A Woman’s Self-Defence for Women

Weste cover


Health & Vim, May 1912.

A highly interesting and vivid account by PERRY PEAKE of a young girl whose jujutsu methods of self-defence are arousing widespread comment.

In common with most men, I suppose, I had always held the opinion that the athletic feat-performing woman was of the Amazon type—a heavy, fleshy person of powerful build and unattractive appearance, the contour of whose form was spoiled by overdeveloped muscles and disproportionate girth. When therefore it was understood that I should be introduced to Miss Frances Weste as the typical “Jujutsu Girl,” I confess to no sense of pleasant anticipation, but rather to a feeling that I had before me something in the nature ‘of a call to duty with which I had no choice but to fall in. I knew what it would be—a big, muscular, large-handed and large-footed sort of elderly body, and I had visions of her shouting at and hauling unsophisticated pupils about with more energy than grace.

“Jujutsu,” I knew, was a scientific application of the knowledge of the susceptible and vulnerable part of the body to methods of protection and defence against personal attack. “That is Miss Weste,” said my cicerone.

We stood in a hall at Queen’s Gate, South Kensington, and a party of young women before me were engaged in a number of evolutions that were quite foreign to me. I looked for the lady, but there was no stoutly-built, muscular phenomenon that I could see. In fact, the person taking most interest in the proceedings was a beautifully made young girl with flowing golden hair, who stood smiling at what was going on. I could not see Miss Weste, and said so.

“There — standing on the right — that young girl with fair hair.”

That Miss Weste—that slender little lady a Jujutsu exponent—it was past belief.

But it wasn’t when I saw the lady herself take a hand in the proceedings. I sat down and watched, and soon became fascinated at the sight of this delicately-nurtured girl initiating her pupils in some wonderful ” tricks”—for that is what they seemed to me. I saw them release themselves from one another’s grips on the wrists, throat, body, hair, arms, and legs, by the simple process of “touches,” or knocks on nerves here and “locks,” “trips,” and ” throws ” there. They went through the facings in the art of “breaking their fall,” and I was told that this prevented broken bones and dislocated joints should they happen to slip and fall in a scrimmage with an assailant.

I saw an elderly woman throwing herself down on the mat in such a fashion that it looked as though she must break every bone in her body. But what I did not observe was the outstretched palm of the hand, which touched the mat a fraction of a second before the body so as to take the force of the fall. She sprang up again with the nimbleness of a kitten. On another section of the mat space a young girl of about fifteen was rolling head over heels and beating the mat with hand and foot which method, I afterwards learned, was a “breakfall ” for the “stomach throw” and prevented concussion of the brain or a broken spine, which would probably occur to a burglar who was stomach thrown” as a defence for an attack on the throat.

On another corner of the mat two ladies were exercising their muscles and acquiring a supple and graceful body by means of resistant movements. These movements were executed by the pupils taking it in turns to resist in a mild way each others endeavours to raise an arm or bend the body, or to gently force each other back or pull forward. These are really splendid developing exercises, and are the more interesting as they are done by two people, although there are many movements which may be done individually.

After waiting a few well-spent minutes watching the pupils, Miss Weste came up to us and initiated me into a few of the mysteries of this marvellous Japanese art. In answer to questions, Miss Weste informed me that she had been trained principally by Professor Garrud, of the well-known Jujutsu Institute, in Golden Square, W., although she has had many lessons from the Japanese themselves. She has taught hundreds of ladies how to defend themselves, and has given numerous exhibitions of Jujutsu at garden parties, gymnastic displays, and concerts, and a little while ago gave a demonstration at the Institute of Hygiene before a large audience of physicians and doctors, who complimented her highly upon her most useful accomplishments.

“Look,” said the dainty little lady, quite suddenly, beckoning to a pupil. Quick as thought she had fallen to the ground, curled one foot round her companion’s ankle, and rested the other just over the other’s knee-cap. “Look — the slightest push and I can send my opponent backwards to the ground. That is the back-throw, for use when one is lying apparently ready to be trampled upon.” (Fig. 1.)


