Skip to content

The Cane Self-Defense of Maitre d’Armes Justin Bonnafous

“Few persons who carry canes or umbrellas realize that they have at hand at once an effective and, in the hands of a skilled fencer, a formidable weapon for protection against assault. Even in the hands of a novice it may be so wielded as to stand off and subsequently subdue a “gang” of roughs when no other weapon, except possibly a revolver, would avail.”


Of interest to the student of self-defense is the short 1898 treatise of Justin Bonnafous, a fencing master who taught in the Philadelphia area during the late nineteenth century. Fencing masters of this period often offered instruction in the use of the stick or cane, including formal systems of La Canne or Royal Cane, as well as other practical self-defense techniques for use against criminals or toughs in “street” scenarios. We find an example of this in New York City as early as 1827, when a fencing professor named G. M. Coulon announced in the Evening Post:

“The manly foils and broadsword taught upon the most approved method by Mr. C. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday…Self defence with a stick, against any ruffianly attack, taught in six lessons.”

Another advertisement from the same period, published in Boston by the fencing master William Tromelle of the Military School of Colonel Jr. Amelot De le Croix, explained in greater detail the benefits of cane instruction:

“The great advantages attendant upon this mode of defence, and the benefits arising from these lessons, where persons are exposed to the insults of disorderly and unprincipled men, as well as an attack by a desperate villain, must be a sufficient argument to attract the attention of most men. It is a fact generally credited by gentlemen who have a knowledge of this defence with a cane, that a person is capable of conquering an attack of six men (with the same weapons), if they should not have a knowledge of this play. And to substantiate this fact, we have been very credibly informed that a gentleman who was taught the Norman mode of Defence, in Boston, has obtained a considerable sum of money by overpowering and driving three as hardy and courageous men as could be obtained to combat against him. We further have the pleasure of asserting that gentlemen who have become acquainted with the Stick Fighting feel more than amply rewarded for all their time and money spent in learning.”(Columbian Centinel, Oct. 6, 1810)

Bonnafous’s short work also belongs to the category of “practical self-defense” for use in the street. It includes techniques to defend against knife-wielding thugs as well as multiple attackers, and utilizes both single and double-handed grips. It offers an interesting contrast to the more well-known Bartitsu (an English hybrid martial art that existed during the same period), and also provides a fascinating insight into the mind of a French-trained maitre d’armes of the nineteenth century.


The father of our subject, also named Justin Bonnafous, was a French army officer that had appeared in America sometime subsequent to 1859, when the following advertisement appeared in a Lowell, Massachusetts newspaper:


Soon after, Bonnafous became a well-known “sword master” at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland where he was teaching Union Civil War officers as early as 1861. Bonnafous senior can be seen offering his services in the following advertisement (the initial “G.” here is erroneous):


During the war, Bonnafous became associated with the Fencing and Sparring Club of Philadelphia, and would remain so for the remainder of his life:

In 1868, [the club] was fortunate in obtaining the services of Justin Bonnafous again as fencing master, and of Joseph Evans as boxing master…In 1883 Justin Bonnafous, Jr., son of the former teacher, assumed this position and still retains it. (The Club Men of Philadelphia, 1894)

Above: Gymnasium of the  Philadelphia Fencing and Sparring Club.

Above: Gymnasium of the Philadelphia Fencing and Sparring Club.

A decade later, just before the turn of the century, Justin Bonnafous, Jr., was running a fencing academy at No. 10 South 18th Street, Philadelphia.


“During my stay in Paris I witnessed the use of the stick in repelling attack on several occasions, and the user of it always came forth victorious from the melee…”



Above: Maitre d'Armes Mimiage

Maitre d’Armes Mimiague

At some point during the 1890s, Bonnafous visited Paris, where he trained at the famed Salle d’Armes Mimiague. A reporter visiting Bonnafous’ Philadelphia academy in 1899 noted,

“The single stick contest between Messrs. Bonnafous and Emonot was particularly interesting. The lightning-like rapidity with which these sticks were whirled about left no doubt that in skillful hands they would prove a formidable means of self defense.”

Indeed, one year prior, Maitre Bonnafous had authored his short treatise on self-defense with the cane, published in Volume 31 of Outing magazine, and accompanied by nine photographs.

Below, Bonnafous’s treatise is reprinted in full:




By Justin Bonnafous.


The carrying of a cane, or walking-stick, is so much a fashion and is such a universal and ancient practice, that it would almost seem to be the survival of an instinct implanted by the habit or necessity of carrying some more substantial club for self-defence. The game of single-stick was formerly well known and practiced, and it is surprising that whilst all other branches of sport in and out of doors, have their conspicuous positions in the world of athletics, the art of single-stick up to the present date is so little understood in this country.

Single-stick practice has indeed fared even worse than the foil. Canes are carried just as much as ever by the sterner sex, but in the main they are merely carried as mute companions. The usefulness of the cane as a weapon is overlooked.


In view of these facts, I am prompted to write upon the subject and explain, as clearly as it is possible to do in writing, what a trustworthy friend a walking-stick becomes in the hands of one who knows how to use it.

Few persons who carry canes or umbrellas realize that they have at hand at once an effective and, in the hands of a skilled fencer, a formidable weapon for protection against assault.

Even in the hands of a novice it may be so wielded as to stand off and subsequently subdue a “gang” of roughs when no other weapon, except possibly a revolver, would avail.


The principal advantages of the cane are these: First, your opponent is kept at a distance, and therefore you get a free opportunity to defend yourself against the attacks of others. Next, your weapon is always “loaded” and is equally effective at long or short range. Last, but not least, there is no law against carrying a cane, while most stringent regulations govern that of revolvers.

During my stay in Paris I witnessed the use of the stick in repelling attack on several occasions, and the user of it always came forth victorious from the melee. In Europe the use of the singlestick is cultivated both for itself and as a preliminary training for sabre fencing, as the use of the latter heavier weapon requires that the wrist should be trained to withstand the strain. It is also a compulsory exercise in the army.


Now to explain how the cane is to be used for self-defence. Although it is not possible to attain as much proficiency in its use without the aid of a competent instructor, as with that aid, nevertheless by close inspection of the illustrations herewith published it will be possible to learn the method of delivering the cuts, and, by practice, become fairly adept.

The most formidable of the cuts used are the two head cuts (see Figures 1 and 9). For the right and left face and the shin cut, see Figure 8. The point thrust is most effective in close quarters (see Figure 3), as it attacks the “solar plexus” of recent pugilistic notoriety, and no matter how powerful a man may be it is a “knock-out ” blow.


Let us suppose one is attacked by three thugs. Turning your attention to the nearest you play for the head, if possible, but if that is too well guarded resort to the shin cut (as in Figure 8), using all the force that you can command. If properly delivered that means “one man out.” In the meantime your other assailants will probably rush at you front and rear; then is the time to call into play the point and butt thrusts (see Figures 5 and 3). Should, however, one of the opponents try, by bending down, to get under your cane, either use an upper cut or a blow on back of the neck (see Figure 6). Should he straighten himself plant your point for the stomach —all this can be done in an instant.


If an assailant comes at you armed with a knife or razor, cut for the arm, and, on his dropping it, proceed with treatment as before (see Figures 5 and 9). The thrust for the eye is sometimes used, but should only be resorted to as an extreme measure, for it might prove fatal.

There is no reason why a lady should not cultivate the use of the stick, for while it is giving her a healthy and invigorating exercise, it is training her in a means of protecting herself in case of emergency.

As to the cane it should be of thoroughly seasoned, straight grained hickory, tapered like a billiard cue, about one and a half inches at the butt, down to three-fourths of an inch at the point. The butt should be surmounted by a knob of silver or other heavy metal, and the point protected by a heavy ferrule. Under no circumstances should a crook handle be used, as it is apt to become entangled in the clothing at the critical moment, and in such melees every second counts.


In conclusion, let it be said that it is not the intention of this article to prove that, so armed, one is invincible, but that, if used with precision, the cane outranks any other weapon, with the exception noted, as a means of protection.

It. might be well to say also, in the event of an encounter, see that, if possible, you have a clear space on all sides so that you may have ample opportunity, by quick advances, retreats, and side-steps most advantageous, to wield your weapon.


Another point of great value is to maintain a safe distance from the assailants by executing retreats, advances, and side-steps to the right and left according to their position when attacking. Do not forget that all movements must be executed with rapidity and precision. This is where the knowledge of handling your cane comes in.

Play for the face when the opportunity offers, but always employ the point thrust for the stomach, and the cut for the shin. After you have punished one or two out of a crowd, the rest will often take to their heels.


In delivering the cuts make sure that your cane is in the proper position in order that the blow will have the necessary amount of force to prove effective. (See Figures 1 and 2.)

Finally, my advice is, keep out of quarrels if possible, but if the encounter is inevitable keep constantly moving, not only your body but the stick, and remember, the first blow very often decides the outcome of the battle.


Jigen-Ryu Swordsmanship, by a New York City-based Japanese Kenjutsu Master, 1903. PART 2.

“As a method of physical training, an indispensable part of the culture of the civilized, [the art of swordplay] may still be regarded as an important and, perhaps, one of the most highly developed arts…”


Continued from PART I.

On September 10, 1901, the following announcement appeared in Japan and America, a magazine based at 203 Broadway, New York City:

The famous Japanese fencer, Tatewaki K. Kawasaki, of the “Jigen-ryu” school, who was studying in A. M. Chesbrough Seminary, North Chili, has returned to this city [New York]. He is writing a series of articles in English on his singular sword play, with the view to disclose it to Western fencers and athletes, as well as to the American public.

Tatewaki Kawasaki was one of the first, if not the first, master of Japanese sword technique to write extensively about his art for an American audience. The first of Kawasaki’s articles appeared in the January 25, 1903 issue of the New York Press, and has already been covered here.

Kawasaki’s second article on swordsmanship was published in the August, 1903, issue of Bernarr McFadden’s journal, Physical Culture. Whereas Kawasaki’s first article treated more about the history and culture of the Japanese sword, his second focuses more on its technique.

Following is Kawasaki’s second article for Physical Culture.


“The Noble Soul dwells in the strong body,” is a time-honored maxim of the Japanese; and it was by conforming with this precept that the great Samurai, the trained military men of Old Japan, were enabled to hold, from generation to generation, their rank, dignity and power. The time was when Kenjutsu, the art of swordsmanship of the Japanese, was the exclusive and almost the sole vocation of the knights. But now the age of their pride is past; no longer are they seen strolling the streets of Tokyo with their keen-edged, two-handed blades at their sides, for the enlightenment of Mikado’s reign, which was accomplished by the adaption of the Western civilization, has abolished the feudal system and prohibited the carrying of the sword. With this the art of swordplay has also ceased— ceased to be the sole occupation of the Samurai, or as the means of practical warfare, which is required only in a less civilized country; but, as a method of physical training, an indispensable part of the culture of the civilized, it may still be regarded as an important and, perhaps, one of the most highly developed arts.


I shall bring in here a few points in the Japanese fencing which are particularly fitted for physical development; but before entering into the details, it seems to me proper to give a general view in which are seen the superior aspects of Kenjutsu over the Western fencing as a means of physical culture. The former as a rule requires more general movement and more vigorous exercise of the body than the latter. But the most important and, therefore, the chief point that I wish here to emphasize particularly is the fact that the two-handed play of the Japanese gives an equal chance for the development of both arms; whereas the Western system, in which the single handed sword is alone employed, tends to develop abnormally the muscle of the right arm. The first requisite in the Japanese fencing is to stand as naturally as possible, as this gives the greatest freedom of movement to every part of the body. Different, as they are, when both are compared, in the bearing of the body, or attitude, the Japanese fencer squarely faces his opponent, while the Western fencer shows his side. The obvious result of the comparison of these two positions is that the one keeps constantly the normal posture, which saves him from a tendency to deformity, and the other risks this by an unnatural posture to which the combatant resorts, in order to limit his exposure.


Figure 1 shows a contest initiated by the attitudes of Jodan (right) and Seigan (left), or the attitudes of “upper swing ” and of “straight sight,” respectively. It is readily seen by one who has a little knowledge of fencing that these attitudes are just such as to give the most effective defense. Especially is this true in the attitude of Seigan (left). When an expert fencer assumes this attitude it is almost impossible to find an opening, even by an equally skilled one; and it is here that strategy is required, which may lead one into a trap, -—he is invited by a pretended opening, or else is led to assume some other and less effective position. Yet we can see in this how naturally he stands; there is apparently no strain in his feet or arms.


In Figure 2 the attack has begun. The man who assumed the Seigan position has either been less skilled than the other, or been deceived by strategy; for he receives a blow on the wrist, which is delivered by his opponent with a quick swing of the sword. In this operation the assailant had only to turn his body by reversing the position of his feet.

The Japanese swordsman is not always two-handed. Nor is his swordplay confined to the right arm alone. Left or right, or both, are constantly engaging, as necessity may require or opportunity suggest. It is with almost the skill of a juggler that he does this; for even during the climax of a contest the exchanging of the hold is accomplished as easily as a trick. It will be readily seen that this skill is of great importance from another point of view also. Suppose that the combat here illustrated were a genuine duel. The blow given at the wrist (Figure 2) would have permanently, or at least temporarily, disabled one, and would probably have ended in favor of the other. But here the one quickly turns his sword over to his left hand, and at the same instant thrusts at his rivals throat (Figure 3). The thrust thus given, however, fails by a narrow chance; for his opponent avoids it by simply turning slightly backward. Japanese fencers do not pass the hottest moments of their contest in jumping forward or backward; but the more critical their situation becomes, the cooler is their frame of mind, and the more firmly do they stand.

To beginners of Kenjutsu the most important instruction given is this: The body should be held perfectly upright, the head erect, and the chest raised. The position is well adapted for physical development. The timid bearing, the uncertain stand, and, above all, that instinctive tendency which makes one unconsciously stoop or shrink at an impending danger must be strongly guarded against. Beginners often fail to resist the involuntary closing of the eyes and the lowering of the head at the swing of the opponent’s sword, unmindful, perhaps, that these prevent his seeing the direction of a blow and place his head in more easy reach of the opponent’s sword. Figure 4 illustrates this fault. The blow, which might have been averted, had the victim’s head been erect by turning his body slightly backward, is here fully received. Beginners have to learn to correct the fault by somewhat painful experiences, especially if their instructor be a little careless man.


I cannot here enter into the details bearing on scientific principles that ‘govern’ the Japanese swordplay, which I believe can be better discussed in the light of the mechanical and geometrical theories. The movements are just such as to illustrate well the principle of following the shortest distance, that is to say, of effecting a result by the expenditure of the least possible force.

The readers are now, I believe, ready to see the conclusion that Kenjutsu is well adapted for physical training. And to that I wish to add that it is not only the combination of pleasure and exercise, but it is also an art most manly, and, therefore, worthy of the attention of a most cultured race, the American.

Above: Kawasaki in the Omaha Daily Bee, 1906. Source: Library of Congress.

Above: Kawasaki in the Omaha Daily Bee, 1906.

Life of the Amazing Major J. A. McGuire, “Positively the World’s Greatest Swordsman”

 “He is at home not alone with the sword but also with the foil, rapier, staff, lance and spear…”


The following picturesque advertisement appeared in the August 7th, 1892 issue of the Buffalo Courier Record:


Major McGuire was a colorful and reputedly formidable character who figured prominently in a number of fencing contests in New York City and upstate New York during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A sketch of his life was published four years earlier, on December 30, 1888, also in the Courier Record, and is reprinted below in full:


Life and Reminiscences of Major McGuire, the Swordsman.

 “He has killed a score of men, that is, in an honorable way…”


Major J. A. McGuire, the famous horseman, swordsman, fencer, duelist and all-round athlete, who appears at the Adelphia this week in exhibitions of the science of the sword, is known the world over. Although a little over thirty years old, his career has been something approaching the marvelous. He has killed a score of men, that is, in an honorable way, and though he has done hard army service for many years and engaged in numberless athletic battles, he is today in the prime of life—perhaps the oldest soldier and youngest man living.

