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.

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.

Quarterstaff vs. Rapiers: Peeke’s Three to One

The tale of Richard Peeke, an English sailor captured during a raid on Spanish coastal towns in 1625, was popular during his own time, but showed renewed interest during the Victorian era for Peeke’s display of manly virtue. Today, the tale is often told honoring the efficacy of the traditional quarterstaff, which, common weapon though it may have been, was adroitly used by Peeke against three Spanish swordsmen wielding rapiers and daggers.

Agrippa rapier daggerCamillo Aggrippa: Trattato di Scientia d’Arme (1553)

A rapier, and especially a rapier and dagger, could quickly ruin anyone’s day. A three to four foot length of steel with a sharp point and two cutting edges, not to mention the supporting dagger for parrying and stabbing, could leave a combatant leaking blood quicker than one can say “en garde.”

However, the humble quarterstaff was deadly in its own right, and a favorite of the contemporaneous English Masters of Defence, such as George Silver and Joseph Swetnam. Both, in fact, would likely have been pleased but not surprised at Peeke’s exploits.

Silver, calling it the short staffe, said a single staff wielder “has advantage against two sword and daggers, or two rapiers, poniards and gauntlets [because] the distance appertaining to the staff man, either to keep or break, stands upon the moving of one large space always at the most, both for his offense or safety [whereas] the other two…have always four paces at the least; therein they fall too great in number with their feet, and too short in distance to offend the staff man.”

Silver goes on to elucidate how, because of the superior reach of the staff, the two swordsmen must circle at the rate of twenty feet for every foot of pivot the staff man takes, and gives the principles for effective use against two swordsman.

Swetnam high guardThe Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence
Joseph Swetnam (1617)

Swetnam liked the staff over other pole weapons because it was not as top-heavy, and therefore it could be used to feint against a hook or halberd, whose response “will so over-carrie him by reason of the weight, that hee cannot command him nimbly backe againe.”

Ultimately, Swetnam counts skill more important than choice of weapon: “yet I must needes confesse, there is great oddes in the Staffe, if the Staffe-man bee verie skillful, but otherwise the Rapier and Dagger hath the oddes being furnished with skill.”

Note the hand positioning in the Swetnam woodcut: butt and quarter up, rather than the equal thirds portrayed in Robin Hood movies; the thirds positioning is half-staffing and came into vogue primarily as a safe bouting method and as stage technique. Swetnam mentions the half-staffe in passing, but finds that the hands “are in danger of every blow that cometh.”

Richard Peeke’s Tale

Peeke’s tale is fascinating as a vignette of the larger events surrounding his own experience. For a century surrounding Peeke’s exploits, Spain and England were rivals, friends, or enemies depending upon the economic and political climate of any one time; part of this period is referred to as the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604). In the back-and-forth, the Spanish Armada had attacked England in 1588 and was beaten back by English fireships and devastated by North Atlantic storms (during this period of sail, storms and disease accounted for a much greater number of deaths than enemy action).

The port of Cadiz in Spain was a favorite target of the English, as it was home port for Spain’s treasure fleet, and periodic raids on the port often disrupted Spain’s economy.

Peeke had just returned from another sea voyage, wherein an English force sought out Algeria-based pirates preying on English merchant ships. Barbary privateers, operating out of Algiers, preyed on Christian and other non-Islamic shipping. The Barbary pirates enslaved captured sailors and passengers and often raided coastal towns capturing slaves to be sold in North Africa. Between 1609 and 1616, at least 466 British vessels were captured. England’s King James I sent a punitive expedition to Algiers in 1621, which fired some Algierian ships in port, failed to follow up its advantage, then was driven away. It returned back to England with all its ships and a loss of only 8 men, but little gain for its leaders or sailors. In retaliation, Barbary pirates captured the cargo and crew from 35 English merchant ships over the following months.

Peeke gained little from his adventure in Algiers, but promptly signed on for a raid on Cadiz that set sail October 8, 1625; that raid being another campaign that suffered from a lack of leadership. The fleet, around 100 ships carrying some 10,000 soldiers, arrived at Cadiz on October 22, 1625. After a fierce attack by the Dutch ships and a few English, the fort at Puntal surrendered once the Earl of Essex landed his troops.

I seeing him make speedily and fiercely at me with his drawn weapon, suddenly whipped out mine, wrapping my cloak about mine arm. Five or six skirmishes we had; and for a pretty while, fought off and on.

