Suffragette Jujitsu

The suffragettes were seriously into jujitsu.

Edith Garrud takes down a policeman

It makes sense. They were neophile radicals with a legitimate reason to fight the law; who better to learn martial arts?

But it’s also somewhat impressive, given the time-frame: they were really among the first in England to take up the practice. Asian martial arts had received some discussion there in the 19th century, but the first dojo didn’t open until 1899*, and a decade later there were still only a half-dozen trainers.

One of them was Edith Garrud. That’s her above, demonstrating how to take down a policeman.

Because this wasn’t just about muggers and drunken husbands; the suffragettes needed self-defence against the police. So Garrud trained the ‘Bodyguard Group’ of 25 ‘Jujitsuffragettes’. Their main aim was protecting the movement’s leaders from police violence and from arrest. Meanwhile Garrud’s dojo also became a refuge for suffragettes.

Here’s how it’s described by a descendent of one of the group:

The 25 Bodyguard members were armed with Indian rubber clubs, hidden within their long skirts, & trained in jujitsu, a Japanese system of wrestling that works well against stronger opponents… Although they couldn’t out-muscle the policemen, they could outwit them. On several occasions they staged exciting rescues. Twice a decoy maneuver led the detectives to carry off the wrong Mrs. Pankhurst. But the sad truth is that, more often than not, the women suffered dislocated joints, broken bones & concussions.

And here’s how Punch saw it:

* This first teacher was E.W. Barton-Wright. Barton-Wright was an engineer who had spent 3 years in Japan (typical nerd-martial artist crossover!). On his return to London he started teaching what he called ‘Bartitsu’. This mixed jujitsu with kick-boxing and stick-fighting — the idea being that you should be able to fight off muggers with your umbrella and perhaps a well-thrown coat.

Bartitsu was quickly forgotten, but not before Conan Doyle had mentioned it as the skill which enabled Sherlock Holmes to overpower Moriarty, as they fought above the Reichenbach Falls. In the 80s, Holmes aficionados and martial arts historians figured out the connection, paving the way for a revival in the past decade. It’s surely only a matter of time until the steampunk crowd discover it, and people start feeling nervous when they meet somebody in Edwardian dress down a dark alley.

More: Martial history magazine; “The Jujitsuffragettes“; Clarkes World; Suffragettes in an airship. And thanks to Dmytri for telling me about it all.

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