The famous battle of Tel-el-Kebir, by Henry Louis Dupray.

The famous battle of Tel-el-Kebir, by Henry Louis Dupray.

Major McGuire was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in March, 1857, of Irish parents. From boyhood up he was noted for agility, and a desire to distinguish himself led him to join the English army when scarce fifteen years old as a trumpeter. His appearance was that of a man several years older and only this enabled him to join the ranks. At eighteen he became an instructor in gunnery and swordsmanship at Woolwich.

Sir Frederick Roberts

Sir Frederick Roberts

It was not long before his adventurous spirit led him to India where he remained for six years and seven months. During that time he was engaged in the Afghan war under Sir Frederick Roberts. Thence he journeyed to South Africa where he remained until 1881. From there he joined the English army again as a volunteer in the Egyptian war. He took part in the famous battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and went up the Nile with Sir Garnet Woolseley. Through a little argument over promotion, McGuire resigned from the English army and joined the Turks under Pasha Baker as sergeant-major in the cavalry. He was in the charge of El-teb where, out of 800 Turks who assaulted the Arabs, only a handful escaped with their lives, and McGuire was among the number. Not long after he secured a leave of absence and never returned.

McGuire killed his man in twenty minutes. In recalling the event McGuire says: “We didn’t think of the life of an Egyptian in those times. We used to kill them every day.”


During his army life McGuire met with many rough experiences, but always came out all right, and was generally noted for bravery among his fellow officers. He still carries with him their testimonials to that effect.

Charge at the Second Battle of El-Teb, by Josef Chelmonski.

Charge at the Second Battle of El-Teb, by Josef Chelmonski.

On one occasion in Egypt, it is recalled, he became involved in a quarrel with Ismail Pasha, an Egyptian officer, who insulted a woman who was a friend of McGuire’s. The Englishman dealt him a stinging blow on the spot, and the outcome was that the men agreed to fight a duel at 4 o’clock in the morning, accompanied by their seconds they crept out to a secluded spot to avoid court-martial. Swords were the weapons and McGuire killed his man in twenty minutes. In recalling the event McGuire says: “We didn’t think of the life of an Egyptian in those times. We used to kill them every day.”

“Returning to camp, he exhibited the Afghan’s head in triumph, as David did after the slaughter of Goliath…”


Early in his career, while engaged in the Afghan war, a designing Afghan, disguised as a spy, enticed McGuire from the English camp, pretext of showing him the lines of the McGuire, on horseback, followed him unsuspectingly some distance from the camp, when the Afghan suddenly drew a sword and made a thrust at McGuire’s heart. The latter wheeled about just in time to parry the blow, and jumping from his horse engaged in a life and death struggle with the Afghan. McGuire was thoroughly enraged and his superior strength gave him the advantage. The Afghan cut McGuire severely about the legs, but after a brief struggle the latter cut the Afghan’s throat, and in his rage completely severed his head from his body. Returning to camp, he exhibited the Afghan’s head in triumph, as David did after the slaughter of Goliath. McGuire bears today the scars of the wounds received in that scrimmage.

Scene from the Second Afghan War: Drummer James Roddick of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, defending Lieutenant Menzies during hand-to-hand fighting in Kandahar, 1880. by William Skeoch Cumming.

Scene from the Second Afghan War: Drummer James Roddick of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, defending Lieutenant Menzies during hand-to-hand fighting in Kandahar, 1880. by William Skeoch Cumming.

While in the Orient, the major acquired a knowledge of the Hindoo, Persian, Sanscrit and other tongues, and for a time was interpreter in the army. Later, in England, he received a queen’s prize for proficiency in those tongues. In 1886 and 1887 he won a number of medals for excellence in athletics, among them the prince of Wales spear. In the fore part of 1887 he came to America to give exhibitions at Manhattan beach.

Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, 1879.

“Sergt.” Charles Walsh had been traveling around with Duncan C. Ross, under McGuire’s name, giving broadsword contest exhibitions, and McGuire had a good deal of trouble in establishing his identity. When his contract at Manhattan beach expired he followed Walsh and Ross up and cornered them at Louisville on October 23.

“Voss got the worst of it each time and in the third battle had two fingers of his left hand cut off.”


They agreed to fight it out in the baseball park there, and before a big crowd McGuire bested his opponent in every way and was awarded the victory. One week later he met Duncan C. Ross at the same place. Ross, though a hippodromer, is a veritable Samson and an expert swordsman. Yet the major defeated him easily to the intense disgust of a big assemblage, who wanted to see Ross win. Subsequently he met and defeated F. X. Noriega, the Spanish champion, at New Orleans while a tournament was in progress there in which Ross and Walsh were participating. The major defeated both Noriega and Walsh in one afternoon. He was then thoroughly exhausted and Ross challenged him to another battle. McGuire said he preferred to meet him on another day, but rather than submit to the big fellow’s taunts he went in against him. The task was too much for him, however. Both horses and riders fell before the clash of arms was over. Ross, fresh and strong, was the victor after a hard-fought battle.

Duncan Ross

Duncan Ross

The major has beaten a large number of swordsmen throughout the country. At Kansas City he fought and defeated a half a dozen local cavalrymen, including Capt. Phelan and Maj. Landstreet. On July 4 he battled with Capt. McGinty, an English officer weighing 210 pounds, for a gold medal.

Announcement in the Kansas City Times, July 3, 1888.

Announcement in the Kansas City Times, July 3, 1888.

McGuire used a lance and McGinty a sword. It is needless to say that McGuire was the winner. He met Capt. Voss three times, once at Nashville with gun and bayonet, again on foot, and a third time with swords on horses. Voss got the worst of it each time and in the third battle had two fingers of his left hand cut off. At Little Rock, Arkansas, the major met three men on one Sunday afternoon and defeated them all. He was arrested for violating the Sunday law and was fined $25, but inasmuch as he had won the entire gate receipts, $700, he didn’t kick.

Lance versus sword

Lance versus sword

Although in a broadsword contest the contestants are well shielded with armor they are very apt to be injured. Maj. McGuire has a number of scars on his head and forehead from old time wounds. For contests in which a large amount is at stake McGuire keeps a trained horse at Louisville, Ky. For common affairs he can manage most any animal. He claims to be able to train a horse for a match in half an hour. He is at home not alone with the sword but also with the foil, rapier, staff, lance and spear.

“In order to become a fencer the pupil must be cool, calm, and collected and possess a proper gentlemanly temper, a quick eye, and an elastic frame…”


In speaking of the methods of instruction and what is requisite to make a good fencer, Major McGuire says:

“Undoubtedly my method of instruction differs from that of other teachers in the country. In order to become a fencer the pupil must be cool, calm, and collected and possess a proper gentlemanly temper, a quick eye, and an elastic frame. Muscle will develop through practice. Strength is not required. I have instructed ladies in some parts of the country, and found them quite as apt as some instructors in point of science and agility.”

A quarterstaff contest. The Illustrated London News, March 26, 1870.

A quarterstaff contest. The Illustrated London News, March 26, 1870.

The Major at present weighs 156 pounds and stands 5 feet, 10½ inches. Of all the men he has met he thinks Ross the strongest and Noriega the most scientific. McGuire is something of a wrestler, too. Although little accustomed to wrestling on the carpet he has a standing proposition to wrestle any man on the carpet if the latter will give him a return match on horseback. Horseback wrestling is something comparatively new to this country. In turn the men urge their steeds at full gallop from opposite corners and when they meet, the one attempts to dismount his opponent. If he succeeds he is credited with a fall. Almost everything goes in this style.

The Major will remain in the city a couple of weeks and is anxious to meet any of the local swordsmen in a contest for points. He will give them a fair handicap.

— Buffalo Courier Record, December 30, 1888.



Matt Easton, from the UK, has checked Hart’s Army Lists (from the 1840s to World War I), but has been unable to find any record of a Major or Captain McGuire (or Maguire), or any officer under a similar name, between 1875 to 1884. Matt writes, “There are up to four Maguires at one time and one McGwire, but none of them are this man. I think the only conclusion is that he was either fabricating details of his military service, or he had changed his name.” Special thanks to Matt for this bit of detective work!


As addendum to this story, it seems that after many challenges and public fencing contests (including another with an aging Duncan Ross), McGuire’s martial career seemingly dwindled during the early 1900s. As late as 1909, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that McGuire was in Seattle, Washington, issuing a number of challenges:

It has been a long time since the swords clashed here, but Major J. A. Maguire, champion of tho world, is in the city looking for matches and has several answers to the challenge published a few days ago. Captain B. M. Ward, formerly of the South African constabulary and now a resident of this city, in a letter accepts Maguire’s open challenge and declares himself willing to fight horseback or afoot and says he will post $1,000 as evidence of good faith. F. Richard West, fencing master of the Vancouver Fencing Club, also wants to meet Major Maguire. The champion said, last night that he would like to arrange a match with either or both in Seattle. “I prefer a broadsword combat because it is stiffer, more exciting and gives the public a much better exhibition,” said Maguire. “With broadswords there is no taking it easy. It is a real fight all the time.” Maguire is a soldier of fortune and has appeared in many countries. He was a captain in the British army and retired with the honorary rank of major. He has also been a colonel in the Turkish army, and has seen service all over the world.

We have not yet been able to uncover any accounts of these combats, if they occurred. McGuire’s talents, however, would soon be put to use in a new burgeoning medium—that of the motion picture:

New York Dramatic Mirror, Oct. 23, 1912.

New York Dramatic Mirror, Oct. 23, 1912.

From between 1911 and 1920, McGuire acted in a number of silent films (mostly Westerns) such as Buffalo Jim, Kit Carson’s Wooing, and The Untamed, playing “Indian Chiefs,” medicine men, sheriffs, saloon owners, and miners. Although many of these films seem to be now lost, or unavailable online, we did manage to locate the following photograph of McGuire, under the heading “Some Bison Old Timers”, in the Film Year Book of 1922-23:



The following photograph shows McGuire in the silent film “What God Hath Joined Together” (1913). That’s him in the center, in the role of the preacher.

From To-day's Cinema News and Property Gazette, Volumes 3-4

From To-day’s Cinema News and Property Gazette, Volumes 3-4

Nor was McGuire’s role to be strictly in front of the camera. The January/June 1912 issue of Motography reported that,

Major J. A. McGuire, for many years in the motion picture business, will be assistant director to Rollin S. Sturgeon for the western Vitagraph company at Santa Monica. Occasionally he will appear in pictures.

It would be fascinating to know if McGuire’s martial talents and techniques were ever captured on film. For now, the search continues…

Jigen-Ryu Swordsmanship, by a New York City-based Japanese Kenjutsu Master, 1903

“Fencing, of course, is well known in New York, but our method is entirely different…”


On September 10, 1901, the following announcement appeared in Japan and America, a magazine based at 203 Broadway, New York City:

The famous Japanese fencer, Tatewaki K. Kawasaki, of the “Jigen-ryu” school, who was studying in A. M. Chesbrough Seminary, North Chili, has returned to this city [New York]. He is writing a series of articles in English on his singular sword play, with the view to disclose it to Western fencers and athletes, as well as to the American public.

Above: Kawasaki in the Omaha Daily Bee, 1906. Source: Library of Congress.

Kawasaki in the Omaha Daily Bee, 1906.

According to the New York Press, Tatewaki K. Kawasaki had taken “a classical course at a school neear Rochester,” New York, and had taken European fencing from Camero Negroni, before arriving in New York City, where he would “introduce the Japanese method of sword combat.”

The public would have to wait nearly a year and a half for the first of Kawasaki’s articles, when it finally appeared in the January 25, 1903 issue of the New York Press. Kawasaki would remain in New York City until at least 1905, when he is recorded as having given kenjutsu demonstrations at the New York Athletic Club and Fencers Club, as reported in the New York Times of January 8:

Following the bouts…was an exhibition of Japanese fencing methods with the two-handed and double-edged sword. The exhibition was given by Kawasaki, an instructor of fencing in the Government University, Tokyo, Japan. He used a sword made of bamboo, and was dressed in the native costume. His first opponent was John Allaire, of the New York Turn Verein, who used a sabre. Before the bout began Kawasaki insisted that Allaire put on a breast-plate of Japanese workmanship, so as to protect his ribs. This breast-plate was of metal, ornamented with enamels and elaborately trimmed with cloth, silks and a sort of embroidered skirt. Allaire is somewhat of the Russian type, stalwart and muscular, wearing a closely-trimmed Russian beard. Several of his friends among the large and fashionable gathering of spectators reminded him to be cautious or the Jap would forget himself and even break the handsome breast-plate.

When the men began it was evident that the American was no match for the dexterous Japanese. The latter fairly beat a tattoo upon the headpiece and breastplate. He kept the spectators constantly laughing, for, after the manner of the Japanese swordsmen, he grunted, roared like a lion, or chirped like a bird as he delivered his strokes. His rapidity and change of movement was bewildering, and he had a comparatively easy time with Allaire, who was only able to get in a few sabre cuts. K. B. Johnson of the New York Athletic Club then tried a bout with the Jap and also fared badly.

As can be seen and read about in this article by Maxime Chouinard, Kawasaki was not the first Japanese sword master to teach his art in America, and westerners returning from Japan had already provided accounts and descriptions of Japanese sword technique. Kawasaki, however, certainly seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, Japanese kenjutsu master to write extensively about his art while teaching in America, and specifically for an American audience. His article is also notable in that its author had also studied European fencing, which he contrasts and compares with his own native art.

Below, the first of Kawasaki’s articles is reprinted in full.

New York Press. Jan. 25, 1903.


Kawasaki, the Famous Japanese Fencer, Tells of the Wonderful Swordplay of the Orient, Where the Two Handed Blade Makes a Toy out of a Rapier

THE writer of this article is one of the Samurai; a child of a long and well known race who served under Tokugawa. The fifteenth of the Tokugawa dynasty turned his power over to the Mikado In 1857. The name Kawasaki was given some three hundred years ago to an ancestor in memory of his bravery in capturing a fort named Kawasaki (river cape). He is now a resident of this city, where he teaches fencing.

WHEREVER you go, east or west, whether the people are called civilized or barbarians, the men like to fight. National heroes everywhere are fighters; at first, I suppose, because they defended hearth and home, but afterward simply because they liked fighting and having crowds applaud the victor. The sort of fighting that is popular depends on the race. I am a Japanese. Our favorite game is fencing. Fencing, of course, is well known in New York, but our method is entirely different. It has been brought to a high state of perfection among us, for we are an old people and we have loved fencing for over 3,000 years. We ought after thirty centuries to have developed something. The first master of the art was Takemikajuchi no Kami, who is regarded by all Japanese fencers as their patron saint—almost deity.  Tradition says that he instituted the art in order to defend the young empire from the many foes which surrounded it on every side. I must here say that the art as practiced among us—Ken Jutsu, as it is called—has its foundation in that spirit of chivalry, Bushido, which is the soul of our nation: It has been our strength and hope in the darkest days, and it is now seen in the rapid and wonderful progress which Japan has made during the last forty years. Our fencing is the outward and visible sign of our national spirit.

“As in Lapland the reindeer, and in Arabia the horse, have words enough to fill a book growing out of their glories and uses, so is the sword in Japan…”



The art received a tremendous impetus about 1200 A. D.. when two powerful families named Genji and Helke introduced the feudal system: the fierce feuds which followed giving abundant opportunity for the exercise of everything connected with the sword. In those days battles were hand-to-hand fights, and victory came to those who were the most skilled in the use of the sword at close quarters. Especially are the Masamune swords renowned, their beautiful finish and exquisite temper making them to us what those of Damascus were to the knights of Europe. In Japan, as in western lands, we have our stories of wondrous swords, such as “Cloud Cluster,” which was found in the hall of a mighty dragon slain by Sosanoo— the moon goddess.

