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A Grand Assault of Arms in New York City

Above: An assault of the saber versus the bayonet, Harper's Weekly, 1974.

Above: An assault of the saber versus the bayonet, Harper’s Weekly, 1874.

This Sunday, at the Jan Hus Church in Manhattan, classical fencers will gather to take part in an ancient tradition, one that hearkens back to the New York of the nineteenth century—the Grand Assault of Arms. Audiences will be treated to contests of classical (19th century) fencing, as well as demonstrations of the European martial arts of the rapier, dagger, bayonet, saber versus bayonet, cane, Spanish knife, and cape.

An assault-of-arms, is, simply put, “an exhibition of fencing with various weapons.” During the nineteenth century, those particularly large or lavish assaults began to adopt the appellation “Grand”—as in the case of an 1857 New York City tournament, in which it was announced that “one man will defend himself against twelve assailants.”

Above: Announcement for a Grand Assault in the New York Tribune, March 16, 1857.

Above: Announcement for a Grand Assault in the New York Tribune, March 16, 1857.

Nor was this the first Assault-of Arms to be held in New York City; a Colonel De La Croix had directed one in Mahattan in 1811, and in 1857, two were held on Broadway, one under the auspices of an F. Lambert (see above), the other by Henry Gebhard.

Engraving of an assault of arms in Boston, 1859. Source:

During the 1860s and 1870s, the Grand Assault continued to develop and grow in popularity, particularly in France, where such gala events were attended by hundreds, even thousands, of spectators, as well as high-level politicians, military men, artists, journalists, and members of the aristocracy.

Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

The public event this Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, will take place from 3-5 PM, and will include contest finals in foil, epee (dueling sword), and saber. A variety of historical fencing styles will be demonstrated, including 17th century Spanish rapier and dagger vs. Italian rapier and dagger, 18th century French small-sword vs. Neopolitan spada, 19th century French bayonet fencing (including versus the saber), and Spanish Navaja and cape.

Tickets are available at a discount in advance at

A duel with Spanish navajas. Source:


Historic World War II Film Footage of Filipino Martial Arts Training with Bolo Knives

The following archival footage, recorded in 1943 during World War II, depicts the training of the Second Filipino Infantry Regiment with large bolo knives. It is one of the earlier, if not the earliest, film recording of the Filipino martial art of Arnis, or what some practitioners today refer to under the umbrella terms of Kali or Eskrima. Although the video could not be embedded here, one can view the high resolution clips in their entirety by clicking on the links below the images:

Above: Drilling with bolos

Above: Drilling with bolos


Above: More drills

Above: More drills

Source: Writer Antonio E. Somera gives the following information about the Second Regiment and its formation:

“During the outbreak of World War II many Filipinos volunteered for service. The outpouring was so creditable that orders were issued to activate the First Filipino Infantry Regiment in Salinas, Calif., effective July 13, 1942 and the Second Filipino Infantry Regiment Nov. 21, 1942. The First and Second Filipino Infantry was once one division with the strength of 12,000 men, three regiments, plus other special companies. In addition, out of these 12,000 men, about 1,000 were selected for special missions. This force of fighting Filipinos was known as the First Reconnaissance Battalion and was activated Nov. 20, 1944. This included the 978th signal service company, which was identified with the Allied Intelligence Bureau.These men and officers were called Commandos and “Bahala Na” (“come what may”) was their slogan. As part of General Douglas MacArthur’s secret force, they were dropped behind enemy lines and became the eyes and ears of General MacArthur.”


Announcement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 18, 1943.

In the following interview, former soldier and member of the Second Regiment (and future Grandmaster) Leo Giron discusses the training that he and his fellow Filipino American soldiers received:

“We learned all the basic training needed for soldiering. Nothing special, just how to shoot a carbine, how to use a .45 and some basic hand-to-hand combat. I was fortunate to learn escrima as a child and later after coming to America with one of my most influential teachers, Flaviano Vergara. Flaviano taught me the most about escrima and how to defend myself. In fact, I met Flaviano a second time in Fort Ord during which time we would play on weekdays after dinner and on the weekends while everyone went into town. Flaviano and I would do nothing but drill and drill using estilo de fondo and larga mano. Sometimes a soldier would come by and ask what were we doing. Some would tell us that they would never come close to a Samurai sword. They claimed they would give the Samurai a load of their M-1…On Aug. 12, 1944 we boarded one of the smallest submarines in the United States Navy armada. It was called the U.S. Sting Ray. We were loaded and armed with carbines, submachine guns, side arms, bolo knives, trench knives, brass knuckles, ammunition and a few other special packages.”