On October 24th, while the soldiers landed to march to the bridge to the mainland to block the supply route, Peeke went ashore and, finding some fellow English with oranges and lemons, resolved to pick some himself. While on his sojourn, he was spotted by the Spanish and attacked by a noble on horseback:

He survives the encounter by whipping his cloak at the horses eyes, causing the horse to shy, whereupon Peeke drags off the Spaniard who begs for mercy. Unfortunately for Peeke, a group of Spanish musketeers shows up and he is taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, the attacking English marched toward the bridge of Suazzo, which connects the island to the mainland, but failed to bring food or water ashore. Therefore, upon camping in an abandoned house with a wine cellar along the march, the small army turned into a drunken mob, disobeying orders to desist, arguing, and even firing shots at one another. Eventually the commander ordered the men to return to the ships and they went in search of a rich Spanish fleet arriving from the West Indes; the Spanish fleet was never found and the commander ordered the fleet to return to England three weeks later after running out of supplies at sea.

Peek discusses his capture, but it was when he was dragged into the town of Xerez before his Spanish noble captors that his famous exploits occurred. During the course of an open interrogation, a bystander comments that Englishmen are hens; Peeke replies that if the English are hens, then the Spanish are chickens. Peeke is then offered a duel with a Spaniard at rapier and dagger:

After we had played some reasonable good time, I disarmed him, as thus. I caught his rapier betwixt the bars of my poniard and there held it, till I closed with him; and tripping up his heels, I took his weapons out of his hands.
Agrippa heelCamillo Aggrippa: Trattato di Scientia d’Arme (1553)

After that display, he is asked if he dares fight another, and initially begs off, concerned about the easily offended Spanish nature. However, upon being pushed to bout, he acknowledges that he’ll fight all comers if allowed the use of a quarterstaff.

Ever practical in the 17th century, a Spaniard removed the screw holding the head on a halberd and Peeke was armed with the quarterstaff substitute. To Peeke’s advantage, the butt end had either an iron spike or metal ferrule.

A first Spaniard steps up for the challenge, says Peeke, “then a second, armed as before, presents himself. I demanded, ‘If there would come no more?’ The Dukes asked, ‘How many I desired?’ I told them, ‘Any number under six.’”

After some brief exchanges (“the rapier men traversed their ground; I, mine. Dangerous thrusts were put in, and with dangerous hazard avoided. Shouts echoed to heaven to encourage the Spaniards”) Peeke landed a blow to the head of one of the swordsmen with the metal butt end of his staff. The woodcut from the cover (see below) shows the status at that point, with the fallen swordsman at bottom right, and Peeke at center facing the two remaining Spaniards with rapier and daggers.

Peeke made short work of the remaining two swordsmen: “within a few bouts after, to disarm the other two; causing the one of them to fly into the army of soldiers then present, and the other for refuge fled behind the bench” and awaited his fate from the nobles.

Rather than being killed, Peeke was rewarded for his bravery, being freed and eventually presented to the king. Upon his return to England, Peeke published the tract below that contains the account of his adventures. Shortly after, the play Dick of Devonshire was penned based on Peeke’s exploits.

Click on woodcut below to read Peeke’s Three to One (1626)

Note:for ease of reading, the original typography and spelling is not retained; this was transcribed from a Victorian source

Peeke cover

Will President Bush Pardon Jack Johnson?

Folks, we’re getting down to the wire and I for one am excited to see if this pardon will be granted. As a rule, modern presidents tend to issue a whole slew of pardons right before leaving office rather than doing so earlier. That way, they don’t have to hear a bunch of grief about it during their presidency and there’s no chance of a pardoned convict then holding up a liquor store and embarrassing the administration.

President Bush is on record as not being big on pardons, but there has been a lot of support for the pardon of early 20th century boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champ.

For more details about Jack Johnson, his conviction, and the pardon process itself, check out the article I wrote a few years ago for EJMAS linked below. Since that article was written, there has also been a U.S. House resolution passed in support of the pardon, joining with the U.S. Senate and Texas Senate resolutions.

Jack Johnson was a fascinating individual with and interesting boxing style, mainly defensive, and I would recommend any of the handful of biographies out there about him. His own was a bit self-serving, but still enjoyable. The Ken Burns documentary is also worth a watch if you want the multimedia experience. The link below will get you started, as it contains reference to the biographies as well as a link to the pardon brief, which gives a synopsis of many of the major events in Johnson’s life.

Will Li’l Bush Pardon Li’l Arthur? Some Legal Background to the Jack Johnson Pardon Petition

[UPDATE on 1-20-2008, post-inauguration. No last minute flood of Bush pardons, and no pardon for Johnson. I think it is highly likely that the pardon petition will be resubmitted under the new Obama administration.]

