Reach Out and Zap Someone

Reach Out and Zap Someone: The Patent History of Electric Stun Weapons


Zaap…zaaap-clack-clack-clack…zaaap. Just the sound and spark of an electric weapon triggers something from childhood that makes you step back when you see and hear the electricity arc through the air between the leads. The two most common forms of today’s electric “stun” technology, both of which can take advantage of that reaction, are the stun gun and the taser. [N1]. The early antecedents of both of these devices can be found in the records of the United States Patent Office and a review of the patent record shows that the development of electroshock devices was first aimed at incapacitating animals before later being extended to humans.

Development of the Stun Gun

Electricity was written about as early as 6oo B.C.E. when philosopher Thales of Miletus found that amber, after being rubbed by wool, would attract feathers, thereby resulting in a practical demonstration of static electricity. By 46 C.E., Roman physician Scribonus Largus introduced the electrical powers of fish into clinical medicine as a cure for headache and gout. However, it was not until electricity was first “bottled” in the 18th century that large numbers of electrical experiments (and mistakes) with humans and animals arose.

One of the earliest experimenters, Petrus Musschenbroek, is a candidate for discoverer of the Leyden jar (he was from Leiden, Netherlands), which is a device used to store static electricity by separating differently charged ions. It behaves similarly to a capacitor in that it stores a built-up charge and releases it quickly. When touching the wrong part of a charged Leyden jar in 1746, and consequently completing a circuit, Musschenbroek may have been the first to experience what countless electricians, unsupervised children, and stun-gunned subjects would eventually experience in more recent centuries: “Suddenly I received in my right hand a shock of such violence that my whole body was shaken as by a lightning stroke…the arm and body were affected in a manner more terrible than I can express. In a word, I believed that I was done for.” Musschenbroek had just received a really strong electrical shock, one of the first man-made electrical discharges powerful enough to be frightening. Even more fascinating is that the charge was created purely through static electricity: typically, a large wool pad was spun on a glass globe to store a charge inside a connected Leyden jar.

Musschenbroek’s discovery led to the first crude stun guns: the same century a number of European demonstrators with charged Leyden jars ran around killing birds and other animals under the guise of “scientific demonstrations.” Except for proof of lethal effect, these demonstrations added little to the body of knowledge regarding the interaction of animals and electricity. However, in a series of experiments starting around 1780, Luigi Galvani, at the University of Bologna, found that the electric current delivered by a Leyden jar or a rotating static electricity generator would cause the contraction of muscles in the legs of dead frogs and other animals when applied to the muscle or to the nerve. The following illustration shows, among other things, frog legs with leads attached on the left, a static electricity generator middle left, and a Leyden jar on the far right.



Whereas Musschenbroek’s experiments led the way in showing that pain and possibly death could result from exposure to electricity, Galvani’s frog experiments became the basis to later show that nerves could be directly stimulated, and eventually to show that electricity could be used to incapacitate humans.

In the meantime, the manual generation of electricity was limited to static electricity generators until Michael Faraday invented the dynamo in 1831. In a dynamo, electromotive force is developed in a conductor when it is moved through a magnetic field. Of course, a hand-cranked dynamo hardly leads to the development of a practical handheld self-defense device. For that, the development of a practical battery was required. In 1800, Alessandro Volta had created the first chemical battery, a voltic pile constructed of different metals and brine. Even so, the first commercially viable battery design was not produced until 1886, when Carl Gassner patented the carbon-zinc dry cell. Gassner’s basic concept is still used in many modern batteries.

Once all the elements were in place, it was only a short time before the first electrical shock device was developed. In 1890, inventor John Burton, of Wichita, Kansas, patented the “Electric Prod Pole,” or electric cattle prod. Burton envisioned the device as helping direct cattle without piercing the valuable hides like common non-electric cattle prods.

The patent had two basic designs, one powered by battery (Figure 1) and one by an internal dynamo (Figure 2). The design is simple, but the important elements are already in place. In Figure 1, the prod is simply a battery, a coil of wound wire, and two positive and negative prongs. A battery by itself would have too little voltage to overcome the non-conductivity of an animal’s hide (resistance). It appears that the coil would act to step up the voltage enough so that the current could flow through an animal’s hide and cause a localized shock. In 1915, a patent was issued for a similar battery operated design that appeared to do little more than provide a new method to hold the cap on and add an on/off switch (an important safety feature).




Burton’s dynamo design, on the other hand, produced its own electricity by pushing the prod against the animal, which collapsed the handle a short distance. Doing so would then activate the ratchets at F and G (Figure 2) causing the S-prime shaft to rotate. The shaft rotated the armature through the magnets N and S, creating a current. It seems unlikely that the dynamo, through such a meager application of mechanical movement, could create enough current to cause the desired effect, especially without a coil such as used in Figure 1 to step up the voltage to overcome the resistance of the animal’s hide.

In 1939, Hansen and Cough had patented a prod with only superficial differences from earlier battery-powered designs, the main difference being an extension that could be added to the end of the prod to better reach cattle in a pen. Then in July 1940, Leon Paul Mongan patented a combination flashlight/cattle prod for those moving cattle before daybreak or after dusk. Internally, the battery-operated device sent current to a vibrator that converted the direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). The current was then stepped up through a transformer to high voltage AC and went to the terminal contact points. A capacitor limited the amount of arcing between the contacts. The contacts, partially retractable, completed the circuit when pressed against an animal. The previous month, Ernest Jefferson had also obtained a patent for a safer prod with a pair of spring tension terminals that had to be pushed in against the hide of the animal for the device to operate.

Due to refinements through the years, the 1940s cattle prods began taking an internal form similar to modern stun guns. Not only were the internals similar, but some models even outwardly resembled modern stun batons:


However, it was well before the 1940s when inventions began to appear that applied electroshock technology to humans. By 1912, the idea of using a portable electric device for self-defense and law enforcement had appeared. In an amazing, as well as an amazingly hazardous, invention, Jeremiah Creedon of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania patented a set of “Electric Gloves” to be used in “subduing unruly persons” and “resisting attacks.” The device consisted of a pair of gloves with leads connected by wires to a belt on which a battery and an induction coil were mounted. While the method of application differed, the design was basically the same as used in the cattle prod. In either design, the relatively low voltage (compared to modern stun guns) means that the effect would probably be limited to localized pain where the contacts touched the subject, rather than incapacitation.



German inventor Franz Lollert came up with a similar device in 1926, although slightly less cumbersome. He hoped it would “give to every person carrying something equivalent to a training in jiu-jitsu.” Notably, Lollert supposedly had a demonstration model that he used with some success. He even had interest from the German police in purchasing the device. Here is Lollert posing with his invention:



An almost identical device was patented in 1933 that added another coil and substituted a different design for the contacts in the gloves. Its appearance was very similar to the original 1912 device and the inventor, like Lollert before him, was active in marketing the device to police forces. Cirilo Hernandez Diaz was a Cuban inventor who worked in Latin America as a construction superintendent for an American company. He used the induction coil from a Model T Ford to step up the voltage to around 1,500 volts and reduce the amperage to a level that would not burn anyone touched by the gloves.

While most of the previous devices included an induction coil, Diaz was the first to articulate an important safety and efficacy principle behind electric stun weaponry: the need to increase the voltage and reduce the amperage from the battery source. High voltage passes through poorer conductors, such as hide, skin, or clothing, better than low voltage. If the power source remains the same, stepping up the voltage will also reduce the amperage produced, which is an important point, since most adults will go into ventricular fibrillation at currents around .1 amperes.


Diaz pitched the gloves as a method to quell rioters and subdue individuals resisting arrest. After a demonstration to the New York City police in 1935, Diaz then demonstrated the device to reporters by “subduing unsuspecting entrants to the office of the inventor.” (New York Times, June 23, 1935). No mention was made whether any of the surprise subjects later punched the inventor in the nose. According to Diaz, then deputy police commissioner Martin Meany requested a price quotation on quantities of the device. If the procurement was ever made, it doesn’t appear that the use of the gloves by the police ever became widespread.

While the designs were moving in the right direction by the 1940s, it took the development of the taser in the late 1960s/early 1970s to spawn commercial sales of the handheld stun gun. In the meantime, law enforcement adopted cattle prods for use during the early 1960s civil rights protests. In conjunction with fire hoses and wooden batons, law enforcement utilized cattle prods to painfully shock protesters and suppress marches. The similarity between stun batons and cattle prods has led many critics to decry any law enforcement use of stun batons as an attack with cattle prods. Considering the shared development history, such charges may be wrong in fact, but not in principle: stun guns and cattle prods are a question of differing voltages more than any other factors. The low voltage of the prod is intended to cause localized pain, whereas the higher voltage of the stun gun is intended to overwhelm the human nervous system and cause temporary incapacitation.

That flurry of activity in the 1970s brought a resurgence of interest in wearable devices such as the electric gloves. A 1982 patent was issued for a lightweight harness worn on the hand that allowed current to flow through contacts located at the end of the index finger. It was probably just a coincidence that E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was also released in 1982, because the patent application was made in the late 1970s.



Another electric glove was patented in 1983, then in 1992 came a terrifying set of electric trousers or chaps designed to discourage livestock from crowding human feeders. This in turn led to a November 2005 patent for a women’s electric jacket. The jacket has on/off controls in the sleeve and, once activated, a visible electric arc on the shoulder to scare off aggressors. The inventors are cognizant of the devices weaknesses, warning against activating the device in wet conditions as well as the danger of exposing non-insulated body parts to it, such as the legs or head. [N3]. Those warnings are clearly ones that could be applied to all the wearable devices generally. Considering the patent history of these devices, it is interesting that the electric jacket inventors recommend against using the jacket for protection against animals because of their different physiology. Of course, an electric jacket only seems half-suited for defense against most animals anyway, being a passive device with large gaps in coverage and vulnerable to puncture

Development of Projectile Stun Devices

Another weakness of both handheld stun guns and wearable devices is obviously one of range. The user must not only gain contact with the subject, but must remain in contact for a few seconds for full effect. If the subject is armed, larger, stronger, or even just sufficiently motivated, the user could still sustain injury. The TASER attempted to solve that problem by delivering a charge to subjects several body lengths away. The T.A.S.E.R. name is an acronym derived from the fictional Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle. The inventor, John H. (“Jack”) Cover, is generally described as a former physicist or engineer that worked on the Apollo space program. In the late 1960s, Cover began development of a non-lethal projectile method of subject apprehension. By the mid 1970s, Cover had developed the TASER, a device that fired projectiles from a handheld device using gunpowder as a propellant. The barbed projectiles were designed to attach to a subject’s clothing or penetrate the skin. Two wires trailed from the device to the projectiles and delivered 50,000 volts of electricity to the subject. Although the device was shown being used in the 1976 Clint Eastwood film “The Enforcer,” the taser proved difficult to market; gunpowder propellants meant the device was strictly regulated as a firearm.

Cover’s experiments continued and his subsequent development of a compressed nitrogen gas propellant allowed for greater marketability. However, because of some well-advertised failures of the device (think of the 1991 beating of Rodney King, where King was able to remove the attached wires) commercial success for the Cover design remained elusive. The failure rate against motivated and/or drugged subjects remained high. It was not until 1994 that the first commercial success was achieved with the development of an improved taser version by Taser International, Inc. In the ensuing years, and particularly after refinements made in 1999, Taser International, Inc. sold hundreds of thousands of tasers worldwide. That success has led to criticism from groups such as Amnesty International regarding the safety record of the taser. Another area of contention has been sales of the taser to countries known to practice torture. Electroshock devices have long been favored as instruments of torture because they can cause excruciating pain and do not leave marks on the victims. [N2].

In the original taser patent application, Cover references a number of previous patents that led to his invention. Again, these early patents are aimed at incapacitating animals rather than humans. One interesting device, and the oldest of those listed, is an 1852 patent for an electric whaling harpoon. The principle is similar to that of the taser: a power source is connected by a conducting wire to a barbed electrode that sticks into the subject. Of course, this is well before a mass-produced battery was developed, so the electricity was generated by a hand-cranked dynamo. Another difference is that only a single electrode and wire was used, so the bottom of the boat was covered with copper for the return current to flow back through the water. The inventor, Christian Heineken of Bremen, Germany, planned to manufacture electric harpoons and dynamos in Baltimore, Maryland, but the device never took off commercially. As if whaling was not a dangerous enough profession to begin with, the mixture of a strong electrical source, an electrocuted whale, and the high seas could not have been very safe.


Apparently most whalers agreed that the device was either too dangerous or just unworkable. The electric harpoon had been tested on the Bremen whaleship Averick Heneken in 1851 and possibly the Amethyst out of New Bedford in 1854-59, but Heineken’s device never found favor with whalers. The New Bedford Whaling Museum possesses what it believes may be the only electric Heneken harpoon to survive.

By the 1860s, the explosive harpoon came into use and is still used in modern whaling. Electric wires inside whaling lines were tried in the 20th century, but they were used to trigger the explosive harpoon rather than electrocution. However, Japan does use electric lances today, in addition to rifles, to kill whales that have been harpooned.

Cover also referenced a 1957 Thomas D. Ryan patent covering a handful of projectile weapons that carried an electroshock device within the projectiles’ heads. Shown below, from left to right, are an arrow, a lance, a fencing foil, and a spear.


The electroshock mechanism in these is the simplest of designs, hearkening back to the earliest devices: there is a battery source, a coil, an arming switch and the two electrodes embedded in the bladed portions of the weapons. Ryan’s patent application, submitted in the midst of the Cold War, shows a certain 007 flavor: in Ryan’s opinion, these inventions would be perfect for modern warfare’s “commando-type attacks” where stealth and surprise were paramount considerations. A secondary application was in allowing hunters a way to quickly drop their prey even if struck a non-mortal injury with the projectile. The fencing foil shown is described as a piercing weapon, so the intent appears to be for combative use of the foil rather than in simply electrifying a training or sporting weapon. In contrast, at least one manufacturer today is offering an electrified training knife to increase the realism, or at least the concentration level, of training knife sparring. [N4].

As can be seen, many of the fundamental concepts behind the taser were in existence long before the device came about. The commercial development of the taser led the way for the current market glut on personal electroshock devices. The patent field relating to stun weaponry aimed at human subjects expanded rapidly in the 1960s and continues to develop at a furious rate today. In addition to the large number of handheld stun guns currently available, the taser now faces competition from at least one other manufacturer of a similar projectile electroshock device. General electroshock devices are so popular today that a current fad is the “taser parties” taking the place of yesterday’s “tupperware parties.”

Patent records also show a number of different designs for less-lethal electrical-based weaponry that may one day lead to the development of devices based on different technologies, such as electrical devices using liquid, liquid metal, or laser discharge as conduction media, bullets containing charges or gaining charges in flight through piezoelectric action, and too many other methods to address here. If the patent history has shown anything, it is clear that the future will hold new and interesting methods of zapping both people and animals.

N1. TASER is a registered trademark of Taser International, Inc.

N2. For a history of electric torture devices, see Electricity: The Global History of a Torture Technology by Darius Rejali at

N3. For more on the device, see

N4. Official marketing for the “Shock Knife” appears to focus more on law enforcement than martial arts applications: However, the shocknife is certainly being introduced into the martial arts world; the Dog Brothers use them for their knife sparring and this author was recently able to experience one at a martial arts seminar. My take is that the sound and sight is intimidating when triggered, and it does feels a bit like being cut as it is drawn across the skin, but it is not particularly painful.

A Woman’s Self-Defence for Women

Weste cover


Health & Vim, May 1912.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

She released her companion, and changed her tactics.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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)

Jujutsu Suffragettes

The day before the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday seems an opportune time to recall the suffragettes now that the U.S. has a woman and an African-American as top contenders for the presidency. [FN1]. It is incredible to think that only 80 or so years ago women in the U.S. and U.K. did not enjoy the same voting rights as men. I quite literally cannot imagine that anyone in either country today thinks the same, and yet it was so recent that some of our older population undoubtedly can recall living in that period.

The right to vote was hard-fought, in some cases quite literally with fists and weapons. Here are a couple photos from “Black Friday.” On November 18, 1910, in response to the Prime Minister quashing a women’s voter bill, 300 suffragettes marched on the House of Commons. In a public relations disaster for the government, police were caught on film assaulting unarmed women attempting to march past. Here are some images from that day (click for larger size):

Black Friday1Black Friday2

Militant suffragettes eventually upped the physical level of their own campaigns and smashed shop windows, burned and even bombed on occasion. When caught and imprisoned, they went on hunger strikes which led to forced feeding through nasal tubes, yet another government public relations disaster.

Edith Garrud, wife of William Garrud, taught jujutsu to the Woman’s Social and Political Union “bodyguard” and used her school as a hideout when the heat was on from the police. William Garrud was well-known as a health and strength and self-defense instructor and owned his own gymnasium before he became associated with the Tani/Miyake school in London in the early 1900s. After Edith and William were divorced (or perhaps before, during, and after), William also taught jujutsu to his paramours.

The following is one of my favorite illustrations, and followed quickly on the heels of the publication of a series of photographs showing Edith Garrud tossing around a police officer:

The Suffragette That Knew Jiu-Jitsu

I didn’t write much here because others have written better and at length on the subject, so see:

Damsel v. Desperado

The Evolution of Women’s Judo 1900-1945

Ju-Jutsu as a Husband-Tamer: A Suffragette Play with a Moral

Tony Wolf’s article, “Edith Garrud’s Dojo” in the Bartitsu Compendium.

There is also a brief militant suffragette section with illustrations at the University of Glasgow Special Collections Women’s Suffrage page, which saved me scanning a hardcopy of the illustration above.

FN1. I know there has been discussion of who has been the most disadvantaged, women or African-Americans, but I’m trying to avoid that in this context. For that, Steven Barnes for one has brought up the discussion on his blog here and here. As far as voting, African-Americans technically gained the right in the U.S. in 1870 with the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women received the right only in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. On the other hand, African-Americans were often disenfranchised based on (mainly southern) state laws requiring poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of “good character,” and disqualification for “crimes of moral turpitude.” So the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s may be a better point to begin counting. Even now, gerrymandering is still regularly fought in court and if you were a black voter in Florida during the 2000 election you might be wondering how much things have really changed in the last forty years.

Jack Dempsey vs. the Evil Robots

“I can whip any mechanical robot that ever has or ever will be made.”

Jack Dempsey v. Evil Robot

So said Jack Dempsey. Captain Billy Fawcet, former WWI Army Captain, apparently talked Jack Dempsey into doing this puff piece for Fawcett’s biggest magazine, Modern Mechanix, in 1934.

The idea of the early sci-fi robot battling the hard hitting fighter is captivating and much more interesting than the article itself. (Click on the pic above to read the article).

The article is relative fluff, ostensibly pointing out boxing tips from the champ’s perspective, but my guess is Dempsey had little to do with the article. He describes how physics is involved in punching and posits that a robot will always be defeated by a boxer’s out-thinking it.

I won’t comment on Dempsey’s predictions on robotic thinking abilities, after all, even the futurists are wrong more often than they are right. However, the discussion of the physics of punching is weak, especially so considering that Dempsey’s Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense contains some of the best descriptions of generating punching power ever written.

Dempsey had his name on another interesting text on fighting with his How to Fight Tough based on his time spent in the Coast Guard during WWII. His tour appears to have been mainly a public relations move, the “very real threat” of Coasties engaging in hand-to-hand combat emphasized in the book copy notwithstanding.

Dempsey demonstrates a number of hand-to-hand moves, mainly on wrestler Bernard J. (BJ) Cosneck. Just to add to the spectacle, Cosneck appears in his wrestling boots and briefs throughout the book. Cosneck also wrote a book based on his time teaching the Coast Guard entitled American Combat Judo. Cosneck’s is by far the better work.

But that’s all beside the point. The point is to take a moment out of your busy day and imagine the Tin Man’s piston-like attacks facing those steel-denting Demspey hooks. Yeah, I’d still go with Dempsey.

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!

On the Mat-and Off by Hjalmar Lundin (1937)

A new reprint is now available that offers a nice counter balance to Fall Guys because it deals with wrestling in the days leading to that transition to complete entertainment rather than after.

Lundin arrived in the U.S. in 1893 and was touring as a strongman by 1894. For decades following, he toured the U.S. and other countries as an exceptional wrestler. Lundin documents his associations with the most famous wrestlers of his time, such as Farmer Burns, Frank Gotch, Mitsuyo Maeda (Konde Koma), Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Tom Jenkins, George Hackenschmidt, Jim Londos, and many others.

Lundin describes the differences between the “shooting” matches and the “works” that came later. He tells who could wrestle and who couldn’t, and discusses everyone from Olympians to those who made their living purely as entertainers in the rasslin’ ring.

Included is Lundin’s account of his defeat of Mitsuyo Maeda, the man responsible for Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Unfortunately, the cover photo renders poorly on the sale site, but it actually looks fine, more like is seen here.

