient time and plenty of friends, the chief difficulties of forming a School or Club will not be too hard to surmount.

That there is a great opening for such places of pure amusement and exercise is obvious, especially when one takes a walk through any of the main streets of London and the adjacent suburbs. One can then encounter during a propitious evening a few thousand young men, all walking, for the most part, with an aimless look on their faces, absolutely at the very best doing nothing whatever. You will then recognise that the material you have at hand is practically inexhaustible. With judicious advertising, and started on up-to-date lines, any Club or School of Physical Culture ought to flourish from the start. But it requires people to come forward and make the start, and until then these youths one meets will still continue to pursue their present aimless occupation in their spare time. Now, I am positive that any man with plenty of friends can make a successful Club if the spare time he has is always certain.

Let us start and cover the chief and vital points needed in the construction of such a Club, and how it can best be formed. The first movement is to lay the matter before your friends. If you can call a meeting, and possess, or can hire, a room for the occasion, so much the better; if not, you must talk to each one individually. After interesting them in the matter, ask their help, and in nine cases out of ten it will not be refusal. Your friends can render most valuable assistance-assistance which cannot be bought-as this, of course, depends entirely on your own individuality. Perhaps some of your friends will subscribe the necessary cash, others can do their little best by collecting their weights, for nearly every on has a pair of dumb-bells knocking about somewhere, and sometimes heavy weights as well. If your friends really do help in a practical manner besides talking and arguing, you will in a short time be able to have at your disposal quite a respectable weight of dumbbells. A search must be made for a basement or a room on the ground, with a lavatory and dressing room, and a proper place to wash or have a sponge down. It is quite true that large basements can be had for a low rental in side streets and small thoroughfares, but it is absolutely necessary to have the Club in a well-known road, certainly the main street in a suburban district; it would be fatal to have the Club up some side street, the address being one of the most important facts to consider. Well, suppose we are able to get a nice basement in the High-street for, say, £7 a quarter, it will be necessary to, if possible, lay this fact before your friends at a meeting, and get some of them to guarantee a part of such rent. You will find that some of them will volunteer a bit in this direction, and will thus relieve you of a part of the responsibility. Of course, most landlords will require a person to guarantee the rent, but you will surely come across some good-natured friend to do this, and as a slight return you can make him president or vice-president of the Club. The rent should be paid at the end of each quarter, such rent to commence from the time the place was opened as a school or club. See that this agreement is in order, and that your friend who guarantees the rent has it in his possession. This is only a matter of business, and would have to be done in any case. Your friends must be prepared to pay any small deficiency in the rent the first quarter, but after that there ought to be no support needed financially from any other source than the funds of the club and school.

In choosing or locating a proper basement, the searcher must bear in mind the fact that the ceiling must be fairly lofty, so that in weight-lifting one of the ends of the bar-bell does not touch the top, also that there is some small room opening out of the big room to serve the purpose of a dressing-room, etc., whilst an easily accessible lavatory is also necessary. Then, if the basement is under some shop, the searcher must remember that the Club will be open after the shop has closed for the night, and consequently must see that there is an exit from the place independent of the shop. Also, he must bear in mind that ventilation is a necessity and that there must be a large window, to let in the air when required, as a basement filled with people is apt to get rather hot and close if the ventilation is imperfect.

After the rent question has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion and the basement cleaned, the light question must be tackled. Electric light is preferable, and probably one of your friends will understand this matter, and fix up the fittings himself which will save some of the expense. Some seats will be required for placing at the end of the room. The next item is the apparatus. This will consist of the dumbbells, say, a dozen pairs, which you may be successful in collecting from your friends. Perhaps you may be able to get a larger quantity than this, although 12 pairs will be doubtless sufficient. The rubber exercisers to be placed on the walls will have to be bought, also a large thick fibre mat made of cocoa matting for weight-lifting, hand balancing, etc. There will be a few sundries required, such as towels, brushes, etc., including books on Physical Culture, etc.: also some pictures to hang up, and other little things difficult to think of in a moment, but each sooner or later needed by the members.

The subscription is an important subject, and one that ought to be very carefully considered. The writers idea is this: that such a place should be a school and club combined. The subscription for the club being, say, 7s. 6d. a quarter, the school subscription should be 1s. per week, or at the rate of so much for a dozen lessons. Some of the visitors would not care to go through a course, but simply pop in when passing and do a little work if inclined. Others would require a course of lessons, and consequently the subscription would have to suit two classes, the school fees being, of course, higher than the club. In this event there would be stated days and hours for lessons, and the rest for club nights. The subscription for the club ought to be paid every quarter. In the writer’s opinion this is the best way, as people will not be worried for their subscriptions monthly, while, on the other hand, a six months’ subscription is too much. Although people’s opinions differ in this respect, it will be better to follow the experience of some one who has tied both ways. Of course, if a visitor, very lush with cash, pays two or three quarters in advance, it is very nice, and certainly not to be refused. The subscription of an honorary member should be fixed at about a guinea per annum. The subscriptions should, of course, be paid in advance.

Now, with regard to the weight-lifting part of the school, this is, of course, a very expensive item, as it would cost a great deal of money to buy a proper range of weights. Here again the assistance of your friends must be asked. Some of them may have weight-lifters, and would be willing to send them down to the club. As the school and club prospers so can extra weights be added until at last there is a decent range of dumb-bells and barbells.

The writer is of the opinion that if a man has plenty of fiends willing to join as soon as the place is opened, and pa down their entrance fee, and, say, 7s. 6d., as the first quarter’s subscription in advance, not more than a five pound note will be needed out of his own pocket, at the very most, to meet the first expenses of fitting the place up. Then he has three months to get sufficient members to enable him to meet the ten and light bill, without even counting on his friends who joined when the school and club was first opened.

At he start the club and school cold be opened every other day, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, from 6 or 7 o’clock up till 10 or half past.

Some striking picture of a muscular strong man, accompanied by a picture of a skeleton, hung up in a frame outside the basement would attract people passing, and get the place known, This would not cost much, and might prove a better way of advertising than to distribute bills and put advertisements in the papers.

The man who started such a school and club should be one that could give plenty of time, whose daily vocation would not hinder him from turning up pretty regularly each evening the school and club was open for teaching, etc. In time, if things went well, a paid instructor could be obtained.

If the basement will hold 30 members there is no need to restrict the membership to 30, for you must bear in mind that, as a rule, not more than a third will ever tum up together, so that many more than the actual number the basement will hold can easily be taken without overcrowding.

There is, of course, a great deal of small detail which cannot well be touched on in this article. It requires a lot of perseverance to start a club and school of Physical Culture, but in doing so one can be encouraged by the fact that he is helping in the great Physical Culture movement now being made by this magazine, and that, although he can only hope to tap an almost imperceptible portion of England’s youth, yet he will have helped to raise the standard of the present and coming generation.

I am sure the editor of this magazine will always help, whenever in his power, any efforts in starting a Physical Culture School. Look at the school opened by this magazine. There are no very costly fittings there, no smoking lounge or expensive apparatus, yet the school is a huge success. Be encouraged by the result shown, and do not think that this school has filled up a gap which up to now has never been bridged.

Early Days at the Bartitsu Club

Here are some clippings from that early period when E. W. Barton-Wright first opened the Bartitsu Club, those days prior to the import of his jujutsu experts. There are a couple of reasons I like these.

First, the issues of class (perhaps bigotry as well?) in Victorian society are readily acknowledged, but rarely felt by the modern reader. The first article slaps you in the face with the reality that things were different back then with its talk of “undesirables”, kind of like the culture shock you experience re-watching Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles now that it’s thirty-some years after its debut.

All three articles show why we’ve had spirited but friendly discussions on the Bartitsu Society Forum trying to figure out just exactly what bartitsu is. Is it just re-badged jujutsu? Some statements point that way, others add Vigny’s system of city la canne and/or savate, others imply that anything taught at the club is fair game to be called bartitsu.

So just within this series we see the first article stating that bartitsu is just “Japanese wrestling,” while the second includes that plus boxing, savate, la canne, and the use of the dagger. The 1902 illustration inset shows that savate is firmly an element of bartitsu, whereas the last article separates bartitsu out from those activities.

A last point, related the the previous, is that the use of the dagger is mentioned again, although the only other mention we’ve seen was a reference to Barton-Wright learning the stiletto from “recognized masters”. This is an as yet unreconstructed element of bartitsu simply because there is so little to go on.

As always, for all your bartitsu needs don’t forget to check


(“Daily Mail” Special)

Very bronzed, and looking, if that were possible, in fitter athletic trim than ever, Mr. W. H. Grenfell, pattern and model of the English sporting gentleman, is back in town from Florida.

Already, under his stimulating influence, a new sport is developing. This is Bartitsu, the Japanese system of scientific wrestling, of which Mr. Barton-Wright has given such interesting demonstrations.

Mr. Grenfell has consented to become the president of the Bartitsu Club.

“The idea,” said Mr. Grenfell, to a “Daily Mail” representative, “is to establish an athletic class for people of good standing, and it seemed to us best to establish it in the form of a club, so as to be able to exclude undesirable persons. So members will be able to come themselves, and to send their children and the ladies of their family for instruction with every assurance that they will be running no risk of objectionable associations.”

“Is Bartitsu, then, a sport for women and children?”–”Oh, we are not going to confine ourselves to Japanese wrestling. Athletic exercises of many kinds and physical culture will be taught, but with this difference, that physical culture will be taught in a new form, which will make it interesting.”

“And this new art of self-defence?”–”Bartitsu; that will be taught as part of the general scheme of physical culture. And you know it is very desirable to teach people how to protect themselves against violence.”

“But does not the noble art of self-defence do that–the art of using the fists?”–”No. In the first place the violent ruffian is likely to be fairly proficient IN THE USE OF THE FISTS, and in the second place the stronger and heavier man has an overwhelming advantage in fist fighting.

“The great thing is to show people every possible form of attack to which they may be subjected, and to teach them how, by the application of scientific principles, every attack may be successfully met. Bartitsu teaches you how to overcome an opponent of superior weight by using his weight against himself, of throwing him by yielding instead of resisting, and of gripping him in various ways so as to put such a strain on his joints that however strong he may be he will be completely at your mercy. Then it teaches you how to fall so that the fact of being thrown will give you an advantage over the man who throws you.”

“It is a sort of physical counterpart, then, of the great financial art of making a fortune out of bankruptcy.”–”Then there are other means of self-defence which are useful. A lady I had the other day was, while riding her bicycle, attacked by a tramp. She was helpless against his superior strength. But there are ways of using a bending cane by which a lady might, if she has been taught the art, keep a molesting tramp at arm’s length. This will be taught as well as several other systems, all of which are not only useful but interesting to learn.”

“And who are with you in the movement?”–”Lord Alwyne Compton, M.P., is chairman of the club company, and with him as directors are a number of gentlemen whose names you will know in connection with sport–Lord Arthur Cecil, Mr. Bertram Astley, Mr. W. Moresby Chinnery, Captain Hutton, Mr. Stobart, Mr. Montagu Sweet, and Mr. Barton-Wright, who will be managing director.”
1899-06-13 London Daily Mail

Ladies Night at the Bath Club: A Varied Entertainment

A curious and amusing entertainment was given last Saturday by the Bath Club at their premises in Dover Street, Piccadilly, the occasion being the ladies night. Swordsmanship, swimming, and bartitsu were the special features. The last-named item is, as was demonstrated by Mr. E. W. Barton Wirght, a branch of the art of self-defence entirely new to England. It comes from Japan. It embodies all the best and most practical points in boxing, la savatte, the use of the dagger and of the walking-sticks, combined with a most scientific and secret style of Japanese wrestling. It also comprises the art of falling so as to reduce all risk of being hurt when thrown, and to land upon one’s feet facing the enemy, and also the art of putting “locks” on one’s opponent-that is subjecting different parts of his body to strains which he cannot possibly resist.