A Female Boxing Match (1876)

A blow-by-blow account of two women boxing at Harry Hill’s concert saloon in 1876. To give this tale some context, Harry Hill was an Englishman (born in Liverpool, 1819) who opened his saloon in New York city in 1854 and operated it until 1888 when the reform politicians finally gained control of both the liquor board and the police authorities and he was forced to close at the brink of bankruptcy. To Hill’s credit, he was wildly successful until the 1880s, and the former wrestler he did not go down without a fight; he was fined, arrested, jailed, and even forced to testify in police corruption probes before he finally capitulated.It was generally a peaceable joint, where “the main entrance was for men, who paid 25¢ admission. The side door was for women, who paid nothing. Hill’s drinks were over-priced and the air was a cloud of tobacco smoke. Other than that, Hill ran a respectable house, and his boxers circulated among the crowd to keep it that way.” (Svinth).

Things did get rowdy upon occasion, and it was not always the men who started the affrays.

For example, Nellie Smith and Jennie Collins, regulars at Hill’s, were often ejected for causing a ruckus. One night they showed up with Fanny Kelly in tow, and, after being ordered out of the joint, Kelly stabbed Harry Hill with a penknife, first in the face and then again in the forehead near the temple, hard enough for it to remain there with the handle jutting out of his head. Understandably chagrined, Hill promptly punched her, knocking her teeth out and sending her tumbling down the steps. The women fled outside and were arrested by New York’s finest. New York Times, November 6, 1869.

The sports mentioned in the article below were well known to anyone in the city that followed boxing and wrestling; most were themselves boxers at one point. Most had also been arrested at some time for participating, or sometimes for just being present, at illegal prizefighting matches. Hill and other hall owners sidestepped the prohibition by calling the matches “sparring exhibitions,” which was true in many instances, but periodic crackdowns resulted in occasional arrests.

The article below, from the New York Times, March 17, 1876, was not a one-time affair. Hill was known for often hosting women boxing, African-Americans boxing, and other less mainstream entertainment, occasionally partnering with Richard K. Fox’s National Police Gazetteunder the auspices of an ad hoc world championship title.

For more on combative women, see Joe Svinth’s Women’s Martial Arts: A Chronological History, 479 BCE-1896 CE.



Some weeks ago Prof. James Campbell, the manager of Harry Hill’s establishment in Houston street, conceived the idea of having as a feature of its benefit, which took place yesterday, a sparring match with boxing-gloves between two women, and offered as a prize $200 and a piece of silver-plate. The opportunity offered by Mr. Campbell was embraced by two variety dancers, Miss Nelly Saunders and Miss Rose Harland. Miss Saunders is the wife of John Saunders, a pugilist, and Miss Harland is unmarried. The former is Irish, twenty-four years old, five feet six and a half inches high, and weighs 153 pounds. Miss Harland is an English woman, twenty-five years old, five feet seven inches high, and weighs 164 pounds.

The match being made, both women at once went into training- Miss Saunders under the tuition of her husband, while James Kelly gave Miss Harland her first lessons in the pugilistic art. Owing to the declarations of both ladies as to their respective intentions of conquering the fray, what the sporting class would term “a lively mill” was anticipated, and yesterday afternoon the theatre was packed with an appreciative but noisy audience. Among the sporting men present were the three brothers Coburn, Prof. William Clarke, Ned Mallahan, “Mike” Costello, “Billy” Madden, “Butt Reilly, “Pete Croker, and many others. After the usual variety performance and sparring matches between Seddon’s “Mouse” and “Join” Kelly, the event of the entertainment was announced.

Mr. Hill introduced the lady contestants to the audience. Miss Saunders wore a white bodice, purple knee-breeches, which she had borrowed from one of the negro performers, red stockings and shoes. Miss Harland wore blue trunks and white tights. Both appeared exceedingly nervous, were very pale, tried to blush, and partially succeeded. Time was then called, and the female boxers shook hands. Miss Harland did not know what to do with her hands, but kept her head well back out of the way. Miss Saunders had a fair idea of attack and defense, but could not carry it into practice. After some preliminary sparring, Saunders managed to hit Harland fair in the face. Miss Harland endeavored to get square and was again worsted, but finally succeeded in disarranging Saunders’ backhari by a vicious blow from the shoulder. Both women then smiled, and the result of the first round was announced by Prof. Clark–Saunders, 7 hits; Harland 4.