Above: Leo Giron during World War II

Above: Leo Giron during World War II. Source:

The question many might ask is, did members of the regiment ever use these bolos in earnest on the battlefield? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Giron proceeds to describe one of many encounters, this one involving the use of the bolo against a Japanese katana:

“One Bonsai attack comes to mind, in early June 1945 on a rainy day. A large number of enemy soldiers charged our position. We formed a wedge or triangle formation, two on the side and one as a point man. I was point man. Just like any Bonsai charge the enemy was always noisy. Yelling and shouting, they are not afraid to die. The Filipino guerrillas, on the other hand, chew their tobacco, grit their teeth and wing their bolos, chop here, jab there, long bolos, short daggers, pointed bamboo, pulverized chili peppers with sand deposited in bamboo tubes to spray so the enemy cannot see. By now my adrenaline must have gone up. One bayonet and samurai sword came simultaneously. The samurai sword was in front of me while the bayonet was a little to the left. With my left hand I parried the bayonet. I blocked the sword coming down on me. The bayonet man went by and his body came in line with my bolo. That’s when I came down to cut his left hip. The Samurai was coming back with a backhand blow. I met his triceps with the bolo and chopped it to the ground. After the encounter I wiped my face with my left hand to clear my eyes from the rain and found bloodstains on my face. There were many more encounters. But our job was not to be detected by the enemy; our mission was to send back vital information on the enemy to headquarters.”


Cartoon in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 2, 1945.

In terms of his approach to the martial arts as a mentor and guru, Giron was also careful to explain the difference between a wartime and peacetime mentality: “I know the respect of the bolo knife. Wartime is different. There is no regard for life. It’s different teaching; you must have structure and good communications with your students. I like to teach more about the application and fundamentals. It’s not about how hard you hit or who is faster; it’s about sharing the art of our forefathers, because if you analyze it we are only the caretakers of the art for future generations….The only type of death match I had was during World War II. This is where I fought in the jungles for over a year, not knowing if we would survive. Our weapons of choice were the bolo knife or talonason, a long knife whose overall length is 36 inches long. No referee, no rules; the only rule was to survive.”


Above: Another WWII account of Filipinos with bolos, published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 1, 1942.

Above: Members of the Filipino 2nd Regiment charge with their bolos

Above: Members of the Filipino 2nd Regiment charge with their bolos

Original footage of the above at: If you liked this article, you also might be interested in: Filipino versus Spanish Knife Fighters and a Duel in New York City, 1931 and Filipino Martial Arts Reported in a New York Newspaper, 1900

Boxing Versus Wrestling: Proposal for an Early MMA Contest, 1922


Today, many young people remember the advent of mixed martial arts (MMA) as having its roots in the early 1990s, with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), in which exponents of various martial styles competed against one another for supremacy.

However, the interest in (and fascination with) mixed-style contests goes back much earlier, as the following illustrated article, published in the December 13, 1922 edition of the New York Evening World, so aptly demonstrates:

“The announcement by [boxer] Jack Dempsey that he had been made a proposition for a ‘mixed match’ with [Ed] Strangler Lewis, the wrestler, and has accepted, is very good advertising for the decadent sport of wrestling.”


The article goes on to criticize the proposed contest, insisting that such a scenario would be like mixing apples and oranges. In an interesting, albeit prejudiced, line of reasoning, the author then imagines how the two fighting styles might perform against one another given the various rules and conventions of the time, and gives the initial advantage to the boxer:

“As for a ‘mixed match,’ in which a wrestler can use any grappling trick to overcome a boxer, and the boxer uses boxing, there’s no sense in it…Wrestlers don’t develop the art of taking punches on the chin. Instead of going back with the punch, as a boxer does, they stiffen their necks and take it.”


The author, however, then seems to realize that that the standard rules wouldn’t apply to such an unconventional contest, and theorizes how a wrestler would alter his strategy to deal with a boxer—namely, by using takedowns:

“But Lewis wouldn’t be foolish enough to stand up to Dempsey. He would plan a battle especially designed to offset Dempsey’s boxing skill and hitting power. He would crouch low and dive at Dempsey’s ankles before he came within hitting range. Dempsey would be forced to sidestep quickly to save himself, for if the wrestler once got his hold the match would be over.”


Then, the author takes his imagined bout one step further, theorizing how the boxer might counter the wrestler’s new strategy:

“The boxer might be able to go to the mat and strike a blow heavy enough to stun his rival, but the chances would be very much against that. To put the stunning effect into a blow the drive of the body from the knees must go into the punch. And the wrestler, at home on the ground, would take his hold and do his work with his head tucked down out of danger.”

Unfortunately, no account of an actual match between Dempsey and Lewis seems to exist.

However, despite the occasional faulty lines of reasoning, here, more than seventy years before the founding of the UFC, the modern Mixed Martial Arts contest has been aptly predicted.

The article, which is quite lengthy, can be read in its entirety by clicking on the image below:



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

“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”

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

On July 18, 1931, the following account of a “knife battle” between Filipinos and Spanish Americans appeared in a column of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


The immigration of Filipino people to America had seen a large spike during the early twentieth century, when the Philippines was ceded to the United States by Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris. The above article demonstrates that Filipinos brought their knife culture with them to New York City, although it is uncertain how much formal instruction in Kali, Arnis, or Eskrima may have existed in America at that time.