The Bartitsu Club

A new club, the “Bartitsu,” which means the art of self-defense, is being formed in London. “It will be a sports club,” explains its organizer, “where men and women, boys and girls, can be instructed in fencing, sabre play, la savate, boxing, and bartitsu.” One special feature will be the instruction of members, especially lady members in the art of defending themselves with a walking stick. The promoter of the “Bartitsu club” is going to Japan to secure instructors in certain styles of Japanese wrestling, which he says is the most perfect form of self-defense and one that can be acquired by women as equally as men.
1899-08-11 The Daily Iowa Capital

Guy Fawkes and Blowing Stuff Up

In celebration of Guy Fawkes Day, below is a recipe for gunpowder* from the Universal Receipt Book. Don’t know what Guy Fawkes was all about? In short, he and his cronies almost blew up Parliament and the king of England in 1605. TO MAKE GUNPOWDER:

Pulverize separately 5 drachms of nitrate of potass, 1 of sulfur, and 1 of newly burnt charcoal. Mix them together with a little water in a mortar, so as to make the compound into a dough, which must be rolled out into round pieces the thickness of a pin, between two boards, lay a few of these pieces together and cut them with a a knife into small grains, which are to be placed on a sheet of paper in a warm place to dry. During granulation the dough must be prevented sticking to the board by rubbing on it a little of the dry compound powder. The explosion take splace in consequence of the generation of a large quantity of various gases.

*Please don’t make gunpowder, there is the risk of serious injury and death.

Old Soldier Ancestors

The other week I posted about the database where you can search muster rolls from the Hundred Years War (1300s-1400s).

It looks like wildcard searches are the way to go, because I found soldiers in the database that share the surname of both sides of my family by searching on the first couple of letters and then an asterisk. For example, searching on CO* as the surname gives two archers:

John Couche, Archer, his captain was Robert Giffard and his commanding officer was Richard Fitz Alan, earl of Arundel. He served in the Naval Expeditionary force that went to France in 1388.

Matthew Couche was also an archer on “Keeping of the Sea” duty in 1372-1373. Captain and commanding officer was Sir Philip de Courtenay.

The other side of the family included archers as well as men-at-arms:

Richard Lilye was an archer with the 1415 Expeditionary force under Henry V. His captain was Roger Chamber.

Two different Williams (Lillye and Lilly) served in the standing forces in Ireland and Acquitaine, respectively, in 1374 and 1439. The first was an archer and the second a man-at-arms.

The database offers an interesting glimpse into the past, so if you have any English ancestry, you might want to give it a whirl.

The First Thanksgiving

You’ve probably read a number of heartwarming Thanksgiving posts over the last day or two. I’ve decided to go a different direction with this tale of the first Thanksgiving and Pilgrim/Native American relations. Enjoy this account from Lossing’s History of the United States (1909).

We have observed that the Pilgrims at Plymouth rejoiced in an abundance of food in the autumn of 1621 the first year of their settlement. Thereby their hearts were filled with gratitude, and after the fruits of their labors had all been gathered, the governor sent out huntsmen to bring in supplies for a general and common thanksgiving.

That was the first celebration of the great New England festival of Thanksgiving, now annually held in almost every State and Territory of the Union in the month of November. Great quantities of wild turkeys and deer were gathered at Plymouth, and for three days the Pilgrims indulged in rejoicing firing of guns and feasting–entertaining at the same time, King Massasoit and ninety of his dusky followers, who contributed five deer to the banquets.

Seven substantial houses had been built during the summer; the inhabitants were in good health; a few emigrants from England had come in a second ship, and there were happy homes in the wilderness the ensuing winter. Among the new comers was the Rev. Robert Cushman, one of the founders of the colony, who in December, 1621, preached the first sermon in New England. Governor Bradford’s chief anxiety, at first, was for the establishment of friendly relations between the English and the Indians. That was already secured with Massasoit and his people; but Canonicus, the haughty chief of the Narragansets, living on Canonicut Island opposite the site of Newport, was loth to be friendly at first. To show his contempt for and defiance of the English, he sent a messenger to Governor Bradford with a bundle of arrows in a rattlesnake’s skin. That was at the dead of winter, 1622. It was a challenge to engage in war in the spring.

rattler skin
Like the venomous serpent that wore the skin, the symbols of hostility gave warning before striking–a virtue seldom exercised by the Indians. Bradford acted wisely on the occasion. He accepted the challenge to fight the multitude of savages, by sending the significant quiver back, filled with gunpowder and shot.

“What can these things be?” inquired the ignorant and curious savage mind, as they were carried from village to village in superstitious awe as objects of evil omen. They had heard of the great guns at the seaside, and they dared not keep the mysterious symbols of the governor’s anger, but sent them back to Plymouth in token of peace. The pride, if not the hatred, of Canonicus was subdued, and he and other chiefs humbly begged the English for friendship. But the alarmed colony spent the remainder of the winter and spring in fear, for Canonicus could send five thousand warriors to the field, it was said. The English with much labor, built the fort mentioned in Chap XVI of the first volume, which served, also, for a meeting house. And when tidings came of the massacre by the Indians in Virginia, in April, every man worked diligently. Their houses were all barricaded, and “watch and ward were constantly kept.”

Not long after this, the first war between the English and savages broke out Weston, a wealthy and dissatisfied member of the Plymouth
Company, sent over a colony of sixty unmarried men to plant a settlement on his own account, somewhere on the shores of Massachusetts Bay. He boasted of the superior strength of such a settlement by bachelors to that of Plymouth, which was “weakened by women and children.” They were mostly idle and disorderly young men like those who went early to Virginia. Many of them were very dissolute. After living several weeks upon the scanty means of the Plymouth families, they went to the site of Weymouth, where they began a settlement. Idle and wasteful, they were soon compelled to confront gaunt Famine; and beggary and starvation were the alternatives presented to them. They exasperated the Indians by plundering their cornfields and other sources of supplies. The savages, failing to discriminate between the righteous and the unrighteous, or fearing the vengeance of the other white people if they should destroy the young men at Weymouth, formed a plot for the extermination of all the English in their land. The peril was great, and was discovered only a few days before the fatal blow was to be struck Massasoit, who had been nursed into health after a deadly sickness, by the brave hands of Edward Winslow, revealed the plot to his benefactor. The Plymouth people immediately sent Captain Standish, with a few soldiers, to protect the offending Englishmen, and in a contest that ensued an Indian chief and several of his followers were killed. The victor carried the chief’s head upon a pole, in triumph, into Plymouth, and placed it on the palisades of the fort. When the good Robinson at Leyden heard of this he wrote “O, how happy a thing it would have been, had you converted some, before you killed any.” If they were not “converted,” the savages were very much frightened, and sued for peace.

So the settlement of strong unmarried men was saved by the Plymouth people who were “weakened by many women and children.” The childless Lord Bacon, in one of his essays, says: “Certainly the best works and of greatest merit for the public have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men.” Weston’s experience was the reverse. His colony, too weak to endure, was broken up within a year after it was planted, and the most worthless of its members, happily for the Plymouth people, returned to England.

Boy Scouts in War

You may know Robert Baden-Powell was the founder of the Boy Scouts and you may consider the Scouts a para-military organization. But did you know the Scouts was formed in the crucible of the Boer War?

Baden-Powell used the Mafeking Cadet Corps (12-15 y.o. boys) to “relay messages, help out in the hospital, and act as scouts and guards,” thereby freeing the outnumbered British soldiers for direct fighting.

The Mental Floss Blog has a great article on this subject called Forged in the Heat of Battle: The Origin of the Boy Scouts and here’s a taste:

The siege lasted 217 days, and through it all, Baden-Powell managed the town’s defenses, explored enemy territory, made cannons from scrap metal, drew sketches of his surroundings, taught the cadets woodwork and camping, and organized cricket matches on Sundays. (He achieved so much that many of his troops believed he didn’t sleep.) Most impressively, he also found time to edit the pages of his book, Aids to Scouting—a guide to surviving in the wilderness that would later become the first manual for the Boy Scouts.

I found it particularly interesting that the guide that became the Boy Scout manual was originally intended for new soldiers.

Chinese Martial Arts in 19th century China

The following are English language accounts of 19th century Chinese martial arts in China, which have always been rare due to the scarcity of English observers and translators at such an early time. I’ve stopped right before the Boxer Rebellion/Uprising (1898-1901), which deserves its own treatment and will be covered in a future article.

The first here is from 1817 and, while perhaps not specifically martial arts, discusses a Chinese manner of fighting and has a number of elements worth considering.

Pulling the queue was a common theme in 19th century western illustrations

Pulling the queue was a common theme in 19th century western illustrations

First, the queue that was worn by Chinese is an important consideration. The queue, or “tails” below, was a mandatory hairstyle worn by males during the Quin (Manchu) dynasty (1644-1912) that consisted of shaved temples and a long ponytail. Initially reluctant to drop the topknot and adopt the new style, Quin rulers gave the choice of adoption or execution. After two hundred years, the queue eventually became a point of pride that males were loathe to lose.

That Chinese grabbed queues and grappled was a common observation and should be unsurprising–it is a built-in handle and anywhere the head goes, the body must follow. Other points notable in the account include the “foul method of fighting,” a common refrain to those used to the more limited rules of western sportive pugilism, and the deadly reputation of Chinese kicks.

When two Chinese quarrel, they generally seize each other by the tails, which they twist violently, both often fall to the ground, and it is surprising to see how long they can endure such acute pain, their eyes seem bursting from their sockets, the whole countenance is distorted, and I am convinced that pugilists of the best bottom must yield in such a contest from utter incapacity to bear the dreadful suffing: though violent to madness in gesture and language, they seldom proceed to action, and I have seen a smart tap from a fan satisfy extreme rage; when, however, they actually have recourse to blows, they fight most foully, and death has been known to ensue from a kick.

Journal of the Proceedings of the Late Embassy to China, Henry Ellis, (1817)

Shortly following that account, a shipwrecked voyage of 1819-1820, led by Europeans, but with a crew that was “composed from almost all the nations of Asia, a motley group indeed, and exhibiting a most fantastic and groteque appearance,” journeyed across southern China to reach the European settlements at Canton. During the course of the journey, they got liquored up, had an internal scrap which caught up a local, got punished, and were told to keep out of trouble and told to stay away from the whorehouses.

In the course of this day several of our people being intoxicated with samsu, a pernicious spirit, make from jaggery, (coarse sugar) and also from corn, drank always warm by the better class, began to fight with one another in the square, which soon caused the place to be filled with the natives as spectators. In our endeavours to get them without the gates, one of them struck Mr. B., and then gave him a fair challenge to box; but for his temerity he soon got so sound a drubbing as to convince him how far inferior a Hainanese is to a European in the noble art of self-defence Although this man was thought a professor in that branch of the fine arts, yet, I fancy, this was the first, and will, probably, be the last, time he will venture upon a similar experiment.

The poor fellow, however, fought toughly for about 20 minutes before he asked for quarter, and the surrounding multitude never once interfered in the contest, although they evinced great interest as to the result. Shortly after this noisy and tumultuous scene had begun, information having been conveyed to the authorities, two mandarines, officers of police, made their appearances, attended by executioners, as their office is best explained in our language, and also a few soldiers.

Immediately on the entering of these persons a death-like silence took place, as if at that instant not a soul were present, and this contrasted with the precious uproar, was certainly very remarkable, such is the deference paid to men in the adminstration of the laws. As soon as the mandarines were seated in large arm-chairs, brought for that purpose, they inquired gravely into the cause that led to the disturbance, and quickly perceiving that their countryman was in the wrong, ordered him to receive two dozen strokes on the bare breech.

Woodcut from China: its costume, arts, manufactures, etc, Vol. 4, Breton (1813)

Woodcut from China: its costume, arts, manufactures, etc, Vol. 4, Breton (1813)

The punishment was inflicted with a flat bamboo, about three inches broad and seven feet long; this was used with both hands, the culprit being held down by four men in such manner as effectually to prevent his moving either hand or foot. He was then put into what is called a conju, which is a heavy board about three feet square, with a hole in the centre for the neck: to this board was attached a label, in large characters, to make more public the crime for which he was punished.

