Ju-jutsu: The Challenges
the early years of this century
Japan had emerged as a major world power, and victories over China in 1895,
and Russia in 1904/5, aroused international admiration for "the plucky
little Jap." In addition, the early propagators of jujutsu in this country
were fortunate in that their efforts to launch the art coincided with a vogue
for physical culture and professional wrestling. This was, in fact, the golden
age of professional wrestling, a period which lasted from about 1898 to 1913
and the retirement of the then world champion Frank Gotch.
I suspect that there has always been an element
of flim flam in professional wrestling, but in those
early days this was held in check and the major
matches involving such champions as Hackenschmidt,
Zbysko, Gotch, Gama, and Padoubny were straight,
genuine contests for a monetary prize. We can probably
mark Gotch's retirement as the time when the entertainment
aspect took over completely and John F. Gilbey (Author
of "Secret Fighting Arts of the World",
"Way of the Warrior" and Western Boxing
and World Wrestling." --Editor.) is
probably correct when he states that there hasn't
been a straight pro wrestling match in America since
1915. The same would apply to Britain and Europe.
Hackenschmidt, the "Russian Lion", was
the major figure in the turn-of-the-century professional
wrestling world. Born in Estonia in 1878, Hackenschmidt
was a tremendous natural athlete and strong man
who, at an early age, was taken in hand by the famous
authority on physical culture Doctor Von Krajewski,
a St. Petersburg medical man. Hackenschmidt won
the Russian Weight lifting Championship in 1898
but by then his interest in wrestling was beginning
to take precedence over weight lifting. In the World
Weight lifting Championships held in Vienna (1898)
he took third place, and also won the wrestling
tournament which took place at the same time. From
then he embarked on a career as a professional wrestler,
and the level of public interest in wrestling can
be gauged by the list of tournaments he entered
(and mostly won) during the next few years: in 1899,
Finland and Paris; 1900: Moscow, Dresden, Chemitz,
Budapest, Graz, Nurenberg and Paris; 1901: Hamburg,
St. Petersburg, Vienna, Stetin, Berlin, Moscow,
Munich and Paris (130 entries!), 1902: Brussels,
Liege, and Namur. In his book "The Way to Live"
Hackenschmidt recalled the crowd reaction after
he won the Budapest tournament:
while I live, will I forget what then took place.
The whole audience rose like one man and thunders
of applause echoed through the building. I was
seized, carried shoulder high, and decked with
flowers. For fully a quarter of an hour I was
borne like a victorious general through the streets,
kissed, embraced etc. etc."
came over to Britain in 1902, and after defeating
our top men, established himself as the greatest
wrestler of the day. After a couple of years he
switched his wrestling from the Greco-Roman (actually
French) style prevalent on the Continent--this is
a restrictive form of wrestling in which no holds
below the waist are allowed to the freer, more versatile
catch-as-catch-can style. The early 1900s were a
time of great enthusiasm for wrestling matches in
England and Hackenschmidt's contests against such
opponents as Pierri the Greek and Madrali "The
Terrible Turk" created intense excitement.
The sportswriter Norman Clark stated, "I do
not think it any exaggeration to say that Hacken-schmidt's
matches with Madrali and others at Olympia and the
Albert Hall created popular excitement such as no
form of athletic contest has ever surpassed in this
In between important matches George Hackenschmidt
made a good living appearing on the music halls,
and like the jujutsu men he would offer prizes to
anyone who could stay 15 minutes with him without
being pinned. When he first arrived in this country
he appeared at the Tivoli and broke the box-office
record. His fee was raised to £150 a week--a
considerable sum eighty years ago! However, the
Tivoli audiences soon lost interest in the way he
simply overpowered his opponents in two or three
minutes, and he had to learn to hold back and add
a little showmanship in order not to lose any bookings.
He did acquire considerable popularity through his
music hall appearances.
After Yukio Tani's successes against other wrestlers,
a challenge to the great Hackenschmidt must have
seemed a natural progression. Still, the hand of
Tani's manager, William Bankier can be seen in all
this. Bankier himself was a well known strongman
who appeared under the name Appollo, and in the
strongman world of that era challenges always seemed
to be flying about in the pages of the sporting
papers and physical culture journals. Bankier in
particular seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about
Eugen Sandow, the most famous of all the old time
strongmen. For instance (The Glasgow Evening Times,
March 6, 1899):
hereby challenge Sandow to a contest of strength for £100 a side,
for which I send £5 now to show I mean business: the contest to consist
of weightlifting from the ground, 6 feats each. If Mr. Sandow refuses to
meet me on these terms I hereby challenge him to an all round athletic contest
consisting of weightlifing, wrestling, running a one mile race, and jumping
with 561bs. weights, for £100 a side, the winner of three events to
be adjudged the conqueror. This is no bombastic challenge, but simply a
desire to prove to the public that there are better athletes in Britain
than ever came from Germany. I hope to hear from Sandow by return. --Yours
strongly, Appollo, The Scottish Hercules."
most other strongman challenges, this came to nothing.
No matter. What is relevant is that challenges were
a feature of the day, used to stir up interest,
and just as part of a rivalry to secure bookings
and be billed as "The World's Strongest Man"
(numerous), "The World Champion Wrestler",
"The World Champion Club Swinger" or even
"The World's Champion Jujitsuist". Tani
and Bankier's challenge to Hackenschmidt may thus
have been a publicity ploy but the evidence indicates
that it was a seriously thought out matter. At any
rate, £100 was deposited by William Bankier
with "The Sporting Life" to try and secure
a match, and at the conclusion of Hackenschmidt's
match with "The Terrible Greek" (Antonio
Pierri) both Bankier and Tani jumped the stage and
repeated the challenge in front of a crowd of 3,000
Throughout all this George Hackenschmidt just kept
'mum'. He was making his way as the top man in the
game and Yukio Tani was something he could do without.
Hacken-schmidt probably never believed for a moment
that Tani could beat him in any form of contest,
but he knew nothing of jujutsu and there was always
the off-chance, no matter how slight, that "the
Jolly little Jap" could apply one of his fiendish
Oriental tricks and win the contest. Evidently this
was a risk Hackenschmidt was not prepared to take.
Maybe he never took it seriously and felt that if
he just kept ignoring him Tani would go away--which,
after a while, he did. So a match which was eagerly
anticipated by all lovers of manly sports came to
nothing. This was all over eighty years ago, and
is no longer of any importance except to martial
We can speculate about the possible outcome of a
Tani vs. Hackenschmidt contest but at this stage
I don't think anyone's opinion would be worth very
much. At first sight it is hard to imagine a 9 stone
(126 lbs.) man, however skilled, beating a 15 stone
(210 lbs.) wrestling champion--and Hackenschmidt
was a real powerhouse. The report of his match with
the American champion Tom Jenkins (New York, May
1905) stated that "Jenkins was handled like
a pigmy in the hands of a giant. Hackenschmidt broke
holds as if they were me clutchings of a child."
Yet William Bankier knew the sporting and physical
culture world inside out and if he made the challenge
he must have felt that Tani could bring it off.
Evidently Bankier believed that Tani's technique
and knowledge of leverage would nullify Hackenschmidt's
tremendous advantages in size and strength. William
Bankier had trained with Tani, and although a strong
man himself, could never get the better of the Japanese.
In his book "Ju-jitsu: What it Really is",
Bankier noted that Tani always kept tricks up his
sleeve and had never taught the full extent of his
one occasion the two men bet "a sumptuous dinner"
on whether or not Bankier could last 15 minutes
with Tani in a contest. "The match came off
at once," wrote Bankier, "and sad to relate,
after all my practice he beat me in exactly three
minutes with a hold that I had never seen him use.
It was then that I found out that he keeps a good
deal of knowledge in reserve for emergencies."
Of course, the Hackenschmidt-- Tani contest was
to have been under jujutsu rules--with which Hackenschmidt
was totally unfamiliar. In the book he wrote six
years later, "The Complete Science of Wrestling",
Hackenschmidt recommended the study of jujutsu trips
and throws for all wrestlers. In 1903--4 however,
when Tani issued the challenge Hackenschmidt had
no knowledge of ju-jutsu technique and in fact he
was still wrestling mainly in the Greco-Roman style,
a form which requires great strength and endurance
but is necessarily limited in technique. (Hackenschmidt
only fully switched to the catch-as-catch can style
with his 1905 contest against Tom Jenkins). Hackenschmidt
in fact did offer to wrestle Tani in the Greco-Roman
style--but that was ridiculous.
At any rate, because of Tani's experience with wrestlers
and Hackenschmidt's unfamiliarity with jujutsu,
a Tani victory could not be ruled out. That would
have been a sensation but although the controversy
ran for a year or so, it eventually ran out of steam
and the whole affair was soon forgotten. A parallel
might be drawn with a contest held in Paris a couple
of years later between a jujutsu man and a Russian
wrestler. France did not have any resident Japanese
instructors at this time, and jujutsu was introduced
by two Frenchmen who had studied at Tani's "Japanese
School of Ju-Jitsu" in Oxford St., London.
The two men were Jean Joseph Renaud and Guy de Montgrilhard,
who went under the name Re-Nie had added techniques
of ju-jutsu to his knowledge of wrestling and felt
confident of accepting any challenges that might
come his way. His match against the wrestler Dubois
(October 26, 1905) created quite a stir in sporting
circles, and Re-Nie was so proud of his victory
that he included a report of the bout in his book
"Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu", (Editions
Paclot, Paris, 1905). "Les Secrets du Jiu-Jitsu"
is now almost unobtainable. However Claude Thibault,
in his history of French judo, "Un Million
de Judokas", reprinted the relevant section
of Re-Nie's book, and we give a translation here
as a matter of historical interest.
us introduce the two champions. "Master George
Dubois is a well known figure in Paris. He is
both a formidable boxer and a first class fencer.
Born in 1865 he weighs a little over 165 1bs.
and stands 5'-7" tall. He is therefore a
serious adversary for Re-Nie especially when one
considers that the latter weighs only 138 Ibs.
and is only 5'-5" tall. He is 36 years old.
"The match took place on the 26th October
at Courbevoie in front of a crowd of 500 people,
coming mainly from the sporting world. M. Manaud,
who organized the contest, was also the referee.
"At half-past two, the two adversaries entered
the arena... The combat would not stop until one
or the other was beaten.
"On the command 'Begin, Monsieurs!' the two
contestants, who had taken up opposite corners
of the ring, moved towards each other quite rapidly,
then stopped two yards from each other, keeping
their guard for several seconds.
"It was George Dubois who attacked first
with a low kick. It was quickly evaded by Re-Nie
who immediately leaped on his opponent and seized
him round the waist. By a knee stroke placed under
the right thigh, while with his left hand he squeezed
the back muscles of Dubois, he swung the latter
over. Dubois fell heavily on his back.
"Re-Nie followed him down and, held by the
throat, was able to seize the right hand of Dubois.
Then, turning himself over onto his back, he passed
a leg over Dubois' neck to squeeze the carotid
artery. This done, he pulled violently against
the arm-joint of his adversary; this hold, which
can dislocate the arm, provoked such a pain that
Dubois, after having tried to resist for a fraction
of a second, let out a terrible cry and gave in.
"He had been defeated by one of the terrible
locks of Jiu Jitsu, the "Ude-shighi".
The contest lasted 26 seconds, and the actual
fighting only six seconds.
"When George Dubois was delivered from this
terrible hold, which Re-Nie relaxed as soon as
he heard Dubois cry out, he stood up and shook
the hand of the Ju-jitsu Champion. Everyone crowded
round the two combatants.
" 'I would have liked to have done better',
said Dubois, 'but it was impossible for me to
escape from the hold. If I had continued my arm
would have been broken like a straw.' "
to Thibault, Re-Nie followed this with other victories
over wrestlers. Success must have gone to his head
because he then challenged the Greco-Roman style
wrestling champion Nan Padoubny of Russia. Padoubny
outweighed Re-Nie by 1001bs. and was a real iron
man. It was a ludicrous challenge and Re-Nie was
defeated. Thibault wrote that "Beaten, the
pioneer of ju-jitsu in France rapidly lost the confidence
of enthusiasts," and he seems to have faded
from the scene shortly after. After quoting the
details of these early contests. Thibault poses
a question: What was the real strength off Jean
Joseph-Renaud and Re-Nie? He answers as follows:
"The former described his training in a book
he wrote in 1912 ('La Defense dans la Rue', Editions
Lafitte, Paris): 'I studied with Japanese masters
at the Oxford St. school for two summers, that is
two periods of three months each, each day and sometimes
twice a day.' Such a training would today probably
be rewarded with a green belt, a blue belt at most
for a particularly gifted student. Re-Nie was more
advanced than Jean Joseph-Renaud, but his small
build made him vulnerable. Taking into account the
standards the day, he could have at most been worth
a brown belt!
Thus, harking back to the proposed Tani vs. Hackenschmidt
match, Re-Nie's defeat by Padoubny does not provide
any kind of form-line, since he was several levels
below Tani as a jujutsu man. Besides, one can argue
and argue, but no one knows who will win between
two good men until they actually meet. Just to round
out this little survey of early jujitsu vs. wrestling
matches, I include a report on the bout between
the American wrestler, George Bothner and the ju-iutsu
exponent Katsukuma Higashi. Bothner, a lightweight,
was regarded as the most scientific wrestler of
the day. Higashi was the author (with Irving Hancock)
of the well known book "The Complete Kano Jiu-jitsu."
The report is from the New York Times of April 7,
1905, and is somewhat biased towards Bothner.
Beaten By Yankee Wrestler. American Lightweight Champion Bothner Downs Higashi
in three straight falls. Spectators pack Grand Central Palace to see first
demonstration of two methods. "
versus the American style of wrestling was the
novel entertainment provided last night for 3,000
to 4,000 spectators in the Grand Central Palace,
"K. Higashi, who is one of the most expert
Jiujitsu exponents in this country met George
Bothner, who has held the lightweight wrestling
championship for several years and has recently
been appointed wrestling instructor at Princeton
University. Each man was to wrestle according
to his own methods but certain conditions had
been agreed upon by both competitors, which to
the spectators really favoured the Jap, as his
rules were accepted by Bothner, an addition to
other demands that were made before the men came
on to the mat.
"The result was disappointing, that is to
those who hoped to see something unusual in the
famed jiu-jitsu. Bothner got the first fall in
the quick time of 14:33 (minutes and seconds)
and the second in 1:31:18. The conditions called
for the best three falls out of five, but it was
long after midnight before the third bout was
called. Bothner won this and the match in 12 minutes.
"Each of the men wore the Japanese wrestling
costume consisting of short jackets like kimonos
with a belt around the waist. This the announcer
stated was agreed to by Bothner in order to bring
about the match. Charles Harvey also gave the
spectators an inkling that all was not serene
among the exponents of the two methods by adding
that the Japanese wrestler had refused at the
last minute to go on unless flying falls were
allowed. This evoked some hisses, and a cry arose,
'He's afraid to go on.'
"The announcer added that he did not think
this was so, but in the wide difference of rules
there had been much trouble in arranging everything
"A small bodyguard of Japanese came out with
Higashi, and a number of their countrymen was
in the crowd, one spectator remarking that there
were almost enough to take Port Arthur, (a reference
to the Russian-Japanese War). "As the men
faced each other Higashi got a savage hold around
Bothner's neck, holding the ends of his jacket
closely together and trying to get what appeared
to be a desperate neck hold. It was a choking
hold, but Bothner was wary and although he was
pulled to the floor he succeeded in pulling the
loose part of his jacket away so as to give the
Jap less opportunity of strangling him. Higashi
held Bothner firmly to the mat and at times almost
pulling him over on top of his head. It was a
game struggle although there was little activity
in it, the Jap cooly chewing gum all the while
and looking for a chance to pick Bothner up by
the belt and hurl him over on his back.
"Bothner at last got the opportunity for
which he had been looking. In a twinkling he turned
upon the Jap, caught him about the leg, and by
a half crotch and half Nelson hold threw the Japanese
expert cleanly upon his back. Before the crowd
knew what happened the referee ordered the men
up and gave the fall to Bothner. The suddenness
of the fall and Bothner's lightning-like work
aroused the crowd to the highest pitch of enthusiasm.
Hats were thrown high in the air and for five
minutes the deafening cheers prevented the announcer
from making himself heard.
"An intermission was taken and when the men
came on the mat again the crowd looked for some
fast work by Bothner. In this they were disappointed.
Jiu-jitsu signally failed to win any favour, for
to the chagrin of the spectators the Japanese
competitor failed to employ any other hold save
the jacket hold around the neck. This he kept
up repeatedly and for the greater part of the
bout he had Bothner on his knees. The Jap was
more cautious himself, and failed to take any
chances. For over an hour the men struggled, occasionally
rising to their feet, only to fall back into the
old positions. The crowd grew weary. The men were
well matched, there was no doubt about that, but
the far famed jiu-jitsu was totally lacking in
its spectacular features.
"At last something happened. By a quick throw
the Jap hurled Bothner over his shoulders. He
and his judge (Irving Hancock) appealed to the
referee for a flying fall. Judge O'Brien claimed
that both shoulders did not touch and the referee
upheld him. This aroused the ire of Higashi and
for several minutes it looked as though he would
not go back on the mat. Pandemonium reigned. Hisses
were mingled with cheers and it took the united
efforts of several Japanese sympathizers to prevail
on Higashi to go on again. Then the referee said
that if no fall was made in 20 minutes he would
call the bout a draw.
"Some livelier work ensued, but Higashi stuck
to his same tactics of pulling Bothner to the
mat by the ends of the latter's jacket. This jacket
clearly bothered Bothner, as he is unaccustomed
to its use. He also had proper wrestling regard
for the Jap, and made no wild efforts to throw
him. After ten minutes of hard work the Jap got
another flying fall but it was not so clearly
done as the previous one. Although claimed by
Higashi, the spectators were unanimous in the
opinion that both shoulders did not touch.
"Higashi again succeeded in throwing Bothner
over on the mat and promptly claimed this fall.
Bothner wriggled out of a bad position but it
was plain that he was not thrown according to
American ideas of wresting. Two minutes later
Bothner threw Higashi fairly by a half-nelson,
getting the decision in 1:31:18 from the start
of the bout. Higashi's judge was visibly put out
over the decisions and said: 'We claim three falls
tonight by the rules of jiu-jitsu. These rules
Bothner agreed to live up to but the referee and
his judge say no. We have tried to play fair and
go on with the bouts, but by the laws of jiu-jitsu
Higashi has clearly won.'
"Bothner won his third and final bout in
twelve minutes. "
about this contest in his recently published book
"Western Boxing and Wrestling", John F.
Gilbey takes the view that the reports do not ring
true. Furthermore, if the bout was 'straight' then
Higashi cannot have been much of a judoka. My own
opinion is that the New York Times report rings
true enough. If two contestants were going to fake
a bout then it is unlikely they would spend an hour
more or less immobile, as they did before the second
fall. As for Katsukuma Higashi's ability in judo/jujutsu,
I haven't carried out any research in this direction
and would not hazard an opinion. However, Higashi
did have reason to complain about the results. It
appears that he was able to throw Bothner onto his
back three times and under judo rules these may
have constituted good falls. If "flying falls"--presumably
falls in which the opponent's back touches the mat
momentarily--were allowed, then these should have
been scored. From the American point of view, however,
a fall only occurred when the opponent's shoulders
were pinned to the mat, and clean throws did not
in themselves constitute a valid score. All credit
to George Bothner, though. He was obliged to wrestle
with a jacket and yet still managed to pin his opponent
the required three times and win the match. Thus
he came away with a popular, if rather tainted,
In the Britain of the early 1900s, jujutsu was something
fresh and original. Not only were many of its techniques
new but the principles it introduced--of balance,
leverage, and using an opponent's strength against
him--threw a fresh light on combat methods. Jujutsu
was also immediately seen to have an application
for self-defence and many of the early books on
the art were written as self-defence texts. We might
almost say that this is where interest in self-defence
as a subject in itself, begins. Previously, "the
noble art of self-defence" referred to boxing.
If attempts were made to adapt boxing for use in
the street it was by the addition of a couple of
basic throws such as the cross-buttock or back-heel.
One of the early jujutsu self-defence books was
"Ju-jitsu. A Manual of the Science" (1918),
written by Leopold McLaglen. McLaglen is by no means
an important figure in martial arts history but
he was a colourful and interesting character in
his own right. This is as good a reason as any to
give a little information on the eccentric, self-titled
"World's Ju-jitsu Champion"' I haven't
carried out a great deal of research on Leopold
McLaglen and have little information on his early
history but it seems that much of his life was spent
in the Army. At any rate he styled himself Captain,
and authored two books on military subjects: "Bayonet
Fighting for War"and "Infantry Pocket
Book. A Concise Guide for Infantry Officers and
NCOS." It was after he retired from the Army
that he decided to embark on a career as a World's
did an army captain acquire his skill in jujutsu?
According to McLaglen himself it was initially from
a Japanese house guest when he was a boy. More likely
he picked up his knowledge of the art in the early
1900s from students of, say, Tani or Uyenishi. Was
he really the World's Champion? Hardly! He was not
even a good jujutsu player. Rather, he was a consummate
showman who could convince an ignorant public that
he had fought and won important jujutsu contests
all over the world. To many people whose knowledge
of the Far East extended about as far as the exploits
of Sax Rohmer's fiendish Dr Fu Manchu McLaglen's
tales of defeating the Japanese Champion "before
the Son of Heaven, the Mikado himself, and a seething
crowd of his disappointed subjects" must have
sounded thrilling and authentic.
For the record--not that it means anything--McLaglen
claimed to have defeated among others: "Professor
T. H. Kanada (for the Jiu-jitsu Championship of
the World); M. Tani and T. Hirai (celebrated Japanese
Jiu-Jitsu Champions) at San Francisco; Henry de
Raymond; also Professors Fukamuchi, (Los Angeles)
Watanalu, Rondo, Yamagata (Minneapolis), Sako, Shimera
(Toledo), Kande, Captain Tanaka and Lee Bly--also
Professors Yamasaki and Toda (Calcutta) and others.
These names do not mean anything to me and many,
if not all, may be fictitious. But in a western
world which had little contact with Japan, McLaglen
could pass himself off as an expert, and indeed
he did travel widely giving instruction in jujutsu
throws and holds. His book contains testimonials
from Army Regiments, Police Forces and schools throughout
Australia, India, and the Far East: "...an
extremely capable and careful instructor,"
"...a fine disciplinarian," "...eminently
practical from a police point of view."
had clearly studied the art and in fact Jiu Jitsu.
"A Manual of the Science" is not a bad
book by the standards of the day. It includes techniques
for "Jiu Jitsu contests in a 24 foot ring"
(why a ring I do not know; as for a 24 foot ring,
this was the standard size for bare-knuckle boxing
under prize-ring rules--it had nothing to do with
jujutsu or judo), throws and locks for police use,
and methods of self-defence/unarmed combat for the
Army and Navy. These last techniques, which naturally
are rougher than the normal self defence methods,
show a British Tommy dispatching a German soldier
complete with 'Kaiser Bill' helmet. They represent
one of the first examples of martial arts technique
applied to unarmed combat for the services, and
are a precursor of more famous systems such as those
of the famous W.E. Fairbairn.
In fact, there is the intriguing possibility that
McLaglen may have had some influence in the formulation
of Fairbairn's system. At any rate, Leopold McLaglen
gave a 12-day course of instruction to one hundred
officers and men of the Shanghai Police in 1914,
a time when (I think) Fairbairn was serving in that
force. Fairbairn had a long standing interest in
self-defence--he was awarded a dan grade in judo
in 1926--and if he did attend McLaglen's course
it may have set him thinking about the application
of jujutsu/judo techniques for everyday police and
self-defence use. Certainly, Fairbairn was known
for his introduction of self-defence techniques
to the Shanghai Police and British Army, and one
can't help noticing the similarity between the methods
shown in Fairbairn's "Get Tough" and those
of McLaglen's book, published over 20 years earlier.
mentioned the well known South African wrestler,
Tromp Van Diggellen earlier in referring to his
friendly spar with Yukio Tani (Part One: F.A.I.