This sword became one of the three sacred emblems forming the regalia of the Japanese emperors, and also appearing on our paper money. Innumerable ceremonies surrounded the sword, how it was to be treated at a friend’s house, the degree of obeisance to be accorded to it, how it was to be withdrawn from the scabbard, and so on. If by chance one gentleman’s scabbard clashed against another’s it was tantamount to a challenge, and fierce conflicts often arose from such accidents. The ordinary sword is about two feet long, but all lengths are used, the old time warriors having some as long as six feet. The blade is about one inch in width, seven-eighths being an iron backing on which a face of steel is forged. The point is ground off to a parabola. Every part of the guard, scabbard and blade is ornamented with elaborate gold and silver ornamentation. As in Lapland the reindeer, and in Arabia the horse, have words enough to fill a book growing out of their glories and uses, so is the sword in Japan.

Under such conditions, it is clear that it was of the highest importance to have not only skilled swordsmen, but swords worthy of them. Such swords were made and attained a world-wide renown. Swordsmanship being so highly thought of, there grew up a special class of men who were known as Samurai, or knights; these men were swordsmen and nothing else, their whole life being devoted to warlike exercises. Until the great change in Japan last century these men not only formed a class to themselves, but also had many rights and privileges. What might have been a serious international complication happened a few years ago, which arose out of this idea; a sailor from a European warship while ashore happened to cross the sidewalk in front of a Samurai. This was an insult to his dignity, and he at once slew the unfortunate man, who had been quite unaware of the seriousness of his fault. In former times they were the liege men of their feudal lord, fighting his battles and receiving his protection and largess. The name still remains, but the thing itself is disappearing; shorn of all the old-time grandeur it is doomed ere long to be but a memory.

“There is a marked difference between our style and the European style used in America…”


Every Samurai had to undergo a thorough and rigorous course in fencing. It was his chief, nay, even his sole education. Thus it was that the title and life, passing on from generation to generation, a marvelous dexterity and proficiency developed among our Samurai. A favorite occupation of the Samurai when not engaged in dissecting the enemy was to go around the country challenging the various fencing schools, and by their prowess winning the blue ribbon of Japan—to be esteemed a mighty fencer.

"The balance of the body is entirely different from the Frenchman's."

“The balance of the body is entirely different from the Frenchman’s.”

There is a marked difference between our style and the European style used in America. In the first place, the sword is grasped with the two hands, the hilt of our sword being long enough to allow of this. While fencing we sometimes change hands—that is, pass the sword from one hand to the other, and also by a sort of jump change the position of our feet, the left falling back and the right advancing, or vice versa. This rapid change is a very marked feature of our fencing, the fencers being in a continual state of motion. This demands great agility and strength. As is well known the Japanese have not only great muscle power in their legs, but can use it in a way probably unknown in other lands. The Japanese legs are as different from yours as the black man’s head is from the ordinary white man’s.

Another very marked feature in our fencing is called intimidating your opponent. The power to do this is taught in the dozo-school. and is only attained by hard and rigorous training. What I mean by this is the power to so frighten your opponent that even before a single pass has been made he is defeated. Some men have so developed this power as to be able to do this time and again when the opponent is a man of less will power. Confidence in yourself is of primary importance in all fencing. Before a duel, even in the European style, a clever man will find out the state of his opponent’s mind and take good care to work upon his fears, if that is possible.

“A proficient fencer will so dodge as to drive his rival into a less advantageous position, as, for instance, making him face the sun or the wind…”


Many men will not be seen the day before except by their seconds or friends on this very account. At all hazards a man must keep his nerve. An expert fencer says that a man who could whistle a gay tune in tune on the field of battle would be a most dangerous opponent and one which would make him feel horribly uncomfortable. A story is told of one fencer who just before falling into position turned to his second and said: “I forgot something,” and when asked  what it was replied, “A basket for my opponent’s head.” In Japanese fencing we depend more upon the fierce attitude and the threatening glance, which, as I have said, can and does work wonders. If, however, the opponent is not intimidated then one should be prepared to at once take up an attitude of offense. A proficient fencer will so dodge as to drive his rival into a less advantageous position, as, for instance, making him face the sun or the wind.

The body should be held erect and the feet be kept separate by about the same distance as in ordinary walking, the right foot to the front, the heel of the left foot being slightly raised or just touching the ground and the knees kept limber so as to give one perfect freedom of action. It will be seen that there is a great difference between our way of standing and the European. In which case the feet are firmly placed on the ground and the knees giving the necessary rocking motion.

The sword must be held by the right hand close to the guard, the left hand grasping lightly the end of the grip. In the case shown the sword is directed at the other man’s throat and the fencer coolly awaits an opportunity to thrust. This position is called Sei-gan (literally, the attitude of straight sight).

The third and fourth fingers of both hands are used for holding the sword: the first and second fingers being used to control or direct the blow. This is very different to the European style, where the thumb is the director A constant watch must be kept on your opponent’s eyes, as the attack will probably be delivered at the point to which the eyes are directed. It is of the greatest importance that you learn to keep the eyes perfectly steady and yet see exactly where you can strike. This is no easy matter, as the eyes have a tendency to involuntarily stray.

"The two swordsmen should stand six feet apart."

“The two swordsmen should stand six feet apart.”

The fencers should stand about six feet apart, as this is just such a distance as gives the greatest facility for both offense and defense. Should one advance a step the other should retreat, so as to maintain a constant distance.

A thrust may thus be averted by quickly retreating a step. Increasing the distance, so as to be beyond reach of the sword. Conversely this is just such a distance that one can, by advancing  step, give an effective blow should an opening be presented by his rival in an unguarded moment. As the one tries to get in a blow the other parries it and almost at the same moment dashes step forward, effectively a thrust at the rival’s throat.

"An opening is usually a fatality."

“An opening is usually a fatality.”

The fencer must be on his guard against strategical moves intended to lead him into traps, This is shown in plate 5, where the one brings his sword slightly down, whereupon his rival, thinking he sees an opportunity, quickly strikes at the head. The former, however, skillfully parries the blow, and before the rivals guard is resumed, and while his side still remains open by the raising of both arms, quickly turns and delivers a blow on his flank. Sometimes what is called a Tsuba-jeri occurs—that is to say, the two men get so close together and in such a position that they are unable to either thrust or deliver a blow. In such a case an attempt is made to press his opponent down by sheer weight.

Another attitude is known as Morote Jyonan, or invitation, which means that one of the fencers appears to lay himself open to attack, and so by strategy leads his opponent on and then smites him. This corresponds in some sort to the European riposte.

“It is of the utmost importance that all contests be opened, carried on and closed in perfect good humor and with certain well-defined courtesies…”


As will be seen in the photographs, we often use foils in fencing that are made of round, split bamboo instead of sunds, a blow from which makes one smart and tingle. A corselet is worn, with shoulder plates of hide padded, and also heavily padded gauntlets. The head is protected by a wadded cap. which has a stout iron grating, serving as a visor. In spite of all this armor a Japanese fencing bout generally results in somebody getting whacks which are not forgotten in five minutes.

It is of the utmost importance that all contests be opened, carried on and closed in perfect good humor and with certain well-defined courtesies. In Japan all contests are begun and concluded by simply bowing. Personally I prefer the salute of the European fencers.

"The Japanese swordsman is scrupulously polite to his foe."

“The Japanese swordsman is scrupulously polite to his foe.”

It will be seen the immense field Japanese fencing opens in the way of providing an excellent sport, and one which demands accuracy, calmness and a thoroughly trained and healthy body. No one can understand the rapidity of the hand and foot changes save he who has seen them made. Every sense must be on the alert, and, even more than with foils, must the fencer keep an unceasing and unrelenting watch upon the opponent, who is in a state of rapid and quivering motion.

A Japanese fencer salutes in print a chivalrous people—the ever-alert and keen-eyed Americans.


Master of Japanese Fencing, Member of the Jigen Ryu, Tokyo, Japan.

New York.


Proceed to PART II, the second of Kawasaki’s articles, wherein he treats of sword technique in greater detail.

Singlestick and Kung Fu: The U.S. Navy Encounters “Chinese Kicking” in 1881

“On the Chinese station the Chinese servants belong to this division, and a very energetic and zealous lot they are…”

Singlestick practice on the U.S.S. New York

Singlestick practice on the U.S.S. New York

The following is an excerpt from a short treatise on the singlestick as practiced by the U.S. Navy, authored by an “expert,” and published in the February 24, 1895, issue of the New York Press. The piece is notable for its mention of Chinese “kicking,” and represents possibly the earliest reference to the United States military encountering Kung Fu.

Warning: The following contains ethnic references, typical of the period, which some may find offensive.

One can hardly realize the gawkiness of the human species until one has seen a squad of raw recruits in the position of guard. They apparently either have no joints whatever, or else are all joints, but whether jointed or jointless they unfailingly convey but one impression, viz., that if you said “boo” to them they’d all promptly tumble down.



The simplest and most necessary requirements of single stick exercise seem to be the hardest to instill. These are free movements, a loose but firm grip of the sword, and rapid execution. The necessity of the latter is evident, and can only come with practice. The two first essentials seem to come naturally to some, by practice to others, and to the rest never at all. A loose grip or too tight a grip means an ignominious loss of your sword, which a first class swordsman will soon send flying into the air. This disarming trick is difficult to explain, and more difficult to accomplish. There is no better way of describing it than as a winding of the sword around the opponent’s, as though it were wire, and then a sudden jerk after it has taken hold. It is very humbling to one’s pride to be disarmed. I never knew any one that did not suffer a loss of self-respect in such circumstances except a Chinaman. This is partly because he is too arrogant, but particularly because he can use his legs so successfully, and not to run with, either. I should hate to fence with an unarmed Chinaman unless I could cut his legs off or “bar” them.



The Navy Ordinance Instructions require all persons aboard ship, with a few specified exceptions, to be encouraged in the use of “single sticks.” In obedience to this suggestion, single stick exercises are frequent, and even the members of the “Powder division” are not exempted. This division comprises the “odds and ends,” so to speak, that is, all people unassigned to the regular “Gun divisions.” On the Chinese station the Chinese servants belong to this division, and a very energetic and zealous lot they are. In 1881, when China and Russia were on the verge of war, I aroused and encouraged my Chinese “odds and ends” by facing them in two ranks for “single sticks.” I would then give the order, “Fronk rank. Chinaman;” “Rear rank, Russia man.” I never yet have found an opportunity to carry my scheme of encouragement further. The command seemed to take all the starch out of the “rear rank.” As I look back at those drills, I am afraid they were not quite according to the manual, and a trifle irregular; also, I believe that kicking played quite a part, and if I remember right, I spent the remainder of the drill hour trying to round in my rear rank “odds and ends.” But I can honestly say, I carried out the “Ordinance Instruction.” I encouraged the use of “single sticks.”

“As I look back at those drills, I am afraid they were not quite according to the manual, and a trifle irregular; also, I believe that kicking played quite a part…”

 Not long after this the Russian Admiral on the station, hearing that Chinamen were being drilled aboard United States vessels, entered a protest, and orders were issued to our squadron to discontinue the drills as far as Chinese servants were concerned. This may be a digression, but I wish to endorse The Presas warning to Japan not to wait too long. There are lots of possibilities in the Chinaman. I wouldn’t nag him too much.

Japanese Sword Technique in the American News, 1906

The following series of Kenjitsu images, with captions, appeared in the Deseret Evening News, April 25, 1906, under the headline:


Kendo1 Kendo2 Kendo3 Kendo4 Kendo5 Kendo6 Kendo7

Vintage Boxing Techniques in the New York World and Daily Eagle, 1895

“A boxer should always remember that science is better than strength. In the manly art of self-defense, as in war, a clever head will get the best of superior power. To deceive the enemy is the art of the clever boxer…”


Excerpted from the The New York World, January 5, 1895:


“Oh, that mine adversary had written a book,” said Job.

James J. Corbett’s enemies should, therefore, rejoice, for he has done that very thing. Unlike many who write books and launch them at the public under various disguises of title and binding, the champion pugilist has written about something of which he may be presumed to know a great deal.

Above: James Corbett. Source: Wikipedia

Above: James Corbett. Source: Wikipedia

His maiden effort is not entitled “A Scarlet Sunflower,” “Impish Triplets,” or anything so indefinite and irrelevant, but the cover of the volume tells plainly that it contains “New Ideas on Boxing.” The author, at the outset, expresses little wonder at the existing prejudice against pugilism on the part of those who consider the contests as simply brute strength against brute strength. He adds: “But when it is not only muscle against muscle, hut head against head, skill against slugging, the cry against pugilism is sentimentally silly. Boxing is the art of self-defense, not of brutality.


“A little skill is better than a great amount of strength,” he says, “for power misdirected leads to disaster.” As instances, the overthrow of Goliath is cited, the skill of the Romans in fighting with short swords against bigger men, and the clever evasion of an infuriated bull by the toreador.

Everybody should know how to use nature’s weapons for self-defense, says the pugilist-actor-author. And as an exercise for developing symmetry of form, agility, quick judgment and perception, he declares, there is nothing in any other system so good. A good nimble dancer, in his estimation, has a great advantage, for he is able to dance aside and escape the plunging rushes of
the aggressive fighter and pound him hard before he recovers.


“The day of the slugger is gone,” he says. The methods and improved tactics of which he is the exponent he summarises in a sentence: “It is the art of keeping within range, and of being able to get out of reach.” In his estimation, the feet and body have fully as much to do with winning a battle as the fists and arms, with a clear head and clear brain to direct every movement.


In his treatise he abandons the “proper position” and awkward, strained poses so long taught at academies, advising simply a free, easy attitude, with muscles never stiffened but always ready for action. The importance of shifting the position frequently and rapidly is pointed out as an excellent method by which to deceive the adversary. Side-stepping he regards as more discouraging to the aggressive adversary than constant countering, but requires great agility to be effective.


Let the aggressor whip himself by wasting energy and running up against well-placed jabs is his counsel, and drive in a hard blow when opportunity offers, instead of taking chances from possible hard encounters and upper-cuts. When the rusher seeks to drive the skilled boxer before him by sheer impetus is the time to inflict the worst damage. As he puts it: “It is a Kodak movement: you extend your left and he does the rest.” Considerable weight may be thrown into these jabs by using the foot as a pivot, on which the body swings with the jolt.
Throughout, strategic moves to deceive and draw the opponent on are pointed out, and the most damaging blows are considered from the standpoint of both deliverer and intended recipient. The pivot blow is denounced as cowardly.


His greatest battles are briefly described in the work, and it may be news to some who did not see the fight to know that John V. Sullivan was whipped principally by letting him exhaust himself hitting nothing, with the application of well-timed and judiciously placed blows when opportunity offered. Corbett credits Mitchell with being cleverer than Jackson, although he regards the latter as a tricky and shifty pugilist.

Above: Corbett versus Peter Jackson. Source: Wikipedia

On January 27, 1895, another article on Corbett’s text appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Although this article did not showcase as many of Corbett’s illustrations, it did contain a good deal more text pertaining to technique:



Stick Defense for Women in New York: The “Royal Cane” Fencing of Regis Senac, 1898

“Along the walls are trophies of combat—swords, formidable looking daggers and ‘royal canes.’ A dozen or more girls in slight, loose fitting gowns, the skirts a little below the knee, with dark boots, were about to begin their work…”


ProtectingLeftFace-HeaderCropThe following article appeared in the May Day, 1898 issue of the New York Herald, and describes a system of self-defense with the cane taught to the society women of New York City. In addition to showcasing the burgeoning American trend in self-defense instruction for women, the article offers a rare glimpse into the nineteenth century salle d’armes of noted New York City fencing master Regis Senac. Although Senac is not mentioned by name in the article, a number of details—such as the presence of fencing daggers, the mention of a son named Louis, the school’s Broadway location, and the system of “Royal Cane”  (or Canne Royale) presented therein—all firmly establish the maitre d’armes described in this article to be none other than Regis Senac.

Regis and Louis Senec, gelatin on glass. Source: George Eastman House




Young Women Perfecting Themselves in the Art of Self-Defence—They Use Stout Hickory Clubs.

