Review: Blood in the Cage by Wertheim (2009)

Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC
L. Jon Wertheim

Like any good bout in the sport of mixed martial arts that Wertheim describes so well, this book is fast-paced and entertaining. This is an important work that documents and discusses the phenomenal success of MMA in recent years and will likely become a standard for those new to the sport.

Going into this book, I was concerned that it was going to be yet another fighter-abused-as-child-goes-through-adolescent-fights-and-legal-troubles-before-taking-anger-out-in-ring-to-become-champion tale. To some extent it is, but luckily it goes into more depth, commenting on the rise of the UFC, the promotion as it stands today, and somewhat on Miletich’s role in shaping today’s MMA. Gentry’s No Holds Barred: Ultimate Fighting and the Martial Arts Revolution and Krauss/Aita’s Brawl: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Mixed Martial Arts Competition are both more detailed on the rise of the UFC and MMA, but both are dated and while they cover the early history well, they both lack meaningful commentary and of course pre-date the UFC’s exponential growth following the first seasons of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike.

Rather than the same tale told with new names, Miletich’s story is instead the narrative thread that holds together Wertheim’s examination of the sport itself, and that lifts this treatment above the ghosted autobiographies that haunt the genre. Even though the concept works, it is clear that Miletich will not be at the forefront before even opening the book: for some reason Chuck Liddell is pictured on the front cover and Roger Huerta and Clay Guida on the back, none of whom have any particular connection with Pat Miletich.

A minor annoyance is that it is initially overbearing for those familiar with MMA because of the adjective-heavy breathlessness that describes everything as bloody, brutal, painful, intense, etc. Worse yet, the slang of twenty-something fans on the internet boards occasionally creeps in. That may be natural, as Wertheim describes himself as an outsider to the sport who has been recently immersed in MMA events, websites, and message boards. Likely, it also strikes just the note Wertheim needs to capitalize on the recent converts brought in through The Ultimate Fighter. Seriously, though–we all know submissions hurt or fighters wouldn’t tap, and we’ve all seen blood, hell, most of us have probably seen our own blood in the dojo, so it could stand to be ratcheted down a notch. MMA fans are so de-sensitized to the sight of blood that anything smaller than an axe wound-looking cut from an elbow hardly merits mention.

Fortunately, though, the hyperbole either settled down or just became easy to overlook once the book got going, because this really is a work that has a good chance of becoming a classic. Coming at the subject fresh was undoubtedly helpful, and allowed Wertheim to describe Miletich, a UFC champion for much of the late 1990s with a yawn-inducing style, appear dynamic and exciting in his fights. It doesn’t hurt that Wertheim opens with the funny, irrepressible, and shithouse crazy Jens (Lil Evil) Pulver offering to break the author’s nose.

The book abounds with insightful comments, whether about the opacity of the UFC as an organization and the practices of the Fertittas and Dana White, the relationship dynamics between fighters, coaches, managers, and promoters, the growth of the sport in the last five years, or the discussion of the open secret of steroid use, and even touching the almost sexual nature of an MMA bout.

It is worth the cover price for the non-confirmation confirmation of the Gene Lebell/Steven Seagal legend alone. He also managed to capture Lee Murray’s outside-the-ring exploits (much more interesting than Murray inside the ring) within a couple paragraphs and a long footnote. Those footnotes liberally sprinkled throughout are like porn for MMA junkies, riffing asides on the significance of tattoos to MMA fighters, to missed nicknames, to encapsulating the changes in Dana White through the years by noting his change in attire.

The more the UFC succeeds, the more casual White’s attire becomes. His suit and tie were replaced by a sportcoat and an open collar. Today he’ll show up for interiews wearing a form-fitting T-shirt, tattered jeans, and a belt buckle adorned with a skull.

The footnotes are indicated in the text by asterisks that I always missed–I wouldn’t catch the footnotes until I was leaving the page and always had to search back through the text. That’s either a criticism of the footnote asterisks or praise at how engrossing the text was, I’m not sure which.

One of the most telling stories is one that couldn’t be told–the way that Zuffa shut down access to longtime UFC matchmaker Joe Silva (”Don’t talk to Joe. Don’t. Talk. To. Joe.”). Just one instance of the paranoid UFC management locking down the ship; an interview with Joe Silva is definitely something that fans would have enjoyed reading.

There are some minor negatives: his perspective as an outsider leaves the technicals a little vague and unsure at times, and he leaves readers with a strange impression of Miletich’s gym that it’s all come-in-and-fight with no technique training, which is obviously false at the gym of one of the most respected coaches in the sport. Notable for its absence was Dana White’s blacklisting of Miletich’s IFL promotion; Wertheim hinted at the UFC’s excommunication practice once it feels crossed by a fighter, but for some reason he doesn’t describe how the same thing happened to Miletich.

But again, this is an excellent introduction to the sport, easily the most readable out there, and it is poised at the correct time to catch the MMA wave. It gives the new fans some of the background needed to appreciate the sport while keeping things entertaining and thoughtful enough for those fans who have seen the transformations firsthand.

Note- this book went to press before Miletich KO’ed Thomas Denny with punches that could drive piles in his December 2008 comeback fight.

The Superman Punch

All I knew was that his upper body, outside of range an instant ago, was suddenly in range and the big blue glove that covered his right fist was expanding and filling my field of vision as time slowed. I realized that I, standing there flat on one foot, was about to be caught with a Superman punch that was going to put me on my ass.


A Superman punch, for the uninitiated, is basically just a big flying overhand right (assuming an orthodox lead) coming in when you are expecting a kick. A common setup is to throw a couple low kicks or knees, then a faking a low kick by lifting the knee, then kicking the same leg back while jumping in and throwing a big punch with the rear hand. It can be done off a leg check as well, but that’s less powerful.

The idea behind calling it a Superman punch is that it can be almost horizontal, and on leg is back and one arm is forward looking like Superman flying through the air. The dynamic for the version I learned is like a rocking motion or a contraction then expansion as the leg is brought forward and then kicked backwards while the fist is hurtled towards the target. In all fairness, any flying overhand could probably be called a superman punch.

As far as it’s origins, anecdotal evidence places it as a muay thai technique at least as early as the 1980s, although most arts can probably claim a technique vaguely similar.

We were sparring in a kickboxing class, switching partners every round, when I was matched with a lanky fellow without shin pads. “How rude,” I thought, as his kicks occasionally landed. Not that they were hard, but still, it’s simply not done for just one person to wear pads because someone’s obviously getting the better end of the deal. I don’t recall much of the sparring match, except when he floated in with that big right hand that got bigger the closer it got. At the last moment, the foot I stuck out to check him (teep) connected with his abdomen and halted his progress just in time. I was so preoccupied with getting drilled that I had forgotten it was even out there to check what I thought was an incoming kick.

Relief washed through me and the rest of the match we ran out the clock; he was frustrated with not getting in, and I was happy to just coast after avoiding that punch. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the Superman punch, but it had been awhile and it almost got me.

It can be an effective technique because it is unexpected; consequently the biggest danger is overuse because it’s easy to avoid and counter if someone sees it coming.

Here’s someone instructing a form of the technique:

Sorry, looks like that one was pulled.

Without a doubt, the highest level of competition in which it’s been employed was the George St. Pierre v. Matt Hughes fight at UFC 65. GSP misses the first time, but eventually after setting it up with low kicks he manages to land it and follow up, knocking Hughes down. Sorry, no video, Zuffa keeps pulling it from youtube.

But here’s a quick one that happens at about 13 seconds:

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).

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.

The Cane as a Weapon (1912)

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

The Bare Essentials

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

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

Cunningham Expanded

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

Why I think The Cane as a Weapon is so Good

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

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

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

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

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

Cunningham’s History

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources Consulted

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

“Physical Culture and Self Defense” by Fitzsimmons (1901)

Our indefatigable friend Kirk Lawson recently finished transcribing another martial classic. This one was on my list, but he saved me the trouble with this faithful reproduction. Here’s his description:


As with all other retranscribed antique manuals that I republish, the text is available for free. You can download it at no charge. The treeware version is at “cost.”

Born June 4, 1862, Robert Fitzsimmons began boxing first as an amateur n Australia, defeating four men in his debut. He quickly transitioned to professional, and in the late 19th Century met and defeated numerous well known champions of the day including Dempsey, Maher, Hall, Creedon, Corbett, Ruhlin, Sharkey, ‘and others of like note.’ retaining and defending the Heavy-Weight title until June 9, 1899.

In retired life, Fitzsimmons taught Boxing, Self-Defense, and Physical Fitness, then known as “Physical Culture.” In 1901, he published his Fitness and Boxing manual titled “Physical Culture and Self Defense” which included material from earlier articles he had written.

This book is a faithful transcription by Kirk Lawson of the original text. Special attention has been given to recreating the look and feel of the original document, including similar fonts, the preservation of spelling, hyphenation, and intentionally blank pages.

You can get the book at:

While you’re there, check out Kirk’s other offerings: