Book Review:

The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar, the World's Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl

Journal of Manly Arts
September 2003
The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar, the World's Famous Ju-Jitsu Girl
By Joe Gardiner and Florence LeMar
Privately published by the authors in Wellington, New Zealand, 1913.

Review By Tony Wolf

This curious book was among the first Jiujitsu manuals to be published in the Antipodes. The authors were a husband and wife team who enjoyed great success in touring music halls throughout New Zealand and Australia during the early part of the 1900s. Yukio Tani had established an association between the martial arts and the music halls some years earlier, and perhaps the confluence of Orientalism and the "showmans privilege" of bending the facts explains much of the mystique still attached to Asian combatives in the Western world.

Florence "Flossie" LeMar was born in New Zealand, where her first claim to fame lay in giving exhibitions of the obscure sport of barefoot skating. Joe Gardiner was an immigrant from England, a professional wrestler and showman who probably coached Flossie in the tricks of his trade. Together they presented "a refined Vaudeville novelty" act, displaying a range of Jiujitsu techniques and climaxing with a skit in which Joe, playing a hooligan, was soundly defeated by Flossie. As they travelled from city to city the pair also offered Jiujitsu classes to the general public.

The first half of Life and Adventures illustrates and explains a selection of Jiujitsu techniques. It has to be said that, even allowing for the limitations of studio photography at the time, Flossie does not really appear to have been an expert in the art. She frequently seems out of balance and/or effective distance, and the impression is that Joe made full use of his acrobatic skill to "sell" his role as the hapless attacker. In fact, the reader could be forgiven for wondering whether even Joe had much practical knowledge of Jiujitsu. This aside, though, the pictures and written descriptions are quite charming and the couple certainly seem to have been enjoying themselves.

There follows a selection of short chapters in which Flossie, the Worlds Famous Jiujitsu Girl, recounts a series of international adventures in which her skills were tested to the utmost. She is pitted against a range of adversaries including a villainous New Orleans gambler armed with a vial of acid, and an "escaped lunatic" in London who believes that he is a bear. These colorful tales are written in a breathless 1900s tabloid style and they certainly make for some exciting reading.

As long as the reader is prepared to forgive the authors their showmans privilege, The Life and Adventures of Miss Florence LeMar is a unique and interesting work, displaying all the Edwardian charm of many early English-language Jiu-jitsu manuals.

September 2003