New York Herald. Sunday, May 1, 1898.

It is several hundred years since the “royal canes,” as a special means of “defence,” appeared in France.

Above: First Position.

Above: First Position.

Naturally enough, it was one of the feminine members of a royal family who found a pair of the “canes” among the family relics, and became so bewitched by the grace and poises necessary to wield these dangerous looking weapons that she decided to learn to use them. It is probable that the young lady’s enthusiasm set half of the pretty girls of Paris, if not of all France, upon the “defence,” for almost immediately the young people of the inner circle of society began to exercise with the “royal canes” before crowds of admiring friends, and soon a school for training in the exercise was opened. From that time on the “canes” became popular. Here in New York it is esteemed as one of the most useful and beneficial exercises.

Most of our “royal caners” are under the direction of a well known fencing master. Many are young women holding brilliant social positions. The professor in question has a class of society matrons who are candidates for honors as “caners,” and are determined to become experts in the newest fad sent from over the ocean.

Above: Protecting Head.

Above: Protecting Head.

At the school the writer was recently permltted to be present during a class hour for the younger members. The classroom occupies the entire floor of a large Broadway building. The floors are carpetless and covered with oilcloth, and along the walls are trophies of combat—swords, formidable looking daggers and “royal canes.” A dozen or more girls in slight, loose fitting gowns, the skirts a little below the knee, with dark boots, were about to begin their work.

“Allons, ladees, commencez—von, two, dree!”

Monsieur and his son took position, each in the centre of a group of pupils. It seemed to me that the heavy hickory clubs were used in an unusually graceful manner, but Monsieur was not pleased.

“Allons, young ladees, more high with your arm—your elbow more in zan zat! Zat is ze way!”

ProtectingLeftFaceSuiting the action to the word, the Professor seized a club and swung it carelessly back and forth over and dangerously near to his head. ”Von, two! Sacre, mon! Zat’s bettare!”

“On guard!” shouts M. Louis, the son, moving an unskilled arm over the head of its owner.

It was easy to see that the girls were beginners. They were afraid to go beyond a certain point. They feared an unexpected blow from a friendly club. Monsieur told them to be on hand the next morning. They returned to their homes to be oiled and massaged by attentive maids.

The exercise of the “royal canes” is not the easiest in the world to acquire. The novice is so afraid of hitting herself that she generally does manage to inflict slight injury either upon herself or another.  But these petted daughters of society who have never endured a blow or a knock, what do they know of pain? They keenly enjoy the sensation of the blow and cheerfully endure their martyrdom.

Above: Protecting Right Face.

Above: Protecting Right Face.

In the classroom on the following morning the young ladies again took their positions.

“Ve must repeat ze first movement you have learned yesterday,” said the Professor. “Zat is good,” he cried. “Zou do sat with dis lady.” A little brunette, who seemed to be easy at handling the clubs, advanced quickly and stood in readiness opposite a tall, graceful blonde. “Salute!” called Monsieur.

“First, five times se wrist movement, Tres bien! Vne, two, dree.”

“Now. ladles, move guard—protect your right—face! Parry—vatch se point of ze opponent’s club—advance—vatch ze opponent—now—retreat quick—parry—allons—move quick, Von, two, dree! Deceive, pass under and parry on ze left. First position—sat is bettare!”

While the writer was present the grand salute was practised. The various positions are “tierce,” “carte,” “conde carte,” The manipulation of the long and heavy stick seems tiresome, but after the novice practises awhile the handling of the cane does not fatigue.


When the pupil is ready to “combat” she is considered very advanced in the exercise of “action and reaction,” as one pretty society girl calls it.

The Professor says it is very hard to drill a class of society women, because some have never developed their muscles and seem to be absolutely incapable of grasping the meaning of the exercises they are asked to perform. Others are quick to learn, and take such an interest in the study that it is a pleasure to teach them. A class of gentlemen, while not so large as that of the ladies, is somewhat more proficient.


For further reading, see the following articles:

French “La Canne” stick defense in the New York Sun, 1887

Earliest American Report of Taekwondo?

“In nine months of covering the war in Viet Nam, I have marched with virtually every American and Vietnamese unit. None of them impressed me as much as the Koreans. They really are tigers.”

Above: Photograph that appeared in the June 5, 1966 Trenton Evening Times.

Above: Photograph that appeared in the June 5, 1966 Trenton Evening Times.

According to website of the International Taekwon-Do Federation, the history of Taekwondo in America began in 1966, when was founded by the art’s founder General Choi Hong Hi on March 22, 1966.

According to this article,

A Taekwondo demonstration at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in 1963, caused the formation of the U.S. Taekwondo Association in 1967, which later was superseded in 1974 by the U.S. Taekwondo Federation.

In Korea, the study of Taekwondo spread rapidly from the army into high schools and colleges. In march of 1966 Choi founded the International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF), which he also served as president. Choi later resigned as the KTA president and moved his ITF headquarters to Montreal, Canada, from where he concentrated on organizing Taekwondo internationally. His emphasis is on self-defense methodology, not particularly on the sport. By 1974, Choi reported that some 600 qualified ITF instructors were distributed throughout the world.

Despite some searching, we could find no period account of the 1963 United Nations demonstration. The following article, with accompanying photograph, appeared in the Trenton Evening Times on June 5, 1966. Could this be the first report of Taekwondo in America, or one of the first?

I leave our readers, more knowledgeable in Taekwondo, to let us know…

This article appeared under the headline, “Cong Do Not Fool with Tiger Division.”

Taekwon 1

Taekwon 2

Taekwon 3

Taekwon 4

Taekwon 5

Cane Defense Against Stick-, Knife-, and Gun-Wielding Thugs in the New York Tribune, 1903

“When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick…”



Parrying a thug’s left-hand blow and breaking his arm by a crack on the “crazy bone.”

On August 30, 1903, a lengthy illustrated article appeared in the New York Tribune, under the following heading:


The piece was accompanied by seven illustrations, excerpted from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, a British journal. These illustrations bear close resemblance to others depicting “Bartitsu,” a martial art created by one Edward William Barton-Wright, that borrowed heavily from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and European cane techniques, and that was practiced mainly between 1899 and 1902. Although relatively short-lived, Bartitsu techniques were widely printed and publicized in various magazines and newspapers throughout the United Kingdom.

The text of the New York Tribune article, however, is original, and offers a fascinating glimpse into how New Yorkers viewed the criminal threat at the turn of the century, as well as emphasizing the importance of learning self defense. The article also offers an interesting look at the perceived fighting styles of various local “thugs” of Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, Italian, and German origin, and offers advice for defending oneself against assaults with the fist, foot, stick, knife, and gun:


In the crowded city as well as at the lonely crossroads a man never knows when he may be called upon to defend himself. However vigilant may be the police, however strong the windows of his house, one is never absolutely secure from thug or burglar. However regular may be his habits, however restrained his desires, still there are emergencies which may keep a citizen out until the “owl” hours or call him into unfrequented byways. Street gangs never seemed bolder than at the present time, and their attacks upon law-abiding citizens are of frequent occurrence. The majority limit their operations to the tenement house districts, but now and then they appear where least expected. Such was the case in the alleged attack upon David Lamar’s coachman in Long Branch by “Monk” Eastman and some other members of his notorious East Side gang.

Above: Notorious New York City criminal "Monk" Eastman. Source: Wikipedia

Above: Notorious New York City criminal “Monk” Eastman. Source: Wikipedia

When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded.”


Thwarting a left-hand blow with the elbow and simultaneously strangling the thug.

In such a crisis the first blow counts. At such a time neither endurance nor strength is as important as quickness. There is only one round, and in most instances there is only one blow. The man who gives it first, and gives it right, is the victor. One does not need to be an experienced boxer or wrestler, for his adversary on such occasions is not likely to observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules or the laws of the Greco-Roman school of wrestling. Foul means are fair at such times.

“Stick defence…is not a pastime between sportsmen; it is a quick and safe method of knocking out a thug.”



Making a “hooked thug” see stars, so that he lets go of his cane.

In the city of London the crime of the highwayman and burglar has increased to such an extent that many schools have sprung up in the great English metropolis where one may learn the art of stick defence. The schools have proved popular, and many of the professional fencing and boxing masters have included courses in which the pupil is taught to handle the stick. The instruction is simple, and contrasts in a striking degree with the complicated science of fencing. Neither is it anything like the old art of handling the singlestick, where two men armed with sticks parry with each other for an opening to administer a blow. Stick defence differs from all these manly exercises in this essential— it is not a pastime between sportsmen; it is a quick and safe method of knocking out a thug.

Many a busy New-Yorker, however, would never learn the art of stick defence, even though he believed it would someday save his life, if he had to go to a gymnasium or a fencing school to learn it.

“I simply haven’t the time,” such a man would say.

For the same reason he has long wished to be a boxer, and secretly envied the splendid muscles of the athletes he sees at the beach when he goes down there for a Sunday swim. Neither does he know anything about wrestling or many another manly sport which would not only befriend him in an hour of need, but, best of all, build up his physique and enable him to work harder and longer, and yet feel far less weary when he leaves his office at night.


A cane thrust into a thug’s neck to make him drop his knife.

Stick defence, however, can be learned at home more easily, perhaps, than any other art of self-defence, and after a few general rules are mastered the beginner may learn how to apply them in many effective ways. He must first of all have a roommate or some other good friend who is willing to play the “thug” and to be ‘”knocked out” some half hundred times. In imagination the “thug’s” arms will be broken, his wrists and ankles dislocated and his neck twisted.

“The thug who is of Anglo-Saxon origin generally makes his assault with his fists. If he doesn’t he pulls a pistol…”


The thug who is of Anglo-Saxon origin generally makes his assault with his fists. If he doesn’t he pulls a pistol. His most common fist attack is to strike his purposed victim in the face with his left hand, and to hold back his right ready for a blow in the stomach. Nine times out of ten such a ruffian overwhelms his man, and even an experienced boxer may fail to thwart such an assault, But the man with a stick, should he handle himself right, ought not only to withstand his enemy, but break his arm. As soon as the stick man sees what his assailant is up to, he clutches his enemy’s left hand with his own, and with his right, holding his stick and guarding his stomach at the same time, he cracks the thug’s arm on the crazy bone, at the elbow. At the same time he strikes he twists the arm inward, so as to make the pain of the blow still more acute. If the stick man wants to strike hard enough he can break a thug’s arm in this way.

Should one find it impossible to use this device in withstanding a left-handed attack, there is another way which proves almost as efficient. As the thug rushes for his man the stick man grasps his cane at the small end with his left hand, and with his right he clutches it near the handle. His hands are near enough together, however, so that his right elbow is at an angle of 90 degrees, and with this protruding elbow he wards off the swing of the thug’s left arm. At the same time he thrusts the handle of his cane under the chin of his foe and topples him over on his back. In case of a right-handed attack, the man with a stick meets it in the same fashion, but with opposite hands.


“Fighting fire with fire.” How to hook a thug around the neck when he tries to use a stick.

Unless the sight of a pistol’s muzzle unnerves him, the man with a cane is able to dispose of the thug who pulls a gun easier than if he used only his fists. If the pistol puller is left handed, an upward blow of the cane is best, for it knocks the weapon high into the air, and does not swerve the barrel sidewise, so that the bullet is likely to reach the heart of its intended victim.

But in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the gun is in the right hand, and the stick man need only drop to his knees and at the same time strike his would-be murderer a sharp side-wise crack on the knuckles to disarm him.

“As the Anglo-Saxon uses his fists, so the Italian and Spaniard have recourse to the knife…”


As the Anglo-Saxon uses his fists, so the Italian and Spaniard have recourse to the knife. Unless such a thug is left-handed, he strikes with his right hand, and he is met by the stick man in much the same way as a left-handed fist blow is averted by the thrust of the cane’s handle under the chin. The stick man. however, holds his arms differently. He now bends his left elbow to avert the stab and shield his vitals.

As a general thing the thrust of a cane under the chin partially strangles a thug and so disconcerts him that he drops the blade from his hand. Should the ruffian use his left hand, the man with a stick grasps his weapon with his right hand around its small end and his left about its centre, and with his right elbow shielding his breast he gives the strangling thrust into his enemy’s neck.

“The German also has his way of holding up a pedestrian…”



Tripping up a kicker with a hook-handled umbrella.

The German also has his way of holding up a pedestrian. In the gymnasium of army he has been trained in the use of the broadsword, or even as a peasant boy he has had “schlagen” matches with his playmates. So when a Teuton who has settled in the New World descends to deeds of violence he generally uses a stick. His fate, however, at the hands of the master of stick defence is likely to be as instantaneous as that of the Anglo-Saxon or the Italian. In meeting this kind of an enemy an umbrella or a cane with a hooked handle is the best weapon. The stick man catches the cane of his foe, hooks his assailant around the neck and jerks his head forward. At the same time he raises his knee so that the face of the thug strikes against it with great force. This treatment makes a man see so many stars that he invariably drops his cane, and thus surrenders himself to the mercy of his victor.

Some thugs have a way of coming up on their victims from behind and disconcerting them with a kick. The stick man who knows the tactics of thugs is prepared for this kind of assault. As soon as he suspects what is to occur he wheels on his heel and hooks the thug by the foot with the handle of his cane or umbrella. This is sure to send the ruffian over backward on to his back. Another way is to dodge the kick, and crack the upraised leg with a stick over the knee. Such a blow will break a man’s leg if it be administered hard enough.

“Should a New-Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time…”



Holding off an assailant by a thrust in the stomach.

Tactics which might supplement those of the stick men have been introduced into the United States Navy. They are trick catches which are for the most part based on the Japanese system of wrestling. A sailor renders an assailant powerless simply by twisting his muscles the wrong way. It is called the leverage system, for the reason that it tends to pry a victim’s joints apart by using the bones as levers one against another. Should a New-Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.

There was no need, as the author suggests, for New Yorkers to look to Londoners to learn self-defense with a stick or cane. Several New York area fencing masters of the period, such as this one, offered such instruction.

For FURTHER READING, and many additional vintage articles on cane self-defense, see A History of Cane Self-Defense in America: 1798-1930.


German mensur combat in the New York Tribune, 1900


The above photograph, of a German mensur combat, appeared in the New York Tribune on July 7, 1900.

Mensur combats were fought with sharp swords called schlaegers. The combatants wore gorgets to cover their throats, and goggles to protect their eyes and noses. The intent was to cut (and scar) the opponent rather than kill. Although it was not a duel per se, the combat did adopt some rituals of the duel. The combat in this photograph probably occurred in Germany rather than N.Y., however, such combats did occur in New York City during the 20th century. The schlaeger was taught by New York City fencing master Frederick Rohdes until his death in 1984. Rohdes can be seen, pictured with his schlaeger, below:

The fencing traditions passed down by Rohdes are practiced today at the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City.

The following images, showing the aftermaths German mensur combats, give an idea of the sort of damage the schlaeger could inflict:








A “New System of Defence with the Bowie Knife” and the Strange Case of Mons. Bobij

On Sunday, March 22, 1840, the following unusual notice appeared in the Times-Picayune:

Sunday, March 22, 1840 - Times-Picayune BOWIE

Mons. Bobji–or Bobij, as he was more widely known–was an extraordinary character who had recently arrived in America from Europe. French by ancestry, Polish by birth, and formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the Polish army, he had taken part in a failed revolution in his homeland, then enlisted in the Russian military, escaped again, and traveled throughout Europe, where, pursued by “evil genius,” he survived multiple assassination attempts, one of which left “a large scar from a poniard directly over [his] left eye”. Bobij finally fled to the United States, where he offered instruction in fencing, and gave public exhibitions demonstrating the use of the broadsword, smallsword, bayonet, Bowie knife, dirk, dagger, quarterstaff, lance, and most notably, “two swords, one in each hand.” Especially tantalizing was Bobij’s announcement that he was presenting a “new system of defence with the Bowie knife,” as well as his assertion that he would show one how to defend against 21 attackers.


