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.

Kung Fu Tricks & Other Fakery

Breaking stones with heads or hands, tearing phone books, performing amazing feats of strength and the like go waaaaaay back. The earliest accounts of martial art tricks/stunts I recall go back to the days of the Roman gladiators.

Today it’s shaolin monks, less recently “no-touch” knockouts, a couple decades ago it was the “unbendable arm” and other ki tricks; a hundred years ago it was the jujutsu invaders entering the west doing pole-on-neck stunts. Physical culturists performed the same feats and you could find carnies, wrestlers, other martial artists, and strong men (and women) all performing similar feats at different places and times in history. The line between the categories was often blurred with some demonstrators seeming to hit all of those descriptions.

I like the following site because it shows how some of the popular tricks are performed and that there is no mystical basis behind them. Some of these techniques may require strength, but, just like good martial arts, proper technique is a strength magnifier, and they show you the techniques that make the stunts possible.

Included are ways to break bricks, bottles, roll up frying pans, resist multiple people, fake powerful punches, tear phone books and other tricks of the trade. I also like that they include some elements from the CQC/CQB/WWII combatives field, such as putting someone in the grapevine and escaping the grapevine yourself. For those unfamiliar, the grapevine was a method shown by Fairbairn to lock a man to a small tree or pole by arranging his legs in a certain way so that he could not escape unassisted.

The site is Kung Fu Do (formerly Bad Kung Fu) and I urge you to check it out if that’s the sorta thing you’re into. The site wasn’t laid out all that well in the past, and you had to poke around a bit, but it looks easier to navigate these days. As for me, I couldn’t get enough!

Skipping Belt Ranks

There are two threads regarding skipping ranks over on the Convocation of Combat Forum. Rather than wax on over there, I’ll wax off alone over here and then link to it. (Yikes, a Karate Kid and masturbation pun in the second sentence, this is going downhill fast). Anyway, the genesis of the debate arose when a savateuse with seven months training was promoted to white glove after her first testing at a seminar.

Personally, I don’t see the big deal. After all, belt rank (and yes, that includes savate’s glove rank), is a relatively recent practice that can be laid at Jigoro Kano’ s feet. Initiating the practice in 1883, he also initiated the first rank skipping by promoting two judo players directly to shodan (1-dan black belt). Of course, those two were very good and quickly shot through the ranks, with one later skipping 3-dan as well.

Belts generally didn’t catch on at all until the early 1900s and weren’t introduced into karate until the 1920s. The wild intermediate colors seen nowadays didn’t hit the U.S. until the 1950s. Since the 1950s, and likely well before, it has not been uncommon for immigrating instructors to self-promote themselves a couple ranks on the trip over to the U.S.

I’ve personally seen those with field promotions in judo; I knew someone who had obtained a brown belt by defeating stiff competition in a tournament. I probably outweighed the guy by 40 pounds, but he could still run a clinic on me at will. I’ve also been on the receiving end, gaining a promotion that allowed me to enter a kickboxing tournament for which I didn’t have enough rank, so maybe I’m just biased.

I would submit that competition arts where sparring is a significant aspect (whether that’s kickboxing, grappling, or anything else) are less likely to face internal dissension due to rank skipping. There is complete transparency because you know exactly how good someone is because you roll or spar with them on a regular basis. There is no hiding a lack of skill or ability.

Of course, any martial arts organization has its internal politics and it is natural that members do not want to see what they perceive as preferential treatment. In most schools it would certainly be unsettling to see someone in the same organization skip ranks when you yourself never had the same opportunity.

Trust in the instructor is the main commodity of a martial arts school and instructors should be loathe to jeopardize that trust. It is also pervasive but perhaps unavoidable that higher belt promotions (3rd degree and above) are less transparent and often a cause for silent questioning. In the smaller, more cultish insular organizations (e.g., bando in the U.S.), such perceived favoritism can negatively impact the esprit de corps of the group at large.

So, was the rank skipping that began this worthwhile discussion a big deal? Maybe, if it jeopardized the trust placed in the instructor. Seven months does seem to be a brief period, but certainly within the realm of possibility for the creation of a solid white glove. So maybe, maybe not, but without training with the under the instructor or with the folks at the club in question, there’s probably no basis to state a firm opinion. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and give a hearty “congratulations” to all those who were promoted.

Knife Fighting Instruction

MacHeath had a jackknife, which he kept out of sight, and used almost poetically if Bobby Darin’s description is any indication. Jim Croce gave Bad Bad Leroy Brown a .32 gun in his pocket for fun and a razor in his shoe, and he didn’t specify what Big Jim Walker carried, but a knife sounds a safe bet.

Leroy Brown, after his encounter, looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone, whereas for Jim, after the cutting was done, only the soles of his feet were not covered in blood. Specifically, he was cut in about 100 places and shot in a couple more.

Knife fighting has long been a romantic concept, bound with ideas of honor and masculinity. After all, there’s heavy symbolism in stabbing the flesh of another with a phallic shaped instrument. As an expression of dominance, it places the recipient in the female role by definition. Makes you wonder what the hell Jim Bowie was overcompensating for.

From where did all this lyrical romanticism derive? Maybe it was because knife fighting is an evolution of the code duello, i.e., an extension to the knife rather than sword. Or maybe it is just a class issue, after all, legendary fighters are usually of common stock, which is not surprising considering that the people relating the tales often had a class tradition of using knives to settle disputes of honor. See the cites at the end for a couple examples.

If you’ve gotten the impression that I dislike knife fighting, well, you’re both right and wrong. I don’t ever want to be in a knife fight, and of the dozens of schools or seminars I’ve been to that have taught knife skills, I don’t especially care for the way any of them train for knife encounters.

In real life, the recipient may not even know he or she is being stabbed until the encounter is over. With the adrenaline pumping, many participants have engaged in fistfights only to figure out after it was all over that the other fella brought a knife to a fistfight and the sneaky son of a bitch didn’t advertise the fact. Another point is that the targets are almost always the abdomen or head, both of which I’d like to keep intact. For more detail on knife encounter studies check out James LaFond’s book. LaFond is another local who enjoys whacking people with sticks.

One of the problems is that pretty much any knife defense is intrinsically false. Scenario training is great, but if you’re training scenarios, you know you are about to be attacked, and you know the knife is potentially a part of the attack at some point. For example, these guys (I saw this link on the blog I mention below, you really only need to watch the first encounter to get the point) do a great job of showing just how tough a committed attack can be to defend, but even so they know the attack is coming and they are also limited as to how and what targets they can attack safely.

Knife on knife sparring, which I have participated in to no end and still quite enjoy, is so ludicrous as to make me wonder if I’m going to break out into song and dance with the Jets and Sharks. The idea that a realistic knife scenario is two people starting with similar weapons yards apart and then fencing makes me wonder who thinks these things up.

I do think it is illuminating that one of my instructor’s who knew him well used to quote Dan Inosanto on the subject of the knife disarms we were taught in FMA. The gist was that he did not recommend them; if you couldn’t get out of the situation, the disarms were the last line of defense, the first being something along the lines of a beer mug, chair, or other improvised weapon. The point of the disarms was that at least it was something to fall back on if your day suddenly got really bad, and at least it gave you something to train.

In that same vein, I did stumble across a promising blog on knife self defense the other day. There is not a lot of content yet, but of the content I read there, I liked. For example, here’s a bit about the “best knife defense”:

When you compare the best knife defense, well hands down, I would recommend using the following, listed by the best ways and if you have the cash.

  • firearm
  • taser
  • long metal stick
  • garbage can lid
  • a chair

As you can well imagine, I was intrigued by such a sensible response.

Here’s the link to the blog that that quote came from: Simple Knife Defense

Here are the articles I mentioned earlier:

Thomas W. Gallant, “Honor, Masculinity, and Ritual Knife Fighting in Nineteenth-Century Greece,” American Historical Review, Vol 105, No. 2 ( April 2000).

Pieter Spierenburg, “Knife Fighting and Popular Codes of Honor in Early Modern Amsterdam,” in Spierenburg, ed., Men and Violence: Gender, Honor and Rituals in Modern Europe and America (Columbus, Ohio, 1998).

Butting in the Revolutionary War

For Independence Day, I thought the following account would be an appropriate choice. It is an excerpt from a butting article I am working on (I have collected dozens of these types of accounts) that took place during the Revolutionary War. Butting, in its broadest sense, was headbutting. It was predominantly practiced by African-Americans, and was, I argue, practiced as play, sport, spectacle, and combat.

People were not the only participants in butting encounters; both animals and certain inanimate objects ended up on the business end of butting heads. Butting’s closest brush with fame came with the Revolutionary War heroics of slave Jack Sisson. On the night of July 9, 1777, a daring raid, consisting of an all-volunteer commando or forty-one men, led by Lieutenant Colonel William Barton, made its way in whaling boats through enemy waters to land on the northern end of Rhode Island. The group proceeded to the Overing House, which British Major General Richard Prescott used as his headquarters, and subdued the sentry at the gate.

Accounts differ, but either the front door or the general’s bedroom door was locked and, on the second try, the smallish Sisson butted through the door panel with his head and the door was opened. The general was quickly captured and rushed out of the house in a state of undress. The group captured the general, his aide-de-camp, and the sentry, and slipped back to their own lines. (Field, Edward (ed.). State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History, Vol I)

The ignominious elements of Prescott’s capture were immortalized in a ballad that circulated after the affair:

A tawney son of Afric’s race
Them through the ravine led,
And entering then the Overing house,
They found him in his bed.

But to get in they had no means
Except poor Cuffee’s head,
Who beat the door down, then rushed in,
And seized him in his bed.

Stop, let me put my breeches on,
The general then did pray.
Your breeches, massa, I will take,
For dress we cannot stay.

(Kaplan, Sydney. Black Presence in Era of American Revolution).

Unfortunately for Sisson, the one thing he continued to regret, according to Barton biographer Catherine Williams, was that his name never appeared in any accounts of the action. (Kaplan). As well as being unnamed, he has been variously called Jack Sisson, Tack Sisson, Prince, Quaco (a different person altogether), and as seen in the ballad above, Cuffee.

Barton’s own account neglected mention of the butting completely, but Sisson’s obituary finally included an account of the incident. (Providence Gazette, November 3, 1821).

Paper Bludgeon: the Millwall Brick

The other day I read a post on Boing Boing about constructing the Millwall Brick, which is the first I had heard of it. The Millwall (or Chelsea) Brick is an improvised weapon constructed out of rolled and folded newspaper.

The history behind the Milwall Brick is that football (soccer) hooligans, frisked at the gates, were limited in the types of weapons they could smuggle into the matches. The innocuous newspaper allowed them a quickly accessible weapon at their disposal should the fistic festivities kick off.

Instructions for making one can be found here, but the photo sequence they show pretty much covers it:

Millwall brick assembly

Now, I’m all for improvised weapons, but this looks almost like more trouble than it’s worth. It seems to me a rolled-up magazine used as a thrusting weapon would be far more useful, not to mention quicker to implement.

Then again, the South Londoners know what they’re about when it comes to football violence, so I guess I need to make one and do a couple test whacks with it to really understand it. At first glance, it just looks too short to do anything worthwhile. Maybe that’s part of the fun: you can have a less-lethal weapon that will save your fists in a punch up and not land you in the chokey for attempted murder.

“You say the defendant then viciously attacked you with a newspaper? The defense rests, your honor.”

William Ewart Fairbairn: The Legendary Instructor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bartitsu: An Eclectic Edwardian Martial Art

I was involved with this project, but it was the indefatigable Tony Wolf that took the editorial reins and turned a bunch of list talk into the amazing piece of publishing that became The Bartitsu Compendium. Instead of rehashing it all here, let me quote from the sale site:

The Bartitsu Compendium is a complete guide to the history, theory and practice of Bartitsu, an eclectic martial art founded by E.W. Barton-Wright in the year 1899. Bartitsu was a combination of four of the most effective self defence methods known at the time – jiujitsu, boxing, savate and stick fighting. The Compendium features over two hundred and seventy pages of original essays, rare vintage reprints and never-before-seen translations, illustrated with hundreds of fascinating photographs and sketches.

A lot of time, effort, and money went into primary research, obtaining rare original copies for quality scans, and authoring new material for this compendium. But probably the greatest thing about the project is that all the proceeds go towards purchasing a suitable gravesite memorial for E. W. Barton-Wright, buried in a pauper’s grave in the 1950s.

Therefore you can feel good about purchasing your copy here or by clicking on the book cover above.

