Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article originally appeared in Dragon Times, Issue No. 5 (pages 23 - 24), and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Graham Noble.Photographs have been omitted.Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.

See Part II of the article.


Early Ju-jitsu: The Challenges
Part I

by Graham Noble


Now that judo, karate, and aikido are established parts of our lives, it might be interesting to look again at the roots of the martial arts in Britain, which lie almost ninety years back in the era of Edwardian jujutsu. There are several neglected references which throw light on what was a fascinating era.

It seems that it all began in 1899, when the Japanese jujutsu expert Yukio Tani arrived in London. He had been brought over here by a Mr. Barton-Wright, an Englishman who had spent some time in Japan and saw an opportunity to make a name for himself by introducing the art of jujutsu to Britain. (He originally tried to teach his version of the art under the name "Bartitsu"). Barton-Wright faded from the scene within a couple of years but the first British martial arts boom had been set in motion and soon other Japanese experts arrived, the most important being Sadukazu Uyenishi, who appeared in the music halls under the name "Raku", Taro Miyake, Akhitaro Ohno, and Gunji Koizumi, "The Father of British Judo." By 1911 many of the Japanese had returned home but the basis for martial arts development had been laid.

This is not too well known, but the original reception to the Japanese was not favorable. When Tani and "a fellow countryman" (un-named) first made an appearance at the Tivoli Theatre, "the art was described as farcical, and the demonstrators as knockabout comedians." According to William Bankier, who handled Yukio Tani's affairs a few years later, these original displays were badly managed and the Japanese had very little opportunity of showing their true worth, or of testing their skill against well known men. Apart from this the British public, who were used to boxing, wrestling, and the music hall strongman, failed at first to appreciate the special qualities of the Japanese art, and ridiculed claims (later justified) that a 9-stone jujutsu expert could defeat men twice as heavy in contest.

Gradually people came to accept jujutsu for the splendid art that it was, but this change in attitude came not only from a better appreciation of its principles, but also from the hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of contests in which the Japanese engaged during their tours of the British music halls. The nightly challenge to the audience was a feature of both Tani's and Uyenishi's performances. Tani offered 20--an attractive sum in those days--to anyone he failed to defeat in 15 minutes of grappling, and. 10 to anyone who could defeat him. Of course, there are no records of these music hall contests but as far as we know, no money was ever paid over. Bankier noted that during one week at the Oxford Music Hall, Yukio Tani met and defeated thirty-three men, some of whom were well known continental wrestlers. In one six-month tour Tani defeated an average of 20 men a week, a total of over 500 challengers over the period of the tour. Regarding Uyenishi, the edition of Health and Strength magazine wrote: "I have been fortunate to witness many of these encounters and have never known him fail to polish off any six antagonists well within the space of 15 minutes. In fact I once saw him account for 5 men within 10 minutes, including the necessary waits between the separate bouts. And this, mind you, following on a lengthy and fairly exhausting display of the tricks and resources of ju-jutsu."

I can't imagine purists approving of jujutsu being used as an item of popular entertainment, but whatever one thinks about it, the exploits of Tani and Uyenishi in the boisterous world of the music hall really put jujutsu on the map. True, many of the challengers were rank amateurs who would have caused a jujutsu expert little trouble, but others were athletes and local wrestling champions, and virtually all were bigger than the Japanese. (Both Tani and Uyenishi were not much more than 5 feet tall and weighed around 9 stone). And even though the quality of the music hall opposition may not have been high, both Tani and Uyenishi proved their true worth against well known wrestlers of the day. For the record, Yukio Tani beat Mellor; Bulldog Clayton; Clarke; the Swiss Charpellod; Klein (probably Bill Klein); Acton; Langland; Frank Craig and Jack Scales. Uyenishi defeated Peter Gotz; Lauritz Neilsen; Charles Laurie; Bartoletti; Charles Wilson and Sheki (another Japanese).

These names may not mean much nowadays but they were well known figures in the sporting scene of Edwardian Britain. Unfortunately few accounts of these contests which were held incidentally under ju-jutsu, and not wrestling, rules, have come down to us, but a diligent researcher might find some valuable material if he were to search through the files of old sporting papers. We can guess, though, that these were hard fought, but fair, bouts in which the wrestlers tried their utmost, not only to win the prize money, but also to save themselves from defeat at the hands of a much smaller foreigner. The rules of fair play might occasionally break down, as they did in Tani's contest against Tom Connors at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Immediately following the customary handshake Connors attacked Tani, intending to lift him up bodily and dash him to the ground with all his strength. Tani however swung out of the hold--and both men went over into the orchestra pit. As they remounted the stage Connors struck Tani with his fist, a foul for which he was booed by the audience. When they came to grips again Tani took hold of Connors by the collar of his jacket, brought him down on top of himself and secured a stranglehold. Connors lost his temper and again struck Tani with his fist. The referees were about to disqualify him when he succumbed to Tani's hold. Total time: 1 minute 55 seconds. Connors left the stage to a chorus of booing.

Tromp Van Diggellen, a top amateur wrestler of the period, remembered a gym bout with Yukio Tani in his autobiography "Worthwhile Journey" (1955):

"It was at the Appollo-Saldo club in London in 1908 that I learned what a great art ju-jutsu really is. At that time Yukio Tani was giving music hall exhibitions all over England. Hitherto this skillful means of self defence had never been properly demonstrated in Europe. People were amazed at the simple manner in which a powerful man could be overcome in a question of seconds by the quick moving little Jap. Strength seemed to be of no avail, for he had the uncanny knack of applying holds which made a man's own strength defeat itself; in other words, the more powerful the resistance was, the more unbearable became the resultant pain, which the attacker experienced when he tried to extricate himself from one of the expert holds which Yukio Tani applied like lightning.

'When he came to London, he did his training at the Appollo-Saldo club in Great Newport Street, where at times I did my own training. Bill Klein, the able instructor and masseur who was employed by Monte Saldo, told me that Hackenschmidt had refused to have a bout with Tani saying that he might strain a muscle and so be incapacitated for the music hall exhibitions which he gave nightly.'

To amuse the habitues of the famous club, I agreed to have a contest with the wiry Jap. First we wrestled, and Tani was very fair and made no attempt to use his ju-jutsu locks. In a couple of minutes I had him pinned flat on his back. This had been expected of me and so I laughingly donned the special canvas jacket that one wears when indulging in the art of jujitsu. Seventeen seconds later I was not smiling, but choking, while I tapped the mat with my hand as quickly as I could. The Jap had neatly tripped me as I applied a hold to his jacket. I hit the mat and before I could spring to my feet, his two feet were at my neck, choking me. The feet were naked and all my strength failed to pull them apart. Not only strength but some peculiar knack was in that hold. "I tried once more, but as I seized Tani's canvas jacket he fell backwards, a foot was applied to my abdomen and I sailed through the air as he hit the mat with his back. Again I had no chance of getting away, and again those sinewy feet held me by the neck and more strongly than any man's hands could! This time only fifteen seconds had elapsed before I was choking and tapping the mat with both hands as fast as I could.'

"As I walked off with my arm over the shoulders of the little "Yellow Peril" I asked him if he was really the Japanese Champion. "No, no," came the immediate reply, "that is only publicity talk. In Japan I'm only third rate. The great champions are amateurs and they never give public shows of our art. To the masters of ju-jutsu, our science is almost a religion.

Another important reference was given by Thomas Inch in his book "Boxing and Physical Culture". Inch was a famous trainer and strongman (he held the title "Britain's Strongest Man" for several years) with a wide knowledge of boxers, wrestlers and strongmen. The reference to Uyenishi as "World's Champion" in the first paragraph should not be taken seriously. He may have been billed as "world champion" for his music hall appearances but it was a meaningless title in those days.

"When the world's champion ju-jitsuist issued a challenge many years ago without response, then later mentioned 'strong men and boxers' I was the one to accept, which I did simply to put the matter to the test. I met Raku Uyenishi at his place in Golden Square. The weights were roughly: Uyenishi, 140 lb.; myself, 2101b. I was at my very best being able to lift some 350 lb. overhead with two hands, and 3001b. with one (in the bent-press style--Author), had a chest of about 50 inches, and upper arm of 19 inches, could jump well over 5ft. 6in. in the high jump, run 100 yards in 11 seconds, and box a fast three rounds with a good professional in spite of my huge muscles. When I saw the tiny Tap in front of me I fancied my chance, having done a little Swiss belt wrestling with Arthur Saxon, the champion at that style, and wrestled Cumberland style in my younger days in the North. All I can say is that the audience had a really good laugh--in fact, they nearly fell off their seats laughing.

"I started by shooting through the air like a meteor as Uyenishi commenced with a move which was new then but is old now, falling upon his back, putting his foot in my stomach, and throwing me heavily some distance away. I had not learned how to fall; there is in ju-jutsu what is known as a breakfall, and this heavy throw didn't do me any good at all. On resuming, he played with me like a cat with a mouse, doing in fact just what he liked with me. The more I exerted myself the more I fell down, first one way, then the other. I found my strength not the slightest use, and it was evident to me that Uyenishi knew just how to use it against me. He studied my feet and if I wasn't standing just so with the weight upon the foot he needed, he knew just what to do to coax or force, me into that position. Then a little pull with one hand, a slight push with the other a touch with the sole of his foot on my ankle, and down I went again.

"I soon lost count of the falls, and all hope of gaining a single fall; in fact my strength (which was great) was of no avail whatever, neither was anything which I had previously learned of ordinary wrestling. To offset my discomfiture, it is true to say that both Uyenishi and his fellow countryman Yukio Tani defeated all the best European wrestlers who were brought against them, and Tani was even smaller than Uyenishi.

"I once took a fellow-professional strong man, Maurice Deriaz, who had stood against George Hackenschmidt in Paris for quite a long spell and was as good a wrestler and weight-liner as came out of France, to the Putney Hippodrome to wrestle Tani and try to get a much needed 25 for Deriaz's wallet. He had come over specially to try to / in my challenge dumbbell and, having failed to get my 200, thought the 25 would be a solace. In order to win the money he had to stay about 15 minutes, and Deriaz was many times better than myself as a wrestler and one of the strongest men in Europe, being quick, determined. and clever. But the small Jap won fairly easily and Deriaz put up with some severe punishment before he collapsed, though he lasted very nearly to the time limit."

Such were Tani's successes against wrestlers that he eventually challenged George Hackenschmidt, who at that time was the undisputed king of professional wrestling. It came to nothing but we can't help wondering "What if . . . ?"

Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.