A vivid and astonishing account of Bobij’s early life was recounted in the pages of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. The “young Pole,” it seems, had drawn the notice of the press after yet another attempt was made on his life, and, evidently, Bobij himself had made some sort of counter-attack against his would-be assassins. This story, originally printed in the August 22, 1837 edition, follows in full:

The Case of the Young Pole.

Few incidents have occurred which teem to involve more mystery than the recent brutal attack upon a young Pole at the Atlantic Hotel in this city. All the circumstances, so far as we have learned them, bear the appearance of a conspiracy; and to our views, a conspiracy to commit a crime of the utmost atrocity; nothing less than deliberate murder. The subject of this outrage is a young man named Bobij, one of those unfortunate patriots who rose in arms to liberate their country, the much injured Poland, from the horrors of Russian bondage. He is the grandson of a Frenchman of rank and fortune, who was guillotined by Robespierre in the French revolution, leaving a son who took refuge in Poland. This young man, who is very well educated instead of adopting the aristocratic principles for which his grandfather was consigned to the guillotine, adopted the more liberal views current among the well educated youth of Poland; the more especially as his father was an officer in the service of Napoleon. After the dethronement of Napoleon, and the establishment of part of Poland as a kingdom under the protection of Russia, this young man entered the Russian army as Lieutenant. Being suspected of disaffection, then very general among the Polish officers, he was accused of a conspiracy to overthrow the Russian government in Poland. He was arrested with several others; but as no positive proof could be furnished, and as the Emperor Alexander, unlike Nicholas, was more humane than cruel, it was thought that degradation would have a greater influence over the malcontent than death, and Mr. Bobij was accordingly stripped of his rank and placed in the ranks as a common soldier. Those acquainted with the high military spirit prevalent among Polish officers, which always excited the admiration of Napoleon, and frequently elicited from him the remark that “the Poles were the very soul of honor,” may imagine the severity of this sentence.

Polish insurgents of the Uprising 1831

Polish insurgents of the Uprising 1831

But he was not long fated to endure this degradation. The Polish revolution, which soon followed that of France in 1830, and which excited a brief and delusive hope in every liberal mind, that Poland might be resuscitated and resume its ancient position among nations, called forth Mr. Bobij in common with the flower of the Polish youth, to raise their chivalrous and patriotic hands against their barbarian oppressors. He entered the gallant Polish army as a volunteer lancer, and soon attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, distinguishing himself for skill and intrepidity as a soldier, and zeal, energy and honesty as a patriot It is needless to mention the termination of that unfortunate struggle. Might prevailed over right, and thousands of those noble spirits who had braved every variety of suffering and danger to achieve their country’s freedom, are now expatriated fugitives, the victims of their virtues.

Polish scythemen in the later uprising of 1863

Polish scythemen in the later uprising of 1863

Mr. Bobij escaped into France. But as he had home an important part in the contest, he was, like many of his brother fugitives, an object of malignant remembrance by the Russian Government. His family connections, numerous and wealthy at the commencement of the revolution, were scattered in exile, and all their property was confiscated; and he, as if his destruction were an important object, was pursued by the assassin in his retreat. Two attempts were made upon his life in the French capital, and which he attributes to the Russian agents in that city. Believing himself unsafe on the continent, he sailed for England in an English vessel. There too his evil genius pursued him, for a few weeks after he had landed, another attempt was made upon his life, of which he shows the effect in a large scar from a poniard directly over the left eye. Believing himself pursued by the Russian government, through its agents in foreign ports, he came to the United States, and has been for some time in this city, earning his bread by teaching the manly exercise of fencing, and deporting himself with the strictest propriety and the utmost urbanity.

We stated briefly, not long since, the principal facts in the outrage upon him in the Atlantic Hotel, in this city. It now appears that the assailants were a captain of a vessel recently from New Orleans, and two of his ship’s crew. With the captain he was acquainted, having ridden with him out of the city on the afternoon previous, and having parted with him on their return, upon perfectly amicable terms. The two sailors, at the time of the assault, were neatly dressed in ordinary citizen’s clothes, and not in the usual attire of seamen; and this, he supposes, was for the purpose of disguise in this affair. They assailed him without the least provocation, and according to the statement of our Informant, attempted to kill him; one of them giving him blow in the forehead with a dirk, at the very commencement of the assault. The landlord and hie wife interfered to protect him, and were severely beaten; one of the assailants exclaiming to the others in a low tone, “Kill the Polander and the landlord too.” The assailants were soon after arrested, and held to bail for the assault.

But the most extraordinary part of the affair is yet to be related. About a fortnight after they were prosecuted, they made complaint against Mr. Bobij for an assault upon them with intent to kill. He was apprehended, and unable to procure bail immediately in the sum of $500, was committed to Moyamensing; but he was liberated on the same day, by a citizen of this city, who became his bail. We know not how to account satisfactorily for this proceeding, and can admit but two hypotheses: one that the assault originated in that spirit of brutal mischief which is sometimes exhibited by seamen when intoxicated; the other that the assailants had conspired to kill or injure him.

His appearance, which is somewhat singular, as he wears his hair very long and large moustaches, after the fashion of the Polish lancers, might excite the ferocious ridicule of two or three intoxicated ruffians. The latter supposition would seem to be favored by the appearance of concert between the three, the declaration of one of them to the others, to “kill the Polander,” and the subsequent declaration of another of them to the landlady, that he would “answer for all.” Whichever it be, there is some mystery in the case, and the victim of this brutality, having narrowly escaped repeated attempts to assassinate him, suspects the hand of Russian authority. Whatever be the cause, we hope it will be thoroughly investigated. A friendless exile from his native land, expatriated for his attempts to achieve that freedom which is our own boast,  may well claim, not only the protection our laws, but the sympathies of an enlightened and generous community. We believe this young man to be a sufferer in the cause of liberty, and feel disposed to sustain his reputation, the only possession which the oppressors of his country have left him.

More than two months later, the court found in Bobij’s favor, reporting in the October 17 Public Ledger:


For the next several years, Bobij would be free to resume his career as a fencing instructor. He took part in numerous demonstrations in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City (both in Manhattan and Brooklyn), and Boston. Many of these events, as described in various newspapers advertisements, were billed as part of larger “entertainments” involving plays, comic acts, and even exhibitions of wondrous new inventions, such as “Davenport’s Electro-Magnetic Machinery.” One example is the following, which appeared in the New York Evening Post:

Bobij - 2 swords - April 9, 1838 NY Evening Post

Or the following from the January 3, 1839 issue of the Auburn Journal and Advertiser:


Given the occasional circus-like context of these events, one might be tempted to assume that such fencing exercises were staged, and to doubt the seriousness, or degree, of Bobij’s actual skill—were it not for the sole surviving firsthand account of such an event, which offered a glowing estimation of Bobij:

Fencing–Beautiful Exhibition.

From Corvin Krasinski's 1811 treatise on the Lance

From Corvin Krasinski’s 1811 treatise on the Lance

We witnessed on Saturday evening, at the Masonic Hall, an exhibition of fencing by Messrs. Bobij, Sokalski and Woloszczynski, three of the Polish exiles now in this city; and though we have seen many good fencers, we were exceedingly gratified by the skill displayed by these young men. Each handled his weapons like a master of his art; but with the skill of Mr. Bobij we were particularly struck. He was perfectly familiar with every weapon, and it is, we should think, impossible, for any one to handle the musket, lance, broad sword, small sword and cut and thrust sword, more scientifically or gracefully than he. The exercise with the lance is somewhat novel in this country, the weapon never having been used by our Federal army, or by the militia of any Slate, excepting a company of lancers recently established in Boston. We do not now recollect any other. The Polish lancers have long been celebrated as light cavalry, and were particular favorites or Napoleon. We think it was at the battle of Badajos, in the Peninsular war, that they made terrible havoc among the British cavalry, excellent as it was; and the excuse assigned in the British accounts, for the signal defeat, was that the red flags at the ends of the lances so frightened the British horses, that they could not be brought up to the charge. We should rather ascribe it to the skill and celerity of the lancers. A Polish officer in this country about eight years since, a Captain of lancers in the Lithuanian or Russo-Polish army, informed us that a master of this weapon, in a scattered attack, could defend himself against four good swordsmen. If so, we can imagine that the British light horse, with all the bravery of the Anglo-Saxon race, and with horses as fearless as their riders, would be cut to pieces by an inferior number of good lancers. But however this be, the weapon requires great strength and skill, and in exercise by accomplished hands, like these young Poles, makes an interesting exhibition.

After a lengthy editorial that decried the sorry state of American militias, and called for an increase in martial training among the civilian population, the article concluded:

If then we require a militia, and would have it efficient, let our youth be encouraged to learn the use of such weapons as the sword, the lance, and the musket. We learn that these young men will soon repeat their interesting exhibition, and we commend it to public notice, both on their account and as something worth seeing. They are unfortunate exiles from their native land, and because they nobly dared, like our fathers in the revolution of ’76, to lift their hands against oppression. They are willing to earn their bread by an honest exercise of their talents. They possess the accomplishment of fencing, and offer an exhibition of it to the public. The accomplishment is worth beholding in them, and worth learning by our young men generally, and we hope that their next exhibition will be very numerously attended.

The preceding account makes clear that Bobij, indeed, really was quite skilled in the use of various arms, and that his participation in such “entertainments” can probably be attributed to either a need for money, or a simple desire to popularize his art. The fact is that not all fencing instructors of the period could afford their own schools, or rent the large spaces required for respectable Grand Assaults of Arms. In later decades, other skilled fencers would venture to take part in “entertainments” similar to those of Bobij’s–both Ella Hattan (“Jaguarina”) and Hans Hartl‘s female fencing troupe being notable examples.

Polish saber, from Michał Starzewski’s “On Fencing” (c.1830s)

Polish saber, from Michał Starzewski’s “On Fencing” (c.1830s)

On August 12th, 1840, a notice for a series of performances at the Colonnade Garden (a short-lived venue in Brooklyn Heights active from the years 1840 to 1847) appeared in the pages of the New York Daily Express. The announcement also noted that sandwiched in between the play “The Spoiled Child” and a Vaudeville routine, would be

“A trial of skill with small-swords, by Mr. Wm. Pinneford, and Mons. Bobji, who will afterwards exercise with the Bowie knife and broadsword. After which, the Irish Giant, the tallest man ever seen in the United States, will appear and attack Bobji in a real set-to with the quarter staff.”


An announcement published two years later, in 1843 in the Troy Daily Whig, identifies the “celebrated IRISH GIANT” as one Mr. James O’Clancey, who stood seven feet two inches. The Saturday Morning Transcript also noted that O’Clancey was a native of County Wickford, was one of the “tallest, well-proportioned men now living,” and emphasized his “manly form,” “mother wit,” and “frank and open countenance.”

Bobij also appeared at the Bowery Theatre in Manhattan, as seen in the following advertisement in the March 6, 1840 issue of the New York Commercial Advertiser:


But perhaps Bobij’s most spectacular announcement was the one that appeared on November 6, 1839, in the New York Evening Post, in which it was announced that he would show “how one man may defend himself against 21”:


It seems that in late 1840, after participating in numerous events across the east coast, in a run that lasted more than three years, Bobij mysteriously disappears from the record.

Further information about the fate and background of this fascinating character, and his “new system of defence with the Bowie knife,” remains elusive.

New York Morning Courier and Enquirer for event at the New Chatham Theatre

Ad in the New York Morning Courier & Enquirer for the New Chatham Theatre

Tai Chi comes to the United Nations in New York City, 1961

“Contrary to the vigorous health exercises in our western civilization, the tranquil exercises are composed of calm, unhurried movements designed to build up energy and not expend it…”


Period photos of Delza leading a small class at the UN.  October 1960. Source:

Period photo of Delza leading a small class at the UN. October 1960. Source:

The popularization of Tai Chi in America dates to the mid 1960s, when early exponents such as Cheng Man Ching and C. K. Chu arrived in New York City, and began instructing local New Yorkers in the art. Another Tai Chi master, Da Liu, had fled political upheaval in China, and arrived in New York City in 1956. According to this article, Liu “became a Tai Chi teacher at The UN’s Chinese institute and was absolutely one of the first Tai Chi pioneers in the West.”

The following account appeared in the Schnenectady Gazette on July 12, 1961. It details Tai Chi instruction that was being given at the United Nations, and is one of the earliest articles that we have been able to find covering the practice of Tai Chi in New York City. The instructor mentioned in the article is one Sophia Delza, who can be read about in this excellent article, as well as in her New York Times obituary.

Unfortunately, the right column of the article is partially cut off (a defect in the original digital file):


Japanese Spear Fighting in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1902

“I never saw such elegance and agility combined…”


The following article, with accompanying photographs, appeared in the June 1, 1902, issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and gives a detailed firsthand description of the Japanese fencing school for the Imperial Palace Police. The author, Col. Andrew Haggard, had been invited to attend by Baron Yoshitane Sannomiya, Master of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household.

Baron Sannomiya Yoshitane, Master of Ceremonies of the Imperial Household.

Baron Sannomiya Yoshitane

Combats with swords, often involving grappling, are described. Most notable, however, is the author’s account of a “distinctly medieval” spear fencing contest, in which a shorter weapon is pitted against a longer weapon.


The article can be read in its entirety below (click the image to access an enlargeable version):


The “womanly art of self-defense” and the “God-Man Mystery”

A nice article by Maxime Chouinard about “Dr. Latson’s Method of Self Defense” in New York City.

HEMA MISFITS (I don't do longsword)

In April 2013, Tony Wolf published a very interesting article on his Bartitsu blog on a series of photographs taken by Percy C. Byron in New York City which depicted “Dr. Latson’s Method of Self Defense”. It appeared at the time that these pictures had never been used or published before and although we know who Dr. Latson and quite possibly the woman who served as a model were, the exact nature of the techniques demonstrated remained unknown.

It does appear that a part of this method was indeed published; most interestingly it was exactly two months after the mysterious death of Dr. Latson. It is not impossible that Ms. Rosenthal chose to publish (in several newspapers) some of the notes from her former lover’s method and thankfully we are now able to learn more about this method which seems to combine jiu-jitsu, calisthenics and possibly some variant of Irish…

View original post 1,555 more words

Kung Fu Tea Selects the Top Chinese Martial Arts Webpage of 2014 just gave our website a fantastic review under Honorable Mention for top Martial Arts Webpage of 2014! Many thanks to Ben Judkins at Kung Fu Tea blog for the positive press, and recognizing Martial Arts New York!

Kung Fu Tea

A postcard showing martial arts performers in Manchuria, pre-1911.  Source: Authors Personal Collection. A postcard showing martial arts performers in Manchuria, pre-1911. Source: Authors Personal Collection.


Welcome to our third annual discussion of the top webpages in Chinese martial studies. The purpose of this series is to acknowledge some of the individuals who have made great contributions to our understanding of the traditional martial arts in the last year. We also hope that visitors who are not familiar with these authors will be inspired to go out and discover some of these resources for themselves. Anyone interested in going back and reviewing our previous selection for 2012 or 2013 should click here.

After considering the questions we are ready to announce Kung Fu Tea’s selection’s for “Top Chinese Martial Arts Webpage of 2014.” To be eligible a webpage must have posted regularly in the last year and to have shown excellence in the study and understanding of some aspect of Chinese martial…

View original post 1,021 more words

African American Soldiers fight off 24 Germans with Bolo Knives during World War I

“There wasn’t so much to it…”



Above: Headlines in the Tacoma Times, May 20, 1918

Above: Headlines in the Tacoma Times, May 20, 1918

In this article, we continue from Part I of African American Knife-Fighters of Old New York.

In May of 1918, during World War I, two soldiers named Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts—both African Americans from New York State—were awarded “one of the greatest honors that any American soldier has received in the World War,” the French War Cross (Croix de Guerre). The Cross had been bestowed on the men for “bravely routing,” according to various accounts, between 24 and 36 Germans, much of it in hand-to-hand combat with the clubbed rifle and knife.

