Japanese Wrestling

Journal of Manly Arts
Oct 2001

The Japan Times, Wednesday 28th November 1900 (Page 4)

Misfortune, says the Times, seems to follow Mr. Barton Wright (EN1) in his efforts to place the Japanese system of wrestling before the British public. Last year he gave at the St. James' Hall an exhibition which attracted much notice, but a special display before the Prince of Wales at the Gallery Club fell through because Mr. Barton Wright had a bicycle accident. Yesterday there was to have been a private display at the Alhambra, including exhibitions by three champions from Japan (EN2), the first three of their class who have been permitted to travel, and performances by two instructors from Mr. Wright's School of Arms (EN3). But Mr. Wright was obliged to warn spectators at the onset that the instructors could not appear, since one of them had been badly thrown by one of the Japanese wrestlers overnight and had hurt his shoulder, and that one of the Japanese was also hors de combat.

Mr. Wright however delivered a short address on the Japanese system of self-defence, explaining that it is by no means based on any principle of honour, but simply on that of getting the better of one's adversary, and that it depends entirely on skill and balance and not on brute strength. He laid stress also on the manner in which these Japanese wrestlers train the muscles of the throat, so that it becomes practically impossible to throttle them.

But he had yet another misfortune to announce. His champions, who are of the middle class gentry of Japan, the old fighting class, had but recently realised that they were expected to show themselves before a paying audience, and unless he could persuade them to change their minds they would never consent to perform (EN4).

A very pretty display of wrestling, in which wonderful use was made of the legs and feet, followed. It is called Jujitsu, but the actual grips and throws are so deft, so sudden, and so violent, that the most practised English wrestler would not follow them with particularity. Next came a throat performance which, although wonderful, was not quite so marvellous as had been expected. The more stalwart of the two champions lay on his back, with his feet and hands tied, with a man holding his feet, and another standing on his chest. A pole some eight or ten feet long was then placed upon his powerful throat and three impartial men at either end pressed on it till the ends touched the floor. The wrestler bore it for a while, and then wriggled round and freed himself from the pole. It was a great performance undoubtedly, but it is a duty to state that the pole was quite pliant and that the spectators were expressly urged to keep their hands quite at the ends of the pole. (EN5)

Next a powerful English wrestler was thrown, once or twice, very easily by the slighter of the two Japanese, and then another throat performance was tried. Placing the end of the pole on his bare throat the larger wrestler invited a gentleman of about 11st. weight to push against him with the full force of one arm, keeping the pole horizontal; and the gentleman was easily pushed away. Thereupon arose argument. One of the view jury, so to speak, insisted that if the wrestler were permitted to alter the angle of incidence by stretching and stooping alternately it was a mere trick, and after argument the champion retired being interpreted saying that he would allow any gentleman to push the pole against his throat, while he stood with his back to the wall, on the terms that the gentleman should try a fall with him later. But the men remembered Mr. Wright's instructor and the informal challenge wasn't taken up.

EN1 - Edward William Barton-Wright was a pioneer of jujutsu in Great Britain and the founder of Bartitsu.

EN2 - These were probably Yukio Tani, Tani's elder brother, and S. Yamamoto

EN3 - Barton-Wright's School of Arms, featuring instruction in boxing, wrestling, fencing, la savate and jujutsu, was located in Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

EN4 - The elder Tani and S. Yamamoto returned to Japan later that year, apparently over a disagreement with Mr. Barton-Wright regarding the demonstration of jujutsu as entertainment in the music halls.

EN5 - Stunts combining elements of skill and trickery have long been associated with both European and Asian forms of physical culture. See Leung Ting, Skills of the Vagabonds II- Behind the Incredibles, 1991, ISBN 962-7284-16-5, and http://www.alliancemartialarts.com/magic.html

For another contemporary account of an assault-at-arms arranged by Mr. Barton-Wright, please see "the Bartitsu Tournament"

Oct 2001