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.

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)

Mitsuyo Maeda vs. Hjalmar Lundin

This account of the January 1910 Mexico City match between Hjalmar Lundin and Mitsuyo Maeda of Brazilian jiu-jitsu fame (Konde Koma here, a common alias he used) comes from On the Mat-and Off by Hjalmar Lundin.

First, some comments are in order. Lundin says he won. However, a wikipedia entry gives a Mexican Herald reference of January 23, 1910 claiming the match was ruled a draw. Unfortunately, while I have dozens of Mexican Herald accounts from 1909 and a handful describing the tournament, I don’t have any that late in January. That said, I don’t have any reason to doubt the reference, and wouldn’t be surprised if Maeda claimed he won the match as well, cause that’s pro wrestling, folks. Don’t forget that there were not that many wrestlers involved in this tournament, so both accounts may conceivably be correct but discussing matches on two different nights.

Another point is that while Lundin describes Maeda tossing Auvray around like a child, after the previous week’s match the newspaper described Maeda’s head “playing a tattoo on the canvas” from the number of times Auvray slammed him down. So we could be looking at little give-and-go to keep the paying customers interested in a tournament that lasted multiple weeks.

I love that Lundin credits his familiarity with Cornish/collar and elbow wrestling as the element that allowed him to win the match. The jacketed throws and handholds are not dissimilar, and I’ve long thought that it would make an interesting matchup to see a Cornwall native or an American collar and elbow player go up against a judoka.

Lastly, I should point out that Lundin does use the term “Jap” to refer to Maeda, which may be offensive to some. This was written in 1937, before the outbreak of WWII, which is when I believe the term began to form its derogatory sense. I believe the passage shows that Lundin had much respect for the worthy competitor he found in Maeda and certainly was not using the term as an ethnic slur.

Here and There

THE Graeco-Roman Wrestling Tournaments which took place in December, 1909 in Havana, Cuba, and the following month in Mexico City, bring back many memories.

Although the majority of the wrestlers were Europeans, a Jap named Konde Koma competed during the final week of the Tournament in Mexico City. Because Konde, a Jiu-jitsu wrestler who had been in Mexico for some time prior to the Tournament had gained a fine reputation for himself, the fans more or less expected that he would fulfill his challenge to throw any one of the contestants in ten minutes, using his own style of wrestling. He claimed to be the Champion of his country and although he could not back up his assertions with any proof in black and white, his actions in the ring were sufficient!

His first appearance during the final week was with a huge Frenchman named Auvray who tipped the scales at 265 pounds. The Jap weighed about 170, but the way he tossed the Frenchman around, one would have thought one’s eyes, and not Konde, were doing the tricks. Despite the difference in their avoirdupois, Auvray went sailing back and forth across the stage for almost four minutes before the Jap was declared the winner, much to the Frenchman’s relief. After the match I asked Auvray, whom I knew to be strong as an ox, why he didn’t grab the Jap and hold him. (I might mention here for those who have never witnessed a Jiu-jitsu match, that contestants in the famous old Oriental sport always wear a jacket.) Auvray replied that everytime he tried, the Jap would grasp the former’s sleeves, go down upon his back and put his feet up until they met the Frenchman’s middle, and, with a quick but hard shove, would send the French contestant flying!

The Jap continued to beat his opponents until the sixth night, when my turn came. Of course I had profited a little by watching the others, but nevertheless I admit I was a bit nervous. I didn’t want him to make a monkey out of me as he had done the others.

My early training in the collar, elbow and Cornish methods I knew would aid me, because they consisted mostly of tripping and hip-locking. The Cornish wrestling in particular had been very popular among the Irish and Scotch and it was through a few of them I learned what I did of the style. Those tactics and the quick-tripping which I had often practiced were foremost in my mind when I went on the mat with Koma.

Having been accustomed to handling the big Graeco-Roman wrestlers with ease, the Jap thought he could do likewise with me, but in the first mix-up I got the better of him, after which my confidence returned. I had no trouble then in winning the match. It was a surprise to the crowd and a set-back for Koma. He had been the hero all week, but as soon as he was beaten the fans, true to form, called him a bum. The Mexicans had thought he could beat anyone, but they had not taken into consideration the fact that I was trained in the catch-as-catch-can style as well as the Graeco-Roman.

I am glad to know that our police-force is taught many of the Jiu-jitsu tricks and holds, for with lightning-speed a man can down another by fast foot work, or even break an arm or leg, should the occasion demand it.

Was Savate’s Drop Kick from Pro Wrestling?

Of course that begs the question: Does savate possess the drop kick?

Unless you’re a youngster, you’re probably familiar with the numerous books Bruce Tegner published primarily in the 1960s, one of which was a text on savate. Therein, Tegner demonstrated first a jumping drop kick from the standing position and then a leaping sidekick from a moving start. Click on the thumbnail below for a close-up:

Drop kick

So is this a savate technique? If not, from where may it have derived? First, I am skeptical that the drop kick is a technique common in savate. I could easily be mistaken, but I don’t recall seeing the drop kick in either modern boxe francaise or in any classical savate manuals.

So where did it come from? Well, the obvious jumping ability and the high knee chambering does remind the reader of savate. A further reading of the history section of Tegner’s book reveals that he did go to Quebec at the age of fourteen for a year to learn savate from Jean-Claude Gautier. Tegner was born in 1929, so this was during WWII. Tragically, Gautier later died in that war as did so many other French savateurs. In fact, savate instruction was so severely depleted at that time that the art was nearly lost.

While Tegner may have very well learned the drop kick from Gautier, it may instead have been an anachronism. Tegner did not publish his savate book until seventeen years after his early training with Gautier. In the preceding thirty years, wrestling had introduced the drop kick as part of its aerial theatrics. Then once WWII began wrestlers were tasked with much of the hand-to-hand combat training and later published their methods, often including lip service to savate methods (think D’Eliscu, Cosneck, etc.).

“Jumping Joe” Savoldi had begun using the drop kick in the squared circle as early as 1933 and took credit for its invention. Likewise, wrestler Abe Coleman claims he invented the drop kick after seeing kangaroos on a visit to Australia in 1930. Either way, the method was firmly established well before Tegner went to Canada to learn savate.

In 1934, the press made a to-do over an anonymous wrestler complaining about Savoldi’s use of the drop kick. (Washington Post, Jan. 30, 1934). This was likely Jim Londos complaining before his January 31, 1934 rematch with Savoldi. Savoldi won the rematch after previously double-crossing Londos earlier in 1933, although in the meantime Savoldi had lost the title to Jim Browning.

But back to the relevant point: in 1934, the press referred to the drop kick as the “American savate,” giving initial credence to the idea that the drop kick may have been a technique introduced to wrestling from savate, but I think that also is a red herring. My take is that the term savate was just being used as a generic term for a foot technique in the article because of savate’s strong association with kicking techniques. I don’t believe the term was used to indicate an actual connection to savate.

Therefore, I conclude that Tegner’s use of the drop kick was idiosyncratic and not a widespread technique commonly used in savate. I suspect that instead the drop kick was incorporated at some point from the influence of wrestling. I’d love to be proven wrong, though, so if any of you savateurs can set me straight, don’t hesitate to speak up!

William Ewart Fairbairn: The Legendary Instructor

Combatives researcher Phil Mathews has put together another excellent biographical article on yet another combatives pioneer. This time the subject is none other than William Ewart Fairbairn, possibly the biggest name in the field.

Fairbairn spent time in the Royal Marines in the 1900s, the Shanghai Municipal Police in the 1920s, then taught combatives at Camp X in Canada and in America during WWII. During that time he studied judo, jujutsu, chinese boxing and various other arts which he synthesized into his own style of dirty fighting that he taught to law enforcement and soldiers.

How dirty was Fairbairn’s dirty fighting? My favorite line from Phil’s article is the quote from a Fairbairn student: “Within 15 seconds, I came to realize that my private parts were in constant jeopardy!”

The article fills in some gaps and clears up some misconceptions about what “everybody knows” about Fairbairn’s life and work. To read it in full, see William Ewart Fairbairn: The Legendary Instructor

Phil also recommends Peter Robins’ book The Legend of W.E. Fairbairn, Gentleman and Warrior: The Shanghai Years:

For more on the 1920s Shanghai Municipal Police, also check out Robert Bickers’ Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai: