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. After 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.

“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.

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