Bartitsu FAQ

This is the Frequently Asked Questions post Tony Wolf publishes every now and again for the benefit of new members to the Bartitsu Forum. I thought this would be a good introduction and a good time to spread the word because work is now underway on Volume II of the Bartitsu Compendium.


Q – What is Bartitsu?

A – An eclectic martial art founded in the late 19th century by E.W. Barton-Wright. See for the basics, for a more thorough summary and buy the Bartitsu Compendium for the whole story. The Bartitsu Forum message archives, Files and Photos sections are also full of information and the best place to get involved.

Q – What is the Bartitsu Society?

A – An informal, international community of Bartitsu enthusiasts who communicate via this email list. Since 2002 we have been active in the research and restoration of Barton-Wright’s “New Art of Self Defence”. Our major project to date has been the publication of the Bartitsu Compendium in 2005 and our major interests include:

* the early history of European jiujitsu

* the eclectic Japanese/European self defence methods developed between 1899 and the early 1920s, and the lives of their founders and practitioners

* street gangsterism, the suffragette movement, “physical culture” exercise programmes and other Victorian and Edwardian-era social phenomena, as related to the martial arts

Q – What is the difference between canonical Bartitsu and neo-Bartitsu?

A – Canonical Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as we know it was”; the specific self defence techniques and sequences demonstrated by E.W. Barton-Wright and his colleagues between 1899-1904. Today, canonical Bartitsu is practiced as a mark of respect for Barton-Wright and as a form of living history martial arts training. It also serves as a common technical and tactical “language” amongst contemporary Bartitsuka.

Neo-Bartitsu refers to “Bartitsu as it might have been” and to “Bartitsu as it can be today”; to modern, individualised interpretations of the art, potentially including sport, self defence and performance applications. We are currently developing the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium to provide resources towards neo-Bartitsu. In any case, we hope that neo-Bartitsu forms will hold to the spirit and feel of the c1900 methods.

Q – What is the Barton-Wright memorial project?

A – E.W. Barton-Wright died penniless in 1951, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” in Kingston Cemetery, Surrey, England. In 2006, Bartitsu Forum member Phil Giles discovered the exact location of B-W’s grave-site. All proceeds from sales of the Compendium and Kirk Lawson’s Bartitsu DVD have been dedicated to creating a suitable memorial for B-W as a pioneering martial arts innovator. We have nearly reached our target figure!

Q – How can I get involved?

A – Easy! Post your questions, ideas and comments to the Bartitsu Forum (and by all means, an introductory post will be welcome). The Forum is an active and notably positive venue for communication on all matters Bartitsuvian.

The Chopper: The Pugilist’s Backfist

The backfist, and by that I mean the direct backfist, not the spinning one, often gets a bad rap. Many view it as a technique that is useful for TKD practitioners to get a quick point in tournaments, but one that has little value otherwise. Boxers and kickboxers are particularly skeptical of its effectiveness because there is little point in throwing a backfist with gloved hands when you could throw a jab instead.

However, it may surprise some readers that the backfist, once called “the chopper,” was a common technique in western pugilism for a few hundred years. By pugilism, I’m referring specifically to bare knuckle boxing rather than the modern gloved boxing that took over at the end of the 19th century.

Daniel Mendoza, active primarily in the late 18th century, has long been associated with the chopper. As a smallish man in a dangerous sport with no weight classes, Mendoza relied on quickness, a deft defense, and fast, multiple strikes rather than size and power. His manual, The Art of Boxing (1789), does cover the chopper, but copies are rare and the pages found online contain only a reference rather than the actual instruction.

An anonymous boxing manual from 1825 by “The Celebrated Pugilist” does contain a discussion of the advantages of the chopper and goes on to describe the blow as Mendoza’s favorite:


A Back-handed Blow or Chopper,

with the large knuckles of the right hand and a straight arm, is very effectual, as these blows, upwards or downwards, cut, and it is better to hit with them than the middle knuckles of the fingers, which are apt to be much injured. This blow was Mendoza’s favourite, and the power of striking it with dexterity often enables you to return with the same hand with which you parried the hit of your adversary. Thus, if you are struck at either side of the face, you may successfully raise up your elbow, catch the blow upon it, quickly bring round your arms, and give the chop. When the elbow is pointed a little upwards, it is the most favourable time for striking the chopper; because, by affording your arm a swing round, it gives a greater impulse to the blow.The chopper may be happily used in giving the return; and should a pugilist engage with a person ignorant of the science, it will certainly prove successful.