Above: Filipino Moro warriors with their barongs

Above: Filipino Moro warriors with their barongs. From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 24, 1933

Spain was also known for having a vibrant edged-weapons culture, which included knives such as the navaja, cuchillo, and punal. According to nineteenth century accounts, schools offering instruction in the use of these weapons were numerous in Spain. In 1853, Theophile Gautier reported that “The science of the navaja has its professors like fencing, and navaja teachers are as numerous in Andalusia as fencing masters in Paris.” Likewise, in The Spanish Navaja and its Use in Spain (1881), Charles D’Avilier describes how he “had the curiosity to take lessons from a professor [of fencing with the navaja], who disclosed the secrets of his science, aided by an ordinary cane in case of the bare blade.” And again, in the Travels of Samuel Parsons Scott (1886), the author noted that “Defence with the navaja has been reduced to a science, which has its regular school of instruction. The teachers give lessons with wooden knives, and the most noted among them have their private strokes, which are kept secret for cases of emergency.”

A duel with Spanish navajas. Source:

Above: A duel with Spanish navajas. Source:

This tradition continued in Spain well into the twentieth century, as documented in various articles and news reports. By 1908, knife fighting in Spain had become so widespread that the Spanish government passed severe measures against navaja use, citing the fact that “cutting affrays were becoming increasingly common throughout the peninsula.” (New York Times, Jan. 19, 1908) This same article goes on to note that “every rowdy in town and country carried his knife, and, it would seem from police statistics, was ready to use it…the navaja constitutes a particularly dangerous weapon and the wounds inflicted with it are often fatal.”

It is perhaps not in the least surprising, then, that immigrant Spaniards (and their descendants) would continue the use of these knives in the Americas, as well as in New York City. This fact is again vividly illustrated by the following account of a knife duel between Spaniards that occurred in Brooklyn in 1910, and was reported in the Dec. 14 issue of the Daily Eagle:


Today, there are several schools in New York City which teach Filipino knife technique. As to Spanish knife instruction, only one school exists—the Raven Arts Institute in Brooklyn, run by Maestro James Loriega, who was instructed in these methods in Spain by one of the last surviving masters of the art.

So, nearly one hundred years later, both Spanish and Filipino knife culture is still well alive in New York City.

If you enjoyed this article, see also: Filipino Martial Arts Reported in a New York Newspaper, 1900

“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”

1902-3-20_NYWorld_Roosevelt Portrt

This marvelous article, which appeared in the New York World on March 20, 1902, describes President Theodore Roosevelt’s training in Jiu Jitsu under Professor John J. O’Brien of Boston. Roosevelt had grown up in New York City, served as its Police Commissioner, and was elected New York State Governor before ascending to the Presidency. Regarding Roosevelt’s Jiu Jitsu instructor, the article notes,

“Prof. O’Brien learned the Jiu Jitsu tricks in Nagasaki, Japan, where he was formerly an inspector of police. He has holds which can be used in all circumstances under which a man may be attacked.”

1902-3-20_NYWorld_Roosevelt Blurb

According to the World, Roosevelt “hopes soon to be able to break the arms, legs or neck of any Anarchist or thug who may assail him.”

1902-3-20_NYWorld_Roosevelt Hold

The article also notes that O’Brien “and Mr. Roosevelt spend considerable time on the mat wrestling, by which exercise the President hopes to reduce his weight.”

1902-3-20_NYWorld_Roosevelt Hold2

According to a book written by O’Brien in 1905, he had served as Police Inspector in Japan for ten years, and had received a “Jiu-Jitsu Diploma” from the Governor of Nagasaki.

In subsequent years, the President would continue his Jiu Jitsu training under more notable instructors–that is, from the source itself–the Japanese. Roosevelt’s letters to his children contain numerous references to his training, which was largely imparted by Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita, the first person to have been awarded 10th degree red belt rank in Kodokan judo. According to Yamashita, the lessons he imparted to Roosevelt occurred at the White House “three times a week for three years.” Yamashita, quoted in the September 27, 1914 New York Sun, also noted that Roosevelt “was his best pupil; that, however, he was very heavy and 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.”

Cartoon of Roosevelt by Robert Edgren, ca 1904. Source: EJMAS

Cartoon of Roosevelt by Robert Edgren, ca 1904. Source:

Following are excerpts from Roosevelt’s letters to his children that mention Jiu Jitsu:

White House, Jan. 14, 1905.