As an example to others, he was placed, accoutred as he was, just without the gates of our residence, under a guard of soldiers. The mandarines then sent for those of our people that had been fighting in the morning, and after a patient heariing of what they could advance in extenuation of their disorderly conduct, they ordered each one dozen bastinadoes a-la-mode-dupays [one dozen strikes with the stick in the manner of the country].

Diary of a Journey Overland through the Maritime Provinces of Hainan and China (1822)

The tracts mentioned in the next account are interesting as they represent brief instruction manuals and must have been common because there is a translation of one from 1874 far below. This is the first of two accounts that mention training with weights and bag punching. Creatively named postures and techniques is another theme that extends to modern day.

Pugilism in China–The art of self-defence is regularly taught in China. It is much practiced, although not countenanced by the local governments. In the penal code, nothing appears concerning it. Tracts are printed which would, in all probability, accompanied by their wood-cuts, amuse the fancy in England. The Chinese have no pitched battles that we ever heard of; but we have seen a pamphlet on the subject of boxing, cudgelling, and sword-exercise, in which there are many fanciful terms.

The first lesson, for a Chinese boxer, consists of winding his long tail tight round his head, stripping himself to the buff, then placing his right foot foremost, and with all his might giving a heavy thrust with his right fist against a bag suspended for the purpose. He is directed to change hands and feet alternately, restraining his breath and boxing the bag of sand right and left, for hours together. This exercise the fancy call “thumping down walls and overturning parapets.”

In the second lesson, the pugilist grasps in each hand a “stone lock,” i.e., a heavy mass of stone worked in the form of a Chinese lock. Then, being stripped and tail arranged as before, he practises thrusting out a mans’s length these weights, right and left, till he is tired. He is to change feet and hands at the same time. This lesson is called “a golden dragon thrusting out his claws.” Next comes “a crow stretching his wings–a dragon issuing forth from his den–a drunken Chinaman knocking at your door–a sphinx spreading her wings–a hungry tiger seizing a lamb–a hawk clawing a sparrow–a crane and a muscle reciprocally embarrassed,” with various other specimens or fanciful nomenclature for divers feats of the pugilistic art.–Canton Reg., June 18.

The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register (1830)

This next mention, while translated and written in 1841, shows the position of Chinese martial arts a century or more earlier. Today’s gongfu/quanfa/wushu/guoshu practiitoners may be surprised to learn that the martial arts were long thought a lowly practice in China, an idea that came along with emigration to the US in the late 1800s. A martial artist was more likely to be a beggar, charlatan, vagabond, or street entertainer than a monk or respected teacher of the art. Our modern conception of the martial arts as primarily a Shaolin monk practice owe more to early 20th century Chinese fiction than reality. The following account is a translation of the Ta Tsing Hwang te Shing Heun, or Sacred Instructions of the Emperors of the Ta Tsing Dynasty. The emperor mentioned here, Kangxi, reigned from 1661 to 1722.

Amongst the degenerate practices of the age was pugilism, against which the emperor very gravely inveighs, and exhorts his people to introduce more manly sports, superior to the amusements of loitering vagabonds.

Chinese Repository, Volume 10, Jan-Dec, 1841 Canton

The passage below, from 1843, offers the weaponed and empty handed illustrations here, the visuals of gouging the eyes and other open hand attacks, and again offers a Chinese martial artist’s adoption of postures or attitudes. I’m intrigued by the vocal punctuations and wonder what specifically that may have been (naming of techniques, particular words, a Chinese form of kiai?). Also bear in mind that while the open hand is here criticized compared to the fist, some WWII combatives instructors promoted open hand strikes after their experience in Shanghai.

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Boxing seems to be considered as a part of a soldier’s accomplishments, since if, by mischance a man lost his weapons, he could have recourse to his fists. In combats upon the stage, the competitors are represented as throwing away their swords, and prolonging the struggle with their hands. The foreground of the following illustration represents a couple as they appear after casting away their swords. The Chinese throw the body into every variety of attitude, but seem to know nothing about the mode of parrying a blow. Instead of this, they endeavour to thrust their long nails into their adversary’s eye, who is also not aware that a very slight stroke of the hand would ward off the mischief aimed at his visual organs. It is, however, still more wonderful that they should be strangers to the practice of firmly clenching the fist; but they merely strike with the hand open, or with the fingers slightly bent. A great deal of parade is made in the way of prelude; the breast and the arm begin bared, and presented in a manner truly characteristic of the nation. Specimens of this preparatory display are now and then seen in common life, where the effect of a fierce volley of rounds is deemed insufficient; but it has never been my lot to see a blow struck that would give a European a moment’s smart.

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

Woodcut from The Chinese as they are (1843)

In a little work I have on the art of fencing, a man is represented in the act of striking a heavy weight, suspended by a string, for the purpose of increasing muscular strength; and a practice similar to this was well known among our prizefighters some years ago, though it seems that the Chinese had the start of us in this ingenious discovery. If we could see anything like a graduated arc, we might fancy they had the principle of the ballistic pendulum, invented by Robins, to ascertain the force of balls when projected from the mouth of a cannon. I was once threatened with a practical proof of this art near what is called the barrier, at Macou, because a companion of mine had given some offence to the keepers of the wall, by taking advantage of a dismantled part to get a peep at the other side. One of them, as champion of the rest, came up and made a vigorous display of the various body positions into which he could throw his body, either for annoyance or defence. At every important shift, he uttered a thundering vociferation, to give greater effect to what he was doing, and ever and anon his companions shouted as they stood gazing from the wall, while the writer remained quietly waiting to see at what part of these evolutions it might be necessary to interpose as a matter of self-defence; but as this interposition did not appear to be called for, I retired, after giving this soldier and athlete ample time to try his hand at something more than show if he chose.

The Chinese as they are (1843)

In this 1868 translation of a Chinese farcical play, the translator describes the status of Chinese martial artists (“pugilists”) in much the same terms as the emperor 200 hundred years earlier. First is the description of the practice of martial arts in China, followed by the relevant scene from the play. In this scene, A-lan (which from a later translator probably would have been written Ah Lan or Ah Lon) has just lost, to a gambler, a pig which he was supposed to have sold. He asks the gambler to teach him martial arts in order to face his wife when he returns.