The second round was in the main a repetition of the first. Miss Saunders hitting out from the shoulder, while Miss Harland swung her hands around in the air. Score–Saunders, 14 points; Harland, 10. The third round was of a somewhat different character. Miss Harland seeing that she was overmatched in science, presumed on her superior strength and “sailed in” for punishment. The exchanges were lively and hard. The result of this round was announced as 20 all.

The wind-up was of a similar character, and Prof. Clarke, on being asked for his decision, said that under other circumstances he would have declared the match a draw, but that Miss Saunders was the winner by a point, and she accordingly received the prize and the applause of the audience. Some gentleman handed Miss Harland a ten-dollar bill, and the tow female boxers left the stage arm in arm. A clever set-to between Pete Croker and Billy Madden brought the performance to a close.

Myth: Canes Required Carry Permits

You may have never happened across this particular myth, and I just saw it for the first time myself, but a number of sites that discuss the history of the cane perpetuate a myth that around the early 18th century, licenses were required to carry canes in England.

There are variations on the theme, but the way I first heard it was in the context that a license was required to carry the cane because of its status as a weapon. This simply did not jibe with my impression of the Georgian era. In fact, I had recently seen a Victorian illustration that satirized the overabundance of the gentleman’s walking cane and the difficulty it caused when navigating afoot. H. G. Walters similarly described the danger of the ever-present but inattentive cane flourishers:

The man who has a habit of carrying his walking-stick horizontally under his arm, so that when he whisks round, which be constantly does to look behind him or stare in shop windows, it hits anybody near him, is, equally with him who swings it round and round, an enemy of the human race.

I also knew that by 1900, it was reported that any man in London above the rank of a “coster” (a fruit, fish, meat seller; anyone selling from a cart) carried a cane. Holliday, Robert C. The Walking-Stick Papers. NY: 1918. Again, this made it difficult to account the licensing idea, although these were all later occurrences.

Therefore, with skepticism in hand, I sailed into the seas of the internet tubes to discover the mythical headlands of the cane license. I was initially chagrined to find that no less a source than wikipedia mentioned the 18th century licensing requirements as well as the difficulty of procuring such as license:

It is apparently the case that a license was required to carry a cane in London during the 18th century[citation needed], possibly because of the use as a weapon, in essence a fighting stick.The process that was needed to gain this license was very long and it had been known to take a long time to finish the process; thus, most people at the time did not gain the license.

I will admit, I was taken aback upon reading that passage. However, I found it heartening that a wikipedia editor must have been, if not skeptical, at least concerned that there was no citation for the proposition. Therefore I pressed on and found that common 18th century cane licensing story repeated on a number of walking cane sites. Here’s the most detailed account I could discover, which even includes language from a supposed cane license (site name withheld to protect the foolish):

In 1702, the men of London were required to have a license in order to carry a walking stick or cane. It was considered a privilege to walk with a cane therefore they were required to have a licence. Without a license they were excluded from the privilege. One example of a cane license reads:

You are hereby required to permit the bearer of this cane to pass and repasts through the streets of London, or anyplace within ten miles of it, without theft or molestation: Provided that he does not walk with it under his arm, brandish it in the air, or hang it on a button, in which case it shall be forfeited, and I hereby declare it forfeited to anyone who shall think it safe to take it from him.
– Signed________. (Source: Lester and Goerke Accessories of Dress, Peoria, IL. The Manual Arts Press.)

I assume whoever posted that never read through and finished the last sentence. However, at least now I had a source and a quote. Accessories of Dress by Lester and [O]erke (2004) is on Google books, although the relevant passage is not part of the preview. The quote was easy enough to attribute, though, and you can see it referenced in Carolyn Beckingham’s Is Fashion a Right? (2005) or a reprint of the quoted essay that followed a century after the original.

It turns out, somewhat comically, that the essay was originally published in the Tatler in December 1709 as a humorous critique of popular fashion, i.e., the 18th century fashion police were criticizing cane carriers who were too free or negligent with their canes when out in public. The license was attributed to “Isaac Bickerstaff,” who was comprised of a group of essayists, including Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, who satirized fashion, among other things, under the name Isaac Bickerstaff. Apparently no less a satirist than Jonathan Swift started the Bickerstaff persona to mess with John Partridge. Steele, upon starting up the Tatler, included “Isaac Bickerstaff” on board as an editor.

Later that same December, Bickerstaff “outlawed” the new puffy petticoat fashions he thought made woman appear pregnant. It is ironic that the myth declaring that licenses were once required to carry a cane in Britain is derived from a 300 year-old version of a Mr. Blackwell fashion critique.

For a general history of the walking cane, see Man and His Walking Stick by H. G. Walters (1898).