Last year, when I had Professor Yamashita teach me the “Jiudo”—as they seem now to call Jiu Jitsu—the naval attache here, Commander Takashita, used to come around here and bring a young lad, Kitgaki, who is now entering Annapolis. I used to wrestle with them both. They were very fond of Archie and were very good to him. This Christmas Kitgaki sent from Annapolis a little present to Archie, who wrote to thank him, and Kitgaki sent him a letter back that we like so much that I thought you might enjoy it, as it shows so nice a trait in the Japanese character. It runs as follows:

“My dearest boy:

“I received your nice letter. I thank you ever so much. I am very very glad that you have receive my small present.

“I like you very very much. When I have been in Jiudo room with your father and you, your father was talking to us about the picture of the cavalry officer. In that time, I saw some expression on your face. Another remembering of you is your bravery when you sleped down from a tall chair. The two rememberings can’t leave from my head.

“I returned here last Thursday and have plenty lesson, so my work is hard, hard, hard, more than Jiudo.

“I hope your good health.

“I am,

“Sincerely yours,


Isn’t it a nice letter?

Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

Professor Yoshitsugu Yamashita

White House, Feb. 24, 1905.

Yesterday afternoon we had Professor Yamashita up here to wrestle with Grant. It was very interesting, but of course jiu jitsu and our wrestling are so far apart that it is difficult to make any comparison between them. Wrestling is simply a sport with rules almost as conventional as those of tennis, while jiu jitsu is really meant for practice in killing or disabling our adversary. In consequence, Grant did not know what to do except to put Yamashita on his back, and Yamashita was perfectly content to be on his back. Inside of a minute Yamashita had choked Grant, and inside of two minutes more he got an elbow hold on him that would have enabled him to break his arm; so that there is no question but that he could have put Grant out. So far this made it evident that the jiu jitsu man could handle the ordinary wrestler. But Grant, in the actual wrestling and throwing was about as good as the Japanese, and he was so much stronger that he evidently hurt and wore out the Japanese. With a little practice in the art I am sure that one of our big wrestlers or boxers, simply because of his greatly superior strength, would be able to kill any of those Japanese, who though very good men for their inches and pounds are altogether too small to hold their own against big, powerful, quick men who are as well trained.

Above: Roosevelt practices Jiu Jitsu. From the New York Tribune, 1913.

Above: Roosevelt practices Jiu Jitsu. New York Tribune, 1913.

“My throat is a little sore, because once when one of them had a strangle hold I also got hold of his windpipe and thought I could perhaps choke him off before he could choke me.”


White House, March 5, 1904.

DEAR KERMIT: . . . . .

I am wrestling with two Japanese wrestlers three times a week. I am not the age or the build one would think to be whirled lightly over an opponent’s head and batted down on a mattress without damage. But they are so skilful that I have not been hurt at all. My throat is a little sore, because once when one of them had a strangle hold I also got hold of his windpipe and thought I could perhaps choke him off before he could choke me. However, he got ahead.

"Roosevelt Grapples With the Railways Commission" Source: EJMAS

“Roosevelt Grapples With the Railways Commission” Source: EJMAS

“I have made good progress, and since you left they have taught me three new throws that are perfect corkers.”


White House, April 9, 1904.


I am very glad I have been doing this Japanese wrestling, but when I am through with it this time I am not at all sure I shall ever try it again while I am so busy with other work as I am now. Often by the time I get to five o’clock in the afternoon I will be feeling like a stewed owl, after an eight hours’ grapple with Senators, Congressmen, etc.; then I find the wrestling a trifle too vehement for mere rest. My right ankle and my left wrist and one thumb and both great toes are swollen sufficiently to more or less impair their usefulness, and I am well mottled with bruises elsewhere. Still I have made good progress, and since you left they have taught me three new throws that are perfect corkers.

Much of the New York World article’s text is faded and difficult to read, but can be accessed in full by clicking on the image below:


To learn about Roosevelt’s earlier martial training in Catch and Cornish wrestling, read our earlier post here.

And if you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in A New Yorker visits Jigoro Kano’s Academy in Tokyo, 1914


Japanese Sword Technique in the New York Sun, 1904


The following illustrated article appeared in the New York Sun on March 20, 1904, several years after Japanese kenjutsu instructors began demonstrating and teaching their art in New York City. This piece was supposedly reprinted from the Scientific American. It contains an interesting discussion of the Japanese swordsmanship practiced at the time, as well as descriptions of various techniques, such as fencing with two blades:

“When the fencer is using a sword in each hand, it is the left foot which is advanced. The long sword in the right hand is held upraised over the head, the point directed backward ready to deliver a cut, while the left hand, holding the smaller sword, is extended forward en garde. The user of two swords has a decided advantage over an adversary who wields but one.”

The article proceeds to relate an interesting account of a Japanese policeman who defeated five swordsmen at the same time (killing three, and putting the other two to flight), and later became an instructor of swordsmanship.


The article concludes with an overview of the great Japanese swordsmiths, and the expert native sword appraisers who still lived. Of these, the author notes,

“The skill of some of these experts is little short of magical.”

