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An American reports from China on Kung Fu eye-gouging contests, 1891

November 14, 2014

“The Mongolian fistic art would paralyze any follower of the American prize ring….”

 

The following account appeared in the July 5, 1891 edition of the New Orleans Item, and was related by Dr. Edward Bedloe, the United States Consul posted to Xiamen (then known to westerners as “Amoy”).

Amoy (Xiamen) from Kulangseu, 1885

Amoy (Xiamen) from Kulangseu, 1885

According to this article, Dr. Bedloe, a native Pennsylvanian, had previously served as a diplomat in both Italy and Egypt. He was a founding member of Philadelphia’s Clover Club, a supper club “that was dominated by newspaper men, theatrical individuals and writers.” Bedloe was also, notably, an enthusiastic collector of Asian arms and armor.

Bedloe received his first posting as a full Consul in 1890 when he was assigned to Xiamen, and stayed there for three years.  It was during this time that he wrote the following account of Chinese martial arts contests, which, interestingly, appeared in print little more than a year after the first exhibition of Kung Fu in America took place, in Brooklyn, 1890.

Above: Dr. Edward Bedloe, in The Pacific commercial advertiser., January 22, 1892.

Above: Dr. Edward Bedloe, in The Pacific commercial advertiser., January 22, 1892.

According to Bedloe:

“There is boxing in China and there are noted professional and amateur boxers, but the Mongolian fistic art would paralyze any follower of the American prize ring. The combatants squat or kneel in front of each other about two feet apart. Each guards himself with his hands very much as do our gladiators at home. But instead of using the open hands as did Richard Lionheart and Friar Tuck, they employ the straight forefinger. Instead of striking they thrust this solitary digit very much as a small boy does who is teasing a parrot. The object is to strike the face of the antagonist–each hit counting a point and so many points making a match. Though they employ the hands it is more like fencing with two foils than like any school of pugilism. The dexterity acquired by long practice is marvelous. Two good men will keep their fingers flashing and their heads and arms moving for two minutes without being able to touch each other.”

“They have brought the system down to a science and have divided all attacks and defenses possible into certain numbered classes, just as the French maitre d’armes refer to second, tierce and quart…”

“They have brought the system down to a science and have divided all attacks and defenses possible into certain numbered classes, just as the French maitre d’armes refer to second, tierce and quart. The matches are fought in little rings, before one, two or three judges. Admission costs from one half a cent to five according to the skill of the professionals. After a few minutes, four or five generally, the round terminates and a recess of two minutes is granted to the combatants.

At times these finger duels are quite dangerous, the nails inflicting serious damages to the eyes. To prevent this, the judges examine the nails before the contest, to see that they are cut short and require the fighters to wash their hands thoroughly before beginning so as to prevent putting pepper or mustard under their nails. Some judges ‘taste’ their men as dog owners do their brutes. The faces of these ‘fingerists’ are usually scarred a little, like those of hen-pecked husbands. They are fine looking fellows as a class but like prize fighters are prone to dissipation.”

To read Dr. Bedloe’s firsthand account of “Chinese Gladiators” with weapons, continue to PART II.

Bruce Lee demonstrates a finger jab against Taky Kimura. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/384705993139347726/

Bruce Lee demonstrates a finger jab against Taky Kimura. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/384705993139347726/

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