Len Lanius: American JJ Pioneer

Len Lanius

Longtime Cincinnati resident Leonard (“Len”) Lanius, born around 1865, claims he was the lightweight champion wrestler of the world at one point.

That would have been around 1890 and I have verified that he did at least referee a match in 1894. In fact, the loser of the bout gave Lanius some lip, whereupon Lanius promptly removed his coat to take care of business. Police interference prevented it from going any farther.

Once, while speaking about the Gotch-Hackenschmidt bouts, Lanius noted that “it was the invasion of the Jap wrestlers around that time that put me to work on perfecting a style of defense to check their attack. Their methods were quite baffling.” That, of course, led to his publication of American Jiu Jitsu: The New Art of Self Defense in 1922.

His career is quite varied. As a boy, he went to Cincinnati and shined shoes and and sold papers for a living, his father having died of consumption before Len was born. He took up wrestling at around 12-13 or so as a sickly lad who had been told he might not reach twenty (didn’t they all start sickly when they’re sell books?), but the wrestling cured him and he became a champ, boasting he once went seventy matches without a fall.

He traveled with the circus and on the vaudeville circuit, then later retired from wrestling and joined the sports staff at the Cincinnati Post. He also coached for several years at the Ohio Military Institute in Cincinnati. He occasionally spoke on the radio about wrestling for WLW. By 1921 Lanius had entered the field of optometry and was still going strong, visiting out of state optometric conventions in 1933. (He was president of a Cleveland optical factory in ’33). But his early passion was chickens (so to speak).

According to census data, he was the proprietor of an optical store by January 1920 and had a wife, looks like her name was Minnie, some 9 years younger than he. He wasliving in Cincinnati, and he had a 23 year-old married son, Ralph D. Lanius, who managed his optical store.

In March of 1921 Lanius demonstrated to the members of the Rotary club his “Yankee Jiu Jitsu” at the Park Hotel. The Rotarians particularly enjoyed when he boosted his demonstration partner (Dr. Otis G. Morse) over his head. You know those crazy Rotarians.

On June 9, 1921, Lanius gave an exhibition of his version of jujutsu at the Busy Bee cafeteria during the Kiwanis club program. He was one of the principal features! This was the opening of the Christen Kenton club and there were over 100 attendees. That’s a lot of Kiwanis.

But it was during his early circus/vaudeville traveling days that a bachelor friend gave Lanius two hens and told him to fatten them up and then invite him to dinner. That was the beginning of a beautiful man-poultry partnership, and by 1917 Lanius was known all over Ohio for his poultry passions. In fact, he was the president of the Ohio branch of the American Poultry Association for three years, as well as a licensed poultry judge. The papers would even run his photograph whenever his fairground lectures were advertised.

By 1912 he owned the College Hill Poultry farm in Cincinnati and by 1917 he also owned the G.E. Conkey Co. of Cleveland. It appears that there wasn’t hardly a single fair or poultry meeting at which Lanius failed to lecture, although the 1917 lectures were mainly ominous warnings of the grave shortage of either poultry or eggs that loomed on the horizon due to the cold season causing a grain shortage. Luckily the country appeared to survive the hen/egg catastrophe. In case anyone is wondering, he sold layers, including White Leghorns, Buff Leghorns, White Wyandottes, D.C. Rhode Island Reds, and Buff Orpingtons.

All facetiousness aside, I bet the guy could spin some tales or he wouldn’t have been invited to speak at all those events. Too bad nothing really survives but his book. Speaking of which, I scanned a copy almost exactly three years ago and passed it around. I see there is now a version floating around on the web. I don’t know if it’s the one I set free, but if you do a little Googling, you should be able to find a place to download it.

Yep, that’s the one I scanned a few years ago, same signed dedication as my book. I can’t believe no one ever bothered cleaning it up, especially since I provided it in MS Word. Anyway, you can download a copy here, but be warned, I never intended for it to be released to the public in that state, I was just doing a quick scan for friends.

If you have any further information on old Len, please shoot me an email.

Some of the references used:

Charleston Daily Mail 5-23-1933
Coshocton Tribune 3-15-1921
Indianapolis Star 2-9-1912, 9-1-1917, 10-5-1918.
Lanius, Len. American Jiu Jitsu: The New Art of Self Defense (1920)
Lincoln Daily Eagle 4-26-1917
Marion Daily Star 4-5-1921, 4-5-1921, 6-9-1941
U.S. Census, Cincinnati, OH, Ward 26, Hamilton County (1-20-1920)

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