Above: Johnson and Roberts, in the New York Tribune

Above: Johnson and Roberts, in the New York Tribune

“Our colored troops display a special aptitude and affection for this weapon…”


The men had used bolo knives, based on the Filipino model, which had been adopted by the U.S. military, as explained by the Bourbon News on July 26, 1918:

The bolo knife which Henry wielded so well weighs one pound and three ounces without its scabbard, and has a broad 14-inch blade. It is sharpened to a razor edge, and near the end runs abruptly to a thrusting point. But one of its chief virtues as a small-arm is its cleaving power. Most of the weight of the knife is distributed along the back of the blade. Americans first ran up against the bolo in the Philippines…It was up among the Moros that it was developed for war purposes. In the underbrush it proved a very terrible weapon, as many a trooper found to his cost. A stroke in the tropical night just one counted for a major American, casualty. After, a while our soldiers—found there was no particular knack in the Malay use of the bolo they could not master. Then they began to capture bolos. And so, after the war ended, bolos kept coming back to the United States as souvenirs.

Above: Filipino Moro warriors armed with blades

Above: Filipino Moro warriors armed with blades

But it was not until 1910 that the war department tried the experiment of issuing the bolo knife as a regular part of the American equipment. It was used and tested by our men in Mexico, but there it was employed chiefly as a tool rather than a weapon. It was not until our khaki-garbed boys went down into the French trenches that the bolo knife proved its right to be considered “the last line of defense” and a life-saver to the man who unsheathed it. Our colored troops display a special aptitude and affection for this weapon. The white fighter is inclined to rely upon his automatic pistol in an emergency at close quarters, but the colored man in uniform take as naturally to the bolo knife…

Above: WWI U.S.-issued bolo knife by A. C. Co. of Chicago. Source:

Above: WWI U.S.-issued bolo knife by A. C. Co. of Chicago. Source:

“Staggering to his feet he unsheathed his bolo knife and sent the blade slicing through the skull of the man whose hands were at the throat of the prostrate Roberts. Turning he drove the knife through the stomach of another.”


A glowing account of Johnson’s and Robert’s exploits with the knife appeared in the New-York Tribune, on May 26, 1918, and gives an overview of what happened, as well as how their feats were viewed by American society at the time:

WHEN two privates of a New York negro regiment won the French war cross and the highest praise of the commanding generals a few days ago, they merely up held a tradition too little known for gallantry and heroism by negro fighters in the American forces for the last half century. From the time when Shaw enrolled the first black regiment under tho Stars and Stripes till today, when the sons of the freedman are worthily holding a share of the West front line, the black regiments have, carried their full share of all the burdens and dangers faced by the American armies. Against the Indian, in Cuba, in the Philippines and along the border the record has been the same, and it is one to be envied. Battling with twelve times their number of Germans and cut off from supports, two negro infantrymen of the old 15th New York Regiment, and the 369th, performed as stirring a deed of gallantry as ever graced the home roll of an army.

Above: Colonel Hayward’s 369th Regiment (formerly the 15th Infantry), in which Johnson and Roberts served. From “Kelly Miller’s History of the World War for Human Rights” Source:

The black warriors are Private Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts. The negroes, armed with rifles, hand grenades and bolo knives, in the early morning of May 15 were at an important post fifty yards nearer the enemy than the main line of resistance. In the pitch darkness Johnson heard slight sounds behind him and caught sight of a man crawling on the edge of the barbed wire with which the post was hedged about. His cry of alarm was heard back in main post and star shell was sent up. Almost simultaneously a volley of German grenades was hurled at the two soldiers.

Instantly Roberts fell with three wounds on his arms. The right arm was rendered useless, but with the left he groped around for his basket of grenades and although lying on the ground began throwing them. Johnson fired his rifle at the nearest adversary. The German fell, but another jumped toward Johnson and was almost upon him when the colored boy swung his clubbed rifle and sent the butt crashing through the enemy’s skull. Then he turned toward Roberts, who was battling with three Germans, one of whose hands was clutching at his throat. At the same time a dozen others had penetrated the wire, fired three revolver shots, and Johnson went down with three bullet wounds in the left leg, the right hip and the right forearm. Staggering to his feet he unsheathed his bolo knife and sent the blade slicing through the skull of the man whose hands were at the throat of the prostrate Roberts. Turning he drove the knife through the stomach of another.

What happened then seems a bit hazy, for Roberts had fainted and Johnson was weak from loss of blood. However, the German raiding party fled and after them Johnson hurled his last grenade and saw the explosion scatter the hindmost German in pieces.

Above: Headline in the Washington D.C. Evening Star, May 20, 1918

Above: Headline in the Washington D.C. Evening Star, May 20, 1918

French General Praises Negroes

When the French general commanding the division received the report of the American officer in charge he declared it was much too modest to signalize so daring an exploit. His own view finds expression in the following citations issued in the divisional order of the day:

“Private Henry Johnson, finding himself on night sentry duty and being attacked by a group of more than a dozen Germans, put one hors de combat with rifle shots and two others with knife cuts. Although wounded thrice by revolver bullets and grenades at the start of the fight, he went to the help of, his wounded comrade as the latter was about to be carried, off by the enemy and continued the struggle until the Germans were forced to flee. He gave a magnificent example of courage and energy…”


“They knocked me ’round considerable and whanged me over the head, but I always managed to get on my feet again…”

Above: Serjeant Henry Johnson, in the New York Tribune

Above: Serjeant Henry Johnson, in the New York Tribune

Johnson himself gave an account of the combat, in an interview published in the New York Tribune on February 13, 1919:

A much-abashed black man confronted the reporters when the sergeant had responded to his colonel’s summons, “Tell these gentlemen about your fight with the raiding party,” said the colonel.
“Yes sir,” replied Johnson, but he hesitated and stammered a little.
“Go on. Henry.”
“Yes sir, but ain’t so much to tell about.”
“Sergeant Johnson is modest,” interrupted the colonel, “but he’s one of the finest soldiers in the American army. There’s none finer.”
“There wasn’t nothing so fine about what I did,” the sergeant protested. “Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done it…
“Well, anyway, me and Needham Roberts was on patrol duty on May 15,” he resumed. “Round midnight the sergeant brought two green men to relieve us. ‘Good Lord,’ I says, surely you’re not goin’ to put those fellas here. There’s German snipers been shooting round this way tonight, and we’ll all be killed unless you have men on the job what knows their rifles.’ He said it was my imagination, but anyway he took those green men away and left me and Needham at the post…
“Somewhere ’round two o’clock I heard the Germans snipping our wires out in front and calls for Needham Roberts. When he came I told him pretty near all the Germans in the world was creepin’ over our way and he’d better pass the word along to the lieutenant. Roberts had just started off when the snippin’ and clippin’ of the wires sounds closer and I let a hand grenade fly. There’s a yell from a lot of sure surprised Dutchmen and then they start firing. I hollered to Needham to come back. Right offen the reel he got shot through the arm and hip and I saw the best thing he could do would be to lay down in the trench and hand me up them grenades.
“‘Keep your nerve,’ I told him, ‘and give me them grenades just as fast as you can pass ’em up, ’cause I’m gonna need them in a hurry.’
“Well, he kept handing ’em to me and I kept throwing them and the Dutch men kept squealin’, but just the same they kept coming on, too! When the grenades was all gone I started in with my rifle. That was all right till I shoved an American cartridge clip in it. It was a French gun and it jammed, so it wasn’t no more use thataway.
“There was nothin’ to do but jump into them Germans an’ club ’em. I guess I cracked four or five of their heads with the butt of my gun when it busted. Then I took out my little ol’ French bolo knife and sailed into ’em, rippin’ away just as hard as I could.

Above: Illustration of Johnson and Roberts, from "Kelly Miller's History of the World War for Human Rights" Source:

Above: Illustration of Johnson and Roberts, from “Kelly Miller’s History of the World War for
Human Rights” Source:

“One of ’em hollered. ‘Rush him! Rush him!’ Just then I thought I’d do a little rushin’ myself, so I picked out an officer, a lieutenant, I guess he was, and made for him, swinging my bolo. I got him and I put some more. They knocked me ’round considerable and whanged me over the head, but I always managed to get on my feet again. That fight lasted about half an hour and I was wounded in a couple of places when they got help out to me. That’s about all. There wasn’t so much to it.”

There was this much to it: That when dawn broke they found Henry Johnson had killed four Germans and wounded thirty-two so severely they were unable to follow their fleeing comrades when the relief force came up.

According to the New York Sun, in an article published on the same day,

By official verification Sergeant Henry Johnson, Albany “coal merchant,” killed single handed certainly four Germans, perhaps more, and wounded twenty four gray clad warriors. The number of Germans wounded by little Henry Johnson is put at twenty-four in his lonely night fight because twenty-four is the number actually accounted for officially. But officers and men on board the Stockholm yesterday, who were close by at the time of the mighty private war waged by Henry Johnson, say that they are morally certain that single handed he killed at least six of the enemy and wounded thirty-two.


Above: Illustration published May 22, 1918 in the New York Herald, commemorating Johnson and Roberts

Those who enjoyed this article may also be interested in:

Part 1: African American Knife-Fighters of Old New York


The Greatest African American and Afro-American Martial Artists in History


African American Knife-Fighters of Old New York

Capture (2)

The above illustration, published during World War I, on May 22, 1918 in the New York Herald, commemorates the act of two African American soldiers who heroically took on 24 German soldiers and survived (and who shall be covered in Part 2 of this post).

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, African Americans fought a large number of knife combats in New York City. Such fights ranged from outright street melees, to one-on-one combats in which the participants observed loose rules in order to ensure a fair and equitable combat. These were, for the most part, not duels per se, but hot-blooded affairs fought on the spur of the moment due to sudden insult or provocation. Combats were fought by black men as well as women.

Enough African Americans became adept at the knife that, during World War I, after U.S. troops had been armed by the government with bolo knives, the military brass began to take notice of their skill–and such proficiency was deemed a cultural phenomenon. As an article published on July 26, 1918, in the Bourbon News explained,

“Our colored troops display a special aptitude and affection for this weapon [the knife]. The white fighter is inclined to rely upon his automatic pistol in an emergency at close quarters, but the colored man in uniform takes as naturally to the bolo knife…”

A search through the archives of several New York City newspapers has turned up a number of accounts of black knife fights. One of the earliest records of a New York City fight that we found, from 1895, was between white and black horse jockeys, in which it was noted that the latter had the advantage in both skill and speed:

Above: New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1895

Above: New York Herald, Jan. 8, 1895

Notably, such knife combats were not the domain of males alone, as can be seen in the following account of  melee involving a woman:

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June, 12, 1907

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June, 12, 1907

African American women also engaged in a number of one-on-one knife combats, as can be seen in the following articles:

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1903

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1903

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1907

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1907

Some combatants also substituted razors for knives, as can be seen in the following account of a “duel”, which took place in 1898:

Above: New York Times, July 25, 1898.

Above: New York Times, July 25, 1898.


One might wonder, just when did African American fighters and martial artists develop a propensity for knife combat? Although we have not been able to find earlier accounts of such combats set in New York City, we have been able to track down several incidents which took place earlier, in other cities or states, and that were reported in the New York press. The earliest is from 1849, and took place in Albany, New York:

Above: Albany Evening Journal, August 6, 1849

Above: Albany Evening Journal, August 6, 1849

Following are several more accounts from other states:

Above: New York Herald, Oct. 30, 1876

Above: New York Herald, Oct. 30, 1876

Above: New York Herald, June 2, 1876

Above: New York Herald, June 2, 1876

Above: New York Herald, Sept. 15, 1891

Above: New York Herald, Sept. 15, 1891

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1902

Above: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1902

Continue on to Part 2, in which we profile the two African American war heroes that successfully fought off 24 German soldiers during World War I, and survived.

Those who enjoyed this article may also be interested in:


The Greatest African American and Afro-American Martial Artists in History

American Boxers Feared the Arrival of Muay Thai, 1936

According to website of the Thai Boxing Association of the U.S.A., the history of Muay Thai in America began in 1968.

However, a number of vintage articles indicate that as early as 1936, Americans–specifically, New Yorkers–knew about the existence of Muay Thai–and feared its arrival on American shores.

The following article appeared in the Cortland Standard on April 21, 1936:


The article is interesting not only for its illustration of the fact that Americans perceived Muay Thai as a threat to the dominance of their own pugilists, but also for the fact of Americans being so “impressed” by Thai styles that they wished to appropriate them.

Nearly two decades later, on June 15, 1950, the following article appeared in the Niagara Falls Gazette:


One year after this article was published, a team of Thai boxers did indeed come to the United States.

French “La Canne” stick defense in the New York Sun, 1887


The following article on stick defense appeared in the November 20, 1887 issue of the New York Sun. Much of the technical information in the article came from Regis Senac, a notable New York City fencing master. A native of France, and a graduate of the military academy at Joinville-le-Pont, Senac had arrived in the city in 1872, and had set up a fencing school on University Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Above: Regis Senac in later years, from “The Art of Fencing,” 1904.

Above: Regis Senac in later years, from “The Art of Fencing,” 1904.

Senac’s 1904 book, The Art of Fencing, provides the following biographical details about him:

“Regis Senac, father of [fencing master] Louis Senac, was for many years instructor of fencing in the French army, the soldiers of which have won a world wide reputation as exponents of the highest form of the foil, sword and sabre wielder’s art. M. Senac came to the United States in 1872. Shortly after his arrival here he won the fencing championship of America in a contest held in Tammany Hall, New York. He established a fencing school in 1874, which has continued to this day, graduates of which are leaders in both amateur and professional ranks…In addition to his wide experience as an instructor, Regis Senac has also found occasion to put his fencing ability to more serious purposes. In France he participated in three duels and in each encounter was victorious, escaping without a single scratch, while every one of his opponents was seriously disabled.”

Although the following article was printed under the title “Contests at Single Stick,” the weapon and techniques pictured are actually those of French La Canne, or Canne Royale:



Those interested in reading more about La Canne, and who are fluent in the French language, can consult Eugene Humé’s Traité et théorie de canne royale (1862).




In selecting the first school to be featured on this website, it is fitting that MartialArtsNewYork would focus on a martial art with roots older than any other in New York City: the tradition of classical and historical fencing.

Although many people today associate the word “fencing” with the modern Olympic sport, the differences between the latter style and the older, traditional fencing methods are profound. Although it would take a lengthy book to enumerate the many differences, suffice it to say that the fencing of past centuries was a martial art concerned with the preservation of life and body, as well as the self-development of the individual. Modern fencing, on the other hand, has changed and evolved greatly over the last century, and is concerned with scoring points to win at a game. Not only is the mentality, objective, form, technique, and approach of the older art vastly different, but originally, it included in its repertoire a wide variety of weapons beyond the standard staples of foil, épée (dueling sword), and saber. For instance, in its entry on “Fencing” (written by Curtis Guild), the Boston Athletic Association Year Book of 1890 stated,

“Properly speaking, fencing applies to every method of self-defense with any weapon…It includes the use of the quarter-staff, the cane, the single stick, the bayonet, the dagger, the sabre, the rapier, the dueling sword, and the foil.”


The tradition of fencing in New York City dates as far back as the seventeenth century, to the Dutch founding of the City. During the 1700s, New York became the fencing Mecca of North America, with at least fourteen fencing schools total, mostly located in lower Manhattan. Fencing skills were often applied in earnest, as duels were fought more frequently during this time in New York than in any other American metropolis. Throughout the ages, combats were fought by men as well as women, using weapons such as the small-sword, broadsword, dueling sword, saber, and stiletto knife.

Traditional fencing continued to be taught and practiced in New York throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, when celebrated masters of French, German, Italian, and Danish origin trained New Yorkers in the noble art and science of defense, still sometimes for the purpose of fighting duels. Occasionally these masters would gather to test and display their skills before the public, and contest with weapons such as the foil, épée, saber, rapier, dagger, cane, knife, buckler, and others.