Related links:

Bartitsu Forum– talk about all things bartitsu– a comprehensive resource including seminar updates

Savate in the United States in 1896

Here’s an article describing an attempt at introducing savate to the New York Athletic Club in 1896. To the best of my knowledge, it never gained much of a foothold in the NYAC. After all, Mike Donovan was the boxing instructor for decades and it is unlikely he would have cared to have competing pugilistic instruction at the club. On the other hand, savate was briefly fashionable in the 1890s U.S. and the NYAC did include at least one savate bout in their boxing programs earlier in 1893, so there must have been interest from at least some of the moneyed members of the NYAC.

The movements described in the article are familiar to boxe francaise practitioners today, although the descriptions can be difficult to follow because they are classified by the target area rather than the type of kick. The coup de pied bas, revers, chasse, and foutte all appear to be mentioned or at least listed by intended target.

The history is anachronistic, as savate was almost certainly less than a century old at this time (e.g., see Loudcher’s writings), but it’s still probably more accurate than the history section of most savate clubs websites and popular books. This article was originally printed in the Washington Post, June 14, 1896, p. 18.


Knowledge of Savate as a New Prize Ring Accomplishment


It Provides Unique Combinations of Feet and Hands and Is Especially Effective in Rough an Tumble Fighting-The Primary Rule In Learning Savate for Offensive and Defensive Purposes-Tripping the Kicker Up-The Coup de Flanc Kick

New York, June 12.

IF CERTAIN members of the swell New York Athletic Club have their way the fighter of the future will not only give upper cuts with his hands, but he will deliver straight jabs, half swings, cross counters, and knockout blows with this feet. These men who set the fashion in amateur athletics have lately taken up the French style of fighting, which, if not as deadly as the present prize-ring method, is much more picturesque and requires double the amount of agility for scientific work.

In Paris there are numerous academies where this science is taught. The art is known as “Savate,” which literally means old shoe. A century or two ago a ball or dance held by the lower classes usually wound up in a row. The same state of affairs exists today, but unlike the present custom of throwing beer glasses, empty beer kegs, or using blackjacks, knives, and revolvers, the French brawlers made use of their wooden shoes. A hearty kick delivered in the right place by a strong man booted with one of these wooden shoes did tremendous damage.

The efficacy of this kind of warfare was speedily discerned and it became part of the young Frenchman’s education to use his feet well. No self-respecting young lady would think of attending a dance with a young man who could not put up a good fight with his feet; otherwise she might be insulted and further humiliated by the fact that her escort had failed to kick the life out of her traducer. Naturally, there were some who excelled in the art to such an extent that they became instructors, and later on professors.

Useful Against Street Ruffians

Today there are scores upon scores of these professors in Paris and several of them in this city. The young American regards a kick in a fight as the rankest kind of foul play, but a Frenchman argues on the theory that when a man is attacked he should be qualified to use each and all of the weapons given him by nature without any show of partiality. The average Frenchman acquires a knowledge of the savate for the single purpose of defending himself against attack by street ruffians. He does not expect to make use of it on his friends or acquaintances, as that would be vulgar. The duello code covers that contingency.

There are six times as many blows in the French styles as there are in the accepted form of fighting. Many unique combinations are made with the feet and hands, and for rough and tumble fighting it affords a system which is not to be beaten easily. A clever man at the savate can disable an adversary in short order. His leg can be broke, his neck dislocated, or his face smashed in at the will of a man of science.

The primary rule in learning savate and one of the most difficult to remember in the heat of combat is that the weight of the body must always rest on the foot furthest away from the opponent. The foot in front must be entirely free of all weight or other hindrance so that it can wave about in all directions like a flag in a gale of wind.

This rule is necessary both for offensive and defensive reasons. If the front foot is hampered by weight it cannot deliver a speedy kick. Moreover, as soon as the man you are fighting with sees that you are resting your weight on your forward foot he kicks it from under you and your countenance collides with the floor. This is necessarily sad. As the rapidity of the contest keeps the two men dancing about sometimes with one foot in front and just as often with the other foot forward it behooves the fighter to do a lot of thinking to always sustain his weight on the rear foot. When a beginner has thoroughly learned this rule half of the art has been acquired.

Raps Your Opponent’s Shins

The first kick to learn is the cow kick. This is simply a rap on the shin of your opponent as near to the knee as possible. Cleverly administered by a man of science, it will dislocate the joint and end then and there. More often it simply lames the leg. It is called the coup de savate, and is made with the toe aiming downward and outward. The parry for this kick is to raise the forward foot and bringing it back to the knee of the rear foot. Another way is to counter the kick by springing forward and getting inside the extended leg, and at the same time smash your opponent on the point of the jaw. Still another way is to spring back and endeavor to catch the extended foot with the hand, and then turn the luckless one upside down, so that his head will smash into the floor.

The coup de flanc is the next kick, and it is quite a fancy one. This kick should be so delivered that the heel will land on the human target instead of the toe. This is either a high or low kick, the point of attack being the face, chest, or side. It is a dangerous kick for a beginner to attempt, for in the event of a miscarriage it gives the other a splendid chance to end the combat. The kick is made by suddenly drawing up the knee of the fighting foot and then shooting it out in a half swing. The parry for the chest kick is to bring down both hands on the extended foot and endeavor to throw the kicker down. When the kick is aimed at the face, the parry is the reverse. The body is drawn back, and an effort is made with the hands to throw up the floor, so that the kicker will fall on the back of his head. For the side kick the parry is to throw the extended foot either to the left or the right with the arms.

Kicks Meant for the Face

The cross kick is capable of doing a lot of injury. The kicker makes a full half swing, usually with his left foot, and lands the heel of his shoe on the side of his opponent. The parry is to draw in the body, and bring both hands on the foot. Of course, a good grip on the kicker’s foot means that he is in for a nasty tumbler. There is a kick for the top of the head, a backward side-face kick, belt kick, a high body kick, the front side-face kick, and numerous others, all elaborations of the three principal kicks, that is the one for the shins, the one for the body, and the other for the head.

The professors of the art practice all day long kicking at imaginary things. Their accuracy is remarkable. With a side kick, as high as the head, they can knock the ashes off a cigar without injuring the fire. They never seem to lose their equilibrium, and always land with the weight of the rear foot, with the front foot swinging and ready for immediate action.

Dealing with Footpads

I came across this a number of years ago and found it amusing because you see the same discussions today with keyboard self-defense experts describing how they would dismantle hypothetical attackers with their favorite techniques.

This piece was originally printed in the April 28, 1900 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle (p.14). I added the emphasis (boldface) at the end because I like the way it underscores the reality that adrenaline is a factor in any confrontation.


It is surprising how much hindsight people have when it comes to dealing with a footpad, said John J. Dean yesterday. He met the mysterious lone highwayman Monday night, and promptly gave up $3.50 at the solicitation of the stranger. Since my experience became public, continued Mr. Deane, I have received enough advice to stock a bureau of information. Every man I meet tells me how he would have handled the bandit without coughing up any money. It is simply marvelous to learn how many ways I might have done up that footpad if I had only been provided with the information that arrived so long overdue. I will tell you some of the brilliant methods for dealing with a footpad, as suggested by my friends. Here is the list:

Hit him on the jaw.

Suddenly throw up his pistol hand with your left and give him your right in the bean basket.

While he is reaching out and is balancing on one foot give him a swift kick, overbalance him, follow it with a hard right, and he is yours.

As he reaches for the cash grab his hand and jerk him towards you, and then grab the pistol.

Trip him up.

Throw up your hands as if you were obeying him, and bring them down heavy on his hat. That smashes it over his eyes, and he is blind until he gets it off.

Why not refuse to do anything and just stand there like a stumbling-block? He will not dare to shoot, and pretty soon he will get frightened and run. Then you can keep him in sight and land him.

Always keep your right hand in your overcoat pocket, with the cocked revolver in your hand. When he jumps out and brings his gun to bear, just shoot through your pocket without moving a muscle.

Josh him, and take plenty of time, pretending not to be scared. If he thinks you are joking he will ease up, and then you can suddenly grab the gun and turn it on him.

The great thing is to keep cool and carefully note the man’s appearance. Give him what he asks for, and then never let him get out of sight. He is bound to get scared after he gets the plunder. All you have to do is to watch him, and pretty soon you will have the whole town to help you run him to earth. Then you will get your stuff back, and be none the worse for the experience.

There, concluded Mr. Deane. Just see how I could have handled that little footpad if I had only tried! I confess that while I was looking down the repulsive throat of his gun I did not know how easy it was to get out of the scrape.