Before closing, the author waxes fondly,

“My interest in the sword brought me into contact with a class of Japanese little seen by foreigners. I mean the genuine old fashioned type; and from contact with these men, and knowledge acquired thereby, I think that one of the finest types of humanity was the mediaeval Japanese. They were possessed with a sense of honor, a devotion to duty regardless of consequences, unsurpassed elsewhere.”

The full article, with illustrations, can be read and viewed by clicking on the following image:


The First Exhibition of Kung Fu and Chinese Martial Arts in America: Brooklyn, 1890

“A scientific system of fencing with their arms…”

On February 23, 1890, the following announcement appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

At Robertson’s Gymnasium, corner of Fulton and Orange streets, on Tuesday evening, Ah Giang and [Foo Jung], champion bantam and featherweight fighters of China, will give an exhibition of the manly art of self defense as conducted in their native country.

Although, previously, a few reports of the existence of Kung Fu and styles of Chinese pugilism had appeared in American newspapers, the exhibition at Robertson’s gymnasium appears to be the first demonstration that was open to the public, and was certainly the first such event that attracted any degree of attention in the American print media. The event, which would take place on Thursday (not Tuesday) evening, February 27, was covered by a number of New York newspapers, including the New York World, the New York Sun, the New York Herald, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle–the latter displaying the following headline on page 1:


The New York World also included two illustrations (see below) of the Chinese pugilists that took part in the exhibition–images which would be reprinted in newspapers throughout the country. However, these pictures do not match the firsthand descriptions of the combatants’ costumes, and were almost certainly drawn by artists who had no direct connection to the event. Many of the newspaper accounts include language that is derisive and offensive to modern sensibilities. However, even these reports, such as the one that appeared in the Herald, provide useful information, such as the fact that the combatants “fought without gloves and used hands and feet.” The World noted that “Chinese fighting is a mixture of wrestling, boxing, club-swinging, purring [shin kicking] and tumbling…”

“It was said to be the first time that two Chinamen ever gave an exhibition in public in America of the art of self-defence.”

The account that appeared in the Daily Eagle, being both the most respectful and most detailed, will be mostly quoted from here. The description of the event commenced as follows:

“There was a genuine novelty at Robertson’s Boxing Academy, Fulton and Orange streets, last evening, in the shape of a Chinese prize fight. The unique event was sandwiched in between several pugilistic encounters of the usual thoroughbred order, but it was the event, par excellence, of the night, and those who witnessed it saw something they will never forget, although their recollections of the spectacle will not be tinged with any blood curdling reminiscences, but will rather be accompanied by a smile and a sigh of sympathy for the modest advances made by the effete Mongolian civilization in the noble and manly art of self defense. A Chinese prize fight! It sounds well….but they have never been regarded as prize fighters. The two Celestial sluggers who trod the carpet last evening for the edification and delectation of the Caucasian patrons of the P.R. were Ah Giang and Foo Jung, and both were announced to be pugilists of note. Ah Giang is the champion bantam weight of China, and Foo Jung is a member of the Chinese dramatic troupe now in New York City. He is an impersonator of female parts, and in his native land bears an invincible reputation as a fighter, it being related of him that he was never vanquished.

“The science of slugging was as much of a science in China as in America, the difference being that there the aim was always to defend, while here the aim is always to attack.”

Previous to the appearance of the two gentlemen from the Antipodes, a sleek little Chinaman [named Wong Chin Foo], attired in a broadcloth suit, pointed shoes and a Derby hat, and wearing marvelously white cuffs and fine jewelry, stepped into the ring, and made a pleasant speech. He bespoke the respectful attention of the crowd, and informed them that a great surprise was in store for them. The Chinese way of fighting, he said, was no more like the American style than Chinese civilization was like American civilization. In America the sluggers slugged to slug, whereas in the balmy and peaceful land of Joss the sluggers slugged to keep from slugging. But the science of slugging was as much of a science in China as in America, the difference being that there the aim was always to defend, while here the aim is always to attack.”

Above: Wong Chin Foo

Above: Wong Chin Foo

It is worth noting that the speaker, Wong Chin Foo (1847-1898), was a noted activist for Chinese American civil rights. He was also a former revolutionary, having attempted to overthrow the corrupt Qing government. He fled to the U.S. in 1873, where he established the Chinese Equal Right League, founded a Chinese-language newspaper, crusaded against vice in New York City’s Chinatown, and survived several assassination attempts by gangsters. At one point, he challenged the San Francisco anti-Chinese journalist Denis Kearney to a duel. Wong also bought a Chinese theater, established a language school and opened a Confucian temple.