A round blow is easily perceived on its approach, and of course readily stopped. It is not a strong or quick way of fighting, and only resorted to by indifferent boxers; but the chopper is a blow out of the common line of boxing, and is found most effectual. For this purpose, the arm is to be drawn back immediately after giving this blow, so as to recover your guard. It generally cuts where it falls, and if hit but moderately hard on the bridge of the nose, or between the brows, produces disagreeable sensations, and causes the eyes to water, so as to prevent your adversary from seeing how to guard against two or three succeeding blows. If struck with force on the bridge of the nose, it splits it in two parts, from the top to the bottom; if on either of the eyes, it causes a temporary blindness, and if on both, it disables the person who receives it from continuing the fight.

The rear elbow stop from which a backfist can be thrown:
chopper1Rear Elbow Stop

Not all pugilism authorities were fond of the chopper. Lord Headley (R. G. Allanson-Winn), author of Boxing (1897), observed the transition from bare knuckles to gloves and not surprisingly found the chopper useless following the changeover. What was somewhat surprising was that Lord Headley thought it a weak blow even for bare knucklers:

A chopping hit from the elbow was made use of by some old timers, and though such a hit was capable of splitting a man’s nose, it was a poor hit and never could do much real damage, and in the present day it would be quite useless even for disfiguring purposes on account of the gloves.

I see the merit in both sides of the debate. It is a weak blow, in the sense that a knockout will not be scored from chopping the opponent. On the other hand, a strike breaking and splitting the nose or cutting the eyebrows or striking the eyes would be useful in an all-day bare knuckle match or a modern street encounter. A nice shot to the nose can be both disorienting and disheartening, resulting in the recipient watching through watery eyes as the claret flows down his chest. As the celebrated pugilist states, it also arrives in an unexpected manner because the line it takes is not “normal” in boxing.

A faithful reproduction of the chopper description from the Celebrated Pugilist’s Art and Practice of Boxing is depicted in the second sequence on this page: [Update- Uh oh, looks like the American Heritage Fighting Arts Association may have went the way of the dodo. However, Pete Kautz was the man behind it and it looks like his overall site is still up.]

While that sequence does correspond with the image above of the rear elbow stop, it is not my preferred way of using the chopper. I prefer an elbow stop with my lead arm, rather than rear, because throwing a backfist from the rear hand is awkward for me and I often find myself out of range when doing so. From the front, however, it works well and I throw it like Terry Brown teaches on p. 197 of his excellent treatise English Martial Arts.

Basically, when you are at distance in a left lead and a right from your opponent comes in, you raise your left arm, blocking the strike with the elbow as below:

Mendoza stopFront Elbow Stop

This does NOT have to be a complicated move. From my regular boxing guard, I keep my hands in place and simply rotate my left elbow up into a position as if I were throwing a left hook to the head. The elbow works as a great stop because it has a solid structure behind it, lining up with the shoulder. If you are stopping a bare hand right, the consequences of your opponent hitting the point of your elbow should be easy to imagine.

So, after you raise your elbow and stop the blow, you keep your elbow in place and swing your forearm around and strike the face of your adversary with a backfist.

Another variation can be used when the action is a little closer. A common defense against a right hook is a left elbow cover wherein you raise your left arm and cover the left side of your head by reaching back and placing your hand on the back of your head. The motion is similar to throwing an elbow directly upwards from a guard.

Here’s a pic I found on the interwebs something like what I’m talking about, although it’s not the tightest cover in the world:

From that position, the backfist goes directly out and strikes the opponent in the face.

I was recently shown another method of using the chopper, and it was in a “modern” boxing match. My brethren on the History Forum recently discussed the Pancho Villa vs. Jimmy Wilde fight (1923). You can see the clip here. The first inkling of a backfist comes at about :53, but then at 4:18, Pancho Villa misses with a huge backfist. Throughout the fight, it looks like Villa throws a left hook at a little distance, then follows up with a backfist from the same hand. He may have also been throwing a left jab/left backfist combo at times, but the grainy, jerky film footage makes it difficult to tell. It doesn’t appear to have been too successful, and it’s not the reason he won the fight, but it does show another application of the chopper: a backfist off a missed hook. That makes perfect sense to me, as it is launched from almost the same position as an elbow stop with the lead arm as described above.