Fig. 1.—Seemingly at her opponents’ mercy, Miss Weste (on the ground) can yet throw the other.

She released her companion, and changed her tactics.

“This,” said Miss Weste, suiting the action to the word (Fig. 3), “is another arm-lock produced by twisting your opponent’s right arm in an outward and downward direction. The right hand grasping your opponent’s right hand, and your left forearm going under and grasping your own right wrist.”


Fig. 3.—Another arm-lock by Miss Weste.

” And here again,” she continued, motioning to her companion to lie down, and joining her on the ground (Fig. 4) “is the arm-lock with leg across throat. The leverage is brought to bear upon the elbow joint which has been brought across the upper thigh. It would be the simplest matter for your adversary to snap his own arm if he resisted this lock.”


Fig. 4.—The arm-lock, with leg across throat.

“Now let me show you how to throw a man who attacks you from behind”. Miss Weste crossed the ” dojo,” as the practice hall is called, and spoke to Professor Garrud. As she returned, the Professor walked behind her and, within a few feet of where we were standing, suddenly threw out his hands and caught the lady by the throat from behind. But if he was quick the lady was quicker still, for her little hands shot out, she bent low, and her assailant went flying over her head. (Fig. 5.)

Fig. 5.—The shoulder-throw, used when the throat is caught in a an attack from behind.

“What did you do ?” I asked, feeling that this display of strength bordered on the uncanny.

“It was very simple — only a shoulder-throw. I caught him by the wrist and coat sleeve, and my stooping low gave me the advantage. He had to go.”

In the grouped picture on the previous page [see below] (Fig. 2) the “Jujutsu Girl” is showing an arm-lock on Prof. Garrud, whilst two lady pupils are showing another form of arm-lock. On the left Prof. Garrud’s arm has been twisted up the back, and Miss Weste has placed her foot upon the upper arm and the shin behind the forearm. The assailant is now held firmly by the foot and the shoulder can be easily dislocated by a pressure of the shin against the forearm. The arm-lock by the two pupils is done by placing your right arm under your opponent’s left elbow, holding the wrist with one hand and your assailant’s coat with the other.


Fig. 2.—Showing Miss Weste holding an adversary down with one foot, and two of her pupils in an arm lock.

Miss Weste went on to say that Jujutsu was immensely suited to ladies, inasmuch as it did not call for great strength. All the methods in the Japanese art were accomplished by skill and scientific application.

Jujutsu was only practised in Japan by the Samurai, or fighting men, and all its secrets were guarded jealously by them and handed down from father to son until about forty years ago, when the Mikado decreed that it should be taught in the public schools, and that the methods should be secret no longer.

Now nearly all the Japs practise the art as a sort of a national pastime, and it is as well known in Japan as boxing, football, and cricket are in England. We have been fortunate enough in securing some very excellent photographs by Jacolette which we reproduce here.

The Cane as a Weapon (1912)

In 1912, A.C. Cunningham published The Cane as a Weapon, which even today remains the best book I have ever seen on fighting with a cane. It is amazingly succinct and conveys what is as nearly a complete system of cane fighting as a reader could desire, all within 25 pages.

The Bare Essentials

For those that want to jump right in, here is The Cane as a Weapon. This is a cleaner version than the PDF that is floating around online. For future reference, you can also find it under the reprints tab at top right.

The original version contained only 12 photographs of Cunningham showing his method, yet included numerous drill sequences for practice. I therefore highly recommend that you also purchase Tony Wolf’s expanded version of The Cane as a Weapon which includes more than 170 photos to clarify Cunningham’s system. No, I don’t get a cut if you buy this book, I’m recommending it because Tony consistently puts out quality work. Click on the cover to check it out.