No. 42). As it happened, Van Diggellen's tracks
also crossed those of Leopold McLaglen and his reminiscences
throw an interesting light on the real strength
of "The Great Leopold" and the format
of his stage appearances. In 1913, to the accompaniment
of much newspaper publicity, McLaglen arrived in
South Africa to carry out a music hall tour. Van
Diggellen, a wrestler of known ability, agreed to
assist him in the demonstrations, and, initially
at least, he was rather impressed by the six and
a half foot "World Champion" describing
him as "not the type of adventurous manhood
that one could easily brush aside. Not only did
he have a magnetic personality but his aplomb was
something truly stupendous." Anyway, the two
men went along to the Standard Theatre in Johannesburg
to go through a rehearsal and the much smaller Van
Diggellen quickly realized an amazing thing--he
could handle the supposed World's Champion easily!
Moreover, McLaglen was unable to apply any of his
holds or locks unless Van Diggellen cooperated.
As Tromp wrote:
"To my astonishment I found that the 'World
Champion of Jiu-jitsu' could not put me out unless
I quitted. This was something quite foreign to me.
I was used to wrestling without pulling the punches,
as the boxers have it, and here I found that if
I used my utmost endeavours and my strength I was
going to spoil the show, for after all, Leopold's
whole demonstration was supposed to show that jiu-jitsu
was a means of defence that would overcome any form
Still, this was show business rather than competitive
sport or martial art, and the two men worked out
a routine that would demonstrate Leopold McLaglen's
skill. Evidently Van Diggellen did not take it too
seriously since he also helped to work out a showpiece
whereby McLaglen would illustrate his amazing skill
at paralysing the nerve centres of the human body.
Van Diggellen was a noted muscle control expert,
and as he assumed different positions, McLaglen
would press a supposed nerve center. Immediately
Tromp would contract the relevant muscle, causing
it to jump and become rigid. He would stand there
as if paralysed until McLaglen released the hold.
course, it was all nonsense--but it made a good
show! "During our act the next night the big
crowd responded magnificently" wrote Tromp.
"The stunt was undoubtedly a winner. I was
glad I had invented the idea, for the pressure was
all "bunk", and it could not influence
the muscular control at all. "Leopold the Great"
was quite a hero when he showed how powerless my
muscles became through his vast knowledge of "nerve
centers" As I usually had my back to the audience
which this was going on, I did my part with a broad
grin on my face."
McLaglen's act followed a standard format. It would
open with Tromp Van Diggellen, dressed as a tramp,
attacking "a fashionably dressed young lady"
After being thrown all over the place the tramp
would run cowering into the wings. After this there
would be an appearance by McLaglen's wife who was
known as "The Georgia Magnet" Her act
consisted of challenging anyone in the audience
to try and lift her off the ground. "The Magnet"
weighed only 110 Ib. and as far as I know no-one
ever succeeded. (Van Diggellen tried but couldn't
budge her an inch). Her act thus preceded Aikido's
"unliftable body" by several decades.
The highlight of the show had now arrived. Leopold
McLaglen would give a short talk on the science
of jujutsu. He would "paralyze" Tromp
Van Diggellen and then engage him in contest, disabling
him easily with jujutsu throws and holds. Things
went well for the first couple of nights, so well
in fact that on the third night McLaglen grew overconfident
and stepped to the front of the stage. "Ladies
and Gentlemen" he began, "to show you
one of the amazing things that can be done, I will
undertake to put any man who will come onto the
stage to sleep in 5 seconds by merely applying pressure
to the carotid artery in the neck."
Van Diggellen described what happened next:
was a dead silence. Nobody seemed to have the least
desire to be put to sleep. Then suddenly, a sturdy
man of middle height rose up in the stalls and,
shaking his fist at the gigantic Leopold, called
out: 'You can't do that stuff to me, I'm damn sure!'
As he came forward to mount the short stairs onto
the stage I noticed that he looked almost boyish.
He had fair hair and a ruddy complexion that spoke
of fitness, and the way he walked showed that he
was angry, and I sensed that he was tough.