The Daily Eagle‘s account of the event continued:

“With this explanation the sleck little man in broadcloth stepped out of the ring and took a seat beside Master of Ceremonies McMaster and forth tripped the Chinese fighters, who proved to be two very little men…Both were gorgeously dressed. Foo Jung’s headgear was black and he wore a splendid gold embroidered jacket with black sleeves. Around his waist was a saffron scarf and his pantaloons were white, his stockings gaudily striped in red, white, and yellow, and the top of his sandals were white and the rest of blue silk embroidered in gold. Ah Giang’s headgear was of black and gold, his jacket was plain black in color, and he wore a brilliant red scarf bordered with a broad band of blue. The pantaloons were carmine and the stockings were the same pattern of those worn by his adversary, the sandals being of blue and gold. Being forewarned, the crowd, which was of the ordinary sporting type, numbering in it Police Justice Tighe, paid the strictest attention to the fight, which was announced to be of four rounds of four minutes each, the contestants being classed as light weights…”

Here, the New York World noted that “Two large mattresses were placed on the floor, and as Wong uttered some mysterious word the Chinamen…advanced towards the center of the enclosure. They didn’t think it necessary to put on gloves…”


“The little fighter was lithe, supple as a cat, quick as a flash, furious as a demon, bold as a lion and could jump like a grasshopper and kick like a mule.”

The Daily Eagle continued:

“The defensive tactics of the men were visible from the outset. Foo Jung was smaller than his adversary and had a deep olive skin, large and glittering brown eyes, a long nose and a curling under lip that betrayed his emotions. Ah Giang was taller, broader across the shoulders and longer armed, and his face was square cut, paler and more on the bull dog type…The little fighter was lithe, supple as a cat, quick as a flash, furious as a demon, bold as a lion and could jump like a grasshopper and kick like a mule. The other one was also quick and strong and supple and adroit, and full of courage and expedience. When time was called, instead of capering toward each other the two Chinamen began to slowly circle the ring, with arms crossed at the wrists and palms extended. Only when greatly excited did they clinch their fists and strike blows. They gradually approached each other and then, suddenly, they came together and locked arms and began a scientific system of fencing with their arms. They wrestled with open palms and the little one, seeing his opportunity, inserted his embroidered toe in the folds of his adversary’s jacket and deftly kicked him backward, head over heels. The other fellow jumped up growling and they went at it hammer and tongs, slapping and punching each other and kicking and wrestling, fencing with their arms and jumping around like bewitched automatons. When time was called they promptly returned to their corners and were fanned and seemed to enjoy the attention bestowed upon them.

“He bounded into the air, his eyes gleaming, and came down on his opponent like a load of brick…”



In the second round the same defensive tactics were pursued, but the champion got in a resounding whack with his open palm on the back of his adversary’s neck, bringing forth a grunt of pain and indignation. They darted at each other and slugged and fenced and slapped and made passes at each other, taking care not to actually hit. This is one of the great objects to be attained in a Chinese prize fight. It is not considered an fait to hit, all that is necessary and proper being to make a pass and come so close to an undefended part of the adversary’s body as to make it absolutely certain that the blow could have been there delivered with force if desired. Throughout the fight, unless in the heat of excitement, the Chinamen did not hit with the clenched fist, but lunged and skillfully drew back without hitting. In a Chinese scientific contest for points every blow aimed at a part seen to be undefended and not parried counts for a full score. It is also considered to be proper in China for a fighter to grunt or squeal whenever an unparried blow is aimed at an undefended part, just the same as if he had been actually struck and hurt, and this custom was observed last evening. In the third round the championship cleverly kicked his adversary in the stomach and tumbled him over backward. Then he fell on him, and the other turned him over and got so hot at the thought of the neat way in which he had been upset that he involuntarily sought the champion’s throat, and hand not the sleck little Chinaman with the immaculate cuffs jumped up and sternly ordered them, with a few choice left to right expletives, to desist, it is impossible to say what would have happened. Both jumped up and the fencing was renewed. Once the champion stumbled. This made him mad, and he bounded into the air, his eyes gleaming, and came down on his opponent like a load of brick, and there was a whirlwind of a time for a few seconds and each earnestly slugged the other in orthodox Western Hemisphere style. The last round ended with the champion’s succeeding in again knocking down the larger fighter, and the contest was declared a draw.The crowd relished the sport, but they were pretty generally agreed that it was tame slugging. There was too much delicate science about it, and although the sleek little man was congratulated on all sides for his novel show, the opinion was rife that John L. Sullivan could knock out nine Chinamen in one ring.”

“Although it may seem ridiculous to call such style of fighting scientific, nevertheless it is so considered by all Chinese, who in return stigmatize American boxing as brutal, inhuman and utterly devoid of science or merit.”