Presently, however, only one school in the city remains to teach this traditional art:


This unique school is the inheritor of a distinguished fencing lineage. The two masters who run the academy, Maestros Ramon Martinez and Jeanette Acosta-Martinez, trained with Frederick Rohdes, a German fencing master born in 1897, who immigrated to New York City where he continued to teach the art in the traditional manner until his death in 1984. Rohdes was one of the last fencing masters of his generation to still teach fencing as a martial art. Rohdes himself trained with both French and Italian fencing masters, eventually becoming a master under the tutelage of Maitre d’Armes Marcel Cabijos (1893 – 1964), a veteran of the First World War who immigrated to New York City in the 1920s. Notably, Cabijos had achieved international renown by challenging and defeating the saber and epee champion of the United States (Leo Nunes) with only a twelve inch dagger (against Nunes’s dueling sword) in a well-publicized contest held in 1926.

Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes, pictured with a schlaeger, one of the weapons taught at his academy, during the late 1970s.

Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes, pictured with a schlaeger, one of the weapons taught at his academy, during the late 1970s.

The Martinez Academy’s website describes the school thus:

“The structure of the Academy reflects the ideals of 19th Century classical fencing academies. Entering the Academy, one steps into another era where students not only exhibit a serious dedication to the practice of fencing as both an art and science but also carry themselves with a polished level of etiquette and sensibility. Training remains focused on personal combat, as if one were preparing for a serious encounter. In this formally rigorous environment, students receive instruction in classical and historical fencing systems from dedicated professionals of a traditional fencing lineage…Training remains focused on personal combat, as if one were preparing for a serious encounter.”

Maestro Ramón Martínez

Maestro Ramón Martínez

Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez

Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez

The Martinez Academy offers instruction in a wide variety of styles. The primary weapons taught include foil, stick, dueling sword, dueling sabre, small-sword, and rapier and dagger; most of these are also taught in the various French, Italian and Spanish styles. However, other classical and historical weapons are also taught on request, or within specialized courses, such as the cane, quarterstaff, single dagger, bayonet, military sabre, sidesword, sword and buckler, rapier and cloak, and others. Many of these styles are not taught anywhere else in the world.

To shed additional light on the training, history, and nature of the Martinez Academy, we posed a series of questions to Maestro Ramon Martinez, who graciously agreed to answer them. Following are the questions and his responses:

How long have you been practicing martial arts?

I have been involved in martial arts in one form or another for about 42 years.

Why did you pursue teaching martial arts?

I pursued teaching martial arts for many reasons but mainly to insure the survival of my fencing lineage for future generations.

Why did you pursue Western martial arts instead of the Eastern martial arts?

I was a dilettante in systems of Asian martial arts, which for the most part was Tai Chi Chuan.  The fact remains that western martial arts spoke to me more intensely on an internal basis than the Asian.  Furthermore as a point of distinction and clarification I use the term “Western Martial Arts” because the meaning encompasses more than European. There have been many combat systems that have developed and practiced in the New World.

How long has your school been running?

MAA has been running since 1983.

What distinguishes classical and historical fencing from other martial arts?

Classical and historical fencing are unique martial arts because they can be practiced in real time and distance with real penetrating power, as no modifications have to be made to the technique. All techniques are executed exactly the same as they would be with sharp weapons during a combative situation. It certainly is not “touch- fencing”, as it has been referred to by those ignorant of the art. Anyone who has an understanding of edged weapons knows that it does not take very much force to cause a severe wound by puncture or cut.


Above: Spanish rapier demonstration in Madrid, Spain, for the History Channel’s Museum Secrets.

What are some of the unique aspects of the instruction imparted at the Martinez Academy?

What is unique about MAA is that it is the last of a bastion of a tradition that goes back several generations. The majority of the weapons and systems that are taught have not been reconstructed.  These combat systems have been passed down to us from master to disciple in an unbroken chain of transmission. Myself and Maestro Acosta-Martinez have trained the teachers at MAA as professional teachers of the art.  The type of training that they have undergone has been intense and severe. MAA certified teachers have progressed within the strict, ancient apprenticeship method. They must constantly hone their abilities by sweating on the training floor, weapon in hand. Each and every one of those certified has had to prove themselves first as strong fencers in a variety of weapons and schools, secondly they must have acquired the utmost in their knowledge of theory and pedagogy. Finally, they must possess the moral character and inner strength that is required of an educator in lethal martial science.  There can be no compromise in this type of program. This is a school where fencers and teachers of fencing are trained to the best of their ability.

A question for the uninitiated: what sort of benefits can a beginner expect or hope to gain in training at the academy?

Physical awareness and development is an obvious benefit. However, what is more important is that they will gain strength of character, ethics and spiritual awareness. This is achieved slowly and methodically. One of the prerequisites of our type of training is that the student must see himself completely and come know who they really are. This can be a fearful undertaking by those who have grown up in our distracted and negatively self-absorbed modern society. The first thing that must be learned is; “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself” which is a Chinese Proverb.

If a student follows this path they will become a strong person internally as well as externally. They will be solid citizens who have empathy for others, respect for human life and accept nothing but the truth.


Is the Martinez Academy more of a school or a club, and what is the difference?

MAA is an academy where fencers and teachers of fencing are prepared. An academy is an establishment or institution that trains not only fencers, but teachers of fencing. A school is solely an establishment where people go to learn how to fence (not to be trained as teachers). MAA is not a club/group. The difference is that a club is more of a social environment where enthusiasts gather to participate in fencing. A club or a group may or may not hire a professional teacher for their services, indefinitely.  In a school, the teacher is the school, and it is operated according to that individual’s vision and direction. The students come and pay the teacher, and the teacher is the first and last word in that establishment. In a club or group, the teacher must conform to the needs of that club or group. In a school, the student must conform to the structure of that school. This is the traditional way that fencing establishments have always been operated and designated.

What are some of the factors that determine how quickly a new student is able to progress at the Martinez Academy?

The main factor is the student’s willingness to dedicate himself to his training. Some students, according to their lifestyle, are able to dedicate themselves more fully than others. It also depends on what the student wants to get out of his training. The person’s personality, character and psychological makeup are also factors. In order for someone to really succeed at this, they must have or develop faith, patience, and trust in the school, the master, the art and science, and in themselves. Through their own volition they must put in whatever it takes to achieve their goal. They must have a “non-quit” spirit. A student must realize that it’s about working on yourself. Through decades of experience, it has been proven time and time again, that in order for any student to progress in a martial art, whatever that martial art that is—fencing, or otherwise—it requires deep self-examination and reflection. We have seen that in order for the student to progress and reach different levels, there’s always something that he has to work on or change about himself before any further progress can be made. This requires a lot of internal examination of the self, and that can be extremely daunting, but extremely rewarding in turn. It’s not an easy path, but it’s not insurmountable either. All traditional martial arts—all of them—are about mind, body, and spirit. Each person finds his own level, and then continues to work from there.


Above: Butt strike with the bayonet.

Today, swords, knives, and staff weapons are not carried by the average person for self-defense. Taking this fact into consideration, how is classical and historical fencing still relevant or practical for personal self-defense?

Universal fencing theory—which could also be designated as universal martial arts theory—does not change. The skills, such as knowledge of timing, distance, proportion, and controlling the weapon, the time and the distance—this is universal, whether it be a blade or a fist. In the past, fencing theory and technique was applied to a wide variety of armed and unarmed combat. On the banner of this website, for instance, you can see the lunge-punch, and the same technique applied to the cane, by masters training at the school at Joinville-le-Pont in France. You can also see French fencing technique in the photograph of the bayonet fencers. Fencing techniques can be modified and adapted to empty hand, a cane, knife, or any other improvised weapon, without much difficulty. This being with the proviso that the person who is a fencer has totally internalized the art and science of fencing. Bruce Lee, in the creation of his magnum opus, the Tao of Jeet Kun Do, based a very large percentage of his combat theory on fencing theory. Anyone who understands fencing, who peruses the pages of Lee’s book, can quickly observe this. Any astute martial artist can quickly discern the value and the importance of classical and historical fencing.

I understand that in fencing, there is what is called the “assault,” “free assault,” “formal assault,” and simply “fencing.” What are these and how do they differ?

“Fencing” is a term that refers to the overall art and science, not the activity. In the twentieth century, the term “fencing” has come to mean the activity. This is why we use the traditional term “assault,” so that the student fully comprehends what he is engaging in, and we want them to understand that the term “fencing” applies to something much more vast than just the activity.

Alfred Hutton, a nineteenth century career military officer, antiquarian, author, and teacher of swordsmanship, defined the “assault” as follows: “The exercise with blunt weapons, representing in every respect a combat with sharps, in which we execute at will all the maneuvers of the fencing lessons.”

Maestro Ramón Martínez

Maestro Ramón Martínez, in the midst of a riposte with the Northern Italian dueling saber.

A “formal assault” is when two fencers engage in the assault underneath the supervision of a director and judges, where a score is kept, and is bound by strict etiquette and formality, like a duel. In this situation, the fencers can use all their skills to defeat their adversary in a fair encounter.

A “free assault” is a situation in which the fencers face each other in the assault with minimal supervision, and the fencers can decide whether or not they wish to keep score. Typically they do not keep score, because it is about the exchange, it is about studying the adversary. Free assault is a time when the fencer can choose to work on specific tactics, specific techniques—however, the adversary may not be a party to that, as they may be working on their own tactics and techniques. It is about the experience of engaging with many different fencers at many different levels. If the fencer is engaging in the free assault with the sole objective of “beating” the adversary, then he is wasting his opportunity and time.

In order for fencers at MAA to practice, hone and perfect their skills, they must engage in free assault and formal assault, the latter being the most important. Students are meticulously introduced to the assault by the masters and instructors in a step-by-step process, and then they are brought to the formal assault through various steps as well. Until they show competence in the formal assault, they will not be allowed to engage in free assault. This is the most crucial time in the fencer’s training, because any mistakes that are allowed, uncorrected, in the fencer, will plague that fencer for the rest of his life. This is the time is when the fencer must show self-restraint, and self-discipline, to follow his teacher’s directives implicitly. Of course we cannot force a person to do this, but if any imperfections occur, they then bear the responsibility. A beginning student is not going to be engaging in this type of activity until they have developed the proper skill. Doing otherwise would retard the student’s progress. Nineteenth century masters had a term for this, namely, “premature assaults.” At MAA, we will not permit the student to indulge in this.

Cane fencer (facing) executes double handed parry of blow to the head by adversary.

Cane fencer (facing) executes double handed parry of blow to the head by adversary.

I have heard or have read others use the term “sparring.” How is that different?

The term “sparring” was never used in traditional fencing.

In the Badminton Library’s 1893 volume on “Fencing, Boxing and Wrestling,” in the chapter entitled “Boxing and Sparring,” the author distinguishes between the two activities. The latter is done with protective gloves, and the former is done bare knuckle, which, the author states, is true boxing. It can be observed from this that it is clear that there is specific meaning to the word “spar,” which was accepted and understood in that era.

So, too, today: My late father was a boxer (active in the late 1920s and early 1930s), and I have several acquaintances who have boxed and who continue to box. I have asked them just what is the exact meaning of “sparring.” All have answered in pretty much the same manner: In “sparring,” the boxer or fighter is not attempting to defeat his opponent, he but in fact working on perfecting a certain type(s) of technique(s) that is part of his overall repertoire. This is one of the reasons that prize fighters work with a variety of “sparring partners,” because each presents a difficulty that the fighter must learn to overcome by working a specific technique over and over again. In “sparring sessions,” both of the participants are not working at all-out speed or power, but on refined execution and honing of skills. These sessions are not “bouts” in which they called on all their accumulated skill.

“Sparring” had always meant the practice of pugilism until the advent of the popularity of Oriental Martial Arts (OMA) that began in the 1960s and really came into their own with Bruce Lee’s celebrity in the 1970s. The OMA, not really having an equivalent term that translated well into English, borrowed the term “sparring” to describe the type of practice that Westerners following OMA engaged in, taking within its meaning not only pugilism but also the practices of many other of the OMA, including weapons practice. In this venue, somewhere along the way in the assimilation of the OMA into Western culture, the term “sparring” became misused and came to have the meaning of engaging in fighting sessions.

For further information on the use of the word “sparring,” as well as a history of the use of the term “assault,” refer to my article “Notes on the Incorrect Use of the Word ‘Sparring’ in Western Swordsmanship,” which can be read on the Martinez Academy of Arms website.

Is classical fencing more of an internal or external martial art, or is it both?

In our school, it’s more internal-based, because we train from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. We train our students to direct what their body does by conscious thought, so that the mind directs the actions of the body and the weapon. Strength and speed are important, but that importance is secondary. Form and function work together; they are not mutually exclusive. Classical fencing, like other traditional martial arts, creates stylistic combatants, and the requirement is that those who train like this constantly work on their form to perfect the function. Muscular strength and speed fade with age, but form becomes more perfect, refined, and subtle, because an older martial artist cannot afford to squander any physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual energy. We train our fencers not to react, but to enact, during an assault or combative situation. My own fencing master, Maitre d’Armes Frederick Rohdes, always emphasized that it is not about power or speed, but it is about the internalization of what he was teaching. Bruce Lee talked about that. Yamaoka Tesshu, the nineteenth century Japanese master swordsman, spoke about it as well. Don Jeronimo de Carranza and Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez, sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish fencing masters, spoke about the same thing. All high-level martial artists know this, or should know this.


Above: Spanish rapier demonstration at the Higgins Armory Museum.

What are some of the aspects or benefits of training at the academy that might interest a more experienced martial arts practitioner?

I’ve had high-ranking black belts and instructors in Jiu Jitsu, Aikido, Wing Chun, Taekwondo, Filipino martial arts, and other Asian martial arts, as well as golden gloves boxers, come in to train. They wanted to work not so much on speed and power, which they already had developed, but refinement of movement, timing, distance, proportion, and sensitivity to their opponent’s energy both in attack and defense. Because fencing is really about fine motor skills, they put themselves in a situation using an extremely light weapon, such as the foil, which limited their reliance on power and speed. That helped them to acquire the ability to “listen”, in the Chinese sense of the term, to what their adversary was giving them. They are using what they learn in fencing to refine what they already know.

Any final words you would like to say?

Traditional classical and historical fencing is an extremely sophisticated martial art, in which the student and practitioner has to step up, rather than the martial art step down or be watered down.

Many thanks to Maestro Ramón Martínez for participating in this interview.

The Martinez Academy of Arms offers classes three days a week at several Manhattan locations. For more information about the Academy, as well as class schedules, visit the website at:

Or, visit the MAA Facebook Page.

Irish Stick Fighting in Old New York

“They rushed onwards, howling and screaming in a savage manner…”


Detail from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine, July 12, 1870, depicting a riot in Manhattan between Irish Catholic and Protestant Immigrants

Detail from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, July 12, 1870, depicting a riot in Manhattan between Irish Catholic and Protestant Immigrants

The use of the stick, shillelagh, and cudgel in the violent “faction fights” of nineteenth century Ireland is already well-known through the works of author William Carleton (1794-1869).

Less known, however, are the historical accounts of such weapons being used in New York City among the street battles of Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant immigrants. Although such skirmishes were popularized by the film “Gangs of New York” (based on the book by Herbert Asbury), those fights were fictionalized and dramatized to a great degree. And, in actuality, Irish stick-fighting in New York City dates to nearly fifty years earlier than the events depicted in that book and film.

“Hays escaped almost certain death from a large shillelah, by a movement vulgarly called dodging…”


Detail from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, July 12, 1870, depicting a riot in Manhattan between Irish Catholic and Protestant Immigrants

New York during the nineteenth century was a dangerous place, and as such, many citizens of both the lower and upper classes carried personal sidearms. For the lower classes, the cheapest weapon was often that which cost nothing and was immediately at hand–such as a stick, board, brickbat, club, or stone. The traditional Irish stick weapon was the shillelagh, typically made from the branch of the Irish blackthorn tree:

“The shillalah proper is about four feet long and is usually made of blackthorn, oak, ash, or hazel; and it is a great point to get it uniform in thickness and in weight throughout its entire length. It is held somewhere about eight inches or so from the centre, and my countrymen, who are always pretty active on their pins when fighting, use their left forearms to protect the left side of their heads.” – Rowland George Allanson-Winn, quoted from The Victorian Gentleman’s Self-Defense Toolkit

Just how many Irish immigrants brought their blackthorn shillelaghs with them to New York City is a matter of speculation; certainly, there are records of some having done so (particularly Irish American politicians, who would carry them as symbols of their station). During the early nineteenth century, the American press often referred to the sticks used by Irishmen in combat as shillelaghs, however, these may very well have been simple (non-blackthorn) sticks or canes that were acquired in America.