I also enjoy the emphasis on the creatively named postures, which we’ve already seen. The reference to one of the forms being “Kwan Ping” is fascinating as this may be a reference to Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872), who was born in Guangping (Kwan Ping) and whom Yang style Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) is named after. Of course, it could also be a reference to the Imperial Guards or something else entirely, but the timing is right for Yang Lu-Chan.

Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872)

Yang Lu-chan (1799-1872)

Professors of the noble art of self-defence are not uncommon in China, they generally unite to their calling that of quack-doctor. Selecting some bumpkin in the crowd, the professor will give him leave to aim a blow at him in any manner he likes, and proceed to demonstrate with what ease it may be parried. This is always done by catching the wrist of the attacking party in some unexpected way, and not improbably the return attack consists of a kick in the stomach, or a blow on the forehead from the sole of the professor’s foot. Then the pugilist will thump himself on the ribs with an iron rod till the place grows black and blue, and the blows resound like strokes on a drum. He applies a plaster (his own specialty of course) for a few moments, and when he removes it, in some inscrutable way, bruises and discolouration have banished, and given place to yellow and rather dirty skin!

A-lan. But just put me up to a little boxing, do now.
First Gambler. Very well. Stand like this.
(They spar, A-lan is knocked down.)
A-lan. What do you call that posture?
First Gambler. Its name is “Speedy promotion.” Now try this.
(Teaches him a new attitude, and again knocks him down.)
A-lan. What is that called?
First Gambler. It is called “Kwan Ping presenting the seal.”
A-lan. Are there any more?
First Gambler. Oh yes, “The three hands,” or this, “The bright arrow.”
[Teaches him various postures, then makes an attack upon him as he supposes A-lan’s wife will, and allows A-lan to knock him down several times.]
Good, good! Well those are quite enough for you to beat your wife.

A-lan is then soundly thrashed by the wife when his newly learned techniques fail him.
China Magazine (1868)

Woodcut from Outlaws of the Marsh (ca. 15th century)

Woodcut from Outlaws of the Marsh (ca. 15th century)

The following reminds us that there is a reason why the Shaolin monastery is associated with martial arts; it is true that Shaolin has long had a reputation for staff fighting. The idea of monks skilled with crossbows (ballista) is undeniably cool.

The Art of Self-Defence in China
Priests in China have long practiced military and calisthenic exercises, for defending their temples, and persons, on their journeyings, and to mortify the flesh. A monastery near Hwang-pi, in the prefecture of Han-yang, contains four hundred priests, of whom more than a hundred are skilled in military arts, fencing, boxing, and the use of the nu [Chinese character deleted], or ballista, with which they defend their neighbourhood from marauders.

From the Shaulin kwan p’u, we learn that the priests of the monastery of Shaulin, in Honan, have long been celebrated for their skill in single-stick exercise.

Kung-fu [Chinese character deleted], is a species of disciplinary calisthenics, practised by Tauist priests.

Kiau-ta [Chinese character deleted], is the name of the maitre-d’armes, or kiau-sz’ who teaches boxing, fencing and sword exercise. This name has been unfortunately given to the Christian Teacher, a man of peace. Shwa kwan [Chinese character deleted] to fence with quarter-staves, and shwa teng pai [Chinese character deleted], to play with foils and shields, are other terms used.

Notes and Queries on China and Japan, N. B. Dennys, vol 3. (1869)

A reiteration from 1873 that martial arts are often found in connection with beggars or, more charitably, as street performance.

Others [other beggars] go through all the exercises of the noble art of self-defence, only beating the air, not boxing a brother-beggar; and begging priests are frequently met with.

Once a Week, Volume XII, September 27, 1873

Here we are lucky enough to have a partial translation and cuts from one of those types of brief and cheap instructional tracts mentioned earlier.The translation of the title is said to have been a bit free with the material in arriving at “The Noble Art of Self-Defence” in China but the translator felt it captured the intention even if it was not literal. You may find the complete PDF here, what is below is what I considered the most relevant excerpts from the discussion.

The Chinese have very little idea of fighting with the fists. It takes a good deal of provocation to induce them to fight at all. The amount of bad language which will be bandied between two strapping coolies and end in nothing more decisive than bad language would serve to provoke a dozen fights in the British forecastle, where ” Now Bill, call him an adjective substantive, or he’ll call you one,” seldom fails to initiate the assault and battery which all present are longing to see. When Chinamen do fight, bamboos, or half-bricks are much more in request than nature’s unassisted weapons, or if they are driven to an empty-handed enconnter they will seize each other by the head and scuffle about in a way which would go to the heart of any member of the sporting interest.

Anything more exquisitely ludicrous than a couple of Chinese induced to put on the gloves (after an example of their use from Englishmen) I have never seen. They cautiously backed on each other until the seats of their trowsers almost touched, each one bending himself nearly double to avoid the imagined terrific blows his antagonist was aiming at his head, and at the same time striking vaguely round in what schoolboys call the windmill fashion. If either of them “got [original is missing a few words] somewhere in the region of the other’s knees.

Thus, for the reprisal known as ‘The hungry tiger catching the sheep,’ the following directions are laid down (See lllustration I.):

A-advances his left foot, and attempts to strike a blow with his open right hand:
B- brings both feet together, standing up firmly, pops in his left with a downright blow, and lets him have the right over the chest to aid the effect.

Noble art1
A glance at Illustration II will shew that Chinese bruisers are not particular as to what we should call unfair play:

A-draws back his left foot and attempts to scratch B’s face with his right hand:
B-draws up his left foot suddenly, strikes out with his left, and lets him have the right over the waistband.

The next three Illustrations are occupied with the old English game of quarter-staff. In number III, A is trying with all his might to prize up the end of B’s staff (each apparently oblivious of the lovely blow on the left side of the head to which he is exposing himself, without any possibility of parrying it) when B suddenly inserts his staff under A’s left ankle and tumbles him over, A’s own efforts contributing to his ignominious fall. This is looked upon as great fun.

Noble art2
The next device is entitled The stopper over all (see Illustration IV). The gentle-man on the right is trying to be offensive with both foot and staff, but his intentions are frustrated. Number V., however, is well worth attention as an example of that successful use of the foot which seems so exasperatingly unfair to us;

A-stands well up, gets his hands together and strikes a down blow (7th cut) at the same time drawing back his right foot:
B-gathers himself well together on his right foot, gets up both ends of his staff (7th guard), parries the blow with all his strength, and at the same time pops in his left foot.

Please observe him popping in his left foot. An example of the same kind will be found in Illustration VI., though here it is difficult to see, if the combat were “on the square” (which I believe to be the correct equivalent, in sporting circles, for bona fide) and not merely got up for show-it is difficult to see what is to prevent the man with the two swords from striking a sound back hander with his right which would cause his antagonist to take his meals standing and sleep on his face for a considerable period.

Of the remaining six pages of this unsatisfactory little work, four are devoted to exercises with double swords, and two to those with shields.

Noble art3
They all partake of the same got-up-beforehand character. In one (see Illustration VII.) he with the spear appears to be concentrating his whole attention upon carefully putting it into the guard of the other’s right hand sword, where it is immediately jammed by a turn of the wrist, leaving the unhappy wielder exposed to his enemy’s left hand weapon.

The same observation applies to the last Illustration with which I will trouble the reader, number VIII. This is called The Snipe and the Oyster.

Noble art4
The man with the spear is carefully putting it between the two shields of the other, who closes their rims upon it and holds fast, matters thus coming to a deadlock, and the audience looking on, whilst the combatants tug and pull with well simulated rage, in such breathless suspense as may sometimes be witnessed at transpontine theatres, when two ruffians, having carefully locked the hilts of their daggers together, proceed to drag each other all round the stage to very agitato fiddling and the lights turned down.

China Review vol 3, no. 2, , Sept 1874

While some of the accounts above are contradictory, even in something as simple as the prevalence of martial arts in China (pugilism is common/ pugilism is uncommon), hopefully the commonalities allow the reader to draw a better picture of the martial activities in 19th century China.

Guarding the Mongoose

Archie Moore4b
I love these photos. This one above and the similar one on the front page show Archie “The Old Mongoose” Moore (1913-1998) in L.A. in 1982 teaching boxing tips to some kids. It must be incredible to be taught by one of the greatest light heavyweight champions ever.

With a career of more than 200 fights and well over 100 knockouts (the most KOs of any fighter), Moore had a longevity in a tough sport: Moore’s first professional fight was in 1938 and his last in 1963. He didn’t get a chance at a title until he was 39, becoming the oldest boxer to take the light heavyweight title, but even so he held onto it longer than any other in history.

Part of Moore’s longevity was due to his incredible defense, which relied heavily on his cross arm style. The cross arm defense (known also as the dracula, safety block, cross arm guard, double guard, or sometimes called variations on the peek-a-boo or Philly shell/Philly crab) is performed by placing the arms horizontally in front of the body, roughly at the solar plexus and neck or chin level.

The cross arm defense is very effective against flurries of straight punches and some hooks, but critics say it’s not very good against uppercuts and keeps the arms out of position for quick counter punching. Moore would disagree about the uppercuts, and has stated that his defense was better against uppercuts than the Cus D’Amato peek-a-boo, and really, who is going to argue with his results. The cross arm defense is said to be suited for tough fighters and can also be used offensively to push an opponent into a corner or against the ropes.

Moore liked to use the cross arm defense because it frustrated his opponents and threw them off their game. Or, as Rocky Marciano once said about trying to hit Archie Moore, “he’s all gloves, arms and elbows.” Keep in mind that Moore was very fluid, transitioning in and out of the defense and using much upper body movement rather than standing static and covering up with the cross arm.

Other modern boxers that have used the cross arm defense include Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman. Foreman was trained at different times by Moore and used the cross arm more during his later comeback than in his early career.

While Moore is rightly recognized as the cross arm defense king, looking backwards into martial arts history can usually uncover someone doing something similar, and boxing’s cross arm defense is no exception.

Thomas Inch’s Boxing and Physical Culture (late 1940s) shows the cross arm and some other peek-a-boo variations used by famous boxers. Inch labels the cross arm as a guard used by Tommy Burns (1881-1955). Burns had retired from boxing when Moore was a child, so there is no question that Burns’ use preceded Moore’s.

When Professor Lewis wrote his The New Science: Weaponless Defence (1906), his friend Tommy Burns agreed to pose for the boxing illustrations in the book. Prof. Lewis can be seen demonstrating the safety block with Tommy Burns punching at right.
Lewis safety block

But Burns was not the first to demonstrate the guard, as Gus Ruhlin (1872-1912) demonstrated it in Professor Donovan’s The Art of Boxing and Self-Defense (1902). There it is called the “double guard” and Donovan directs that “this should be rarely used; and is only really necessary when your opponent brings both hands to play simultaneously or in rapid succession.” RUHLINSo while some similarities exist between boxing then and now, those directions make it clear that differences exist as well. Ruhlin was undoubtedly not the first to use the guard, but his may be one of the earliest illustrations we’ll find.

So that’s the cross arm defense which Moore made famous; next time you’re boxing you might want to give it a try if you’re getting overwhelmed by straight flurries and see if it works for you.

For more about Archie Moore and his record, see

Those Archie Moore photographs with the kids are from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library.

Who can punch the softest?

Weston, of facetious memory, having borrowed on note the sum of five pounds, and failing in payment, the gentlman who had lent the money took occasion to talk of it in a public coffee-house, which caused Weston to send him a challenge.

Being in the field, the gentleman, a little tender in point of courage, offered him the note to make it up, to which our hero readily consented, and had the note delivered.

“But now,” said the gentleman, “if we should return without fighting, our companions will laugh at us; therefore let us give one another a slight scratch and say we wounded each other.”

“With all my heart,” says Weston; “come, I’ll wound you first.”

So drawing his sword, he whipped it through the fleshy part of his antagonist’s arm, till he brought the very tears into his eyes. This done, and the wound tied up with a handkerchief, “Come,” said the gentleman, “where shall I wound you?”

Weston, putting himself in a posture of defence, replied, “Where you can, sir; where you can.”

The Field of Honor (1884)

The Devil’s Handshake

The Devil’s Handshake is an apt name for this come-along for a number of reasons: it is painful to the victim, requires a betrayal of seemingly friendly intentions, and, like modern warfare, there may not be a clear exit strategy.

The Devil’s Handshake is probably the second most common come-along during the 1900s jujutsu craze (here’s the most popular one). It is typically applied by offering up a hand in friendship to then snatch the hand offered in return and slip into an arm lock. The idea, as the illustrations show, is that the victim’s arm is isolated and straightened to place pressure upon the elbow in a straight arm bar. Shown here are a number of illustrations of how different practitioners performed their versions.

That first illustration (left) is the eponymous demonstration by Higashi from Jiu-Jitsu Combat Tricks(Hancock 1904). It was Hancock and Higashi who first used the term “the Devil’s Handshake” as well as labeled the opponent “the victim,” which seems appropriate enough considering they recommend the old handshake subterfuge.


The technique is similar if all of these, although the details differ. For the right side, you grab the right wrist of the victim (the fake handshake is the perfect set-up), pull it towards your chest while turning it palm upwards so that your left arm can slide up under his right arm and grasp the lapels. Downward pressure on the victim’s right wrist places stress on the elbow joint and allows you to walk him around town like an escort wearing high heels.

Higashi/Hancock’s is the only one that doesn’t use an anchor for the inserted arm (lapel or neck) and is technically the weakest in my eyes for that reason.



J.J. O’Brien is shown in the next three photos offering the best breakdown of the maneuver from his Complete Course of Jiu-Jitsu and Physical Culture (O’Brien 1905). O’Brien was Teddy Roosevelt’s first jujutsu instructor and chose to market jujutsu to American audiences using the angle that they wouldn’t need to work up a sweat to learn it.


O’Brien uses the same approach in this lesson, keeping an upright posture with little movement. While he visually breaks the lesson down into three bites for easy digestion, his final posture is facing the victim and does not appear very strong. He does emphasize turning the opponent’s arm palm upwards as well as his own elbow placement, but it is not my favorite technically.


B. H. Kuwashima demonstrates it slightly differently in Jiu-Jitsu: the Japanese Method of Attack and Self Defense (Skinner 1904) by turning to face the same direction as the victim as well as grabbing the near, rather than the far, lapel.


Skinner explains that the technique is one used when “you wish to put a troublesome bore or a belligerent half-drunk loafer out of your place of business.” Jujutsu is used so as to not lower yourself to his level by coming to blows.

The variation that Kuwashima shows in the second illustration is the one I prefer– placing the hand up against the head is very controlling, but is even tougher to get. You can flow into knees or a throw very easily and it does not depend upon the clothing worn by the victim. Kuwashima/Skinner also recommend digging the thumb into the sensitive spot behind the jaw for more extreme circumstances.


One problem is that once you begin shaking hands with the devil, you may not be able to let go. Skinner2After all, a come-along at best puts events on hold in any physical encounter. At some point, you’ve got to let go of your victim. To put it mildly, the fellow you’ve just offered an handshake-turned-armlock may not be willing to cry uncle, tip his hat, and stroll away peaceably. The options are therefore few-you can escalate (attacking the elbow, throwing the victim, digging in thumb, etc.) or you can release them. This is a negative built-in to the come-along, but at least it offers another level of force option between nothing and all out in an encounter.

The accepted idea, of course, is that this come-along is most suited for escorting an offensive person out of doors. If so, before release it may be prudent to gather a few friends on the way out the door to avoid further hostilities.

Before reaching the dilemma of how to let go of the tiger’s tail, you have to be able to grab it first. A victim’s natural reaction may be to pull the arm back towards the body once the wrist is grabbed, or, less friendly, to begin punching with the other hand. The first problem encountered with this come-along is that it is difficult to apply without subterfuge. Even so, it is worthwhile to practice occasionally in drills or lock flows because the principles of isolating the elbow opens up options from many different positions, rather than just limiting it to the handshake scenario.

Punch’s treatment

A humorous WWI article conveys potential complications in applying the hold:


It was the special terms to Special Constables that tempted me—and I fell. I don’t just remember how many times I fell, but it was pretty nearly as often as the “Professor” of the wily art took hold of me. Before the first lesson was over, falling became more than a mere pastime with me, it grew into a serious occupation. So I left the jiu-jitsu school at the end of the second lesson with a nodding acquaintance with some very pretty holds and a very firm determination to practise them on Alfred when he got back to the office next day from Birmingham.

I suppose I ought to have persevered with my lessons a little longer, but I was losing my self-respect, and felt that nothing would help me to gain it better than to cause somebody else to do the falling for a bit. Alfred is six-foot-two, but a trifle weedy-looking, and so good-tempered that I knew he wouldn’t resent being practised on.

As he came in I advanced with outstretched hand to meet him. “How goes it?” he said cheerily, holding out his hand. “Like this,” I said, as I gripped his right wrist instead of his fingers, turned to the left till I was abreast of him, inserted my left arm under his right, gripped the lapel of his coat with my left hand and turning his wrist downward with my right, pressed his arm back. To attack unexpectedly is the great thing. “Don’t be a funny ass,” said Alfred, as I lifted myself out of the waste-paper basket. How I got there I wasn’t quite sure, but concluded that I had muffed the business with my left arm by not inserting it well above his elbow for the leverage.

Walker Come Along

“Sorry,” I said; “the new handshake. Everybody’s doing it.” “Are they?” said Alfred. “Well, I’ve been having some lessons in etiquette myself the last few days from a naval man I met down at Hythe. Seen the new embrace?” “Er—no,” I said, putting a chair between us, “I don’t think I have; but I’m not feeling affectionate this morning. I’m going to lunch.”

Thank goodness, if I do meet a spy, I’ve got a truncheon and a whistle.

Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol. 147, November 18, 1914


Lastly, just to point out that western readers were learning a technique already known in western martial arts, we have Donald Walker demonstrating the same come-along from his Defensive Exercises (Walker 1840) at right. Walker’s version appears similar to Kuwashima’s sixty years later, turning to face the same direction as the victim and grasping the near lapel.