In its report of the combat, the Auburn Daily Bulletin stated that “The Chinese boxing rules will allow a man to do everything but bite. The only unfair advantage which can be taken of an opponent is to kick him when down. Everything else goes.” The Bulletin also ended its account by describing the following technique:

“[One] scheme was to drop suddenly on the knees and butt Jung in the stomach. Here the ability of the acrobat was brought into play. Jung jumped over the kneeling form with one bound, at the same time giving Giang a terrific kick in the ribs. This made Giang mad. He kicked, cuffed, punched, and butted the unfortunate Jung unmercifully. Frequently Jung would be obliged to jump over Giang in order to escape punishment, but the wiry athlete was on the lookout, and he would no sooner gain the floor than a kick back of the knee joint would send him rolling over and over. Although it may seem ridiculous to call such style of fighting scientific, nevertheless it is so considered by all Chinese, who in return stigmatize American boxing as brutal, inhuman and utterly devoid of science or merit.”

In the coming days, increasingly sensational reports of the event spread throughout middle America, some going so far as to claim that the contest was no mere exhibition, but an actual duel between bloodthirsty combatants settling an ancient feud. The following headlines, from the Wichita Eagle and the Omaha World Herald, are but a sampling, and give an idea of how a bewildered and excitable American public viewed the arrival of Kung Fu on their shores:

CHinese3 Chinese4

But by far the most important, and historical, statement came from the New York Times, which declared: “It was said to be the first time that two Chinamen ever gave an exhibition in public in America of the art of self-defence.”

KungFuMagNOTE: A greatly expanded version of this article, covering other Kung Fu contests and practitioners of the same period, and with accompanying photographs, appears in the 2015 March/April issue of Kung Fu Magazine, under the title Kung Fu in Early America.

Filipino Martial Arts Reported in a New York Newspaper, 1900


On October 28, 1900, a lengthy article appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, describing the many weapons used by the native inhabitants of the Philippines, as well as details pertaining to the method of their use, and rituals in the duel. The article, complete with illustrations, is probably one of the first in America to detail the martial culture of the Philippines, and is almost certainly the first such article to appear in New York State. Although Filipino martial arts such as Kali and Arnis had likely not yet made their appearances in New York, this article offers a fascinating glimpse at how such fighting arts were viewed by visiting Americans at the turn of the century.

After an initial examination of the social importance of the Bolo and its method of manufacture, the article proceeds to describe other indigenous weapons and their manner of use. The first is the Sundang, or northern (Luzon) version of the Bolo:

“The weapon is curiously shaped and cunningly balanced so as to throw the weight toward the striking end. Even a light blow is terribly effective. The average Filipino is as dextrous in handling the sundang as a fencing master is with the rapier.”


Next, the Campilan is described:

“It is carried over the shoulder and is never unsheathed for the first stroke. When necessity for its use arises it is brought down on the head with the scabbard on it. The blade cuts through the thread, thus unsheathing itself…There is a regular drill the Moros go through with this weapon, cutting and chopping with extraordinary swiftness while continually leaping hither and thither to avoid the return of the enemy. An individual encounter between two natives armed with the campilan presents a curious and startling spectacle. One sees the sudden stroke, hears the clap and rattle of the wooden scabbard as it lands and watches it fall to the ground in halves…It seems hideously incongruous that the recipient of the stroke should go down with his skull split at the same moment. But the sheathed steel does its work swiftly and such duels are over with the first swing that reaches the mark.”


Next, the article describes the method of using the Kris, the staff officer’s favorite weapon:

“The approved kris stroke is for the body with a peculiar weaving motion of the wrist, supposed to send the blade home and spread the wound…it is brandished above the head of the charging leader, a beacon of victory.”

Also described is the smaller punal de kris, a “diminutive but deadly weapon,” as well as the quinabasi, or knife of the private soldier:

“He carries it very much as the American private does his bayonet…Generally speaking it is a utensil rather than a weapon, though by no means to be despised at close quarters.”


The author describes other weapons as well such as the terciada, borong, and talibong. If you’d like to read more, the entire article can be loaded and read by clicking on the image below.

Also, if you enjoyed this article, see: Filipino versus Spanish Knife Fighters and a Duel in New York City, 1931


Theodore Roosevelt trains in Catch and Cornish Wrestling as N.Y. Governor

Perhaps New York’s most famous martial artist was not a great master, but the soldier, statesman, and President Theodore Roosevelt, who cross-trained in a variety of combative arts including western boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and fencing.

Above: Theodore Roosevelt at Age 19

Above: Theodore Roosevelt at Age 19

According to various accounts, Roosevelt’s formal training as a wrestler began during his tenure as Governor of New York. According to the New York Times of December 1, 1899:


Professor Mike J. Dwyer was considered an expert in the Cornish style of wrestling, although he also contested in catch-as-catch-can, as well as (to a lesser extent) Graeco-Roman. In his autobiography, Roosevelt himself recounted:

“When I became Governor, the champion middleweight wrestler of America happened to be in Albany, and I got him to come round three or four afternoons a week. Incidentally I may mention that his presence caused me a difficulty with the Comptroller, who refused to audit a bill I put in for a wrestling-mat, explaining that I could have a billiard-table, billiards being recognized as a proper Gubernatorial amusement, but that a wrestling-mat symbolized something unusual and unheard of and could not be permitted. The middleweight champion was of course so much better than I was that he could not only take care of himself but of me too and see that I was not hurt–for wrestling is a much more violent amusement than boxing. But after a couple of months he had to go away, and he left as a substitute a good-humored, stalwart professional oarsman. The oarsman turned out to know very little about wrestling. He could not even take care of himself, not to speak of me. By the end of our second afternoon one of his long ribs had been caved in and two of my short ribs badly damaged, and my left shoulder-blade so nearly shoved out of place that it creaked. He was nearly as pleased as I was when I told him I thought we would ‘vote the war a failure’ and abandon wrestling. After that I took up boxing again.”

Following is an image of the office at the Governor’s Mansion (obtained from the New York State Executive mansion website) in which Roosevelt wrestled…unfortunately, a version showing the wrestling mat could not be found:


An additional article, entitled “He Threw Teddy Down,” published in the Morning Oregonian, December 11, 1908, provides another fanciful account of Roosevelt’s training under Dwyer. The article presents a major error in assuming that Dwyer first trained Roosevelt while the latter was President (not Governor), and is thus of questionable accuracy. However, as this error may have been introduced by the reporter, and as the anecdote itself seems to have come from Dwyer or an associate (and thus might contain a scrap of truth), we present it here:

“Now [Roosvelt] thought he was some kind of a wrestler himself. He recalled the days at Harvard when he was the champion of the freshman class. His friends touted Dwyer so highly that Dwver was invited up to the White House gym the next day for an exhibition bout with the strenuous President. Michael J. does not handle anybody with gloves, and he promptly pinned Mr. Roosevelt’s shoulders to the mat. ‘Once Is an accident.’ thought the sponsor of Taft, ‘I’ll get him this time.’ He did not. Dwyer threw him three times in 20 minutes. Mr. Roosevelt was convinced by that time that there were things about wrestling he did not know and Professor Dwyer was retained to give the Administration wrestling lessons.”

We will continue our profile of Roosevelt’s martial training in PART II. Stay tuned for more…

UPDATE 10/29/2014:

Part II, about Roosevelt’s training in Jiu Jitsu, is now up and can be read here.

Husband and Wife Practice Kenjutsu in New York City, 1897


Some New York City martial history: Taneyoshi Kawakami and his wife Marumi practice kenjutsu. From the New York World, May 30, 1897:

“Prof. Taneyoshi Kawakami is considered the most famous of fencing masters now in this country. For a long time he was army instructor at one of the posts in Japan, and thoroughly understands the methods now in use in the imperial army. In teaching his pupils Kawakami is frequently carried away by the enthusiasm of the exercise, and his numerous scars bear witness to the fierceness of the bouts. His wife, according to the custom of her country, is also proficient in the use of the sword, and during leisure moments the two practice swings and lunges with surprising earnestness.”

Kawakami spent a number of years in New York before returning to Japan. During his U.S. sojourn he spent a year as instructor at St. John’s Military Academy, and taught kenjitsu to General William Verbeck.

This is a reminder that Asian martial arts have been with us in New York City for much longer than many realize…


Up and running… with a few caveats

This website was created to be the most comprehensive listing of martial arts schools in the New York City area.  The first goal is to get a listing of all nyc martial arts schools up and get them organized into categories, so that someone who doesn’t necessarily know what they are looking for, or wants to browse, can see these schools organized in a menu-like spread. Also, I am planning on occasionally profiling or featuring a particular school; the focus will be on unique, unusual, or obscure but special schools which may have fallen by the wayside. I also plan on making the site a place wherein martial arts events in the NYC area can be announced; there will also be articles and blog posts about the history of martial arts in New York City, from the 20th century, but also going back to the 1800s and even 1700s.

The site is still a work in progress, and we will be working over the coming weeks to add more detailed information for the various schools. Currently, schools are only listed under the “By Origin” section (see menu tabs above). (The “Sword Arts,” “Knife Arts,” “Stick Arts,” and “Flexible Weapons” subsections (under “By Type”)). When, in the coming weeks, we have what we feel is a more complete listing of all the schools, we will organize them and make them viewable in the other sections as well. If you know of a school that is not yet listed, please e-mail us via the contact form on the “About” page. If you have additional information about a school that is already listed, please contact us via the form on the “About” page with the updated information, or send us a text message via the FAQ page. Thanks to everyone who has helped (and will help) to make this a truly comprehensive resource for practicing and aspiring martial artists.

Some updates, with more to follow…

Martial Arts New York is now up and running.

The European/Western and South American sections are now complete.

The Asian Martial Arts sections will be going up in the following month, as well as the sort-by-region section of the website.

If you would like to add your school to the list, or if you would like us to add information to a pre-existing entry, feel free to e-mail us.