"A couple of friends followed him onto the
stage. This thing had evidently been planned by
a resolute man who knew his own abilities. He had
not come up merely to be put to sleep, but to have
a show down with Leopold who, although almost double
his weight and with a "World's Title"
had not intimidated him in the least. Thunder was
in the air, my partner was going to be called upon
to "do his stuff."
"The crowd seemed to know this sturdy challenger
and began yelling, 'Get stuck into him Robbie!'
I sensed trouble, and how right I was. Robbie Roberts,
whose name had been shouted up to me by the conductor
of the Orchestra, started to peel off his jacket.
While his arms were still imprisoned in the sleeves,
McLaglen, to my utter amazement, stepped forward
and struck him in the face. I was horrified, and
Robbie Roberts went raving mad. In a second his
coat had been flung onto the stage and he did exactly
what the screaming audience expected of him. That
middleweight with the bloom of school-boyhood on
his face, tore into my big stage partner like a
tornado. Never in a boxing ring have I seen such
a furious attack.
was forced back against the scenery. It seemed to
me that he was lifted clean off his feet by the
tremendous blows that were thudding into his mid-section.
Now he was facing something beyond his abilities
to cope with, and seemed incapable of applying any
of his art. Suddenly "Leopold the Mighty"
retreated up the stone stairway leading to our dressing
rooms. As he ran he yelled 'Help Tromp! He's hit
me low!' "By now the curtain had been rung
down on the frightful pandemonium which went on
in the auditorium. The show had come to an end.
Tearing up the stairs I rushed in on Leopold. 'You've
not been hit low, I saw every move,' I yelled at
him. 'I'm sending for a doctor.' After he had been
duly examined the doctor told us that there was
no sign of him having been hit low or fouled in
any way That was all I needed and I told "Leopold
the Great" that I positively refused to appear
with him again."
A formal contest between McLaglen and Roberts was
arranged but on the appointed night McLaglen absolutely
refused to get into the ring. There was nearly a
riot and the audience had to be given their money
back. After this whole fiasco, Tromp Van Diggellen
lost contact with Leopold McLaglen--until thirty
five years later when McLaglen turned up at his
office in Cape Town. What he had been doing in the
meantime I do not know, but no doubt much of this
period was spent touring the world demonstrating
his knowledge of jujutsu. And as interest in unarmed
combat revived with the Second World War, two more
works by McLaglen were published: "Capt. Leopold
McLaglen's Modernised Jiu Jitsu Lessons" (Sydney,
1939), and "Unarmed Attack and Defence for
Commandos, Home Guards and Civilians," (London,
Leopold McLaglen who visited Van Diggellen in 1948
was only a shell of his former self. An invalid,
he was accompanied everywhere by his doctor. Part
of his tongue was gone and he told Van Diggellen
that he had been captured by the Japanese and tortured--or
maybe that was just another of his tall stories.
The two went fishing a few times before McLaglen
left for Nairobi where, not long afterwards, Van
Diggellen heard that he had died. Even though aware
of Leopold McLaglen's real abilities, Tromp Van
Diggellen looked back at their times together with
affection. I too, in the course of reading about
this eccentric character, could not help forming
a liking for him, if only for his sense of style
and brazen effrontery. When he presented himself
as a philosopher of human life, as in "The
Creed of Captain Leopold McLaglen", the effect
was pure schmaltz:
not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and
tenderness sealed up until your friends are dead.
Fill their lives with sweetness. Speak approving,
cheering words while their ears can hear them...
If my friends have alabaster boxes laid away,
full of fragrant perfumes of sympathy and affection,
which they intend to break over my dead body,
I would rather they bring them out in my weary
and troubled hours and open them that I may be
refreshed and cheered by them while I need them...
etc. etc. etc."
McLaglen had acquired a knowledge of jujutsu, he
lacked the temperament and natural sense of combat
necessary for true expertise. He had an interest
in the art but it seems that for him jujutsu was
primarily a means of demonstrating the amazing phenomenon
that was "Leopold the Mighty." No, he
was not a World Champion, nor even a genuine expert--but
no one could ever accuse him of being dull!