Cunningham Expanded

One more resource you will want to keep an eye on if you decide to study the Cunningham system is Chris Amendola’s blog entitled, appropriately enough, “AC Cunningham’s ‘The Cane as A Weapon.’” Chris is blogging his thoughts, notes, and discoveries as he proceeds to work his own way through the Cunningham cane system, as well as drawing out parallels from Cunningham’s other manual, Sabre and Bayonet.

Why I think The Cane as a Weapon is so Good

There are any number of reasons why I think this manual is so good. First is that Cunningham has an exquisite sense of what will work and what will not work from different postures and positions. He logically breaks down blows and parries, and places great emphasis on which of the three simple guards is best for any particular situation (eg., by not adopting a hostile en guarde position if not necessary).

His experience with the bayonet gives his work the versatility of using short, strong strokes with a double handed grip for close encounters and multiple attackers as well as movement, movement, movement. He does not show any grappling with the cane, which I believe is very sensible.

The footwork is clearly explained and has all the bases covered. He discusses the importance of targeting, and is cognizant that some strikes with a cane are less powerful than others.

More than any other single reason I could name, I liked this book because I found myself nodding at pretty everything Cunningham wrote. Quite simply, my experience tells me that Cunningham got it right. I may be wrong, but I would be surprised if anyone with much cane or stick fighting experience read this and viewed it in an overall negative light.

One note for the user, if Cunningham describes a “right cut,” he is referring to a strike that proceeds from the left to the right. So for example, a high right cut will go from your left towards your right and strike the assailant on the right side of his head.

Cunningham’s History

You cannot really see much in this newspaper clipping, but I was impressed that the newspapers a century ago would not only print something useful, but do it with such a great layout:


Andrew Chase Cunningham was born into upper class New York society in 1858; his middle name Chase was the family name on his mother’s side. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1874 and graduated in 1879. Like many midshipmen, Cunningham married immediately upon graduation. He then went active duty until 1883 when he resigned to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After graduating Rensselaer, he worked as a civil engineer for various companies and had a child at some point along the way. The trail stumbles after 1887 because that’s when Rensselaer’s alumni entry for Cunningham was published.

It is known that he later went to work for the U.S. Navy for a number of years, either located in Annapolis, Washington D.C., or somewhere in between. He must have went back active duty rather than as a civilian, because four years was too brief a period to be promoted to Lieutenant Commander. By 1912 he was a Naval Inspector of Public Works and had worked as a civil engineer for the Navy for some years.

In the early 1900s he was active in fencing and in 1904 helped guide the Naval Academy fencing team along with longtime Academy Fencing Master Prof. A. J. (Antoine Joseph) Corbesier. Corbesier deserves study in his own right, a Belgian that ran the physical drills and the fencing and bayonet programs at the Naval Academy for more than forty years. Corbesier published a couple of his own sword manuals: Theory of Fencing, with the Small-Sword Exercise, and Principles of Squad Instruction for the Broadsword. Cunningham, who possessed a reputation as a fencer even as a midshipman, would have trained under Corbesier in fencing when he was a student thirty years prior.

In 1906 Cunningham published his first manual, Sabre and Bayonet, but I know nothing about it.

In the 1900s, Cunningham was a member of the prestigious Washington Fencing Club (WFC). The WFC was upper crust, on the New York Athletic Club level, and did not allow women as members. If you were not an illustrious, or at least well-connected military officers or diplomat, there was little need to apply. Cunningham eventually became a member of the governing board.

In 1912, even though part of Navy, his expertise as a swordsman was so great that he was consulted by the army when evaluating a new cavalry saber design that Cunningham looked favorably upon. The submitter was a young Second Lieutenant who later became known as General George S. Patton.

Sources Consulted

Amendola, Chris. AC Cunningham’s “The Cane as A Weapon” Blog (2008)
Cunningham, A. C. The Cane as a Weapon. (1912)
Nason, Henry (ed.). Biographical Record of the Officers and Graduates of the Renssaeler Polytechnic Institute (1887)
New York Times, various issues
Wolf, Tony. The Cane as a Weapon by A.C. Cunningham. (2006)