Illustration of Shillelagh technique, from Donald Walker's "Defensive Exercises", London: Thomas Hurst, 1840.

Illustration of Shillelagh technique, from Donald Walker’s “Defensive Exercises”, London: Thomas Hurst, 1840.

Although the stick was used by the Irish for the settlement of disputes and in one-on-one fights, most of the accounts reported in the local New York press describe street battles involving many participants; no doubt such sensational events were considered more newsworthy. The following, for instance, appeared in the New York American on March 31, 1825:

March 31, 1825 NY American

Several months later, on June 8, another fracas was reported in the pages of the American:

“They were actually fighting when taken, stripped to the buff…”


June 8, 1825 NY American

Ten years later, a “ferocious” riot involving Irishmen sympathetic to President Andrew Jackson was reported by the New York Commercial Advertiser, in which “a man was instantly killed by a blow from a shillelagh”:

April 10, 1834 NY Commercial Advertiser

If these newspaper reports are to be relied upon, the indication is that such pitched street battles only increased in scale. The following article, published on April 21, 1842, in the Jamestown (NY) Journal, provides an account of a battle involving a force of 300 Irish, determined to wreak vengeance for a “general attack” upon the Irish immigrant population by a gang known as the “Spartans”:

“The Irish proceeded to rally their forces, and armed with sticks of cord wood and clubs, paraded through Centre-street, about 300 strong, attacking indiscriminately and knocking down nearly everything that came in their way…”


April 21, 1842 Jamestown Journal  NY

Such riots continued through the Civil War era (when the infamous New York Draft riots exploded, involving a large number of Irish) and well into the 1870s, culminating in a massive clash of Irish Catholics and Protestants on Eighth Avenue. We’ll cover these and more in Part 2 of this article (stay tuned).


Full Image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, July 12, 1870. The caption reads: “New York City.—Scene of the riot at Elm Park, Eighth Avenue and Ninetieth Street, between Protestant and Catholic Irish, on Tuesday, July 12, 1870.”

In the meantime, the following song, published in the April 13, 1811, edition of the New York-based Shamrock, or, Hibernian Chronicle gives one a general idea of how the violent and romantic aura of the Irish shillelah continued to grow on American shores:

April 13, 1811 NY Shamrock

Above: Brandishing a shillelagh. From "Broad-Sword and Single-Stick" by R.G. Allanson-Winn.

Above: Brandishing a shillelagh. From “Broad-Sword and Single-Stick” by R.G. Allanson-Winn.



Americans and British Wanted to Ban Kung Fu in the 1970s


“To teach these people Kung Fu is like putting a sub-machinegun in their hands…”


Today, many of us take the availability of martial arts instruction for granted.

It may come as a surprise to some, then, that during the 1970s, some in the West called for banning Kung Fu completely. The following appeared in the Evening Independent on June 11, 1974:


The next year, the following article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times. Not to be outdone by the Americans, it seems that some British citizens were advocating the banning of the TV series “Kung Fu” for inciting violence:


This is a reminder of just how far the public view of martial arts has changed over the last 40 years…

A New Yorker visits Jigoro Kano’s Academy in Tokyo, 1914

“It was an inspiring sight…”


Above: Jigoro Kano demonstrates a technique. Source:

Above: Jigoro Kano demonstrates a technique. Source:

Perhaps few individuals have had more impact on the modern history of grappling than Jigorō Kanō (1860-1938). The founder of Judo, Kano had also studied, gathered, codified, and taught traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which would be brought to both America and Brazil by his own students. According to the Gracie family website,

“Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (practiced as Judo) was introduced to the Gracie family in Brazil around 1914 by Esai Maeda, who was also known as Conde Koma. Maeda was a champion of Jiu-Jitsu and a direct student of Kano, at the Kodokan in Japan. He was born in 1878, and became a student of Judo (Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu) in 1897.”

Kano’s legacy can therefore be said to have had an immense impact on everything from Judo to Jiujitsu, from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

The following article, as such, may be of interest to enthusiasts of the aforementioned martial arts.

The visitor to Kano’s academy was Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke (1846 – 1927), an Irish American newspaperman, playwright, writer and Irish nationalist. He wrote extensively for the New York Herald, and was editor of the New York Morning Journal and the Criterion. He was also a member of the revolutionary group, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Above: Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke. Source:

Above: Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke. Source:

Clarke traveled to Japan in 1914, during which time he visited Kano’s school. On Sept. 27, 1914, the New York Sun published the following article by Clarke, giving a detailed account and impression of his experience.



Kano_NYSun_1914_PtA 3

“Judo is altogether different, not only in action and purpose but in its votaries. We have heard much of it in the United States for the last dozen years, but you must see it at Prof. Kano’s academy at Tokyo to witness it in its glory. The professor has been teaching it for 30 years. It was he who at that early day took the three styles of Judo and made one comprehensive system of them all. Let it be said, first of all, that it is a system of defense or offense in wrestling by which skill takes advantage of an opponent’s strength in attack to defeat him.

“Prof. Kano’s system must be seen in action to be appreciated.”

It rests primarily, according to Prof Kano, who was most courteous and painstaking in his explanations to me, on the simple proposition that when equilibrium is destroyed a man falls or may be thrown easily. This was the Samurai system, used by those rough and polished soldiers of the old regime. One of their feats was to throw a man in armor in such a way as to break his neck. Then there was the judo of the criminal classes that aimed at choking or breaking the limbs, even taking the life of a victim. Lastly, there was the police judo, aimed equally at subduing an opponent by choking or otherwise for the purpose of making arrests, yet stopping short of homicide. Prof. Kano’s system must be seen in action to be appreciated.

Visiting his academy one afternoon we saw 50 to 6O couples of young men, from 17 to 25, engaged in practice. They wear short white drawers and thick linen Jackets, buttonless in front and showing the bare breasts.

Above: Photograph of Kano's academy that accompanied Clarke's article.

Above: A photograph of Kano’s academy that accompanied Clarke’s article.

“Loss of temper, even the slightest exhibition of it, is against all the rules.”

It was an inspiring sight. Each couple fought, according to the rules, with a vigor and dash that left nothing to be desired. Not a word was said. The floor was thickly matted. The men were barefooted. Each grasped his opponent’s coat lapel. They pulled, tripped, recovered, strained and presently down went one with a crash. Up again and at it again. Crash, crash, down they were going all over the place. It was a continual slap, bang, fall and rise. Sometimes one on the floor struggled with another on top of him with a strangle hold. They writhed, puffed, sweated, but it went on until one was so overcome that he tapped the floor with hand or foot, or else both were utterly fatigued and blown. When the struggles reached their limit, the men simply rose, bowed to each other, smiled and stood aside for a very few minutes’ rest. Loss of temper, even the slightest exhibition of it, is against all the rules.

“In the winter time the academy is opened long before dawn, and the men come in crowds to practice and harden themselves working in the cold.”

There are nine grades, and it takes about three years’ hard work to reach the third grade. Few get much higher, and there are some who never attain even the first grade. In the winter time the academy is opened long before dawn, and the men come in crowds to practice and harden themselves working in the cold.

Later on I attended an exhibition contest in the same hall and witnessed 20 couples take falls from each other in rapid succession. The bouts lasted four minutes at the most. At the end of three minutes a bell was rung in warning, so that they finished up or made a draw. There were naturally some fine exhibitions, and the fortunes of the two sides fluctuated all the afternoon under the critical eyes of an audience of judo enthusiasts. For me, however, the afternoon of practice was more attractive. The contestants were nearly all university men, high commercial school men, artists, government officials, fine open-faced, clean-limbed young fellows to a man.

Above: Photo of Jigoro Kano, taken about the time of Clarke's visit. Source:

Above: Photo of Jigoro Kano, taken about the time of Clarke’s visit. Source:

“In the hall I met Prof. Yamashita, who taught Judo to Theodore Roosevelt at the White House three times a week for three years.”

Prof. Kano, a most agreeable, gentlemanly man with a black mustache, sat at a table and explained much of the system to me and its effect in making for true manliness of character. In the hall I met Prof. Yamashita, who taught Judo to Theodore Roosevelt at the White House three times a week for three years. Theodore, he said, was his best pupil; that, however, he was very heavy and very impetuous, and it had cost the poor professor many bruisings, much worry and infinite pains during Theodore’s rushes to avoid laming the President of the United States. He had also taught the Roosevelt boys, Mrs. Robinson, the President’s sister, and Gifford Pinchot. He liked Washington and America…

Above: Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

Above: Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

Young Japan is surely full of vim, and his sports are vehicles of mental struggle and nervous skill as well as brute force.”

Above: This photo combination was printed in Clarke's book, "Japan at First Hand." The caption reads: "Judo class at practice before dawn in winter time."

Above: This photo combination was reprinted in Clarke’s book, “Japan at First Hand,” pub. 1918. The caption reads: “Judo class at practice before dawn in winter time.”

Clarke’s article also included accounts of Sumo wrestling and Kenjutsu, which is not included here.

If you liked this article, you might also be interested in:

“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”




Italians Duel with Knives on Cherry Street, New York City, 1908

“The men drew their knives, and parried and lunged furiously for a time…”


Above: A knife duel between Italians. Source:

A knife duel between Italians. Source:

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Italian immigrants fought numerous knife duels in New York City and its environs.

One such combat was described in the following article, which appeared in the July 19, 1908 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


Cherry Street is located in Lower Manhattan near the Williamsburg bridge. Period images from the Library of Congress seem to suggest that the “Cherry Hill” district, as it was then known, was a rather rough and downtrodden area to find yourself in:

Cherry Street, Manhattan, 1936

Above: A policeman stands watch in New York City’s Cherry Hill district, 1907.

Stay tuned for more articles on knife combat in New York City…

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in:

Filipino versus Spanish Knife Fighters and a Duel in New York City, 1931

Filipino Civilians Charge Japanese Lines Armed Only with Bolos, 1941

This amazing account comes from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, and was published on December 19, 1941:


“Refugees streaming into Manila today, disclosed that hundreds of Filipino civilians, armed only with bolo knives or bamboo poles, had charged into Japanese rifle and machine gun fire beside United States and Philippine troops to hold off the invaders in Southern Luzon.

Using such weapons as they had in their homes and fields, witnesses said, the Filipinos fought furiously, running into the Japanese bayonet lines, to enable their women and children to escape to safety in the interior.

A woman refugee arriving from the area, said hundreds of women and children fled from Legaspi, the southern invasion center, because Japanese soldiers were shooting all noncombatants who refused to ‘cooperate.'”

“Filipinos Carry Bolo Knives” in World War II

We recently wrote about historic World War II film footage depicting Filipino American recruits training in Arnis techniques with Bolo knives.

The following photograph pertains to the same Filipino American units. It appeared in the July 27, 1943 issue of the Berkeley Daily Gazette under the headline:

“Filipinos Carry Bolo Knives”



The accompanying caption explains:

“Filipino fighters for Uncle Sam at Camp Cooke, Calif., are shouting that they will carve a path to Tokyo with the 4500 bolo knives presented to them by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.”

Stay tuned for more material relating to the Filipino martial arts used by American soldiers and their auxiliary forces during World War II…

Early Muay Thai Kickboxing in America, 1952

According to website of the Thai Boxing Association of the U.S.A., the history of Muay Thai in America began in 1968, when Ajarn Chai came to the United States. Chai, reputedly, was the first-ever Thai boxing instructor to teach Americans the art.

However, a number of vintage articles indicate that Thai boxing arrived at least a decade earlier in the United States, although it is not known if any of the visiting Thai pugilists taught the art as did Chai.

The following photograph appeared in the Register-Republic on October 29, 1952. An accompanying article noted:

“Thailand “boxers” really get a kick out of their version of the sport. Out in Seattle, Bancomong Chiaphat (right) wards off a hefty kick by Chaleim Amatayakul while fellow Thailander Woradheb Khoonwongse referees an exhibition match. The trio will tour the U.S. to show boxing fans how they do it in Thailand where anything—kicking, elbowing, kneeing, and butting—goes.”

October 29, 1952_Register-Republic_ThaiBox_FrontPage

Nearly two months later, on December 21, 1952, the Idaho Statesman published yet another picture of the two pugilists:

December 21, 1952_Idaho Statesman_ThaiBox

The caption accompanying the picture explained:

“SIAMESE FOOT BOXERS Worad Khoonwongse and Chalerm Amatayakul will introduce their rugged sport to Boise fans Monday night at Riverside Arena in an added attraction to the regular weekly wrestling card. The combatants wear four-ounce gloves and their feet, wrapped in cotton bindings, are an essential part of their equipment, along with their heads, hands, elbows, and knees.”

It seems that Muay Thai has been with us in America more than many people realize…

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

“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:

Bruce Lee demonstrates a finger jab against Taky Kimura. Source:

Earliest American report of Karate, 1899

Vintage image of Okinawan karatekas, date unknown. Source:

Vintage image of Okinawan karatekas, date unknown. Source:

Most sources charting the history of Karate in America reach no further back than the period immediately following World War II, when American servicemen began returning from their time spent in Okinawa—the homeland of the art. The earliest report, however, of the existence of Karate date to nearly fifty years earlier—from 1899, when Dr. William Furness presented an account of his 1896 visit to the Ryukyu islands to the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Science and Art. These islands, which include Okinawa, were then referred to as the Loochoo, Luchu, or Lewchew islands by American and British writers.

Above: The title page of Dr. Furness's 1899 report.

Above: The title page of Dr. Furness’s 1899 report.

Furness provides the following background in the opening pages of his report:

Each year finds the Luchu Islands more and more important, commercially, to the Japanese government, although, as yet, they are but little known to the busy world which sails past them to and from the markets of China, Japan, and the far East. After careful search, I have been unable to find any detailed account of these islands, or of the people, before the visit paid to them by Captain Basil Hall, of H. M. S. “Alceste,” in 1816. His accounts of the people agree in every particular with what Dr. H. M. Hiller and myself observed in 1896 (eighty years after Captain Hall’s visit), albeit during these four-score years the independent rule of a king has been abolished, and the islands are now entirely under the government of Japan. In view of this fact, the conclusion seems warranted that all changes in manners and customs in this small country are slow, compared with the rapid advance which is going on all around them. What was true in 1816 was most probably true a hundred years before. According to their own traditions, they never have been a warlike people, and have mingled no further with their near neighbors than the payment of a yearly tribute both to China and to Japan…

After devoting several pages to the various cultural institutions of Okinawa and other neighboring islands, Furness proceeds to the martial arts:

We were told that the young men occasionally engage in boxing bouts, with bare knuckles; all blows are struck with the right hand, while the left is used solely as a guard. Clinching and wrestling for a fall are considered legitimate features of the sport. Rokshaku is another manly sport of the order of single-stick, with a staff about six feet long. Non-shaku is played with a stick about three feet long to which is attached a rope. The object of this game is to disarm the opponent by whipping the stick out of his hands. With these games and sports the youth of the islands pass their time…

Although the report is scant in its detail, it does appear to represent the first account of the existence of the martial arts of the Ryukyu by an American.

Above: One of the few photographic plates in Dr. Furness's report. No pictures of the martial arts were included.

Above: One of the few photographic plates in Dr. Furness’s report. No pictures of the martial arts were included.

The complete account can be accessed here:

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:

Husband and Wife Practice Kenjutsu in New York City, 1897

“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”

Japanese Sword Technique in the New York Sun, 1904